By Charles Kumolu
In a political system dominated by old players and established parties, 42-year- old Harvard-trained Chukwuka Monye, seeks to upend traditional elements with his presidential ambition.
Like a few emerging trends in the 2023 presidential race, his ambition offers freshness that adds to the aura of unpredictability around the buildup.
In this interview, Monye expresses confidence about clinching the presidency with demography and not geopolitics as has been the case in Nigeria. He is running on the platform of African Democratic Congress, ADC, -a party he describes as a collection of technocrats and intellectuals.
Why are you in the race?
I am in this race because it is important for me to do something about the state of things in the country. I realised that quite a number of people complain and lament about the state of affairs. And I saw a vicious cycle of complaining and no action. I felt I needed to do something about it.
More importantly, is the fact that we have lost the dignity of the Nigerian human being and it is something I would like to restore. Now, holding a green passport is nothing exciting when you travel. To restore the dignity of Nigeria and its people is at the core of my interest. But I would also say that I am aware that restoring dignity is what you and I understand, but what does it mean to the average person.
I am out to alleviate poverty because things are bad. Insecurity, education, healthcare and law enforcement among others are areas that need urgent attention. We have problems in every facet. Some people always ask if I have worked in government to solve these problems. But I always respond that working in government is not the issue. If you work in government, you get clouded and compromised.
But if you come from outside, it is an advantage over working in government. Now, they ask if I know enough to make things work. I don’t need to work in government to solve Nigeria’s problems.
There is something about you and your aspiration. You are quite young. And this is something Nigerians hardly see in most election cycles. People keep asking who this young Nigerian who wants to upend the system is…
Yes, I am young. I think it is an advantage. It is often said that power is not given. It has to be taken. The truth is if the youths want it, they must have good representation. This is not the youth without strong values or one without a strong value proposition. This is someone who is competent and can give anybody a run for his money in terms of capability to actually transform the country.
I have spent the last 20 years building businesses, transforming businesses, mentoring people, building capacities and getting involved with a lot of people. And these have physical impacts on the economy. These are businesses you will be shocked I am involved in their success stories.
There are many big businesses in Nigeria that will tell you their stories will not be complete without me. If with my resources, we transformed lives and businesses, why won’t people say that since I am young and have access to foreign investors, let’s support his vision to lead this country?
The only thing that may stop people is that they are not used to having young people in the race. There are some older ones who asked me to wait for my turn, but I see being young as an advantage to change the story of this country.
The kind of issues and problems we have today are such that we need an agile person to tackle them.
You consider your age as an advantage but history doesn’t recognise youthfulness as a plus in Nigerian elections. Where does that leave your conviction?
Things have changed. Over the years, that young population has grown. Today, that young population is the majority. It is not like 20 years ago. It is practically impossible for someone of another generation to serve me effectively. Reason: You can’t feel my pain. You can’t feel my shoe the way it hurts.
Young people may not like agriculture because of hard farming, but they would like to process food and export it because it would link them with the international market. I can relate with them because that is what I would do. I am not going to tell every young person to get hoes and cutlasses because it doesn’t resonate with them.
I would also look at the digital space and think about how I could maximize the potentials there for young people. There are all sorts of creative things to do for them because I can think like them.
But the moment they do not have that representation in terms of who leads them, there would be a disconnect. And such a disconnect is simply generational. They have their way of thinking.
For instance, I have a young daughter of six years old who expects any vehicle she enters to have Wi-Fi. It is because she has grown up in a digital world. Someone like her, if given the opportunity to create a vehicle, she would create a vehicle that has Wi-Fi. So, that disconnect is much.
When they are saying wait for your turn, you are the leader of tomorrow, we are disagreeing because our future is now. We are not leaders of tomorrow anymore, we are leaders of today. And we are going to lead this country.
Every political environment has its peculiar ingredients. In Nigerian politics, there are certain elements that drive the process. There is the money factor, ethnicity, religion and incumbency. How are you going to navigate through these?
The beauty of my ambition is that I think beyond the reality of our system. When we put all these dynamics you listed together, there is a solution. I am an innovation strategist. I know what to do about them. I recall that some people met me and said I didn’t mention my party when I announced my ambition. But they didn’t understand it was my strategy. That debate about not coming out with a party was recognition for me. I achieved my aim because the conversation was centred on me as Chukwuka Monye and not any party. That is a strategy and that is how we are going to handle these factors you mentioned. We typically think about constituencies in terms of geography.
Do you mean geopolitics?
Yes, geopolitics. I don’t think that way and can’t afford to do so. Yes, I am on the ground in Delta State but I am looking at Nigeria as 36 states. The reason I cannot think geopolitically is that it can limit my thinking.
I belong to a generation and segment that give me the advantage to think more demographically than geographically. With the youths across the country, I have a larger constituency. The moment I think in terms of demography, a lot of these biases will begin to break.
The demography of the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and others do not care about geopolitics. They are not interested in all these traditional factors. It is another generation (old) that is actually sustaining some of these elements you have mentioned. Young people want a better Nigeria.
They just want a decent life and that is my priority. So, if I am asked about my constituency, I will say it consists of youths, women and small business owners.
Irrespective of your confidence, are you not intimidated by names like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Anyim Pius Anyim, Aminu Tambuwa, Bukola Saraki, Rotimi Amaechi and Godwin Emefiele who are variously linked to the race?
A big person in government recently asked what I would do differently from him. I told him my aim is to transform Nigeria by creating a new economy while restructuring the old one. Creating a new economy involves industrialization. Reorganizing and restructuring is a skill I have developed for more than 20 years. The fact that you have been able to award contracts does not make you competent to transform a nation. It doesn’t give you access to foreign direct investment. It doesn’t give you diplomatic skills.
It doesn’t give you management skills. It doesn’t make you an inspirational leader. Imagine that I listened to the people telling me to wait for my time. When will it be my turn? Is it when I am 70? I am agile and energetic.
I imagine a cabinet of young and dynamic Nigerians not less than 50 years old. We need great and energetic people. But that is not what you are going to get with any of these people, established names. Imagine that the entire country is energized because there is a new crop of energetic leaders. It is possible.
These young people I am talking about are those already leading in different corporate entities and in different spaces. I want to create more billionaires. It is not acceptable that we have only a handful of billionaires in a country of 200 million people. I want to give people the opportunity to become billionaires.
The likes of Kingsley Moghalu, who long before the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, released the timetable for the election, had indicated interest to run on your party’s platform. What makes you think you will defeat him at the primaries?
One of the most exciting things about ADC is that it has intellectuals and technocrats and other great minds like Prof Kinsley Moghalu. A few weeks ago, I hosted all the aspirants in my house. All I could imagine was that I am not sure I have seen a party where the country’s issues were deliberated as we did. We had a brainstorming session on resolving Nigeria’s issues. And it was refreshing. On the one hand, we are competing for the same ticket.
But it is also refreshing that should you not get it, you have a lot of people to support. That is the thing about our party. It is a family of like minds. I have to look at it from the angle of the value of the collective rather than the value of one individual.
If elected, what are the first steps you would take?
My vision for 2023 is built around a few pillars. I have talked about restoring the dignity of Nigeria and its people. What it means is that people would be taken out of poverty through job creation. The truth is that you can’t alleviate poverty and create jobs unless the foundation is reorganized. If it could be done, it could have been done. First, I have to deal with insecurity. Nobody is bringing any investment if the nation is not secure. We will also focus on education.
Majority of educated Nigerians are not employable. This is in addition to those that are not educated. In my economic transformation agenda, I have already captured the problem. Isn’t it ironic that we have about 200 million people and we are saying we do not have workers?
They have to be trained. I know the value of what young people can bring to the table. Imagine what ASUU is doing with people’s lives. We will also take care of the health sector and law enforcement. Sort out all these and see how Nigeria would be transformed. Those who promise 10 million jobs know they are not truthful. In terms of insecurity, you don’t make your solutions known publicly.
We are going to use technology and social security. People are poor, hungry and angry. The reason I am concerned about education is that I want more young people gainfully engaged.