Mr. Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, was running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakr, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections. In this interview, Obi diagnosis the insecurity crisis facing Nigeria, blaming it on poor leadership.
How do you think we got into these security challenges and how do you think we can get out of there?
How we got here is very simple. It’s the collective effects of leadership failure over the years. That is what you are seeing today and it is the continuous leadership failure that is worsening it because, over the years, we, the leaders, have failed to address the problems of the country such as the issue of investing in human development, which is education, investing in social and economic areas and growing the economy, so, the system has deteriorated. Consequently, there is a pool of country full of poor people.
That is why, today, we have the highest number of poor people in the world living in Nigeria. I always say it to show how grave this is, our country is 200million in population but we have more people living in poverty than China with a population of 1.4 billion and India that has a population of 1.4 billion too. If you combine China and India population, you get 2.8 billion but we have more people living under poverty in Nigeria than there are in the two countries, combined, just to show you where we are. Over the years, other countries invested in productive things, even have lifted their people out of poverty, but in our own case, we throw people into poverty. That is the cumulative effect of what we are seeing now, coupled with our own government not being serious with the issue of security of lives and poverty. What is happening is not what you can say we did not see coming, we supervised it and are still doing the same thing.
That’s unfortunate but there are people who would argue that there are efforts to tackle this. I mean, the Federal Government is mobilizing the armed forces, investing in education, etc. Is it a question of too little too late?
Too little! For instance, you claim to have invested in education. How come we have the highest number of out-of-school children in the whole world? We have over 16million children that are out of school and when you talk about 16million out of school children, 70 percent out have never been to school at all. They never experienced it. Today, we have the highest number in the whole world. Nigeria 14.8 percent as against 5.8 percent. I can go on and on telling you what is wrong.
We have the worst gap in terms of inequality. We belong to a country where less than one percent of the population is controlling over 75 percent of your wealth and so many youths, young productive people are doing nothing. There is no way you won’t have problems. Who is actually the criminal? We have a lot of people in the productive age, doing nothing and there is no hope for them. They are now feeling it and they are seeing people making money. The only thing that attracts them is one form of crime or the other. If not stealing government’s money, it’s kidnapping or banditry. Everything that is wrong is thriving. It is a challenge; we leaders have to be serious.
How do we do that? It seems everybody is just scratching their heads?
It is not a question of scratching head. The fact is that government has to come out genuinely to tackle the issue of insecurity of life and property by investing in them, allow some regional security system to function. I served as a governor and when I found out that we had security issue, I decided that every community in Anambra State must have their own security outfit, supported and funded by the state government. I bought every community a pick up van. If you go to Anambra State today, each community has a 4×4 pick up, equipped for security activities. Bigger communities like Nnewi have four to five because security is critical and that helps to reduce security challenges. So when I talk about regional security, that is what government should do very quickly.
But it seems politics has been introduced into everything. You talked about regional security. In the South-West, we have Amotekun which state governments put together but then they ran into trouble with the Federal Government, which termed it illegal
There shouldn’t be a running battle when it comes to the issue of security. Security is a serious issue and every region should be allowed to operate an outfit. You see, that is why every region is talking about the issue of restructuring. We have operated a system that does not work and will not work. We need to, at this point, change our system and I can tell you that system is going to benefit every region. Even those who seem not to support it or think it will not favour them will actually be the greatest beneficiary of it.
There is an ongoing battle in the South-East which I am sure you are aware of between the military and the Eastern Security Network, which said they are providing some level of security in the region but are being accused of arming themselves and preparing to make themselves a law unto themselves.
Let me tell you, every security system that is supported by governors should be supported now.
You mean, including the Federal Government?
Yes, because there is a security challenge that needs immediate attention and to be addressed aggressively. It must have a backing of governors in each region.
Now, if that is the case we are in crisis. What do you think we can we do immediately to get out of it?
I have just told you what I did in Anambra. We need to do just that. Just support every community set up their security outfit. There is no better security or protection you can have than communities being in charge of their security because they know the criminals in their domains, they know foreigners in their communities. The most effective security in my village is the one the villagers organized themselves. All they need is government’s support. But, above all, to deal with this issue is to start dealing with the economic aspect of it. I keep saying, we have economic problems which we must deal with decisively.
So there is a strong connection between the economy and security? What is happening in terms of the Nigerian economy?
Go and take a study of everywhere there is security uprising in the world. It happened in South America, Brazil, Mexico and Asian countries. Once there is economic problem, there is crime and disturbances. You will find out that more people will not take to crime if they know where the next meal will come from. Today, many people do not know where their next meal will come from and there are no alternatives. The government needs to create more productive environment, having more revenue to invest in security of lives and property. Why do you think the Western World spends so much money on security? They do this because they know that if they have a place secured and people employed, criminality will reduce. You cannot talk of being an American President or being anything unless you are can talk about the economy, you can’t do it in any part of the Western World. It is the economy because if you fail the economy, no matter the kind of policing you do, it will not work. Whenever you see this type of challenges, it is because there is a failure of people not having anything to do.
But economically too, statistics show we have a problem; inflation is sky high, naira is exchanging for about N470 per dollar, we are about $86b now in terms of our external debt portfolio. So, economically we are not doing too well.
We are not doing well and, like I said, it is due to leadership failure over the years but they can start solving that. Our debt is not a problem but what we use the debt for is a problem. If those monies you were talking were borrowed were used well, there won’t be issues on our debt. I heard a minister saying that we don’t have a debt problem, we have a revenue problem. But I won’t say they don’t know that they are not doing the right thing. Let me explain this so that even if this is the only thing we discuss in this interview you will understand it more and why it is important.
We have a debt crisis. If you listen to the recent IMF report, it says that Nigeria is digging itself deeper into financial crisis – debt crisis. That was their report, that despite the huge money we borrowed and continue to borrow, it is not impacting on our socio – economic area. And it gave an example, last year alone, amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, IMF released to Nigeria $3.5billion which is about N1.5trillion, but with every other money we borrowed, nobody could feel the impact. Today, that is despite the regulatory position that, as a country, the Federal Government cannot borrow more than 5% of our previous year’s income from the CBN. In 2021, our revenue was about N3.3trillion. So, the loan is not supposed to be more than N200billion and our debt to the CBN is about N10trillion, which is about 50 times that. Our debts have doubled in the past ten years.
In all these scenarios, there is no impact on poverty reduction, growth to our GDP, in any of the socio-economic area. That means all these borrowings plus our generated revenue resources have not been wisely spent. There has been a wasteful consumption which made all the loans not to be productive. To further elucidate this, I will give a comparison so that you can see why I said we have wasted the money. Our foreign debt was cleared in 2008 when former President Olusegun Obasanjo was in power. Our total debt then to GDP was under 10%. Our local debt collectively in dollar term was just under $30b. I will use a country that has the same huge debt profile as an example and that is Bangladesh.
You may say use India or China, but let us use Bangladesh. In 2008, I spent a week in Bangladesh studying their poverty reduction, education and health issues. The country then had a debt of $37billion, 41% of the GDP. Their GDP then was $91.6 and their per capital $635 (per capita). Between 2008 and 2019 their debt increased from $37billion to $108billion three times. They borrowed three times the amount they owed before. Within that period too, their GDP grew from $91.6b to $302b. Their per capita increased from $635 to $1, 855. Their debts now to GDP became 34% because they invested the money wisely.
So it is not borrowing that is the problem but what did you did with the money you borrowed? They borrowed the money & threw it into the productive sector and it helped the economy to grow. As we speak, Bangladesh has moved on the human development index, which is their most critical measurement area, from low, where they were with Nigeria, to medium and now as I speak to you there have less than five percent rate of unemployment. They have moved. In 2008, our debt was below $37billion and GDP $2, 240. By 2019, our debt has risen to over $100 billion. So we moved about three times like they (Bangladesh) did but in our own case our GDP remains at about $390 and per capita became $2, 100 and something. So our par capital went down.
What happened? The money we borrowed was thrown away, simple. So, because you did not invest that money in a productive sector consequently, there was no growth, it didn’t reduce your poverty, it didn’t create employment and of course, there is no revenue. Everybody knows that the easiest way to generate revenue in any country is that the more you get people employed, the more the economy grows and the more revenue you get. It is simple. If you go to your village and your people are not employed will they pay you tax? No! The highest means of getting revenue for any government is by employment of the people by supporting small businesses. Small businesses in Nigeria are dying, the people are being thrown into unemployment, and there is corruption everywhere.
Those who are making money are those who are either stealing government money, kidnapping, or involved in one form of crime or the other. Criminality has become the only productive sector in your country. And that has to stop. Whether it is perpetrated by government or anybody, it has to stop.