Michael Ovienmhada, is a Public Affairs analyst and former Presidential aspirant on the platform of the Citizens People’s Party (CPP) in the last general elections. He urges the in-coming president to assemble the best brains regardless of their party leaning to deliver on his electoral promises. He also harps on the need to engage critical thinkers in his administration. He spoke to Peterclaver Egbochue. Excerpts:
Given the manner the in-coming government made promises, you will agree with me that expectations are high. Do you see the in-coming administration promptly addressing some of these expectations?
What are the expectations right now in Nigeria? I think they are very basic things and none of them requires a professor of rocket science to solve them. I think they are just major policy issues that need to be tackled through critical thinking. Critical thinking is what has been lacking in our governance among our leadership in this country, to be able to plan with scenarios; scenario planning that look, if this happens, this is what we should do, if that happens, that is what we should do. We just live on a day-to-day basis in this country and hope that problems will solve themselves by prayers and fasting. No, that is not how God made the world. He gave us brains so that we can think and solve problems. Now, with this in-coming administration, I have confidence that; one, something that has been lacking in this country which is integrity, Buhari is bringing to the table and this is very crucial because that has been missing in our leadership in this country for a long time. Now, we have to mix that integrity with a level of critical thinking that can now propel this country over the hums of what you call vested interest that has held this country back for a long time. Now, what are these hums? You have say a road that needs to be built, there should be a benchmark of how much a road should be built say in kano, Edo, Delta or Bayelsa as a result of the different terrains. A friend of mine who is an Engineer once told me that the average one kilometre road in Edo could be built for N60million. So with the devaluation of the naira by 13 to 15 per cent, lets make it N80m. So if you are building one mile for N80m in Edo state that should be a benchmark price. It does not mean that you are going to build that same road with N80m in Kontagora, where they have harder soil. So we need to benchmark prices across the country and there should be a monitoring process to ensure that these things are not inflated and re-awarded. Why have we been doing that in the past, because of vested interest? If Buhari can come with that integrity capital which he is bringing to the table now, to go against vested interest, then we are starting on our way to a new Nigeria. What is good about his emergence? I will tell you; he is not from the northern establishment. There are two tendencies in the north, there is the tendency that has been ruling, the tendency that removed him from power in 1985. He is of another tendency, the Aminu Kano tendency, the Balarabe Musa, tendency that appeals directly to the masses. He is of the tendency that does not like money for its sake. So to that extent, he is coming with a mind set that can help us do that benchmarking that will destroy the vested interest that had been used through the years to review contracts over time and they are never really get done at the end of the year. Secondly, he has a very capable, very experienced and well-educated chairman in the person of Chief John Oyegun, that makes the difference. This is not the usual party now where a chairman has been imposed on a group. If anybody has Buhari’s ears now, it’s John Oyegun. They are almost of the same tendencies and they are in the same age bracket too. With a man like John Oyegun, who set up a think tank to help APC coast to victory, with helps like that, I think he is going to have a good chance at succeeding. But having said all that, I believe they should look beyond the walls of the party for likeminded Nigerians who are only interested in only one project, the ‘project Nigeria’, how can we get Nigeria from zero to greatness in the shortest possible time?
Do you see that happening given the tradition of ‘winner takes all’ inherent in political parties in Nigeria?
That is what I expect Buhari to do because he has a pedigree, he does not kowtow to any special interest even though the party, APC has propelled him to power, I expect him to look beyond the walls of the party because at the end of the day, nobody is going to ask any question about APC, the question will be about Buhari, what did he do with his four years?
If he does this, will the party not work against him as they will see him as biting the fingers that fed him?
That is what it will appear to be on the surface but he needs a certain level of sagacity to go around that minefield. Making Nigeria work and satisfying the party’s apparatchiks should not be diametrically opposed virtues. They need not be opposing virtues. If you are doing one, does it exclude the other, not necessarily so? I am sure he can look within the party and find good people and if he wants to look outside the party, he can carry his people along. He need a certain level political sagacity to meander that minefield and I believe that at his age and with the experience of the last 12 years that he has ran, the experience of a former head of state, there is a certain level of wisdom and experience that come with all these things I believe he had acquired through the years that he can employ now for our benefit as a nation.
Not minding that President Jonathan lost the election, many even beyond the shores of Nigeria hold him in high esteem. Do you see him as such?
Yes! We cannot discount the greatness, the selflessness of what he has done. It is not in our history and tradition as Nigerians and as Africans to concede defeat even in the face of obvious loss. Here, a man contests election, he knows that his influence does not go beyond his local government, yet he goes to court and start contesting that he has been cheated out, meanwhile he didn’t campaign beyond one local government. So in our political history, no loser has ever congratulated the winner at any level, not even at chairman’s level. So what he has done is a historical landmark and you could see the bandwagon effect. Because he did that, many people across the country started congratulating their opponents. It is a paradigm shift in our history and it will speak to a lot in our future. What is the alternative, people rioting in the street? What is the alternative, tanks being rolled out into the streets to kill people? What is the alternative, houses being burnt and all of us who can afford it exiting the country and the rest of the people becoming refugees in Niger, Cameroun, Mali and the rest of West Africa? I believe he should be applauded and rightly so.
What in your view makes this year’s May 29 unique?
Yes, it is quite unique because we as a people have made history by doing what we have not done before by electing a man whom we think can get the job done. What made this possible, several factors; it’s a land mark achievement and it speaks to the fact that the people’s voice can be heard and it has been heard very loud and clear in this dispensation that it is not going to be business as usual. The people have regained their importance and so to that extent, this has been a very unique election and we look forward to a grand transition towards a new Nigeria.
Did you see it coming?
Yes! Before this election, I wrote an article titled, “Buhari, conscience of a nation.” In the article, I made the argument why I thought that Buhari would win. In 2011, Jonathan had so much goodwill with the Nigerian people. I call it emotional capital. Now, with his emotional capital, he swayed all of us. We all lined up to vote for him; Housa, Igbo, Yoruba and other minorities across the country because we saw a very humble, quiet man who was being oppressed so to say. As vice President, they refused to give him his dues; when Yar’Adua was sick, he could not take control and even after he died, they were still trying to maneuver him out of his due. The people got together, organized the ‘save Nigeria group’, everybody was passionate that the right thing needed to be done and the senate rose up to the occasion and passed the doctrine of necessity that made him acting President and eventually president. And then he ran for an election on his own strength in an election that was adjudged free and fair and won fair and square. So he had emotional capital with the people of Nigeria. Emotional capital is like a bank account; you have to continue putting money in it. Was he renewing that emotional capital, no. He just started to erode it by himself. Jonathan has himself alone to blame for this loss; nobody else, nothing else, no even the defection of the five governors. If he had done things right, the atmosphere would not have been right enough for the five governors to even want to defect. If he had done things right like in the area of corruption-in the article, I made reference to Stella Odua; she was a big issue for Jonathan. When the Stella Odua issue broke, that was an opportunity for the president to have exerted his power and influence in a very big and magnanimous and obvious ‘I’ m in charge manner.’ But he let the matter linger as if Stella was untouchable. Many people will agree with me that Stella had done a stellar job building over 25 airports across the country, renovating the existing ones. The presidency is bigger than everyone else, he should have taken steps to save the presidency by asking her to resign in spite of her achievements. If I were Jonathan, I would have asked her to step down immediately and I would have taken credit for it with the FOI bill.
We need a strong opposition to keep the in-coming government on its toes, do you see the PDP providing that given its present state?
PDP is a party of eminently qualified people and they have been empowered in the last 16 years. Now, when you have help office like they have done, there is a certain level of experience that comes with it. They have sharp young people in that party who could lead them into the future. The first thing that needs to happen here is that the president needs to let the party go or else, the party should let him go.
How do you mean?
He needs to step down as leader of the party once he leaves office and become a statesman. He should not remain as a party member. In fact, the entire leadership of the party needs to go to pave the way for a new set of leaders.
If you have an opportunity to advise the in-coming President, what would you say to him?
He should introduce critical thinking into his administration. He should think through issues and do scenario planning. How do we solve the different problems that confront us as a people, sector by sector? Education, how do we solve the problem of education? There is a huge gap in education from kindergarten to secondary to the tertiary level. We have over 10.5 million children out of school in Nigeria, that is the highest number in any part of the world as a ratio of our population. Now, we have unskilled human beings about 70 to 80 million of them roaming the streets of Nigeria unemployable because they don’t have the right skills that the industry needs. We have a gap in the number of students that can be admitted every year into our university system. All our universities combine cannot admit more than 400,000 students every year. There is a big gap, where do the remaining 1.4 million people go to because 1.8 million people write JAMB every year and that number grows by about 7 per cent every. A good example, look at the state of Michigan, they have about 96 universities/ colleges for a population of 9.5 million people. So we need critical thinking in different areas, how do we propel Nigeria to greatness in five , years, ten years.