Voting for Buhari was a big mistake – Bede-Anthonio
Public affairs analyst and former Managing Director, Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC). Mr John Bede-Anthonio has dismissed President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade as an unnecessary distraction, maintaining that corruption cannot be fought without addressing the structural issues that breed it such as quota system and federal character.
Bede-Anthonio who is a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) spoke in this interview with Obinna Ezugwu. He said he regrets campaigning for Buhari in the 2015 general election as according to him, the President has turned out to be a failure. Excerpts:
Reactions have continued to trail Senate’s rejection of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairman of the EFCC. What is your interpretation of the scenario?
We should be building institutions; strong institutions, not strong men. Right now, we are building strong-warlords all over the place. That should be discouraged. If the President sends Magu’s name to the Senate, and another institution, a top security agency in the country says he is no fit to hold the position, the Senate is justified to reject him. Magu can be replaced, there are ten thousand Nigerians that can do the job of EFCC chairman better than Magu. And why is it that it is only Northerners that they think can do that job?
Looking at Magu, his presentation at the National Assembly was disappointing, he couldn’t have passed a school certificate interview. His performance was terrible, he was arrogant. They asked him questions, he was not prepared to answer them. You are going to the Senate to answer questions on very serious national issues, but you couldn’t prepare for it, yet you want to head an institution like the EFCC, something is wrong. If the Senate rejects him, the President should find another person. There are many people who are better than Magu, the President should stop focusing on strong people, strong people will disappear, but strong institutions will last.
Don’t you think his rejection may have had to do with the Senate being afraid of him because they may also be guilty of corruption?
I don’t think that argument is relevant. They may all be corrupt, or let’s assume 90 percent of them are corrupt, but the important thing is whether the Senate was created as one of the three arms of government: the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. The legislature is the representative of the people; that is fundamental. Whether they are corrupt or not, they are the representative of the people who are empowered by the constitution to confirm or reject an appointee of the executive. They only did their job, so let the President look for another person. Leadership is about creating institutions, not destroying them.
Looking at the EFCC under Magu, the money it has recovered so far. Don’t you feel he is doing well?
You can pursue anti-corruption, but the strategies are wrong. There are fundamental issues that have to be tackled if you are serious about fighting corruption. You cannot fight corruption when you are talking about federal character; you cannot fight corruption when you have quota system. Federal character and quota system breed corruption. Those are the roots of corruption. When you use quota system to put a very incompetent man in a position, he cannot do his job, he will just do whatever he feels like because he knows he has a godfather somewhere. Corruption cannot be fought the way he is fighting it.
Again, fighting corruption cannot be a one man band, there has to be team work. Corruption has to be fought from the top, at the middle and at the grassroots levels, you must carry people along. How much money have they recovered? How much have they spent? I think all this is just noise. Nobody has been able to tell us how much has been recovered. Whatever the amount, it cannot be something that we can rely on. It is not going to help the budget, it is not going to make significant impact on any sector of the economy. All the money they have recovered, if they put it in education, it will have little or no impact.
Let me tell you, if you are driving a car, the rear mirror is very small, the mind-screen is very large, so if you spend most of your time looking in the rear mirror, you cannot move fast. You can even cause an accident, and that’s what is happening. The strong man is now tired and sick. Instead of focusing on institutions, they were focusing on strong men. It is only God that is a strong man.
When you talk about quota system, it boils down to the fundamental questions of Nigerian federation. Do you feel true federalism is the way forward?
Yes, true federalism and national character, not federal character or quota system, that’s the solution. Every part of this country is blessed with something. Even the almajiris in the North, they have some value. The question is, how do we turn what they have presently into something of value? It is education, their own type of education. Maybe not in English but Arabic, or even in their native language, there must be something to do with them. So for me, if we want to make any progress in this country, we must return to true federalism.
The current system that places too much power with the central government cannot stand, it will not survive for long. The Niger Delta boys are there fighting, Biafra people are there. Very soon, Oduduwa people will start their own, once they start, you know that it is done. But if we practice true federalism, in terms of everybody controlling what they produce, Nigeria will make progress. The problem is when some people who are not producing anything believe that they must be the rulers, and they are not knowledgeable. That’s why we are where we are, no leadership. Nigeria has a lot of potential, but there is no leadership.
But isn’t it obvious that Buhari is not interested in true federalism?
Well, he is an old school man. When he came in 1983, he was perhaps good, but the ideas he has now are totally outdated. Even though I’m an APC man, even though I campaigned and voted for him, it is obvious that we made a grave mistake. We need a modern man as president, someone who is well read, who is knowledgeable, forward thinking and has a vision for his people. Look at the man in Dubai, he has a vision for his people. So it is not an issue of religion, it is a matter of having a vision. The Bible tells us that where there is no vision, the people will perish. Leadership without vision is meaningless.
Are you saying Buhari has no vision?
I’m sorry, I have not seen it. They are writing an economic recovery programme in the second year of the administration, when they have two years left. That should have been their first programme; the first thing they should have done when they came in May 29, 2015, not after two years. Two years in the life of an administration is late, too late.
Talking about the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. What is your general impression of it?
Well, let’s commend them because they have shown that they can write something, whether what is written is right or wrong. The point however, is that we expected too much from them, they failed us. Now, that they have even written something, let’s say they are trying to recover. I have read the plan and I have my reservations. The vision is not there. What do we want Nigeria to be? What do we hope to achieve in ten years-time, or in twenty years-time? These are fundamentals. What are the key issues in this economy? How are we going to drive it?
There are 19 states in the North that can plant one million tonnes of rice each, if they do so, we will have 19 million tonnes of rice. There are so many things that can be produced in Nigeria, but we are importing them. It is lack of leadership. We have crude oil, we have four refineries, but we take the oil out to refine and bring it back. I mean, we are the laughing stock of OPEC. Yet, we have engineers, even if we cannot make the existing ones work, can’t we build our own? Our engineers need to be challenged.
Look at even the power sector, I know that the military can be engaged in these refineries, they have enough brain to drive these sectors if they are trained, but instead, they want them to become herdsmen. They are training them in Venezuela to become herdsmen, cattle rearers. We are going back to the 19th century, we are talking about cattle rearing instead of ranching. There is also the railway, why can’t the army handle it? We should be thinking out of the box. The government is not thinking, that’s the problem.
How do you reconcile the need for farming with herdsmen killing and chasing farmers away from farms?
The herdsmen are being encouraged by certain people in government. We don’t know why, but they are being encouraged because the security agencies are looking away. That’s it, but I believe the North still has enough land for farming. They can feed not only Nigeria, but the whole of Africa. That should be in the vision. That in Nigeria, in 10 years-time, we should be producing 19 million tonnes of rice and exporting 10 million tonnes. Same with wheat and cocoa, processed, not raw; not exporting cocoa beans and bringing back chocolate. So, you have agriculture and industrialisation going side by side; that’s what a vision is about. We should be planning to make Nigeria the centre of Africa, a situation where Africans won’t need a visa to come to Nigeria.
Every African should be entitled to own a house in Nigeria, that’s the way to go. That’s what the man in Dubai had done. He said, look I want to make Dubai the centre of the world, and you have everything that people enjoy from every part of the world. Here, they are just micromanaging, they are not visionaries. The people who wrote that document don’t have vision, they are only micromanaging crisis. It is a fire brigade approach, there is no long term planning. If you are talking of 10 million tonnes of rice, do you know how many jobs it would create? You won’t be talking of employment, it is automatic. When you say you want to employ 10 million people, to do what? What are you going to use them to do?
Are you surprised that Buhari turned out the way he has?
Well, on one hand, on the emotional side, I am surprised. But then, when you sit down and look at it very well, you ask yourself, how many books has this man read in 30 years? He left power over 30 years ago. How much interaction has he had? How many places has he been to in Nigeria? How many international conferences has he attended? You discover that there is no point being surprised. We voted him in thinking that he was really a man of integrity, but as it turned out, he is all motion, no movement.
When you say you thought he was a man of integrity. What was the basis for such thought?
Well, they wrote about him, we read about him in the military. They said he was very disciplined, very spartan, frugal and so on. But there were other parts of him we didn’t know.
He was head of State for two years. Would you say he did enough to suggest he had integrity?
He came first as a military man. Looking back, I think it was mistake on his part to have toppled the government at the time. He should have allowed the civilians to make mistakes, mature and take corrections. But he came with one sided mentality
So you would then agree that there was no basis for believing in him in the first place?
Yes, absolutely no basis. It is also a failure of leadership in Nigeria, we don’t have leaders, such that we had to go and bring back Buhari. It is a serious indictment on us, we don’t have leadership institutions. We need institutions where leadership will be taught. Condoleezza Rice was discovered when he was six years old. He was a CIA director in Louisiana, she was discovered as a potential leader when he was six years old, she was monitored and developed as a leader.
But in Nigeria, we look only at our children. But in truth, we don’t even look at our children. Where are (Adamu) Ciroma’s children? All these Northern leaders we know, where are their children? In the industry, in politics, where are they? Where are Atiku’s children? Shagari’s children? Maitama Sule? He has been in government since 1960, where are his children? Leadership must be developed.
One may argue that the key challenge is not having leaders, but choosing people for leadership positions, not on merit but based on religion or ethnicity?
Yes, religion and ethnicity is a problem, but if we have true federalism, it won’t be a problem as such any longer. An Igbo man is an Igbo man, a Yoruba man is a Yoruba man, Hausa man is an Hausa man, that’s why I said we should define what our national character will be. If we have true federalism, the Yoruba people will have their own leaders. We have different priorities as a people, the priority of a Hausa man is different from my priority as a Yoruba man.
My goal is to train my children to become better than me, the Hausa man doesn’t believe in education, the man from the East is a trader, he wants his sons to become traders and make money, some would want to be manufacturers. These are the differences, but if we have true federalism, we would be able to engage everybody in their own space and create what I call a national character. During the campaign, Buhari wore Igbo dress, Yoruba dress and so on, but the moment he was elected, he threw them away. That’s the kind of president we have.
You are conversant with the housing sector. The minister, Fashola won minister of the year recently. Would you say he did enough?
They buy those awards, it is rubbish. It is a waste of time to talk about it. In Nigeria, we glorify ourselves too much, that’s our problem. You haven’t done anything and you are receiving an award. It is only in a sick country like ours that you can do that. That’s why we have people like Dino Melaye, we glorify rubbish. He hasn’t done anything, there is no power, there is no housing, there is no mortgage; there is nothing on ground. You cannot even see a template. He said he wants to do seventy thousand houses in a year when we are talking about a shortage of seventeen million housing units. I would think that if I have seventeen million housing deficit, I’m going to build seventeen new cities. I will create seventeen new cities of one million houses each. That’s what to do.
Would that be possible considering that the Ministry of Housing has only N141 billion as provided in the 2017 budget and had much less last year?
There is no amount of money that would be enough if you are talking about money. If the federal government puts all its budget in one sector, it cannot solve the problem. The challenge is that they are not thinking outside the box. There is money with Nigerians in diaspora, there is money in the capital market. Housing is a tangible investment, if you decide you want to build 10 million houses over the next ten years, there would be money for it without government spending a dime. Just create it, the money will come.
The federal government shouldn’t be building estates, they should be building new cities. That’s what China and Dubai did, China created 200 new cities for its people, with each city being self- sustaining. All the 17 new cities should have industrial parks, business areas, have its own water system, power system, telephone systems and should be a federal territory. Then people will go there and build universities, polytechnics, hospitals, estates and so on. The federal government just needs to create the plan, investors will come. It is going to employ people, thousands of youths.
It is going to create new factories because when you build hundred thousand housing units, you are talking about new beds, new doors, new roofing sheets, people will start building factories. That’s what happens, the demand will be there, use demand to drive supply. The same thing with the foreign exchange, government is only looking at the supply side, they are not looking at the demand side. Why is only the Central Bank supplying dollars? Can’t it float so that the supply side and the demand side will start working together.
Right now, it is only Central Bank that is supplying. What about export and reverse importation? For example, 40 percent of foreign exchange in Nigeria is used to import fuel. If you repair refineries, you won’t import fuel. You won’t need to import sugar because you can grow sugar in ten Northern states. You can produce sugarcane, potatoes, so many things that can bring foreign exchange.
Some will say we started having problems when we discovered crude oil because it made us lazy?
No, I used to think so, but there is a more fundamental issue. Our educational system is warped. When you are developing from a one-year-old child, three-year-old child, five-year-old child, there has to be education. If you don’t play with the right kind of toys and the right kind of people, you will have a problem. Now, what can toys do? They help you to they develop your mind. If you play with the right kind of toy, and it gets broken, you will try and fix it. If you can’t fix it, your mother will help you and fix it while you watch. That way, your mental development is enhanced.
But if you don’t do things like that, your mental development will be warped. That’s why there is lack of maintenance culture in Nigeria. Because we were never taught how to fix things. You will see a guy who wants to open a tap, he will turn it the wrong way and break the tap. It is because of his mental development. We can’t maintain things, we can’t build new things. Somebody has built a refinery, but we can’t even maintain it. Yet, we have engineers trained at home and abroad. But call one white guy from America who is 25 years old, those refineries will start working. That’s the fundamental problem with Nigeria, so it has nothing to do with crude oil.
With all the challenges you have enumerated. What kind of future do you see for Nigeria?
By the grace of God, I see a greater Nigeria. I see this Buhari period, the hardship it has brought us as an opportunity for us to reset. We had been enjoying too much good things. I believe two things will help. One, the young population we have, very energetic. I also think technology is going to help us a lot. For example, Buhari could never have come in if we didn’t use those card readers. We couldn’t have solved some of the corruption challenges without the BVN, that’s technology. Then we have a younger generation who are aggressive and can change the world. They will give Nigeria the reset that it needs. And the so called mafia or cabal holding Nigeria to ransom will soon start to die off.
But countries that make progress usually evolve plans. Is your optimism predicated on plans or just hope?
I don’t see plans, I see the world moving. We, especially in the South West, are very astute, we are very up to date. Why do you see people like Bill Gates coming to Nigeria, Microsoft training one million Africans, why do you see Mark Zuckerberg coming here? Very soon, the guys here would be creating our own facebook. We will be creating our own software. I don’t see any plans by anybody, but I can see the world moving fast and we will catch up.
The world is now in what is called information age, ICT revolution. Are you saying we can jump industrial revolution and catch up?
“We have jumped, but we still have to go back. Kebbi State and Lagos State have started producing rice, 55, 000 farmers were involved in that production. Now, they said 120,000 farmers have registered for the same project. Imagine if it is repeated in every state. It is these kinds of things that we should be doing, we have to start looking inwards. I have a new business I’m promoting, I’m promoting export. It is called A-Z Export Network. People are so excited about it, I have 500 followers on social media. We have to be talking export every day. What can we export?
We can export everything, from food, solid minerals, art, Nollywood, even human beings; human capital. There was a time someone wanted 5,000 truck drivers in the Middle East, we are supposed to train those drivers here and export them. We should sit down and start to think, and if the government should get out of our way, and we have true federalism, we can do it. Saudi Arabia imports one million sheep from Australia, why can’t Zamfara State produce it?
Let’s talk about making due with what we have. In specific terms, what do you think Buhari can do to help our economy?
The first thing he needs to do is to expand the economy. And he can do that easily. We need to look at how easy it is to do business in Nigeria. There are certain licences that waste your time. For example, they changed this cash calls in the oil sector. But let them open up the entire space, do the same thing with solid minerals and so on. Collect just your royalty; your tax. Let the oil companies deal with those in the locality, the communities, and let them pay their tax. There are a lot of things we have to rethink. Government is hindering the progress of Nigeria and Nigerians. It is too large, too overbearing but inefficient.
Let me give you another example, there are about 11, 000 abandoned projects in Nigeria, it is documented. We sat down and said, these projects can be divided into three, the ones that are commercially viable, sell them to investors. There are some that are socially viable, bring in partners to look at them. Then there are some the government needs to be involved in because they are not viable. There are so many abandoned hospital projects, so many transmission line project, so many road projects, bridges, storage facilities all over the country. What are the 28 research institutes doing? They are not doing anything, just waste of time. Y
ou make the VP the chairman of NEMA, what was the basis? Is it that they need to monitor the money there or what? I also think that the Federal Internal Revenue Service should be separated from the VAT. There should be two different institutions: one for VAT, the other for internal revenue. Let the VAT people go after VAT. The economy of this country is $500 billion and we are a consuming nation, so you should be able to tax that consumption. Put in efficient man there, not people who went to Arabic school. Luxury cars, tax them; champagne, tax them, 50 percent VAT on luxury goods. Let the VAT office be independent; that would increase government revenue.
The budget is tiny, the total budget of Nigeria is $30 billion. That’s what they use for refuse collection in New York State, it is grossly inadequate. We need a budget of at least $100 billion a year to make any meaningful impact. We don’t have money, Nigeria is a poor country: poor physically, poor mentally, poor materially. We are not broke, we are poor. Is it not mental poverty that we cannot repair our refineries but we have MDs there? You have an MD in Kaduna refinery, in Port Harcourt refinery and Warri Refinery, you have MDs there. One MD from America can run all four of them. It is technology. It is a mental problem.
You don’t think it as a result of our inadequate educational system?
That’s what I said before, the educational system has a problem. When you are growing up, you are not taught the right things. You go to a school now and a child is learning to count one to hundred at the age of five, you don’t need it. All the child needs is one to ten. A child doesn’t know how to open a dictionary to check a word. How many university students go to library? They don’t. What is the largest circulating newspaper in Nigeria, Punch, just about 80, 000. In Bangladesh, one newspaper will print 500, 000 copies. We don’t read, that’s the problem. Now they say no more history in schools. It is very unfortunate.
Let’s come home to Lagos. How would you rate Akinwumi Ambode’s performance so far?
Well, he has done well so far, we have to commend him. We also have to commend his godfather, Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu for being able to find someone like him, that’s leadership. Finding the person who will do better than you, that’s leadership. He found Fashola, he did better than him, he found Ambode, he is doing better than Fashola. I’m hoping that such can be repeated. We need a system that can throw up leadership in that manner. Let’s move away from one man Ashiwaju picking people, to institutions picking people. Ambode is doing well, he is active, but he could do much more. I will give him 65 percent pass mark in certain areas, not in all areas. He needs to simplify the tax system, it is too complicated.
Government needs also to reach the local communities. I would like a situation where if the budget is to be submitted to the house in October, in June, the government is going to all the local governments and wards and asking them what they want. Then, devout 50 percent of the budget for capital project for what they want, not what the government wants. I would love the Ambode government to put a law to the effect that money from crude oil in the state would not be spent, the 13 percent derivation should not be spent; only the interest ought to be spent.
So we can have a sovereign wealth fund in Lagos State. The federal government needs to look at what is happening in Lagos. What is Lagos doing? It is putting qualified people into positions, it is not quota system. What we are doing at the federal level cannot work.
You commended Tinubu for bringing Ambode who you say is good. But Tinubu also helped to bring Buhari. Why couldn’t he find someone that would be good for the centre?
Let me put it this way, from the outside, Buhari is a good choice. But some people have hijacked him. Tinubu’s reason for choosing him had merit, but he has allowed himself to be hijacked. His wife has said it, El-Rufai has said it, many people have confirmed it. You can find a job for a man, but you can’t help him to do it. It’s a shame.
If you find a man who can’t do the job, doesn’t it mean you found the wrong person?
Well, then the man should resign. Obasanjo said it, if you can’t do the job, you resign.
In that case Buhari should resign?
Absolutely, he is not competent. He is sick, and a sick man cannot run Nigeria. Even a healthy man cannot run Nigeria, much less a sick man.