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22 Feb, 2019 06:48

Leave Africa alone – Nigerian presidential candidate

Nigerians are preparing to cast their votes in the presidential election as the country struggles against Boko Haram and rampant poverty. Will anything change for the oil-rich nation? We talked about this with Fela Durotoye, presidential candidate for the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN).

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Nigeria’s presidential candidate Fela Durotoye, welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us.

Fela Durotoye: Thank you very much.

SS: Those in power in Nigeria over the last decade have been promising to root out Boko Haram. Yet, the terrorists remain and they long ago pledged allegiance to Islamic State - even establishing an ISIS province in the country’s northeast. What’s your plan for defeating them?

FD: Let me quickly start by saying that the reason why there hasn’t been an effective degrading or dismantling of Boko Haram forces is because Nigeria has lacked a right, credible leadership, the kind of leadership that is committed to actually getting the job done. And that’s exactly what the Alliance for New Nigeria, my party, is offering Nigeria. The strategy that we have for dismantling and defeating Boko Haram anchors around three major pillars. Number one is strengthening our institution and especially our military to ensure that we have the best fighting military force that is highly motivated and equipped to be able to do everything they are meant to do. We are talking about making sure that we recruit the best people, we train them, equip them and, of course, reward them in terms of their remuneration to make sure that they are healthy, strong and highly motivated fighting force. The second most important pillar that we have to focus on is intelligence. It’s very strange that many times the military have become, like, sitting ducks for Boko Haram: they seem to know about our army than we know about them, they know when we’re moving, we don’t know when they are moving. So we need to invest more in intelligence. I guess, whoever wins the intelligence war actually wins the war. We have to make sure that we are integrating all the different types of our armed forces so that we have air force, military, and all of that is integrated within the communities so that we can get the kind of information and intelligence when we need to know where they are so that we could make preemptive strikes. The third and the most important one is focusing on what we call international collaboration. There’s a phenomenon that happens almost every single time: whenever we put pressure on Boko Haram they just run across the border, and the question is why, though we have a joint task force with the neighbouring countries, why is there no military forces on the other side to be able to sandwich them? We’ve got to work on making sure that we have the right motivated forces, intelligence and the level of international collaboration that helps to defeat Boko Haram.

SS: All of these reforms that circle around the three pillars are great, but they are going to take time, and you will have to move forward as soon as you come to power. Before these reforms are implemented, would you consider hiring private armies and asking other countries for help? And what countries might they be?

FD: Again, I think that Nigerian army has proven to be… When they are well-equipped, when they are motivated, they have proven to be the best fighting force on the African continent. And if you just look at the way we performed with the ECOMOG forces and all our operations outside Nigeria we’ve always been ranked the best performing army. I don’t really think it’s going to take time to get our army to be in top form, we just need to release them to do so, we need to motivate them to do so. We do have the information, as I speak to you, the level of corruption in the military has literally degraded our army over the past few years. This seems to be something that has happened over time. Almost every year at the elections the government has to take a special vote on a billion dollars towards fighting Boko Haram. We know from the previous government which was the PDP(People’s Democratic Party)-led government that this money was actually used to finance elections rather than weaponry for the military.
SS: So you’re saying that Boko Haram is still there because powerful people are benefiting from this war. On the other hand, we see reports from the battlefield and we see Nigerian army described as ill-equipped, out-gunned by militias, missing strategic ideas. So maybe that is the reason the war is dragging, and not a powerful conspiracy

FD: You’re right, they’re linked. There’s a powerful corrupt leadership, and even the leadership outside the armed forces that has led to ill-equipped armed forces. So what you’re seeing in terms of poor quality of ammunition and weaponry is as a result of the corruption that has been there. If you give a highly motivated force that knows that their leadership of the armed forces is committed to their well-being, if you give them weapons of even medium-quality they would outperform everything, if they knew that their leadership wasn’t just stealing the money that was meant for their weaponry. So the most important thing that I’m saying is very simple. We would be directly seeking to motivate, train and equip our armed forces to ensure that they have not only that level of training but also the best level of intelligence that they can get. And I believe that with the level of international collaboration we can get we will be able to defeat Boko Haram.  

SS: Nigeria remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Can the new or next generation of leaders like yourself really break the system that has been there for so many decades?

FD: Absolutely, and I’ll tell why we can break the system of corruption. The system of corruption that you find in the government is actually an inherited system from the political system that is corrupt. And that political system itself is what produces people in the government and it hinges its capacity to be able to win elections on buying votes and making sure that they mobilise from the hands of the few rich people that are benefiting from corruption in the government, making sure that they give little pittance to voters, inducing them to be able to vote for them. It’s actually a very simple system where they use money to buy votes and they use votes to get into power and then they use the power to get more money. But the most important thing is that to be able to ensure that they keep the cost of re-elections low, they must deliberately impoverish the people. So poverty is part of that system. They must ensure that they also make the people ignorant, so killing education is also part of that system. So the three things that are part of our existing political system is corruption (it can’t go away because they need to get their money back, that means that they are going to find ways to inflate contracts), and the second thing is that they’re going to make sure that people remain poor so that they are able to give them a little bit of money to be able to buy votes, and the third is to make sure that they are uneducated. These three pillars that hold that political system are on their way out and there’s a simple reason. Our political party hasn’t sought to incentivise or get money from what you call ‘the godfathers’, sometimes we call them ‘the cabals’. Everything that we’ve been funded by is from the people. 

SS: And that’s what I really want to talk about because it’s another big issue for Africa and your country. Africa as a whole is the world’s most corrupt region. You can invite lavish foreign investment, but it won’t make any difference to the economies of nations if they largely end up in the coffers of corrupt local elites. I know that aid projects and loans from the West come with strings attached - to prevent wasting of money - do these conditions work?
FD: Exactly. One of the reasons why people like myself, who have thrived very much in the private sector and are now saying ‘look, we can’t continue to stay outside and leave of the business of government to people who we wouldn’t even hire in the businesses that we’re running’, one of the reasons why we’re stepping out of our comfort zone in the private sector and business and saying that we’ve got to solve the business of government is exactly because of what you’re saying. Nigeria is not working because of the corrupt system. What we’re doing is creating a completely different political structure. Alliance for New Nigeria party has three major values that we anchor, and it’s not just the way that we run our party, it’s exactly the culture that we’re going to bring into government. These are transparency, integrity and excellence. These three values are in line with our personal values and more importantly are the values that will become the culture of our government. What I’m saying to you is that the same political system that has run in Nigeria for the last 58 years is the one that has been based on corruption, nepotism and what you think of as killing the capacities of people so that you can incentivise them. That system is about to go away and the new order is about to come into Nigeria...

SS: So talking about the new order… Botswana and Rwanda are the least corrupt countries in Africa, according to Transparency International. What are these two states doing right and why can’t others follow suit?

FD: It’s simple - getting the right credible leadership. Once you get the leadership right the culture changes. It’s really that simple. You need to get the leadership of competent and capable people with the right values and character, people with the right vision that inspires the nation to be able to great things. Once you sought out the right leadership the culture of government, the culture of the society changes. Over the last 50 years we’ve had a group of people who have held Nigeria bound and they have been the same kind of leaders. They move from one political party to another, but it’s the same people. They’ve been in the military and now they are in democracy, but it’s the same people. So what Nigeria needs is a change in leadership. And when we see the right, competent leadership we will get the right results in Africa. 
SS: Africa receives about 50 billion dollars of international assistance annually. And yet, about 600 million people live below the poverty line. Many experts argue that lavish foreign aid has developed some kind of dependency in Africa. Is foreign aid actually aiding the continent, what’s your take on it? 

FD: Well, while I would say that no sustainable growth can be achieved through foreign aid, I believe that the first and the most important thing that will take Africa, and I mean Nigeria and all the other African countries, out of poverty is the capacity for us to make sure that our people become productive, and they are able to start businesses, to solve problems that build our societies and, most importantly, that enable our people to find jobs so that they can prosper. Now, whenever it is that we are able to find a way to use our natural resources, mineral resources and our human resources to solve problems, we will become productive and we will then be able to build our economies. So the problem that we’ve been seeing is that much of Africa has been led, Africa’s development has been government-led. What we are saying is that that is like putting the cart before the horse. Ideally, the horse that should drive the social development, economic development, national development is the private sector, and so for us, and I’ve been a management consultant, understanding how to start businesses and grow businesses, this is what we are bringing. It’s a business-friendly government that will help us to maximize our resources, and the point therefore… 

SS: Ok, but the question is whether Africa, including your country, is dependent on aid? Has it become aid-dependent? 

FD: The point that I’m making to you is that when we use aid… No, I’m not saying to you that the reason why Africa has been aid-dependent is because the governments are lazy in being able to grow the economy from within. That’s why they’re not growing the economy, and then they have to rely on aid, and much of that aid is actually with strings attached, and of course it’s embezzled. And so what we’re saying here is this: the way out for Africa to be able to go from aid to a trade-led relationship with the rest of the world is to make sure that our people are productive, and we are using the natural resources, which Africa has in abundance. When we do that, we will not need the world’s aid, we will become those who give aid to the world, as it should be for a blessed continent like Africa. 

SS: So, apart from the resource extraction, the former colonial powers remain present on the continent via other means - for instance, France, it keeps up the network of its former possessions, stays involved in politics, arranges military interventions, etc. In some cases, for instance, coming into Mali to stop the Islamist advance, it could be seen as a positive - what do you think, do you see it that way? 

FD: Well, I think that to a large extent… When countries have not been well-led, we really tend to lose our sovereignty. And so, I believe very strongly that the reason why we have so much interference or involvement, depending on whether it was invited or not, the reason why we have such foreign involvement is because of the failure of leadership much across the African continent. I believe that when Africa, and especially in Nigeria, when we become better-led, and we begin to fulfill the purpose of our governments, which means creating a prosperous, peaceful and progressive nation all across Africa, you will not see the kind of interventions that are currently the bane that we have in Africa today. 

SS: But do you think the former colonial powers have a responsibility to stay involved in African affairs, since they messed the continent up so badly, or should African nations just be left alone finally? 

FD: I think that African nations should be left alone to do what it is that they need to do. I’ve always said that the reason why we don’t have one eye in the front of our head and another eye at the back of our head is because we are not really supposed to dwell this much on the past. Colonial rule is a part of our past, and whilst many people would say that the foundation of our nations were structured by the colonial rulers, sometimes to the detriment of the nation itself, the challenge I have always thrown at the leaders is to say: you know what, no matter what happened in the past, we will not be judged by what it is that we inherited, we will be judged by what we give to our children. We must accept the responsibility to fix our nations and make sure that we fix them for the sake of the future. Let’s stop looking behind us and blaming the colonial rulers, they’re gone! We have, we must have a new generation of people who will fix our countries for the rest of the future, and that’s basically what it is what we’re offering in Nigeria. We’re offering a young, youthful future, forward-thinking leadership, different from the 76, 72 year-old leadership that is parochial and is backwards-thinking, that is the one that we’ve been seeing over the last few years. We are offering that, and that’s why people are very excited in Nigeria about the upcoming elections tomorrow, and they’re going to be saying: this is not between 2 political parties, it’s between past and the future. We need to take away the dwelling on the past, and we need to focus on the future of Nigeria and Africa, and that’s exactly what this youthful leadership will do. 

SS: So I want to talk to you about this new type of investment, which comes from China, because it’s also directly linked to your country. The Chinese investment in Africa is huge, and, unlike the West, or the former colonial powers, usually comes with no demands of political change, of anti-corruption measures or anything like that. Do you think the Chinese way is the right way to go about it? 

FD: Well, I think that any investment in infrastructure that can help a nation grow is useful, especially if it’s used well by the leaders in power. The challenge that you have with the kind of loose, almost no-strings-attached that you have with the Chinese type of investment is that it also comes with a lot of loose ends for corruption, for embezzlement, so much of the investment that China is making in Nigeria is actually being siphoned, and they’re looking the other way. So China is saying: listen, as long as we’re making what it is, you know, we’re putting the money in, and we know how we’re going to get the money back from you, we don’t care what you guys do. We need to have… And I’m not going to lay any blame on any nation that is going… It’s not their responsibility to make sure that you invest the money that they’re giving you, that’s the responsibility of the leaders of your country. So I’m not going to lay any blame on China, I mean, China is ready to give us low-cost funding, that’s fine. But I think that it’s the leadership of Africa and Nigeria in particular that must use that investment judiciously for long-term development of Africa and Nigeria, and to ensure that we make the best use of what we have. So for me, I think that it’s not about China, it is about the leadership of our own country. Once we get our leadership right, everything will be fine. 

SS: Sure. But I still want to look at it from the outside and, you know, figure out what is it that China would want exactly from Africa, from Nigeria, in this case. Nigeria has signed a 2.5 billion dollar currency swap agreement with China, and it’s supposed to boost transactions. China’s also one the major development partners for Nigeria and Africa as a whole. This kind of help never comes for free. Let’s be realistic, what can Nigeria give China in return? 

FD: Nigeria is currently already opening the doors to China in ways that is, you know, it’s hard to measure. We know that there is a lot of illegal mining that is going on, and the Nigerian government is itself turning a blind eye to what it is that many illegal miners from China are doing. So there is a lot of illegal trade, and illicit trade that we’re seeing, that the Nigerian government is in a sense turning a blind eye to. and I think that to a large extent that comes as part of the deal, it’s to say: listen, us, while we give you what you might look at as some money that you can use to build one rail line, we have other interests - in gold, in mining gold, in mining precious metals and precious stones, and you just take your eyes away, and we’ll all be fine. I think that again, it’s a failure of leadership from Africa. 

SS: I still want to ponder upon the relationship with China, because one of the most frequent concerns regarding China’s loans to African countries is the debt trap. Beijing’s eagerness to grant loans allegedly goads the recipients in to continued spending – at the risk of collateral, while that payback clock keeps ticking. Nigeria’s debt to China currently stands at 8.3 billion dollars. Do you see this as a problem? Will the country be able to pay it back any time soon? 

FD: If we have… If the people of Nigeria say to themselves: we want the future of Nigeria that is better than the one that we have in the past, and they vote for Alliance for New Nigeria tomorrow, and we win that election, we will be able to grow our economy in double digits, enough to be able to pay back China, and make sure that we are able to pay back not just China, but any other obligation aas and when due. The most important thing is getting the right kind of leadership that will be able to run the government in a way that cuts down wasting, that takes on corruption and is able to release our economic resources, or our mineral resources, so that it has economic value and social benefit to our people. Once we are able to do that, I tell you, Nigeria can and will grow in double-digits for at least the next 10 years, under the right kind of leadership, and we would have no problem with paying back. Most of the countries that China is giving loans to right now are poorly-led, and they don’t have any capacity to pay back, that’s why it seems like a debt trap and, really, a death trap. 

SS: Alright, so, thank you very much for this interview, for this insight. Good luck for the elections. 

FD: Well, thank you very much, and I look forward to speaking with you as the President of Nigeria the next time.   

SS: Hopefully, we’ll make that happen. Good luck with everything! We were talking to Nigeria’s presidential candidate Fela Durotoye, discussing the critical issues that Nigeria and the whole Africa are facing. That’s it for this edition of SophieCo, I’ll see you next time.