What was your experience running for the presidency?
At some point, there was an epiphany when it became clear to me that the rate of poverty in this country, the rate of population growth, the rate of unemployment, were all heading towards a social cataclysm in the years ahead if the trajectory was not broken now.
In the past 20 years of our democratic experience, we have only gotten poorer. What can Nigeria take into the 21st century as a modern and prosperous nation? I answered the question – a visionary, competent and technocratic leader.
I have been a technocrat as a senior policymaker as the deputy governor of the Central Bank. I have been a professor of international business and economic policy. I’ve been a United Nations official for 17 years. But the democratic legitimacy that is conferred by being elected at the ballot box is the deciding factor of the progress or lack of progress of any country.
But Nigeria still has this issue of the electorate voting along party lines and not really about the manifesto of candidates.
It is because of the lack of political education, which my campaign really was about. My campaign was a process of political education but we did not have enough time in one year to educate the people away from habits that have been ingrained over the past 20 years.
Secondly, the fact that there are too many people who are poor and hungry and for them, the immediate need is for survival in the moment; they don’t have time for the fine luxuries of electing a good and competent leader, they are just looking for somebody who can give them food today.
Right now, the people can see the vision, they are sympathetic to it but clearly, they were not just ready to act. Many people who wanted to vote for me decided ultimately to vote for the PDP because the overriding priority was for them to defeat Buhari. They asked themselves, who can defeat Buhari?
In their view, it was only the PDP because it was an old, established structure, but then they don’t realise these are the very same people who have contributed together with the APC to bringing us to where we are today. They do not have the sophistication of making that distinction – it was just anybody but Buhari.
And in 2023, do you think you could win?
I believe so. I believe that a number of practical factors will be more in our favour than the situation today – 2019 is the last grasp of the old order. By the way, the election is not yet over. We are still not sure who has won. The process itself has so many problems of credibility that we have to see whether it will survive all kinds of possible challenges, judicial or otherwise.
I know a lot of my votes were stolen – stolen by rigging, stolen by voters’ oppression, stolen by vote-buying by the two big parties, the APC and the PDP. I believe the two of them were rigging the election and it’s possible that one might out-rig the other and have victory declared for it.
Clearly, a lot of our votes are stolen so that means that this election has serious credibility problems and everybody is complaining about it.
Critics say that rigging has become more enshrined in the system over the years.
Part of our planning for 2023, if we were to come out again, is to learn the lessons from 2019, including the question of rigging, vote buying. We now have four years to begin to educate our people, to strengthen our political structures across the 774 local government areas – and who knows, time could meet opportunity. My problem is that Nigeria hasn’t gotten to the problem of voting for people for positive reasons; instead, they vote against them. They don’t care very much who they vote for. That has to change.
You talked about the credibility of the polls, and the PDP has come out rejecting the results. What are the options for the opposition to ensure that polls get the credible backing they need?
Well, I don’t know because the opposition is fractured. There is the new breed of political parties and politicians like myself, and there is the old breed like the PDP, which is the main opposition force politically today. I cannot speak for them; I can only say the process has not been finally concluded. I will take a position when the process is concluded and we hear the final resolution.
This election saw a campaign for bigger youth inclusion in politics. You also talked about the older generations’ time being up. In 2023, you’ll be nearly 60 years old – will you be considered old?
No. In Nigeria, what we refer to as old is not necessarily the numerical age because somebody who is 60 is not old by any definition – he’s mature but not old. What’s more important is not their physical age, it’s the age of their ideas. That’s what we mean when we talk about old and new. People might have a higher numerical age but they can still be in tune with new ideas about leadership and transparency and governance. When we refer to ‘old people’ we mean that they represent a certain tendency, a certain habit that has been formed over the past 20 years. It is those habits and tendencies and pattern of thinking that we reject completely. It’s about the way people think and mislead a nation that is the issue.