Since October 26, 2023, a Supreme Court ruling upholding Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s victory as the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra State and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, has not granted interviews to the media.

But on Saturday, January 20, 2024, he finally spoke with IKECHUKWU AMAECHI during this fortuitous encounter with TheNiche. He was traveling as normal, but he took thirty minutes to discuss concerns about governance and Nigeria’s future. What a fortunate meeting that proved to be.

The 2023 elections have come and gone. What are the biggest lessons you learnt therefrom?

Well, for me, the biggest lesson is the fact that Nigerians are actually committed to good governance. They are not as complacent as people thought they were because they, especially the youths, were actually committed to doing the right thing. That is why they came out in their numbers to participate in the elections.

The second lesson is the realization that the leaders, most people in the elite class are not actually interested in good governance because you can classify the electoral umpire as part of the elite class, the government, all of us are not prepared to do the right thing because if the elites are prepared to do the right thing, the result or the outcome of the election would have been different.

But for me the elections have come and gone and I don’t want to talk about the issue of the 2023 elections again. It has come and gone and I am done with it.

What I am talking about now are issues of governance because the average Nigerian today is talking about the Nigeria of today, and the Nigeria of tomorrow. That is what is important.

Talking about governance, are you satisfied with where Nigeria is today?

That is really a question for the generality of Nigerians to answer. Ask the average Nigerian how he is faring today. The truth is that we have many more Nigerians thrown into poverty, millions of Nigerians don’t know where the next meal will come from. Nobody is sure what the price of a cup of rice, garri or a loaf of bread will be tomorrow. So, it is Nigerians that you should ask the question.

It is not a question for me to answer. It is not something I alone will tell you. Ask Nigerians, the masses out there on the streets of Nigeria and you will get a feel of what they are going through. But I know that the situation is critical.

But President Bola Tinubu will definitely disagree. He is of the opinion that his reforms – removal of fuel subsidy and floating of the Naira – in particular are not only bold and consequential but are working, so much so that speaking at the 10th German-Nigerian Business Forum in Berlin, Germany in November 2023, he said he deserves to be listed in the Guinness World Records for the reforms he has made since assuming office on May 29, 2023.

He may actually be correct when he claims that his name deserves to be in the Guinness World Records. Don’t forget that people’s names don’t always make it into the Guinness World Records for only altruistic reasons. So, it depends on which angle he is coming from. If the idea is to put his name in the Guinness Book of Records for causing Nigerians the most hardship – untold hardship, of course he is spot on and I will totally agree with him because his reforms are not achieving what they are meant to achieve.

But some of your critics say that both you and Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also promised to remove the fuel subsidy if elected. So, Tinubu did it. What is wrong with that?

Yes, I agree that the fuel subsidy has to be removed because it is not sustainable, but there should have been gains from the removal. Right now, they say they are saving billions of Naira, which nobody is feeling the positive impact. The other subsidy is the exchange rate. They said when the Naira is floated, people will be able to access foreign exchange at the same rate. But today there is even a wider gap between the official exchange rate and the unofficial rate. The official rate is about N900 to $1 while the unofficial rate hovers between N1,300 to N1,400. So, the gap today is even bigger.

The implication is that we are doing something that is just not right. It is not enough to claim that you have removed subsidy. And these are the things that we need to look into because the idea of reforms is that it is something that would have helped Nigeria to begin to walk on the right path, in the right direction and it must be all-inclusive. I have always said reforms in governance should be in all sectors simultaneously. We should be dealing with the issues of cutting the cost of governance, corruption, all forms of waste, targeting priority areas – education, health, pulling people out of poverty, simultaneously.

You cannot do one and leave the others. What you are doing has to be seen by the people. I was a governor and we dealt with these issues simultaneously and holistically. That is the only way to achieve positive results. If you do one and leave the others, you are bound to have problems. These issues should be dealt with simultaneously and transparently. People have to see what you are doing.

But Tinubu on January 9, directed that all the entourage to state and international events be drastically reduced by 60 per cent. Shouldn’t that suffice?

No, no! I am talking about cost of governance, overall cost of governance. And remember what I just said, everything has to go simultaneously. You cannot do this and leave that. It has to be done across board.

Some people strongly believe that despite the removal of fuel subsidy, the Tinubu government may, in fact, be paying a much higher subsidy now for Nigerians to be able to buy petrol at N600 per litre given the strength of our national currency. Do you have that feeling too?

Well, I have just told you that anything we are going to do, we must do it in such a way that people will see the gains. And there must be a clear destination of where we are headed, where such policies will take us. It is easy when you tell people to suffer today because in five years, ten years, they will get to the Promised Land and everybody who is preaching that is in the same vehicle. So, everyone is in the same situation.

You cannot be preaching A and doing B. You cannot tell people, let us fast and they are seeing you feasting. If you preach fasting, everybody must be seen to be fasting. Some shouldn’t be feasting while telling others to fast. The issues that are fundamental today starting with the issue of security of lives and property, people must see the government doing something. It is not about empty rhetoric. Governance is hard work. They must see and appreciate that their leaders care for them, their welfare. Unfortunately, that seems not to be the case. All they see now is the elites celebrating when the masses are poverty-stricken and told to further tighten their belts.

But again, speaking at the second term inauguration of Governor Hope Uzodimma last Monday, Tinubu assured Nigerians of an impending economic recovery, expressing confidence in the country’s ability to overcome the adverse effects of the fuel subsidy removal. He was upbeat about the country reaping positive outcomes from the elimination of the fuel pump price subsidy. He said in the past 40 years, a few people were cornering our commonwealth, and calling it subsidy but assured that things are looking up. “Things will get better for the good of all Nigerians. With me, there is hope,” he said.

Nigerians will be the judge. Of course, the picture he is painting is unreal. That means he is far removed from reality. I tweeted this week that things are getting worse, not better. People must learn how to govern and serve transparently and truthfully. The reality is there for everyone to see. Even if we did things wrongly in the past, like some people will refer to me and say, when you were there what happened, even if we did it wrongly in the past, must we continue doing the wrong things now?

Remember when I was campaigning, I said, I will draw a line because if people did the wrong things yesterday, I am not saying they should go free, but let us draw a line, let us start now and say, no more because we have seen where the wrong things of yesterday have gotten us to. So, if people yesterday did the wrong things, yes, I agree that we should ask questions if need be, but for me, on a scale of 100 per cent, I will devote 10 per cent energy on yesterday because yesterday is gone and put 90 per cent on today and tomorrow because those who only think about yesterday will not be able to meet up with the demands of today and tomorrow.

And I am talking to you from experience – what I have done before. That is why I laugh when people say to me, Peter when you were there, Anambra’s rating on this or that was so and so but when your successor came, it improved. But they forget that it was what I did that my successor was being rated on. People say, when you were there, education was not good, it was when Willy Obiano came that it improved; poverty rating was this. But they forget that it was what I did that improved the ratings. So, you must concentrate on dealing with today. For me, I want to see the cost of governance cut drastically in every area today and the money invested in priority areas. That is what will be used to measure tomorrow.

I want to see corruption reduced to the barest minimum today. That is what will guarantee our tomorrow. And in doing all this, there should be no grabbing of headlines, no media frenzy. When the right things are done, everyone will see it and feel it. When I was doing what I was doing in Anambra State, and you are aware of that, I was with the people every day, they knew what we were doing but it was only after eight years when I was leaving that I invited the media to come and tour the state and see what I was able to do.

Just, yesterday, someone asked me a question that he heard I built a psychiatric hospital and school at Nawfia and I said yes. Let me tell you, one of the things we need to fix quickly in this country is the issue of psychiatric hospitals. People don’t seem to be aware that Nigeria has a huge mental health crisis. Perhaps, in a scale of ten, one Nigerian has a mental health issue. These are the issues we need to deal with.

That is frightening. What could be the cause?

So many things but they all boil down to stress, poverty and depression. Nigerians are really suffering. Don’t make any mistake about that and these are issues we have to deal with. I keep saying it every day that health and education are issues that pull a people up. That is what solves the problems of the society. So, you need to deal with them simultaneously and people will see you working hard at it. You may not achieve 100 per cent result but people must see 100 per cent effort. And you are not going to achieve that by doing what we are doing now. It is not about noise making. Dealing with these issues is not about noise, when you do the right thing, people will see it, they will feel it.

But the government is striving to pull people out of poverty through various poverty alleviation schemes although some people are of the view that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation should be scrapped.

I am not talking about what should be scrapped or what should be retained. For me, whatever the ministry, even if we decide to create new ministries today, people want to see transparency. What they are doing must be transparently and clearly defined and followed through in the service of public good. People want to verifiably see what you are doing and why you are doing it, not propaganda and sophistry. They will support it if they see the sincerity of purpose. So, you can create a new ministry, just like I always say, you can borrow money. Nigeria needs to borrow but just tell us what you are doing with the money you are borrowing.

If I am president, if I have the opportunity, I will do exactly what I am telling you. It is not rocket science. All it requires is the political will to do what is right and what will promote public good. Go and ask people in Anambra State, I was meeting with traditional rulers, community leaders, students, church leaders, everybody, and I will tell them, this is what we want to do and this is why we are doing it. Simple! Inclusive governance because they are the people who elected you. I told them we are going to do this and that. I will tell them areas we will concentrate and the people will see what is being done.

So, when I say we will make more money from agriculture than oil due to the vast uncultivated land in the North, that we need it to pull people out of poverty in the North, to kick-start the industries that are dead in the North, the people will see it. And it is not going to be a political statement. These are factual statements that will be backed by action. It is not going to be achieved overnight but we need to be on the right path and continue on that trajectory. That is what other nations have done over the years and it worked for them. Ours will not be different.

You are an apostle of good governance. From what you have seen so far, do you think Nigerians share your vision? Do you believe that in Nigerians you have faithful disciples who believe in good governance?

Yes, I do. Nigerians believe in good governance. They don’t only believe in it, they clamour for it.

If they do, why then didn’t they vote for you?

But you know as well as I do that they did. The problem is that the elites are still manipulating the system to suit their whims and caprices. But it will get to a stage that their machinations will consume them. The ordinary Nigerian wants something good. The elites are still manipulating the situation and they are still in charge. How long they will continue to be in charge, I don’t know. But I do know that the votes of the people and the people themselves are bigger than them.

So, what they do is that they manipulate the system for their selfish interest and personal aggrandisement and these elites are in every sector. They are not just in politics. They are in the corporate world, church, every sector. So they manipulate the religious, tribal and ethnic sentiments to make sure that nothing good happens.

They tell you, for instance, that oh, this man is tribalistic but they are the worst tribalists. Oh, this person is a religious bigot, but they are worse. And because they know how to manipulate the system to suit their selfish agenda, they tend to have their way for now.

But it won’t be forever because the scales are beginning to fall off the eyes of the people. Is there any religion that its adherents buy bread cheaper? Is there any religion that members buy petrol at a cheaper rate? Is there any religion whose adherents are not suffering the poverty ravaging the country today? Is any tribe immune from the consequences of bad governance? No! But when elections come, they pull the issues of ethnicity and religion from their bag of tricks” and put them on the table and they will be singing about them because it is their talisman.

It is also like the nonsense which people espouse everyday of joining the ruling party so that you can become part of the center. What type of statement is that? Must we run a Nigeria where if you are not part of the government at the center, then you are ostracized? No. Nigeria should be a place where no-matter where you are, you should be able to live a normal life.

Do you go to America and tell someone in California that he or she must vote for a particular person so that they will be part of Washington DC? The answer is no. They just want to vote for who governs California or who governs America.

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