Can you share your experience in the last governorship election, being one of the contestants in Lagos state?
Yes, I was a candidate in the last governorship election in Lagos State on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), an old party at the beginning of the 1999 round of democracy. And I came a distant third. Many people don’t seem to know that, and especially you media people; you made it look like it was just between two parties; yes, it might be these are the two parties likely to win. But the professional media attitude should have been ‘let a hundred flowers bloom!! In serious democracies, they still cover the Green Party and even single-issue parties, like fighting for gender rights only, etc. For me, I think the Nigeria media should help the electoral process to reflect the diversity of views as represented by the diversity of parties. May be it is professional laziness, or more serious world-view problem.
But the media just focused on two parties shining with big money. Which is why I’m thankful to God and Lagos voters that I still came third, even though I didn’t have all those billions to spend. I had a good message. I remember people telling me after debates, or during radio interviews, and television, and on social media that my message was the best of all the candidates, but I had no money to win!! But I think on the issues that really matter to majority of Lagosians, as well as the analysis of governance challenges in Lagos, I made the most sense to the electorate. I had a poor party, which literally did not field any candidate for any elections since 2007. So we made this outing in 2015, eight years after, which is a long time to be away from active politicking and seeking votes.
I came a very weak third position in vote numbers, after APC and PDP, with about 12 or so other candidates, even though half of them were sold out to the two big parties; even my own party, at the last minute, I have to be frank, sold out to PDP, but I refused and insisted that I was going on with my legal candidacy; my name and picture were on the INEC ballot. My experience is that there is still a lot to do to reduce the influence of money in our electoral politics. We should educate the people more to know what their own self-interests are, and to see election processes as an opportunity for them to pursue their own self-interests as citizens in a qualitative sense. The parties also need to attract more decent people, with public interest at heart. People who want to give rather than just take. The small parties sell out so easily!!
In your view, is the anti-corruption fight of the current administration sustainable?
Well, I like that question, is it sustainable? President Buhari alone cannot make it sustainable. He is only one man. He might have the discipline of a 100 people, but he cannot do it alone. So my first answer to that question is you the media, the middle class, the Imams, the Pastors and the average Nigerians, we have to work together to sustain it. See, we have a leader now who says this is where I want to go, no more corruption, so, if the opinion- controlling stakeholders align with him, then it will be sustainable. But if he is going the anti-corruption way and people in government or private sector, or in political parties, are going another way, then it is not sustainable. So it’s as much about us as it’s about him. He should give us the leadership, fire people who need to be fired, live by example, which I believe he is already doing. He is not a man given to showmanship and all the big-man-ism of power. He is an austere man.
So I think he is already trying to give us the leadership. The question is, are we going to queue up behind him? Not just you and me, but the key institutions of governance; the media, the judiciary, the civil service, the MDAs, the Christian and moslem leaders who control a lot of opinions, those who lead this or that parastatal, etc. Let the MDA leaders each become a mini Buhari in the institution they are leading. Let them lead by that same integrity, discipline, and show it day by day, then it’s sustainable. That’s my answer. But if you want the wider details of the specific steps he has taken, the first thing he said he is doing, though I’ m not his spokesman, is to repair and restructure the institutions that deliver the processes of governance. I think he said it’s one of the reasons he is not in a hurry to appoint ministers. Even if he gets angels as ministers and he puts them on top of rotten institutions, rotten processes, they will not make any significant change. So, he says he’s trying to repair and harmonize all those processes. That is a good place to start. He is not going to do everything perfectly; he is only a human being, but I think he is starting in the right places.
How do you react to the allegation of the PDP that the anti-corruption fight is selective and that President Buhari is hounding only PDP members in the name of fighting corruption? In fact, they have challenged the president to also investigate those who sponsored his campaign.
Yes, I understand their anxiety. But I can see why it looks like that to them. One year, two years from now, if 50 people are in prison, the President has recovered stolen money from 500 people and I cannot see some APC persons there, then I will start worrying. If the PDP appear to be the only people being hounded now, it’s only because they controlled the system up till now. So if you are looking at what has gone wrong, it’s going to be more on them at first. At a point they were controlling up to 26 states out of 36 states, until some people started leaving just close to the 2015 elections; and they have controlled the presidency for 16 years. Let’s face it, the statistical probability is very high that it is the PDP they will get first, because they had almost 75% control of the governance and spending processes, including the presidency for 16 years. But let’s look at the trend. I know that corrupt leaders are in both the PDP and APC, they are in all the parties.
Two years from now, I will be better able to answer your question about what seems like targeting only PDP. It’s one of those things I was telling you about the structural problems of our electoral politics. It has been so heavily monetized that even if Jesus Christ or Mohammed is coming to run for office here, they will need too much money. I think it’s an area the President would need to show leadership. I think we need a national political-funding conference. We need all the stakeholders in Nigerian politics to come together and say, what are the legitimate, decent ways by which you should fund parties, so that democracy is promoted rather than undermined? To run for governorship election now, they will tell you billions, but billions for what? If you look at the electoral laws on funding of a governorship election, it says two hundred million naira maximum to be spent by each candidate; but if you assess the money they spent in Lagos state, was it just two hundred million by each of the big parties? Why are you media people not talking about it? So it’s a systemic problem for our entire political process, and I believe there must be a popular conference in this country where we are discussing how political parties are to be funded, and then we come to some agreement. Let there be a mechanism to monitor that if you spend above the stipulated amount, you are automatically disqualified, even if you’ve already won the elections.
So are you saying that the concern of the PDP is out of place?
At this point, it’s an academic question whether he will target only PDP or refuse to touch APC politicians who are proven to have stolen our money. But so far, I don’t think that is Buhari, in terms of integrity. I really believe he will get anybody who needs to be gotten. Let PDP give him some time. But the point is this: the president said he would fight corruption, he is doing some processes like this Treasury Single Account (TSA) and in doing that, he is actually trying to implement the law of Nigeria. People keep saying that most of these things are in the statute books but they are not implemented. TSA is in the 1999 constitution, Section 80, sub-sections 1, 2, 3 and 4? And I think section 162 or so. So, Buhari is simply looking at the book and applying it. Even if you look at the pattern of key appointments; look at NNPC. That man is Delta Igbo. Look at Chief of Defense Staff. Let’s look at the trend, I’m a social scientist, I’m used to looking at trends rather than episodes. Two years or so from now, the trends will be even clearer. Then we can make qualitative assessments and pronouncements.
As a policy analyst, what do you make of the TSA? Don’t you think it will affect the Banks negatively?
One thing I like about the crisis we have in the country, the financial crisis, the crisis of government salaries, crisis of corruption, the falling oil prices, etc, is that it should give many of the key stakeholders an opportunity to examine themselves, to see whether they have been serving Nigeria in the best possible way, to question their own patriotism, whether the way they have been using their sectoral power is in alignment with the highest interest of national economic development. For me, instead of the banks becoming cry-babies and anxious, what they should do is to say, maybe this is an opportunity to be a better sector in promoting national development. To make ourselves richer by making millions more Nigerians wealthier, by enabling them to expand the economy through qualitative banking support, so people can invest and run thriving enterprises, especially the micro, small and medium businesses at the bottom of the pyramid economy – which we call BoP or grassroots economy. Nigeria has difficulties in many sectors now, so let’s see it as an opportunity to take a more strategic look at how we have done things up till now. Only about 30% of Nigerians operate with the banks, despite all the cashless policy.
That should worry them more than government pulling out its cash reserve. You won’t believe how many Nigerians still keep their money in clay safes! Why? They don’t trust the banks. Unfair C.O.T charges, delays to transact simple business, you can’t get a loan, especially the low-income people, interests are outrageous, etc. Human beings have a chance to reflect deeply and become better when we have difficulties. If even N150 billion of government money is pulled out of the banking system, I think it gives an opportunity to the so-called commercial banks – because their commercial orientation is the big problem, an opportunity to strategically review the character and quality of their involvement in the Nigerian project. Right now, we have trading or commercial banks in Nigeria, we don’t have banks that are qualitatively working for national development, that are oriented towards industrialization of Nigeria.
They do three types of trading; they trade in the foreign currency that they get from government; they trade with Nigerians who do buying and selling, who look for importable goods that are selling well in the local market, buy them from Taiwan or wherever they are produced, where the jobs have already been created in those foreign countries, boosting those economies; they just bring the goods to sell here. Then the last one, our banks hold easy government money, at usually low interest, which they then loan out at outrageous interest rates to those who need to invest in the real economy. In fact, they loan very little of it to the real economy. The major problem is that the Nigerian banking system has refused to go out of their comfort zone to interface strategically with the Nigerian public for wealth creation.
They say they hold short-term deposits and therefore cannot give long-term loans. It’s a lazy argument. That problem can be solved. They have not innovated sufficiently to interface with the insurance sector, industry and especially the BoP economy, where we still have tens of trillions of naira of potential wealth trapped, because millions of poor people, especially the youth, who can create wealth, are not creating wealth, since there’s nobody to give them reasonable loans. The microfinance ones are worse. They are shylocks. Some of them are even said to belong to, or to be partly owned by the commercial bankers themselves. See, there are two, key remaining frontier-sectors in the Nigerian economy today that we have not really entered to start bringing out wealth; agriculture and industry. And they are precisely the two sectors that our banks are hesitant to finance.
-Mr. Bolaji Ogunseye is a policy analyst and the governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Lagos State in the last governorship election. In this interview with Peterclaver Egbochue, he urges all Nigerians to join President Muhammadu Buhari in the fight against corruption in the country. He also postulates that a national conference should be organized where political stakeholders will discuss ways and means of drastically reducing the influence of money in elections