First and foremost, let me thank you for having me. The corporate world, by and large in itself, is another level of schooling, another level of learning, and another level of teaching. Most times people don’t seem to understand that their patterns, mannerisms, achievements, or failures are in large part determined by interactions, collaborations, and engagements in the political field. So, I moved from the corporate world, which a lot of people will regard as a comfort zone, into what some people will regard as the murky world of politics because I actually know that is where lives are dimensioned, that is where lives are determined. A lot of what happens in the corporate world where I came from, to a large part, is actually determined by politics. My preference for the platform for policymaking further amplifies my knowledge and interest to the extent that engaging in politics, especially that of policymaking, defines and redefines our existence as a people. I actually had to move to go and contribute my quota to the development of the Nigerian man, the development of humanity and the development of our space, going forward, but this time around, from the point of policymaking.
This will be your second shot. What was your experience the first time like?
Well, you know, there are things about Nigerian politics that most people don’t understand. There are things that happen and there are real things that happen and there is the truth underpinning those things that happen. My experience the first time is in two folds. My support from the perspective of those who own our nationality, or those who own the nation – the plebeian or common man, and of course, there are always the incursion, intransigence, or overbearing dominance of those who think they own the people and can make things happen the way they want. So, to a large extent, I must use this opportunity to show gratitude to those who actually own the nation – the common man – for their participation and cooperation, and for what they showed the last time. Yes, things didn’t go my way, of course, because of what you may refer to as the ‘Nigerian factor’ in politics, which from my own calculation is actually de-escalating as most people are becoming interested in politics. It was a rewarding, revealing, and educative experience and it is the shortfall or shortcomings from the other experience that I am actually bringing to bear now. Now, we are better horned, better schooled, better trained, and better equipped to face it, going forward. So, it is going to be a different ball game in 2023, God willing.
Will there ever be an end to political violence and thuggery in Nigerian politics?
Well, I am a professional in politics. I don’t lay claims to being a seer, or a prophet. I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t presuppose that I have the gift of clairvoyance. However, those who are more impacted in terms of ‘misleadership’ are even actually the thugs. As it is today, I think their colouration in politics is changing, and we are going to see less of this (thuggery) going forward because when you meet and engage them from the point of courage, they literarily mortgage their future, they are more desperate than they were to put things right. You must have seen some (comedy) skits, where some of these so-called thugs (I hate to call them thugs because they are children of other people) are now beginning to ask questions that “if I become a thug for you and (you) win an election, will you allow me to marry your daughter?” Now, as comical as that may sound, you are beginning to realize that they now know that they cannot be used like tractors to make a road and later disqualified from plying that same road. So, they have become more interested in the sense of active participants and not just thugs to destroy things. Now, there is an economic angle to all of this. The Rational Choice Theory in Economics will always tell you, you do things first that will benefit you. So, they give them money to engage in some of that mayhem and commence their activities. But I think and I believe, and I pray and I hope, that we are going to see less of these, going forward. And, if all of us are afraid of the activities of thugs, or touts, and don’t engage in politics, who then goes in there to do the job? And so, some of us have decided to leave our comfort zones, high-paying jobs, and high levels, because somebody must take the risk. I believe that even the thugs you alluded to are bearing the brunt of bad leadership (‘misleadership’) and are going to contribute their own quota, this time around, to make sure we achieve peaceful poll.
What are your chances against the incumbent at a time when you need a war chest to contest an election in Nigeria? Do you have a war chest?
As an Economist and someone who has a Ph.D. at the highest level- Credit Management level, when you say something is expensive or an endeavour is expensive, what I need to do is to segment or compartmentalize it. What and which areas account for the huge costs of funding an election? Is it the cost of advertising your programmes? The cost of bribing the electorate, or bribing the authorities? Yes, it is expensive to the end that you don’t have anything to offer and you have to soldier your way through. But when you are a good product, I can assure you that the expense areas are actually reduced. I am not one of those who are intent on buying people’s conscience to woo them into supporting my candidacy. Secondly, we are coming with a Social Contract, to the extent that we are partners with those we are intending to superintend upon, in which case even you the interviewer are going to contribute to a common purse that we are going to use to move the election going forward. You hear in the US, for example, when candidates emerge, you have corporate organisations, friends contributing to a common purse so that they can fund the elections. That is the kind of instrumentality, the kind of strategy I intend to use so that the incidence or the burden of the expenditure on me is less and all of us will now be seen as working together. So, the mentality of ‘o, you must need a huge war chest to engage in Nigerian politics’ is not only defeatist, it is escapist and discouraging for those who have something to offer but do not have the means. That has to change, going forward, and I am more than willing to be that instrument of change Nigeria is waiting for.
You are trying to be a Senator representing Kogi East. This time around, what should your constituents expect differently from those before you?
Well, the truth of the issue is most of our representatives before now only wanted to be Senators. Most of them, I will not say all of them, because some of them have vision, most of them actually became Senators without even knowing the kind of people they were elected to represent. It may interest you to know that in my own part of Kogi State, the Kogi East Senatorial District, we have about 1418 villages, about 712 hamlets, and then, the territory or the constituency starts from Ibaji, the border town to Edo, and terminates in Omala, the border town to Nasarawa. So, to your question about what we are going to do differently, we are going to first and foremost start with a Social Contract. Now, I keep emphasizing this issue of a Social Contract, it is about meeting the people and asking them what they think they need, and then agreeing with them on what they need, then bringing the modalities, the model that will cause them to achieve those things together. This time around applying national resources. I will give you an example. My part of the state, Kogi East, is water-locked, is air-locked, and land-locked. I am not saying I am going to cause an airport to be brought there. That is not economically viable, but you can open up my part of that state by building a bridge across Shintaku, which is in the Basa area, and across Gbagana which is in Omala, and across Idah, which is the Edo area. The moment you open up that area, the vehicular and human movement alone is more than enough to open up that economy.
The second thing I will tell you is that in my constituency, we have a place that produces one of the highest grades of cashew nuts, and when the season comes you see trucks upon trucks, pickups upon pickups (vans), picking up all these cashew nuts out, and when I reflect, I say “no, we cannot be smiling that we are making money from selling cashew nuts.” The moment you see them going out, what you have going out are actually people’s jobs going out… people’s livelihoods going out. So, as a Senator representing them, I am going to make sure that those cashew nuts are semi-processed within my constituency, thereby creating jobs. It is the semi-processing now that creates jobs outside. It may interest you to know that part of that cashew nuts are, according to what I heard, washed somewhere in Ghana, semi-processed in Kenya, and shipped to Europe. In Ghana where they are washed, they are creating thousands of jobs, in Kenya where they are semi-processed, they are creating thousands of jobs before they are shipped to Europe. Why don’t we domicile these processes within Kogi East and then you can begin to create jobs and take people off the streets, in which case you can economically begin to dampen the prevalence of thuggery.
These people are not by nature thugs, they are not by nature thieves, for example, but it is out of a lack of something to do that they indulge in some of these social misdemeanors. So, if we deal with that for example, the economy is open and people now begin to have a means of livelihood. I am not vying for the chief executive of the state, but I can engender a policy from the centre that will make that happen. A third one, if that will make more sense, as an Economist, one of the major problems we have in the third world, emerging and developing countries, especially Nigeria, is with the metric of measurement. If I tell you that the budget of Nigeria will move by this and that, and use the GDP as a metric, I am saying authoritatively that that metrics is wrong. Until that metric is changed, then the chances of us developing will be very, very slim. All other countries that are developed bring a change in their metrics without as much as an announcement. So, those are the kinds of things we are bringing this time around because we need a big push to move Nigeria forward. Once Nigeria moves forward, Kogi State will not be left behind, Kogi East will not be left behind, and the Igala people will not be left behind.
If you were to assess the administration of Governor Yahaya Bello in Kogi State these past seven years, how will you score him?
My brother, if you are a science student in a secondary school, and you do English, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, and you have grades ranging between zero and hundred, and then if the person scores English 15 and Mathematics 10, Physics 5, Chemistry 5, Geography, the most important rubric or measurement of the performance of any government is the livelihood and security of the people. I would not want to understate it, but I think you can take an excursion to my state and you will see more than I am likely to say. It is not even in my place to rate him, because there are no metrics that I can use to rate him.
Today, the PDP has a national chairman, but the ruling APC is still struggling with its own internal dynamics, does this suggest anything?
There is this proverb where I come from that if you want to know how to keep your husband, seek advice from a woman who could not keep her home. PDP has learnt her lesson. You will agree with me that in the history of democracy in Nigeria, in the annals of democratic practice in Nigeria, this is the first time you are having a seamless,, ‘quarrel-less’ convention by any political party in Nigeria. Before the convention, you know, there were some smiles and some not too good impressionable faces, but after the convention, virtually everyone was smiling. This is the first time we are having a consensus arrangement where everyone is happy, it is not in my place to talk about the (ruling) APC, but someone told me that they have about 92 or 93 chairmen across the (36) states, and I begin to wonder, 36 states and you have 92 chairmen, which means you have states having two, three or four chairmen. So, when they call their convention, I wonder who they will be inviting. I feel for them, but sorry, they have a lot to learn from the PDP. I think this time around they should just rest the party and come to those who are veterans in the PDP to teach them how to practise democracy, and I wish them well.
Where do you tilt on this contentious issue of whether or not to zone the Presidency?
Well, you see, zoning is good to calm down tempers. However, I would, any day, rather vote for competence, character, or ability over zoning. The reason why we are talking about zoning is because of the plethora of injustices we have within the system. But if we have a competent leader who is detribalized, who is not nepotistic, or sectional, these agitations will naturally simmer down. Yes, I believe if zoning is going to naturally ameliorate, as it were, the flaring tempers, fine. But I will vote for competence and character above zoning, any day.
This ninth National Assembly is largely seen as an appendage of the Presidency – as an aspirant, what do you think is lacking and want to see done differently?
First and foremost, my vow is to those who gave me the mandate. If elected as a Senator, I have, first of all, a duty to the people, far and above the government. The problem here is there is no strict dividing line between loyalty to the state and loyalty to the party. I will not be more loyal to my party than I will be to the state. Once they can have that delineation and it is amplified in such a way that the loyalty is to the state, the Nigerian state, as against the party, a number of things will change.
Secondly, I don’t know how most of them got there, some of them could have been there on the basis of political patronage, but if you have been there on account of a Social Contract with the people, knowing fully well that you are responsible to the people, then the people will naturally ask questions. So, I don’t know who they are responsible to. If you are responsible to the people, then you must do things that will support the people. Having said that, I am not one who will engender, or encourage misalignment between the parliament and the executive, but that has to be done in such a way that the interest of the nation and the people is paramount, as against just keeping a relationship that will just make everyone happy. By your admission, you have said what the people feel about them (members of the NASS), I wouldn’t want to say what I feel about them, which is why some of us are coming into the tenth Assembly to give the desired pep so that Nigerians can benefit from the democracy that we worked so hard to achieve.
Nigerians will return to the polls next year, what are the chances of your party, the PDP, given the performance of the ruling APC so far? Do you think Nigerians will trust the PDP to return to power this time around?
I watched the interview a few days ago between Seun (Okinbaloye of Channels Television) and our President (Muhammadu Buhari) where he was magnanimous enough to reel out some statistics, the exchange rate before this government came into power and now, the inflation rate then and now, I dare add that under the watch of this current government Nigeria has unfortunately been tagged with two unwholesome and uncharitable titles: the poverty capital of the world and the country with the highest number of unemployed youths in the world. Now, based on these statistics, if you are to vote for before and now, where will you vote? I think the answer will be the same that you will give. You would rather vote for better and not bad, excellent and not ‘about to’. I believe Nigerians have tested an alternative and they discovered that the alternative is nothing but pseudo, a cocktail of lies, this time around. As a party, we knew we made mistakes, but we are going to correct those mistakes and even be better, going forward, and Nigerians will definitely vote for the ‘real change’ that will move Nigeria to the Eldorado they expect.
What will you be telling the people of Kogi East, what is your promise to them?
Like I said earlier, if I were to rephrase this question it would be ‘what would be your promise to us?’ Because this issue of telling them literally ostracizes me from them since we are (supposedly) together. It is not about what I will be telling them, but about what I will be telling us. We have been in this boat for years and we have been rowing together. What we will be telling us is that the time has come for us to take our destinies into our hands, by ensuring that lay the right foundation for sustainable progress which is why I made allusion to a social contract before now. We talked about opening up the economy, bonding. Let me even tell you one thing. In Anambra, Edo, and parts of Ekiti, there are some people who are of Kogi extraction, and particularly Igala, that are in these places, who don’t see themselves as Igala people because no one has gone to them. We are now talking about ‘to your tent oh Israel’, bringing them together and, for the first time in the history of our evolution as a people, we realize that we are the ninth largest ethnic group in Nigeria and we need to be heard.
I give you another example, in the entire Middle Belt (North Central), there is no ethnic nationality that has the number of senior advocates than we have. Our people are extremely very educated, very enterprising, and all we need is to be able to pull our energy together so that the sum total of the pulling together benefits everyone. We are talking about engendering prosperity where no one is better off and no one is worse off. We are talking about pro-poor growth, we are talking about inclusive growth where people will take ownership of their destinies and one person cannot just decide for us, but ‘us’ decide for one person and the rest of us. So, that is the kind of mandate that I think we are asking from them. It is the kind of mandate that I think will take us across the river. It is the kind of mandate that I think will deliver because we are in competition with other ethnic nationalities. If you say there are three ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, you mention the Hausa, the Igbo, and the Yoruba, we want to be able to see that in a few years down the line, once you mention the three, you then mention the Igala.