February 5, 2022

Kingsley Moghalu: Time bomb waiting to explode on Nigeria!

Kingsley Moghalu

Kingsley Moghalu

Why I disagree with Finance Minister

How I’ll handle debt problem, other economic matters if elected President

Nigeria needs a turnaround CEO, not a traditional politician

Identifies what’s holding the country down

Mega party coming, expect ballot box revolution in 2023

Why don’t some Nigerians trust Igbos? His answers below

What is your assessment of the state of the nation right now?

The country is in a very, very bad place. Insecurity is rife, the value of human life in Nigeria has become increasingly worthless before our eyes, poverty is rising, unemployment has risen astronomically and corruption is rising.

So, on all the major indices of statecraft, Nigeria is not in a very good place. In fact, Nigeria is at the worst place it has been since the civil war.

That assessment is damning. Are you surprised that we are where we have found ourselves?

 I am disappointed but I am also surprised because, though I have not believed that the Nigerian traditional political class is competent, I have not seen any evidence of their competence but now, I also did not see any evidence of this level of incompetence. So, yes, you can say that I am surprised that leadership can fail to such an extent and still think that it should command our respect.

What in your view is responsible for this colossal leadership failure that you have painted?

What went wrong didn’t start with the Muhammadu Buhari presidency. It only got worse in the Muhammadu Buhari presidency, astronomically worse.

What has been wrong is that Nigeria’s politics is not focused on leadership and delivering results. It is focused on tribalism, power grabs by different vested interests, mostly ethnic or religious. This is really what politics has been in Nigeria and it is the fundamental problem.

The country is led by people who are not prepared for modern statecraft in terms of economic management, in terms of international diplomacy, in terms of ability to build a nation, in terms of ability to secure our borders and to secure Nigerians inside the borders of Nigeria.

Another fundamental problem is the minimalisation of intellect and ideas. We have a political system in which ideas don’t matter. Only vested and sectarian interests matter. So, it is a competition of sectarian interest for power without responsibility. That is where things went wrong terribly and we see it with the Buhari Presidency.

Many people before Buhari became president had high expectations of him not because he was a fantastic intellectual, not because he had a great track record in the past but simply because he was effectively packaged and sold to Nigerians as something that clearly he is not. He was presented as somebody who because he was a General in the Nigerian Army would tackle the security problem. It got worse under him.

He was sold as someone who was incorruptible, but corruption is rising astronomically under his leadership and he has failed to stop it.

He is somebody who has governed Nigeria from a predominantly ethnocentric point of view. And that is why the country seems to be breaking apart because even the very notion of Nigerianess is currently being contested. Many people don’t want to associate themselves with Nigeria any more. They would rather associate themselves, first with their ethnicity before they will even associate with Nigeria and in some cases they consider the Nigerian identity an imposition. This is a very, very advanced failure of leadership.

In a recent interview on television, the President said he is doing his best in office. With the litany of woes you have enumerated, are you saying his best is not good enough?

His best is not just not good enough, his best does not even begin to scratch the surface of the problem Nigeria is in. So, I think all he has succeeded in doing is opening the eyes of Nigerians to some degree, not fully yet because you find some people supporting certain kinds of candidacies and you wonder whether we have learnt any lessons. But he has demonstrated to Nigerians that it takes a lot more to be a competent, effective president and unifying president of a country like Nigeria.

Why do you want to be president of Nigeria?

That is a very good question. The fundamental reason is that my heart breaks at the suffering of Nigerians who are living in poverty. Nigeria is in coma and it needs a doctor who cares about the patient to revive it and it needs a doctor who has the capacity to revive it.

So, I want to be president of Nigeria because I have a vision for our country that I have not yet seen being executed by any of the political leaderships that have failed. I want to be President of Nigeria because I bring a certain level of competence, track record and capacity to address Nigeria’s problems.

First of all, let me even step back. I want to be a modern 21st century president for this country. That is what Nigeria needs at this time. We need a break from the past. Nigeria’s leadership now does not need a traditional politician. Nigeria needs a turnaround CEO and that is what I hope to be.

Now I want to tell you the four main functions of a president of Nigeria.

First, national security; second, nation building; third, the economy; and fourth, foreign affairs. It doesn’t go much beyond these four things.

And more than any other aspirant in the field today, I personify preparation in these four areas for the Nigerian presidency.

Let us start with national security. As a United Nations official, I spent many years dealing with ethnic conflicts, the sort that we have a lot in this country today, counter terrorism operations and cross border intelligence. So, as a political affairs officer in the first part of my career in the UN, many people do not know this because they know me more in terms of my role as the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. And we will come to that but this preparation in terms of conflict resolution, in terms of managing cross-border security threats, such as what we have with Boko Haram today, I have a lot of that experience and it has prepared me.

Second, I served, of course in Cambodia, Croatia and I also handled the Rwanda desk at the UN Headquarters in New York, and during the war in Angola. So, these are all very important preparations.

When it comes to nation building, I have done a lot of work in rebuilding broken nations, afflicted by the kind of problems that afflict Nigeria today – tribalism, ethnicity, religious conflicts. I managed efforts to restore peace and nation building in the former Yugoslavia, Croatia for example, Rwanda, after the genocide, Cambodia after their civil war. Again, this is the kind of preparation you don’t see in Nigerian politics. But this is the preparation that is needed to do the job of being president.

I have managed diverse teams, so managing the diversity of Nigeria is something that will come to me naturally because all my life, I have managed diversity as a leader. In the UN, that is where you have the mother of all diversity, people from 200 countries, different faiths, different races, different religions, and different languages. Leading teams in the UN is a massive training for diversity management.

I managed diversity in the Nigerian context as the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, which is one of the most important national institutions that we have and I was a leader in the CBN, supervising half of the staff of the bank at one time – over 3,000 staff. The bank had about 6,000 staff at that time and about 3,000 of them were directly under my supervision and these staff members all come from different parts of Nigeria. And so, building institutions is another important part of nation building. Again, I have built institutions starting with the CBN.

Going back again into the United Nations, I played key roles in the reform of the UN. I was a member of the “Redesign Panel,” high level panel appointed by the Secretary General at the request of the UN General Assembly to review the accountability and transparency system of the UN and the labour relations between the staff and management and we submitted a report that led to a massive revamp of that aspect of the UN’s operations, covering the whole staff across the world – over 60,000 people.

And since 2006 when I did this assignment, that system is still in place. So, five members of the panel, I was the youngest by 20 years. The gap between me and the next youngest person on that distinguished panel was 20 years. The chairman was Mary Gaudron, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Australia, Ahmed el-Kosheri, professor of international law from Egypt, former judge ad-hoc at the World Court, the International Court of Justice; Louise Otis, Justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal, Canada; Diego García-Sayán, former Justice and Foreign Affairs Minister of Peru, and then myself. This panel was appointed by Kofi Annan when he was Secretary General as part of the management reform of the UN.

So, when it comes to building institutions, I understand how institutions can be built.

Let us talk about the economy. The economy is, of course one of my greatest areas of strength and it is one of the greatest areas of need for Nigeria today. We need to create wealth. Our politicians are good at politics but they don’t understand economic management. Nigeria needs a president with technocratic competence in economic management and leadership. That is what we need in 2023 especially given the humungous foreign indebtedness to which Nigeria has been put into by this administration, especially given the levels of poverty, especially given the levels of unemployment in this country.

So, the economy should be our number one focus. As Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, I supervised the financial system of N17 trillion in assets which is bigger than the federal budget. No state governor has had that level of economic or financial responsibility. I led the implementation of the reforms of Nigerian banks after the global financial crisis, stabilized these banks, made sure that none of them failed, no depositor lost his or her savings. So, I secured, safeguarded the life savings of Nigerians, very different from what happened in the 1990s when we had the failed bank crisis.

I led the reforms of the payment system. I led the team that developed and introduced the Bank Verification Number (BVN). That is something that every Nigerian can relate to because without it, you cannot do any serious financial transaction in this country. I led its development and introduction into the payment system. We reformed the payment system in such a way that set the stage for fintech companies to come into the economy and begin to grow. Today, the fintech is one of the few sectors in this country that are doing very well and exploding.

I led the development finance function. I was a member of the Economic Management Team representing the Central Bank under President Goodluck Jonathan. I was an independent member of the team. I wasn’t appointed because of any political affiliation. I was representing the Central Bank along with the CBN Governor. So, there were only two of us from the CBN in the team.

I am also an economic thinker. I want you to take note of this. I am an economic thinker. I have written books on economic transformation with ideas about how economies like that of Nigeria and other African countries can actually create prosperity. So, I have done it at the practical level, I have done it at the conceptual level and I have been a professor of international business and economic policy at one of the world’s most prestigious institutions of international affairs – the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts.

So, when it comes to the economy, my competencies are quite extremely high.

Let us come to foreign affairs, the fourth job of a president. Again, I have a doctorate degree in international relations. I am a specialist in international relations and foreign policy. That is number one. Number two, I spent 17 years as a UN official rising from the entry level to the highest career rank and all my work involved traditional international diplomacy at a multilateral level.

So, this is a very serious package for the Nigerian presidency. And it is the basis on which I stake my claim in addition to just my feeling as a citizen with a heart for the suffering masses because part of the problem is that some people may have competence but they don’t have the heart. They come there, they are wicked, they are insensitive, they are corrupt, and they are there for secret agendas. But I have no hidden agenda.

I want to be president to lead the transformation of Nigeria, working with a dream team, and I want to emphasise this because no one person can do this job, but my competencies will enable me to pull together a team of Nigerians that will lead the transformation of this country across different sectors – the economy, defence, healthcare, agriculture, you name it.

And I want to tell you that even in my mind now, at least a third or half of that team already exist in my mind. The rest we will find when we win the presidency.

In your opinion, what is the single most challenging problem facing Nigeria today that will get your immediate attention when you become president? Is it insecurity, corruption or an economy that has collapsed?

It is an interaction between insecurity and an economy that has collapsed. Both of them feed off each other because one of the reasons for the insecurity is the lack of economic opportunity especially in the North-East and this is one of the reasons behind the Boko Haram insurgency. So, the insecurity and the economy are intertwined. The economy is also collapsing because of the security situation especially in the North. There is no investment going on there and no jobs are being created and agriculture is going down because of the security situation. So, it is the security and economy intertwined, I will say.

I also want to say something when it comes to why I want to be president. I believe that Nigeria needs a new generation of political leaders. Nigeria needs a break from traditional politicians who have grown up in the Nigerian political system and can only think in a certain way. You cannot become left-handed in old age. Anybody who has grown through the Nigerian political system and tells you that if he becomes President in 2023, he is going to be different from anything we have known since 1999, I am sorry, I have the right to say, I doubt it.

So, Nigeria needs something new, different and bold. Nigeria needs a leader who is globally exposed and respected because Nigeria’s place in the world needs to be reestablished and I am very well placed to play that role as well.

If you are elected president, what would you consider your utmost priority? Where will you start from?

Security! If I am elected president today, within 12 to 18 months of my presidency, we will end the terrorism problem in this country. Whether it is terrorism in the form of the so-called banditry, whether it is terrorism in terms of Boko Haram, terrorism in whatever form, we will crush it. We will bring it to an end. We are not going to tolerate the lives of Nigerians being treated as worthless by terrorists. My number one charge as President is to protect the citizens of this country and to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria and I will deliver on that job 100 per cent.

It is going to be my absolute priority because without it, the economy cannot reach its full potential. And so, security, economy, you know, everything matters. Look at how Nigeria has been broken, divided.

Like I said earlier, the very idea of Nigeria is being contested. It is my business as President to reestablish the idea of Nigeria on the business of equity and justice to all parts of Nigeria and all persons in this country. So, I am not going to be “one Nigeria” for mouth or in the morning and then hidden agenda by night. No! And that is what we have seen so far. The people who talk a lot about one Nigeria do not practice it. But I will practice it as President and by doing so, by being fair to everyone you restore confidence in citizenship of the country. You inspire Nigerians. You need a modern president who can inspire Nigerians to be proud to be Nigerians by setting out a worldview, a vision that we can all aspire to with a common destiny.

That is the point and that is what leadership does. Look at presidents in countries of the world that are making progress and compare that to what we have in Nigeria today where all you have is just politicians struggling for power so that they can corner public resources but they won’t deliver anything.

READ ALSO: Petrol subsidy Retention: President Buhari kicks the can down the road

My priority will be the youths of this country who are 67 per cent of the population but today have no future. And if we don’t solve the problem of unemployment in this country, we are setting the scene for future disaster. If we don’t address issues like uncontrolled population growth, not by force but by education, by educating people, about population issues, so that we can control our population and make it productive, – a large population is useless if that population is unskilled, unproductive and unemployed. So, my business as President and here is where my economic knowledge and experience will come in, how do we turn our population into a driver of productivity and economic development?

The country’s debt portfolio is ballooning but the government insists that it is sustainable …

That is propaganda. I disagree profoundly and not only that, it is just propaganda. Independent institutions like the World Bank have expressed worries not to talk about several Nigerian business associations that have expressed their worries about the level of debt and sustainability.

Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio today is at about 36 per cent. Right! Ideally, the advice is that debt to GDP ratio should never cross 40 per cent.

But what we have is not so much that.  We have a problem of revenue to debt service ratio. In 2020, 97 per cent of everything Nigeria earned went into servicing its debt. So, we are already in a debt crisis because their projected revenue was N5 trillion but what they got in reality was about N3 trillion. So, there was a shortfall. There is always a shortfall between their projections and what they achieve and so what do they do? They borrow to cover the deficit. That is why, in their borrowing plan, by 2023, Nigeria would have hit a total debt burden of N50 trillion.

This is a time bomb waiting to explode. And so, if you do not have a president whose core competence is economics or economic management, in 2023, this issue will create a massive dislocation in the country because for how long can we continue to borrow just to pay salaries?

So, the kind of economic reform that we need and the political leadership that must be behind it requires economic experience and knowledge in 2023.

So, I disagree with the Minister of Finance, we are in a serious debt crisis and the future of our children and our youths has already been mortgaged and it is going to take someone like myself as President of Nigeria in 2023 to turn around the situation.

Are these things not easier said than done? How would you do that?

The first thing I am going to do is debt moratorium. We are going to stop borrowing when I become President. The second thing is that we must find those revenues inside this country and they exist. They exist because I want to tell you that 30 to probably 40 per cent of the budget of Nigeria is wasted in corruption or actually just inflated provisions and so it goes straight into the pockets of people in corrupt practices. Another 20 to 30 per cent is waste. So, maybe, only 30 to 40 per cent of any annual budget of Nigeria is real. Take note of this. So, if you address this problem, a lot of revenue will be released into the economy.

The second thing is that taxation is going to be transformed. This government is massively increasing taxation but that is not the approach. You don’t have to be increasing taxes on the same people paying these taxes and yet, it is never enough.

So, what do we do? You expand the tax base and reduce taxes. I am actually going to reduce taxes but we will make sure that many more people pay the reduced taxes. That way, we generate a lot more revenue. Today in Nigeria about 70 million people are supposed to be paying taxes but only about 10 to 20 million people do. What happened to the other 50 million people? They are not paying any tax.

Sixty-five per cent of the GDP in Nigeria comes from the informal economy. Many of those people don’t pay anything and then again, you have the cellphone where we have about 160 million cellphones in a country of about 200 million people. That is a very high level of penetration. That is one way you can always get to anybody. So, if you do an audit based on cellphone ownership, you can find out who is doing what. Who is earning, who can put in a little into the fiscal pot but is not doing so.

And then we have to cut the waste in the public service. The Oronsanye report on parastatals has not been implemented. So, there are so many ways to do that.

Then, there are going to be a lot of new revenue streams that we are going to bring in through the Ports Authority, through the maritime industry, these are all potentials for new and higher revenues that can come into Nigeria through reforms.

So, this is my approach to the debt problem. What we have now is not sustainable.

What do you say to those who insist that an Igbo man cannot be President of Nigeria because he cannot be trusted?

Well, it is because of Nigeria’s history. We need to recognize that the beginning of this problem came from January 15, 1966. The first coup, I think was a big mistake. It was naïve and in that coup, although it was not the intention, but the execution was problematic. I think Nzeogwu was betrayed in the execution of the coup and, therefore, the coup looked one-sided.

Though there have been problems with the Igbos even going back to the 1940s in various parts of this country, because there are many people who resent the Igbo spirit of enterprise and their ability to survive and succeed in vary challenging environments but more recently, the absence of leadership has fed this mistrust amongst the various ethnic groups in this country but especially against Igbos.

So, what I will say is that as a Nigerian, and as an Igbo, I will restore trust among Nigeria’s ethnic groups because I will deal fairly with everyone. I will deal fairly with the Fulani, I will deal fairly with the Yoruba, I will deal fairly with the Igbo, people of the Niger Delta. Equity and justice will be my watchword. Let the kite perch, let the eagle perch. The one that says the other should not perch, its wing could break. This is my approach to leadership. And this is why every team I have led, everywhere in Nigeria and in the world, when I leave, it is never the same, people keep calling me to say, oh, when you were here, when you were the leader, this did not happen, when you were the leader, this will not be happening. You treated people fairly. You were not biased against any ethnic group, against any nationality, against any race.

That is the kind of leadership I will bring. So the distrust of Igbos in Nigeria is deliberate. It has been fed by failed leadership especially in recent years. But it also, to be very honest with ourselves, has roots with the 1966 coup. There is no question about it and the fact that the major political leaders of the North and the West were assassinated and no major Igbo leader was killed.

Even though it was not the planned outcome but we also have to understand how it looks optically. Of course, there were over reactions to those mistakes in the pogrom and so on and then the civil war happened.

So, all these things have fed mistrust and it takes a certain type of transformational and visionary leadership to restore trust. Ironically, I believe that that kind of leadership will best come from somebody who is Igbo but who is broadminded the way I am. So, I think that will help to restore a lot of calm.

But there are some people that believe that the agitation by the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) for a sovereign Igbo nation is not helping matters. Do you agree?

Absolutely. It is very, very unhelpful. It is just an expedition into sentimentalism and I don’t think it will solve anything. Yes, there are issues with equity and justice that Igbos have faced in Nigeria. I understand the basis for the agitation but I don’t think the agitation is being executed in the right manner and I think it has created a lot of distrust as well because many people do not know that most Igbos are committed to Nigeria and prefer to remain part of Nigeria.

The propaganda of IPOB is creating the impression and some people who are biased against Igbos are using that propaganda as an excuse to create a false impression against Igbos at large. So, I don’t agree with IPOB. I don’t believe that Igbos should secede from Nigeria. We should fight peacefully and democratically.

How are the Igbos helping themselves when they don’t participate in elections? They don’t vote and they cry about marginalization. If you are not at the table, why should you be surprised if you are on the menu? We should get our voter cards and vote. There are more than 40 million Igbos in this country and at least 25 to 30 million of them are eligible to vote but most of the time the Igbos are focused on their own business. They don’t understand that without political representation and political power, your business is always facing risks because one policy decision can mess you up. So, they should focus a lot more on politics than they do on business going forward. That is my advice to the Igbos.

You said recently that if you become president, you will work towards reducing the powers of the President. Why would you do that? What is your position on restructuring and what does it mean to you?

Restructuring to me is a very clear thing. It is just a word. What I prefer to use is constitutional reform. We need to return to true federalism through a consensus agreement between the different parts of this country. All the six geo-political zones need to come to a table and discuss the constitutional structure of Nigeria. The most important reason for that restructuring back to fiscal federalism is economic in my view.

I was actually talking about why Nigeria’s economy is very weak in the clip that you saw. It is very weak because of the political structure and the political structure focuses a lot on oil rents and receipts. But natural resources never made any country rich.  It is economic complexity – value added manufacturing and export that is competitive that makes countries rich and I think that if we change Nigeria’s political structure, to bring power back to the subnational units, rather than concentrating it on 68 items on the Exclusive List for the Federal Government, that is what is holding Nigeria down.

So, that is my view. We need to come back to a situation where we have regions, just six or eight geo-political zones or regions. If people insist on going with the current states, that is okay too but I think the regional approach is ideal because of the economies of scale for manufacturing and trade within different regions. But if you still want to do it with the current state structure, that is fine but let us take power back to the people for the sake of accountability. Abuja is too far for so many Nigerians.