Prince Adewole Adebayo is the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Adebayo, a Lawyer and media owner, in this interview, spoke on some national issues, including who becomes his vice presidential candidate, why Nigeria is still in debt despite it’s wealth and how corruption can be checkmated in the country. Our correspondent, Folorunso Alagbede captures the interview below:
As the presidential candidate of your party, have you decided on a running mate yet?
Yes, I have decided but I am consulting. We have always had a large talent pool, and we want to give Nigerians a first taste of our decision making. So, it’s not like I don’t know what they are going through on the other end, but here, we are looking at a competent ticket and we are trying our best to see that we give Nigerians a new perspective.
Are there guidelines your party followed in arriving at picking the running mate? Would avail us the name of the running mate?
It’s under consultation, but in due course, we would announce to the party. The idea is that the person should be someone that can advise, can assist while I am discharging my duties. And it should be someone that in any eventuality, Nigerians should be able to accept easily as a President and it should be someone who is there to assist, not using it as a ladder to climb to the next stage. It should be someone who is coming to assist, to see that he is the Chairman of the Economic Council. That person should be able to tell the President to his face ‘you are on the wrong path, stop it’ or things like that. He should be the last person in the room who can advise you. And it should not be a position for rewarding somebody for how they helped you to get there. It should be someone that you know if you are sleeping, the person is awake. If you are traveling, you don’t hesitate to leave responsibilities for the person and if something goes wrong in the country or goes wrong with me as a person, I am a human being anything can happen to me, Nigerians will not regret and say ‘oh, how did we get to this kind of a person?’ Those are the guidelines that I have in mind.
What other parameters did you take into mind in SDP? Religion? Sex? What are your thoughts on this particular aspect of our politics?
Those are the problems they have caused for themselves because of the manner in which they have practiced their politics overtime. They have always been playing the politics of ‘it’s my turn, it’s my turn.’ And when you play the politics of ‘it’s my turn,’ then you have problems in turn. So, I want power to shift to the Nigerian people. I want a presidency that represents the Nigerian people, that gives the underprivileged people an opportunity to have a say in government, to bring on board the professional class, the educated class who have not been allowed to exercise their functions in any principled capacity. To also take into account the fact that the country is diverse and that no one should feel alienated. That is the extent to which we can go but we cannot go to such in a divisive setting. I believe that Nigeria has talents everywhere and primordial analyses don’t work in SDP. What matters is that those who have been shut out of government for a long time, that is: patriots, professionals, the under class, the underprivileged, they should be represented in government; so that it is not a government of lobbyists, it is not a government of money bags, not a government of cronies, and all of that.
As regards primordial sentiments. Should we be looking at religion, sex geography other than competence and efficiency?
As it is today, the SDP is the best party. We are not in the business of giving advice to other parties when it comes to the problems that they are facing. In fact, I have spent twenty something years of my life as an adviser, as a lawyer giving advice to my clients but now, I need advice because I am now the person who is on the seat making decisions. We will take our own action, we will announce our own team. And if they can learn from that and then they probably find solutions to some of the quagmires that they have created for themselves in the manner in which they have done their politics. So what we are doing is that I will not choose a person who cannot do the job just because I want to use the person to win an election. That’s already acting in my own self-interest, which is not what the president should do. I will choose someone that I know would be the best for Nigeria as vice president, and if anything unexpected happens, such person will be a good president for Nigeria. And if I am on holiday or on vacation, will be a good acting president. So, a vice president is not supposed to be a person who fixes ballots. It’s a person who can be a good adviser to the president, a person who can discharge that office, and who will not embarrass you, who will not privatize all the property to himself.
He is not going to be looking for a war chest to create a political campaign in the future; he is going to be someone who will be my number critic, when people are clapping for me, he will call me to the room and say: ‘you know you are not doing very well, you need to do better.’ That’s the person I need. I don’t need another big man or big woman. I need someone who will tell me, who will remind me of our oath to the people of Nigeria and who will look me in the face and say: ‘I disagree with you.’ That’s the kind of person I want, not another political big wig somewhere. He is someone who can serve Nigerian people because the people have been underserved for too long.
Is SDP pro-women? The women have complained that they don’t get a look in as much as they should. What are your thoughts on this?
SDP probably is the only hope in this election for women. The person who competed with me in the presidential primary was a woman, Kadija Okunnu-Lamidi. So we have a good record with women. They know that we have their interests at heart. And women are not ruled out at all. Don’t be surprised if the VP is a woman, and don’t be surprised if the VP is a man. Women are in the basket and men are in the basket and we are consulting.
Some persons are not amenable to some forms of advice. Do you believe to this category?
Definitely I take advice. In fact, the advice I like the most and I am most grateful for is bad advice because at least it tells me what not to do. And I also like good advice, so I don’t discriminate against advice. I don’t feel insulted when I am advised. You can advise me rudely. If you have a good advice for me, you can put it on a piece of paper and smack it on my face. I will still read the advice because what’s important is that when I do what is right, I am the one to take the credit . And like people call me presidential candidate of the SDP, but there were so many errors I committed along the way that many people corrected me and today I am the candidate. So it’s the same way as president, I am not the wisest person in the room, but I am the person who is most determined to get the best to happen. And a successful presidency is what we are looking for. It’s not just to be elected president and there’s a life of no consequence. I don’t want to be seen as a former head of state and there are no roads to many places in the country- there’s insecurity. I want to perform, I want to serve, I want to achieve things. I don’t want to be a majesty. I am from a royal family; I know what a king is, but I don’t want to be a king in the State House. I want to be a servant who is coming to serve and my vice president will know that he is serving a servant, and my ministers will know that they are serving a servant and that we are all serving the people.
What is your vision that your running mate has to key into?
Yes, the vision is as follows: we start from where Abiola stopped-Farewell to Poverty. And because in the last 29years after that, there has been insecurity . So we say: ‘Farewell to Poverty and Insecurity.’ First thing I will do is to set a government that does not promote poverty. And how do you not promote poverty? You comply with Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution which tells the government on how to deploy money, other assets and resources of the country, and how to give opportunities to every Nigerian. And we are told in our Fundamental Objective and Directive Principles of State Policy that we must not concentrate the resources of the country in hand of a few. This is not just an egalitarian wish, it is an effective metric for ensuring that one person doesn’t have too much and the other is left in want.
Secondly, that you get all the talents on the table. And the way to get all the talents to the table is that if you have a thousand graduates and you give employment to seven, you have not only made the nine hundred and ninety-three poor, but you have also denied them contribution to the economy. Also, I will ensure that people don’t steal Nigeria’s money off balance sheet as they are doing so now. That all the money that we generate from minerals, oil, taxes, over applied charges, levies are not stolen, nothing is stolen and everything is put in the kitty. Nothing would be stolen if I, as the president, don’t want anything to be stolen – if I am not keeping a secret books somewhere for myself or those around me, whether in the name of security or under any other guise where the people’s money is taken away off balance sheet. Now, we are doing railway lines everywhere, what you see are Chinese faces. I have nothing against the Chinese but I don’t think that beyond bringing the technology here, they should bring people to come and put calipers and a few things and slippers on the rail lines. We should be able to do that by ourselves. So, we are having a huge budget for defense: 4trillion, 1.8 trillion, 5trillion, depending on the numbers, and all that money is going into foreign contractors and some esoteric procurement that does not trickle down to the people. Even, if you go to the military barracks, you don’t have a feeling that we are spending so much on defense. People are just sharing the money as it were.
A lot of the things you said seem to lead towards big governance, big government, and most of the politicians are talking about less government – the need to make government smaller in order to save a lot of money. Could you give me a brief, your brief thoughts.
People who say it is not the job of government to give people jobs, they themselves are holding government jobs. So,you know they don’t believe in it. If they believe it is not the job of government to give jobs to people, they should just give up their own government jobs first, as a sign. But when they come into the government whether as commissioners, whether as directors-general, whatever level they entered the government, they stayed there forever. Those who came as DGs are now governors and they have been ministers; those who come as ministers end up becoming governors. So it is the job of government to give jobs to people. Even the president of Nigeria today, he joined the government at the age of eighteen. He is now seventy something and he is still inside government; he has not done a private thing after that.
The Social Democratic Party is the party that won the year 1993 presidential election, even though that victory was annulled. Is the SDP back?
The SDP is back and we are running on the same platform that we ran in 1993. We are following the same pattern, and you know it’s not easy to fit into the shoes of Chief MKO Abiola, he was a legend of the highest order; he was a president of presidents even before he was elected. He was known globally as a philanthropist, a thinker and as an ethical business man who did so much for the anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa; and he was an icon of the black community all over the world but what we are doing is the same pattern like what we are doing now – which is that we come with a professional, he was an accountant, I am a lawyer , we come with a professional, someone who is fresh, who has never been in government before, who is coming with new ideas, professionally driven ideas, and who also understands the people, and has sympathy for the people. So that’s just basically what we are coming with and where we left Nigeria unfortunately 30years ago is where the country is today. In 1993 we said farewell to poverty. You know poverty is worst now and on top of that we have insecurity. That’s why we say “Hope Again 2023”. Farewell to poverty and insecurity. So that’s where we are and that’s the platform on which we are running. We don’t make slogans out of the air. We make slogans out of the situation of the people, and that’s basically what we are running with and there’s no way we can escape the responsibility of the time that no reason can be adduced – rational reason can be adduced for why Nigeria has not kicked poverty and there’s no reason we can adduce for why insecurity pervades in the land.
Q. What are your plans regarding our economy?
A. These are my plans. First, I know every local government in this country. I went round the country. I’m not saying I know every state. I know every local government in this country by foot. I’ve been there. So what I mean is that the poverty itself is showing in the lives of the people, in their faces, they talk to me about it. What we need to do is as follows:
One, let us not be intimidated by the figure that, maybe almost 100% of our income is for debt servicing. We need to check the books. The books are not accurate. We need to deal with leakage. If you bring all the leakages together, you will see that we have more on the side of leakage than on the books. You know that I’ve been talking about it for the past few months that how could the government be silent when 75% of the crude oil that we sell,that we produce in this country is done off balance sheet. These things are practically stolen, so they don’t enter into the books. So the figure that we use to know our debt service relative to our population is based on what has been received by the Accountant General of the Federation. But when you practically go to the flow stations and steal all this crude, they don’t get recorded in the book, that’s number one.
Number two, you will discover that we don’t spend money on works. So when you don’t spend money on works, you are not likely to get employment. Because people come with this mantra that it is not the job of government to create jobs. But for those who tend to say it, it is the government that is creating their own jobs and they tend to hold these jobs for a very long time. Some have been in government for 40years. So if government can give you a job that lasts you a lifetime and double lifetime, how can you say it is not the responsibility of government to create jobs for others? So when you deal with capturing the revenue properly to see that there are no leakages, there are a lot of the MDAs who are having a lot of their monies not getting to the federation account and these monies are given away one way or the other. And if you capture all of that, you can triple the revenue quickly. And if you look at our fiscal situation, our taxation. I think those who are collecting our taxes are collecting more for themselves in their pockets than they are reflecting in the book. So if you just do honest book keeping, I will address that one immediately.
If you look at the Chapter two of our constitution, it does not want the resources of the country to go into the hands of a few people. And if you do the analysis, you would see that in appropriation, we are not appropriating to the poor or the less privileged. And for those who have worked in the State House, you know that it’s a lobbying place. And those who do not have lobbyists for them are the poor, the weak, the unemployed. And if I go in there as their advocate and I tell my ministers that I don’t know what figures you are bringing to me but I want to spend 70% of my appropriations on social programmes because I want to comply with chapter two of our constitution: the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy that says that I must not concentrate the wealth of the country in the hand of a few. If I do that and I create works, I will have been able to damage unemployment figures, I will bring it down to about a single digit with works. When you have works, then you are attacking poverty because people can now directly intervene in their own lives, the lives of their families. So our social structure in this country, analytically, says that if you employ and you give a living wage to one person, four people will be out of poverty. And we can do that without breaking the bank.
Did you say you are going to bring unemployment down from about 33% to single digit? How you are going to bring it down? And also, what are you going to do to our debt servicing because the cost of servicing debt is so much and we don’t have the revenue. In fact our debt now has increased to about 41 trillion from about 9trillion it was in 2015.?
Regarding the debts, if you look at the profile of the debts, debts in global sum tend to be intimidating but if you look at the tenure, because when a debt is not mature, when a debt has a 10year tenure and it’s single digit, you don’t worry too much about that immediately . But the revenue, if you stop the revenue being stolen from source- this is the problem we have in this administration now and we have had it for some time, even the previous administration. Let make it simple, when a family head earns a N100k and he tells his family he earns #15k. Then the family is artificially poor because they don’t know he earns N100k. What you need to do is to see that these revenues are not shared off balance sheet. And as president of Nigeria you need to know where your revenue is. I’ve had occasion to interact with people who are responsible for our revenue profile and they are in doubt. If you go to the appropriation committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives, when they are doing their medium term expenditure framework, when you interview them, they don’t know. They are just speculating on many sources.And if you go round you will discover that the government itself is running off balance sheet for the most part because a lot of the financing you see in politics is government money which has been secretly kept in many places – and I am not making wild allegations. It’s a fact.
How do you plan to bring down double digit (33%)inflation rate to single digit ? That’s the question.
Okay, number one, the 33% is not accurate, it’s much more than that – it should be around 42%, if you take the informal sector which is not captured. This is how you bring it out: You make sure, like I said before, that 70% of your budget goes to social services because social services create employment. If you don’t spend on social services, you will not get employment. Who are the people who need employment If you hire more teachers, more nurses, more doctors; if you also invest in agriculture, where majority have a natural base for employment? Right now, there is virtually no investment in agriculture. And if you go to Ministry of Agriculture today, they have a lot of money left in NIRSAL, one of the agencies there, which they are using for capital market investment, money market investment. So there is no investment. If I do the investment, I think that I will be able to bring every single budget, that we do within 18months, to half of the unemployment , because the unemployment we have is cyclical unemployment, it’s not structural.
In a nutshell, we need to run government responsibly. We need to do what we are elected to do and we need to do what we say we are going to do. What we need in this country is someone who would assemble a presidency that doesn’t work against the president – the presidency that is efficient and is not fighting within itself. A presidency that is now attracting talents into the executive branch, so that the 5,000 odd appointments that I need to make as president would be made from the best of Nigerians, not those who are advantaged in politics or those who have money to sponsor politicians. After that, I can address the armed forces and be a competent Commander in Chief. I think I have understood the armed forces to the extent that I have done enough research to know that if you motivate the armed forces very well, within 18 months, banditry should come to an end. And we should be able to deal with the issue of the terrorists in the North East who have now migrated to the North West and are tipping to the Central and coming towards the South. Now if you lead the police very well and you have a competent police, all the prayers of the young people on EndSars should be able to reflect, and the new recruitment to the police from all walks of life in Nigeria and from getting the young people into the law enforcement, and many of the extra legal or para legal security institutions being set up all across the country would be integrated into the security agencies so that as a community, we can combat banditry once and for all. With respect to the economy, I will give you a state of the nation; I will address the National Assembly within 90days of being elected to give you an accurate state of the federation so that we can understand what is going on in this country and remove speculations. And in terms of recruitment of my cabinet, I will recruit my cabinet before I’m elected.