One of Nigeria’s foremost entrepreneurs and founder of Overt Energy, Sir Marc Wabara has noted that the country’s troubled economy is beginning to show signs of recovery. According to him, there are reasons for Nigerians to be hopeful. He nonetheless insisted that unless the country is restructured and the politics gotten right, Nigeria would keep running round in circles.
Sir Wabara who founded the now defunct Hallmark Bank also spoke about his recent decision to join the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as well as his plans for 2019 in this interview with Business Hallmark’s trio of Okey Onyenweaku (editor), Emeka Ejere and Obinna Ezugwu.
You always believed in building young people. You have been able to support a lot of youths to grow. Now, Nigeria seems to be drifting, is this the country of your dream?
I will say no, and I believe that millions of other Nigerians who are also in a position to build younger people will agree with me. In the life of any nation, we know that the youths are the future. It is very important therefore that we, especially our leaders in all spheres, pay good attention to the younger ones; give them the right education, give them hope for the future, give them the enabling environment to express themselves and make sure that the private sector plays important roles. The way it is now, unfortunately, things have deteriorated to the extent that it appears that the only in viable “business” in town is politics. When you look at a situation where millions of Nigerians, the younger generation are out of jobs, it is very dicey.
We are facing a situation whereby you graduate – in those days we used to hear that someone graduated and after one year, he has no job – but now, the average is between four years and five years. And if you get that job, it is sometimes not even adequate. So we really cannot say that this is the Nigeria of our dream. I recall that during our own time, even before we left the University, companies were coming to interview. Many of us got our jobs before we even wrote our final exams. That’s the kind of Nigeria that motivated young people to look up and have hope in the nation. And remember that in all factors of production, human capital is the most important. So it’s unfortunate that we are facing this challenge, this is not the country we were looking up to.
Could that be the reason you are oiling your boots in preparation for joining politics again?
Well, first and foremost, I am one of those who believe that in this nation, part of the problem that we are having is that we have not gotten our political arrangements and political process right, even though there have been some improvements with respect to the last election in which for the first time in Nigeria, an incumbent president was defeated and he conceded defeat. Politics is about service, but unfortunately what happened in 1999 was that, although millions of Nigerians were yearning for the army to go, not many thought they would go, and when eventually they did, not many were prepared to get into politics. Therefore, at that time, we did not have our best eleven in positions of power generally, and that’s what we have been struggling to correct.
First, the foundation for our political emancipation would be an arrangement that would ensure that our votes count. But unfortunately, the process has been complicated by irregularities during elections. But to answer your question as to why I am oiling my boots directly! By the grace of God, I have had the privilege of spending close to 30 years in the private sector before my retirement as a result of the consolidation. And I attained the level of chief executive, so I had the opportunity of not only building young people, but also supporting businesses, many of which have grown and their owners become millionaires who employ other people.
So really, I think what gives one the satisfaction is that when you have an opportunity to serve, you try to leave a legacy of helping people to grow. But in Nigeria, the private sector has still not gotten to the level it should get to. Most businesses surround the public sector, and unfortunately majority of our public sector officials, with all due respect, are those who got into politics not to render selfless service, but for what they can get. So my interest in politics is to come in and, with all other well meaning Nigerians who have the heart to serve, contribute my quota. That’s why I tried to get into politics twice in my state, but the primaries were not that transparent.
However, you don’t give up. I have been a beneficiary, one way or the other during my educational period, of Nigeria. We studied with the Nigerian scholarship; I had my masters with scholarship, and I feel that politically, I can contribute. That was why I got into politics. .
With respect to your political ambitions, what difference does being in PDP and now in APC make?
Well, I have been a member of the PDP since 1998, so by next year, it would have been 20 years. And I believe that when PDP was formed, if we trace the history, we will see that the party arose from the fact that the political elite and Nigerians in general believed that we had had enough of military rule. So we came from various groups, NADECO and all of that. As at that time, PDP became the voice of the people because the belief was that governance and politics is not for the military. Thus PDP became the largest party in the country, and it’s manifesto then was that first and foremost, it would be such a party that would be concerned about the welfare and well-being of the people, that’s the primary responsibility of government.
But subsequently you can see that the fortunes of the party started deteriorating both in the process of governance and in the process of electing leaders. It was no longer that transparent, there were issues with the primaries, there were issues with how the delegates were selected to conduct primaries and there was also the issue of not delivering the dividends of democracy, but above all there was the issue of impunity. So, having experienced, directly and indirectly, that political process and having played some roles towards the presidential elections and all of that, I saw that things were no longer going the right way.
The PDP started losing states and all of that. I therefore, looked at an alternative and in looking at that alternative presently you look at which other party can provide a good platform. Let’s not also forget that before the 2015 election, seven governors planned to defect to from PDP to the APC, but eventually five governors did. These were also part of the reasons why some of us felt that the PDP was no longer sticking to its own objectives and manifestos. That was why I reviewed the situation and believed that presently, APC presents the alternative platform for me to seek whatever political position I desire.
You spoke about impunity in the PDP, but the APC has been in power for two years now, and there seems to be a consensus among Nigerians that things have gotten worse?
You may be right to say two years, because like they say, 24 hours is a long time in politics. But we need to understand where we are coming from, the state of the economy at that time. We need to also see the challenges we were facing with insecurity, there was a very serious challenge coming from the North East, the Boko Haram assault. You will recall that it was because of that challenge that election did not hold exactly when it was supposed to hold. You know that no matter the political programme you have, if there is insecurity, you may not have the opportunity to implement such programmes, not to talk of trying to measure the positive effects.
You can see that we had a challenge where, not only that Boko Haram was controlling 14 local governments in Borno State, there were incidents of bombast in Abuja and other places. It was a very serious issue and that was the priority of the APC government; to stabilize and eventually take out Boko Haram. I believe that within these two years, they have done a good job in that regard. Whilst that was taking place, of course, the economy also needed attention. Yes, as it is now, more than 70 percent of Nigerians are living below poverty level, things are so difficult. I agree that because of the level of suffering, Nigerians are not so happy, but I believe that by the time we would be getting ready for the next election – that is beginning from next year – they will be able to make comparisons of where we were coming from and what has been achieved.
Take for instance, the issue of corruption, it has been fought considerably, but of course it is not easy. All these things are challenges that take time. I believe overall that by next year, there would have been further improvement in the economy. We are beginning to see some levels of stability in the foreign exchange market, we are beginning to see improvement in jobs; some establishments are recruiting and by next year, we are believing that we would be out of recession.
However, the most important challenge that we have as a government is this issue of agitations. Restructuring of Nigeria has become something that is in the front burner, and I believe that if government takes a decision to at least review the 2014 national conference, it would be a good thing. I am convinced that there are decisions taken in that conference that can be looked at, many of them that will help this nation. That’s why I said from the beginning that we have to get our politics right. If we have to get it right, there has to be equity, justice and fairness. I believe that the APC government will address these issues, because failing to do that means that we will be moving around in circles.
Recently a group called Arewa youths gave Ndigbo in the North quit notice. How does it come across to you?
It was an unfortunate development coming from our brothers from the North, especially considering that in this country, we fought a brutal civil war for three years, and just when we are saying that we need to restructure this nation, this quit notice was issued. But the good thing is that since the notice was issued, the acting president has assured the Igbo that government is on top of the situation. Following that assurance, he has met with various political regions to douse tensions.
In the South East, the Ohanaeze and the leaders of thought have also been meeting, including the South South and South West. I believe we all realize that no nation has survived two civil wars. That quit notice was unwarranted, it was unnecessary and would not serve any good purpose. Nigeria belongs to all of us, and I think that the important thing is that the government should lay a foundation were everybody will have trust in government, that they will be treated equitably, fairly, with justice and above all, with the fear of God.
In the South East, agitations for Biafra have reached unprecedented levels. What do you feel is responsible for this, and how can it be addressed?
It is part of the general issues that we are talking about, in terms of laying foundations of equity and what have you. The young people who are agitating for Biafra, some of them may not have been born during the war, but in life, you don’t have to take part in a particular movement to know about it. You can read about it. And if those issues that you have read about are still being experienced, it could lead to that kind of agitations. But like I said, we need to sit down and dialogue as a nation. If you look at other places, there are also agitations.
The people of the South South are also agitating, they are talking about resource control, it is the amnesty programme that has doused the tension somewhat. Everywhere, there is the talk of marginalization, and the challenge of insecurity. Even though Boko Haram has been contained reasonably, you have other issues such as the Fulani herdsmen; these are very serious issues to the nation, and we need to sit down, dialogue and restructure. The Biafra agitation may be because many of the young people, by there own understanding, believe that some of the things that led to the Biafra war has not been fully addressed.
You spoke about agitation in the South South. If you recall, the greater part of that zone was in the old Eastern region with the South East and really there has been no love lost between the two zones. Recently the governors of the two zones met in Enugu, and have decided to meet again in Port Harcourt in August. Do you see the possibility of the East coming together?
Well, the East coming together as it was before the war may look very difficult, but may not be impossible. Again, once they come together and review what happened during the war, or what happened after the war, the implementation of policies that caused a gulf between them. If they look at it and feel that the political situation it birthed is at variance with your common objectives that can form the motivation for them to come together. I do not want to draw a line because in politics, everything is possible. The important thing is that they find common objectives now that they are talking, and are going to hold another meeting in August.
I know that there was a time we had the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly involving East, West and all of that. In the meeting that you talked about, the South West was there as observers. As things expand, they could have a common objective. However, the main target for us is that we are better off together as one nation. There is economics of scale, and there are economic benefits in our size. When you look at what God has blessed us with, the human capital; all over the world, Nigerians are excelling. Be it sports, governance and so on. In the recently concluded election in Britain, about seven Nigerians were elected into parliament. In the field of science and medicine, Nigerians are selling everywhere. Then you begin to ask yourself. Are these the same Nigerians that are having challenges here? So we need to get our politics right.
Government has to provide an enabling environment for Nigerians to excel at home as they are doing abroad, and the only way we can do that is for us to put the right people in the right places. Part of the problem is that politics in this nation has become a carrier rather than an opportunity to come and serve. That is why the framers of the constitution made it in such a way that you don’t have more than two tenures. Politics shouldn’t be do or die, people who are getting into it should be people who are experienced, educated, exposed and have something to offer. They must be people who have a first address before getting into politics. But you have a situation whereby people get into politics and want to retire as politicians.
Many people believe that with the ongoing rift between the executive and the legislature, smooth implementation of the 2017 budget will be threatened?
The foundation of the presidential system of government is such that there is separation of powers. All I can say is that when people, in true conscience do not want to obey set down rules – whether they are from the executive, national assembly or even the judiciary – we will have this tension. No matter how imperfect the constitution is, I will say that the leadership of these arms of government should exercise their responsibilities in respect of the constitutional provisions that define their duties. If they do that, we would not have this challenge with the budget. And I agree, when you have a situation where budget is not passed and half of the year is gone, then how are people going to benefit?
Definitely it would affect implementation, even though there is allowance for extension at the end of the day. We must go back to a Nigeria where by January 1st each year, the president will release the budget that would be implemented from that January 1st to December 31st. My appeal is for the various arms of government to know that they are there to serve the people. They should realise that people are suffering in this nation, there is a whole lot of work to be done, and the fact that they are there doesn’t mean that they are the best, but by the grace of God.
We know that you have moved on, but you still play advisory role to those who are in your former industry, the banking industry. What is your assessment of the industry now?
Things have changed. The only thing I wish to add is that every profession has its own ethics and for those who are there now, when we were in the industry, Nigeria was not the biggest economy in Africa. Now it is, and banking is the life wire of any economy because it is through finance that you can talk of free flow of money for development programmes. Now, technology is also playing a lot of roles, but the fundamental basis is still there; that is confidence, confidentiality and trust.
At the end of the day, being a banker is almost like being a judge, your words should be your bond. People in the industry should realise that they have very big roles to play; they must channel depositors’ money to productive areas, so that first and foremost, the economy will feel the impact of the sector, also such that the shareholders will have return on investment. The banking profession is one that needs transparency, they should continue to support government, and the regulators should also provide the enabling environment because commercial banks are institutions through which government implement their policies.
The area of cash reserve ratio and all of that should be such that there would be enough money. I think emphasis should also be on the micro finance banks, because through the micro finance banks, and even though the commercial banks, you can make access to credit less difficult for medium and small scale enterprises. Even in America, the SMEs are the engine of the economy, so in Nigeria we have to continue to channel our efforts in that direction so that jobs will created and the economy will grow.