By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Civil society activist, journalist cum politician turned business mogul, Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim is the presidential candidate of the Peoples Trust. He has also been adopted by a number of political parties ahead of the 2019 election. In this interview in which Mr. Olawepo-Hashim reviews the state of the nation, he articulates the failures of the present administration and proffers solutions.
What is your reaction to President Buhari’s recent claim that the Nigerian economy is doing well?
Anybody who read O.A Lawal or Teriba on O/Level Economics will know that the economic management under the APC government is a disaster. Even if you didn’t go to school, you could relate to some credible data immediately.
The Brooklyn Institute just indicated that just within the past four months alone, over a million Nigerians joined the category of those who are acutely poor. That is to say, they have fallen below that bracket of those who live on two dollars a day, and there are 88 million Nigerians in that category right now. This has never happened before.
Secondly, it is a big tragedy that under a regime of high oil price as we have now because the excuses before was that oil price was low; price regime now and poverty is on the rise, there is a run on the reserve of the country. It looks to me like the APC as a government has made a covenant with poverty, and they are irredeemably committed to impoverishing Nigerians. The truth of it is that the President does not understand basic economics. Otherwise, he would not say that the economy is looking good.
What would you trace to the drop in the country’s foreign exchange reserve?
What is simply happening is that number one, the APC government does not have any economic management strategy, and they demonstrated that from day one when they moved the economy of the country that has grown consistently for 15 years at between six and seven percent, into recession.
This underscores the fact that it is not about oil price. It’s just that they don’t have a strategy. They don’t even understand the economy. So, if Nigerians want to see real development, the Nigerian electorate must immediately vote out the APC.
One of the talking points ahead of the election is the issue of restructuring. Where do you stand on it?
The word restructuring has been so politicised that even the content of the discourse sometimes is lost. There are people who are generally scared when they hear that, and for some, because it is a new fact that everybody wants to hear, they have to mouth it. The point for me is the content. When you are talking about decentralization, you are talking about devolution of power.
We have been talking about that for more than 30 years now. Senator Mahmoud Waziri was the Treasurer of our group then, the National Consultative Forum, led by Alao Aka-Bashorun. The group that first talked about decentralization of power and we attempted organizing a national conference under the army, and the army brought armoured tanks to stop us at the National Theatre. It was a well-articulated and well thought out position.
Do you consider the rising debt profile an issue?
There is nothing wrong with borrowing, but what you use the money for. Nigeria is not a heavily indebted country. Nigeria’s debt stock is still less than 20 percent of Nigeria’s GDP. Before, it was about 12 percent. Now it has risen by about 8 percent and most middle-income countries in the club of Nigeria, their debt profile to their GDP is above 40 percent. United States is almost about 102 percent. Their debt profile is bigger than their GDP. The issue is what you do with the money that you take. Is there a cash flow from where that investment is going? If you take the money and go and build a road to nowhere that will not generate any economic activity, that is negative borrowing. So, it’s not borrowing that is the problem but what do you use the money for.
What will you tell ordinary Nigerians on the economy?
It’s so simple. For the past 27 years, I’ve been creating jobs as a private entrepreneur, locally and globally. So, when I’m in government, I will create jobs. One of the reasons why President Buhari does not understand how to create jobs is that he has been living on the government for almost 50 years. He rides government car, doesn’t buy petrol, so he cannot feel what the ordinary people are feeling.
But for the past 27 years, I pay salaries. If you see me ride a car, I bought it with my money. I buy petrol. I run my energy sources. So, I feel what the ordinary people feel. So, those who have never created jobs in life cannot now get into government and begin to learn it. So, I’ve been creating jobs, and they can believe me that I know how to do it.
Secondly, I’m going to unite Nigeria, which the APC government has not been able to do. Nigeria now is more divided than at any point in time in our history. I will secure the country, and I think most Nigerians are very worried about security. Security is key to many people, even before the economy because, without security, you cannot even do your farming.
From day one, I will leave nobody in doubt that I will be a President and Commander in Chief for all Nigerians, not some Nigerians. So, some people have to feel that they have a special privilege to take other people’s lives.
How will you fight against corruption?
I’ve told you that we have to deal with corruption from an integrated policy for it to be effective, by removing the root cause of corruption. One of the reasons why people were bribing NITEL official was that you had 400,000 lines to 80 million people. But once you allowed competition in that place and now you have over a hundred million lines, and the lines are now even almost for free.
We eliminated corruption in the telecom sector through competition. Nigeria’s corruption which takes place mostly in the public agencies is as a result of over-centralization.
Wherever you have a long queue, people will do anything to jump the queue. Once you have a system where the only man can sign a piece of paper, he becomes like an emperor. Everybody is lobbying him with money, with language, with the sentiment, with religion. But once he is not the only emperor in town who can do the same business, you reduce all those corruptive tendencies around him. So, it is not just only through punishment.
I have never collected a bribe from anybody in my life. I have not collected money from the government in my life or allowances from anywhere. So, nobody can talk to me about being corrupt or whatever.
I fought in this country and put my life on the line. I have my integrity too. There are a lot of Nigerians who have integrity, and they are rich people. They are not poor.
So, it’s not only “poor Buhari” that has integrity. There are many Nigerians who have integrity. But what we are saying is that we will reform this country from the point of knowledge, from the point of information, not from the point of illiteracy.
The problem that we have with mass corruption in the land is something you can resolve through police action. You need a comprehensive social re-engineering programme that will deal with corruption at its root.