By Kennedy Mbele
In the second part of his interview with Sunday Vanguard, Mr. Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State and presidential running mate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections, advises Nigerians to deal with issues at hand (insecurity) first and leave the 2023 presidency alone. Obi also speaks on the ongoing vaccination of Nigerians and how much it is costing the nation.
Many people argue that even though our health situation was precarious before, it has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. Maybe they are right.
They said that Covid-19 made it worse, but it is for those who have underlining conditions. We are like a people who were already sick and got a little fever. That notwithstanding, we are not even saying ‘ok, this situation has almost brought out the worst in us, show us that we have not done the right thing’. We must start doing the right thing today. I am a politician. I can be classified as one of the leaders in Nigeria. But every day I go around, I don’t see people showing any sign of responsibility on how to deal with this issue.
Now, everybody is talking about the next election; who is to be where, what is to be shared. It is still corruption everywhere. And the worst thing is that people are still trying to steal the little thing that is remaining. Even when you ask some people, they say ‘when you were there…’ If you find out that when Peter was there, he was going the wrong route, that’s why you are there now, correct it. When I got there, I saw what they were doing that was wrong. People asked me to continue; I said no, we couldn’t continue doing it that way. We had to cut cost of governance. It was not acceptable to me and we cut it down.
The cost of governance is a function of the type of government you are operating, You were able to do it in Anambra, but the federal and state governments are the main source of employment, so you have people in the system whose productivity quotient can be questioned but they are there, not necessarily because of their productivity but because government is providing them a safety net to be able to feed their families. That’s on one side. On the other hand, presidential system is, by nature, very expensive, this is all politics and we will not make any move if we don’t tackle the politics…
Let me tell you, yes, presidential system of government is expensive but the cost of governance in Nigeria is not acceptable. I have operated it, the same presidential system. There is no place where people spend public wealth without being questioned. We have too much of wastes, totally unacceptable. Don’t forget that I was part of it for eight years. When I came into office as governor, it cost more to keep me and my office functional than what we spent on education, than what we were putting in health. And I said couldn’t be.
That moment I made a choice on where we wanted to get to and what we wanted to do. We adopted MDGs as our code that is what we wanted to achieve. I said, ‘let’s design a strategy’, and they designed it which we christened it Anambra Development Strategy and we said, ‘let’s develop all aspects simultaneously, let’s do sectoral allocation’ and that was what we did. Education was very important to us, so how much were we going to put into it? Rural roads are critical and when we did our poverty analyses, we found out that what we needed to reduce poverty was access. So, we put more money into it; 15% of our budget was going into road construction. Education must get significant percentage.
And by the time we finished, the office of the governor that had about 30% could not get up to 4%. It reduced drastically. And with that, I went home and started cutting everything. We didn’t need the office of the first lady because we didn’t have the resources, we didn’t have to have a lodge in Abuja.
We didn’t have to have guest house for the governor. We needed to reduce our comfort because we didn’t have the resources to maintain them. That is what we did, very simple. It didn’t stop me for being governor. No. we had schools without roofs, children were going to school sitting on the floor, so why did we need to have end of the year party?
What were we celebrating? Why not go and fix the school before celebrating because we didn’t have the money? We did our inaugurations without celebration. So you start shaping things the way they should be.
But these were all political decisions?
They were not political decisions. Don’t say they were political decisions. It was because we went to invest wisely.
It was because you got there that they changed…
No, that is how it should be. If something has happened and it is good let us emulate it. We are the only country today that does not have savings. Look at what is happening to us. Why do we have people that came here, wanted to do things right and we rejected them? And when they went to other parts of the world they became stars.
Take what just happened to Dr Ngozi-Iweala, President, World Trade Organization. She came here crying to us to save money. We threw her away. Today, the world is celebrating her; virtually 170 countries endorsed her and said she is good for that job. But she was not found good for the job here. When she was here, we rejected her. How can we continue in that direction? So, don’t say they were political decisions. We must save money for the future of our children.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala you mentioned was here as Finance Minister on two occasions and, after each experience, she documented her experiences in government. One of the things she said was that of the 36 governors then, it was just you and one other who supported her proposal on the question of Nigeria needing to save. Others insisted that the money must be shared…
Yes, not only I supported her. Liyel Imoke (of Cross River State) supported her too, that we should save money. There was no reason we should not have saved money. If you go around now, everyone is talking about the issue of communication, education. Today, you find out that you can educate everybody using modern tools. When you look at their impact, what somebody like Liyel Imoke did in Cross River State, trying to put up infrastructure to enable digitalization of the people, these are the things we are talking about. People should learn to say ‘this is the future, this is the right thing to do’. I have a very prominent man in my state; when I left office, he told me ‘you did everything but did not take care of human beings’. I asked him ‘what do you mean, chief?’
He said ‘somebody like me, yes, you did the road to my village, you procured computers and vehicles for the school in my village, you built a cottage hospital; but what did I get?’ We have a big problem. This is a man who can afford to live on what he has earned for the rest of his life. Of course, I told him ‘the problem we have here is elites’ greed’.
What do you make of the argument that 2023 is the turn of the South-East to produce the President?
Well, I am one of those who said it at the beginning. Let’s deal with issues at hand and leave 2023 alone. There is crisis in this country today. You and I are not safe. Whenever I leave my house to travel, my children are afraid, they want to know where I am going to, my wife is afraid. They don’t use to do that. I am afraid, myself. Nobody is safe any longer. I live in the village. I go round and see people who are not sure of where their next meal will come from.
It is not the issue of who will be the next President, let us as leaders across party lines start thinking differently. I know about my colleagues who ask me what do I mean about saving for the future of our children, what about the parents? But there are people who are saving for their own children, some of whom are even stealing government money to keep for their children. Let’s deal with the issue of where we are today when we are celebrating criminality. The only people who are celebrated in this country are criminals, not honest people, not people who mean well.
There seems to be a battle between entrepreneurship and education. You have more female students than male students in Anambra State. The males go into apprenticeship rather than into education.
Well, if you study what we did in Anambra, it is one of the things we corrected. We actually improved the enrolment of males.
By the time I left they were 50-50. Yes, because what happened was not because people were saying ‘why don’t I go early and start business in a system that doesn’t create opportunities for hard work and talent to match?’ They created that gap.
They should not be sacrificed on behalf of political elites. Let’s stop celebrating criminality. Let us genuinely say we want to fight corruption, remove from government things that should be private sector-led; when we borrow to invest in anything, let us do it in partnership with the private sector so that the money will be more efficiently and effectively utilized, create jobs; let’s ensure that we have a system that questions and ensures accountability in public expenditure. Like you said now we want to know the vaccine we need to buy to stem Covid-19.
We want to know the supplier. Every vaccine supplier in the world is known. So tell us also who is supplying it. How much is the cost, we want to know so that if it is higher we say ‘no, that is not what you sold to other people’.
You offered to get the vaccine into the country
No, I did not make any offer. I said the money they are talking about is too high.
But people quoted you as saying that if they give you a particular amount…
What I said is that they said they need N 400billion. Our budget for health this year is N547billion, and you said you need 80% of that for vaccine procurement. Assuming that is what we are going to use the money for, we are going to look for more money.
And I think the quantity of vaccine we need in order to have 70% vaccination, which the World Health Organization, WHO, stipulated, cannot cost us more than N150billion. In fact, it could be less because so many people are donating the vaccine. So why don’t we beg them to donate to us?
When we see the donation we are going to get, then we know the one we will buy and then go to the manufacturers and say ‘please, we are from a poor country give us discount’. We don’t need to go through anybody. I bought computer when we wanted to put them in schools; they gave us quotation and I refused. I went straight to HP, the manufacturers in America, and they gave us a discount. ‘We are a poor state, we don’t have money and our schools need them. We are buying 30,000. We will pay up front’.
Same way, we can go to the manufacturers of the vaccines and plead with them. I can lead them to go and kneel down and beg the manufacturers. There is nothing wrong in saying that you are a poor country. It is not a crime that you are poor, because you have poor people who can’t feed but need the vaccines. So why are you still throwing money away? We will beg them and they will give us free and support us.
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