By Dirisu Yakubu
Idris Usman is former National Publicity Secretary of the Young Democratic Party (YDP) and former North-West Coordinator of the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign under Neighbour to Neighbour group in 2011. Two years ago, he founded the Paradigm Shift Movement, a group dedicated to the promotion of the virtues of democracy and good governance. In this interview, he speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s second bid for the Presidency and sundry issues bordering on the 2019 general elections.
You were part of the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign in 2011 when the PDP was still in power but now the party has lost grounds. Where will you be in the 2019 general election campaign?
I am not looking at the PDP or APC, I am looking at Nigeria. This circle of failure that we keep seeing ourselves should bother every Nigerian. It should give us sleepless nights. A criminal in PDP is the same as a criminal in the APC; they are all the same.
There is a third force springing up; the SDP. Do you believe it will make more impact than the APC and the PDP in 2019?
What Nigerians are looking for is a paradigm shift. It is not about a third force or fourth force. The idea of paradigm shift is not about giving power to the young people, no. It’s not about the young people; it’s about changing our mentality, changing our views concerning leadership. Let us not vote in leaders who are there to serve themselves and enjoy the benefits of their offices. Let’s have leaders who are accountable to the people, who can deliver and be passionate about what is good for the people. Let’s have leaders who will see themselves as the last to benefit and not the first to benefit. Nigerians are hungry but our leaders are living large. We need different approaches in leadership. We are tired of leadership in Nigeria that is about self, personal interest and growth.
Is it lack of internal democracy in political parties that is the causing failure in governance? No, the people must change their attitude towards leadership. The people of Nigeria must also begin to demand for accountability from their leaders. We don’t need money bags as leaders, we don’t need leaders who have stolen from the system and see themselves as the messiah but leaders who are as ordinary as us and who will do the right thing.
What do you make of the blame-game between the PDP and the APC-led government?
The APC leaders are blaming the PDP but what is the difference? They are all the same. Is Amaechi (Rotimi) not PDP? These are elites who find themselves in different camps but they are the same people. They have the same pattern, the same behaviour, the same approach to issues and all is failure of leadership.
The PDP has alleged that the APC and INEC were working to rig the 2019 general elections. What is your view?
Election should not be seen as a do or die affair. Some of us have been sensitising people at the grassroots, telling them that if Nigeria must move forward, our approach towards elections must change; it’s our future, we shouldn’t joke with it. So we won’t tolerate rigging of the 2019 polls; we should be careful. The pattern of rigging now is not necessarily changing the results of the elections, it is about the illegal people at the polling units; buying votes. I think some politicians and political parties will share N2, 000 and N3, 000 at the polling units to influence the electorate to vote in a particular direction, after all, some of them would have been looking for that amount of money for over a week, to feed because there is already hunger in the land.
President Muhammadu Buhari has since declared his intention to run for a second term. What is your feeling about this?
It is sad that we live in a country where we don’t take the path of honour; where we don’t admit where we failed and all these are due to what I call stomach politics which we play in this country. Buhari has declared for a second term but has he performed very well? He said in his speech that Nigerians are clamouring for him to come back in 2019. But is he aware of the discussions on the streets? Unfortunately, it is the elites who will look for whatever will protect their interest. So probably, Buhari should say the elites are calling him to come back in 2019, but not the masses, because right now, the masses are looking a different direction.
Don’t you think his declaration has beefed up the image of the APC and opened the political space for politicking?
The APC has its own internal problems. So Buhari coming out for a second term, I think it will be a disadvantage for the party. So I can’t say his declaration has beefed up the image of the APC and the government.
From which political party can we then get that person who is fit to deliver Nigeria?
Nigerians should take their time to study all the presidential aspirants on the platform of different political parties when the time comes in order to make the right choice. Nigerians should judge very well and make sure they don’t vote an unserious person as president. All political parties must prove to the masses that the candidates they are fielding have the interest of the masses at heart and can deliver after giving them the mandate.
Buhari has approved $1bn for the procurement of arms to fight insecurity in the country. What is your view?
The government is not sincere. We were told in the time past that the Boko Haram was technically defeated and now they are saying they want to vote in $1bn to fight insurgency; it is laughable. The truth about it is that the sole aim of voting that money is for election purpose. We are not fools.
There is advocacy for a generational shift in terms of who becomes President. What is your position on this?
We have a bill called, “Not Too Young To Run Bill” but I call it an ill-conceived bill; a bill that doesn’t have depth. The young people have always had the privilege to be in power but everybody who has the opportunity of getting to power first of all display materialism all around him. In the Paradigm Shift Movement, we are talking about delivering good governance to Nigerians. Among the youths, we have some who are passionate but others still have the characteristics of failed leaders. In fact, if you are talking about youth leadership, it is the same crooked youths who will be promoted by their crooked political god-fathers. So we should be very careful on that part.
Who campaigned in 2015? Was it not the same youths who were rampant on social media? They campaigned for some politicians without doing a careful study. They didn’t research. The people you are serving must be satisfied before you enjoy anything as a leader but if the people are not satisfied, you don’t have the right to enjoy anything. That is the kind of a leader we are talking about. If we find that quality in a young person, that’s beautiful. If we find that in a middle-aged person, it’s okay to go. Nigeria must grow.
Assessing Buhari’s three years of change
The 2018 Democracy Day on Tuesday saw government reeling out impressive statistics on its stewardship in the past three years. Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed is upbeat that the Commander-in-Chief has delivered on all promises made; a remark that may have made a confident Buhari to charge Nigerians to obtain their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and settle for any leader of their choice in 2019.
Not surprisingly, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Director, Strategic Communications of the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organization, Festus Keyamo was on hand to parry the shots fired by critics of the establishment, Former Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili and Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaidu Mohammed who took a cursory look at the nation under Buhari since 2015.
The trio who appeared on Channels Television breakfast show, Sunrise Daily said government deserves a pat on the back for steering the nation out of recession. More than anything else, the lawyer urged Nigerians to remember that recession indeed started in 2014 and was allowed to gradually grow worse until incumbent administration steadied the ship and restored normalcy.
Keyamo said: “This government should be judged by the numbers not by emotions. If you want to judge the government by the numbers in terms of what has been available to it to work, Nigerians would have been worse off if the government did not take the steps that it took especially in respect to the economy. Remember that in 2014, recession started. So, nobody should wake up and because of political reasons; say that it was when this government came on board that we slipped into recession.
“Recession started in 2014 and that was why at the point of handing over in 2015, 24 states were almost bankrupt and they couldn’t pay salaries. The federal government was borrowing to pay salaries at that point when they handed over in 2015. The Naira had begun a downward slide and at the time they handed over, it was N225 to a dollar. These were clear indices that there was something wrong. So, it could have been worse if government did not take the steps that it took,” he stated.
He continued: “There were two major approaches by government to halt the slide. First, it needed to spend to reverse the recession and that is why no matter how much you criticise it, it went to borrow to invest in critical infrastructure, not to pay salaries. The investment in critical infrastructure which is rail, road and power has contributed to the economy. If you see the first quarter report of 2018, the GDP has rebounded and the economy is on its way to actual revival.
“The second measure it took was to diversify the economy. The economy needed to be diversified because it was over reliant on oil that brought us to that sorry pass. And what did he do? He invested heavily in agriculture and industry. Eight rice mills were revived, fertilizer plants were revived and today we have moved from 2.5 million metric tonnes to 4 million metric tonnes of rice production in the country annually.”
Ezekwesili would not agree with Keyamo even though she agreed that there was indeed a shortfall in the amount of revenue accruals to government from the sale of crude oil.
“We are not better off and the reason is if you look at a simple indicator of how better off you are, it will be your income per capital that reduced drastically because of the dent to the Gross Domestic Product, GDP and that resulted very much from the challenges of oil price collapse. So, there was an aspect of it that was outside the control of the administration. Usually, when you have that kind of collapse, you adjust as an economic policy approach in order to get out of the deep end that we eventually found ourselves,” she noted.
Although, the economic squeeze which birthed recession wasn’t the creation of Buhari administration, Ezekwesili faulted government’s handling of the situation, arguing that things would have been different if the right economic policies were deployed.
Her words: “One thing I am totally against the administration for is that at the time they could have averted recession, recession was not inevitable. The right economic policy at that time would have averted the recession. Many other oil producing and exporting countries managed to avert recession, adding that the impact on Nigerians would be better known if the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, avail the nation the right data detailing what the situation brought about.
“We don’t yet have poverty numbers from the NBS. When you have the kind of shock that a combination of oil price collapse and poor economic response to it occasioned, you would have dropped many of your citizens into poverty considering the last data that we know of poverty rate from NBS is something in the neighbourhood of 60 per cent. With hundreds of millions of your citizens poor, you wouldn’t want to take any economic action that will improve those numbers because that would be disastrous.”
On his part, Mohammed said not much has been achieved in the past three years saying government’s recourse to blame game passes for nothing but a distraction from the objective reality. “When this government came into power, it was obvious that the economy was in a bad shape. Part of it had to do with forces beyond our boundaries. We also have to admit that the policy terrain, the economic management concept and policies and their drivers were not properly handled.
“So whoever was coming into government in 2015, even if the government of 2015 had continued, we would have faced the problems this government had to tackle. They made deliberate choices and those choices not only aggravated the recession but turned the management of the national economy into a joke,” he said.
That said, Mohammed berated Buhari for the manner of his appointments and came short of saying the appointments largely informed his inability to translate his goodwill into meaningful mileage ahead of the 2019 general elections.
“I believe in management in general and economic management in particular. We have to put the right people in the right place. When you mix yourself up, saying anybody who shares the same gene with you or anybody who is your relation can be posted to any ministry, every Tom, Dick and Harry can be given any appointment simply because he is a personal friend or a cousin; then we are in a serious problem,” he added.
Mohammed and Ezekwesili have both been speaking on the need to get it right in 2019 and to say they are not in the least impressed with Buhari’s first outing as an elected President is to state the obvious. Will they utilize their respective platforms to work against the interest of Buhari? Will the former Minister and convener of the Red Card Movement team up with a fellow technocrat, Kingsley Moghalu who is gunning to send the President to Daura, on the platform of the Young Progressive Party (YPP). These are few of the questions currently agitating the minds of Nigerians in the build up to the general elections.