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The Presidency, Politics and the Nigerian Economy.

15 Sept. 2010 Kodilinye Obiagwu of The Guardian Newspaper Interviews Atedo N A Peterside OON

This is the full text of an interview that Atedo N A Peterside OON, granted in his capacity as President of ANAP FOUNDATION (a non-profit organisation committed to promoting Good Governance) to KODILINYE OBIAGWU of The Guardian Newspaper - Published on 15 September 2010. Extracts of this interview were earlier published in The Guardian of 14 September, 2010.


Do you think President Goodluck Jonathan should join the presidential race in the 2011 elections?

- I think he should and so should all those who believe they can genuinely lead the gargantuan effort to transform the Nigerian economy. We should then let the party members (via the Primaries) and the electorate (via a free and fair election) decide who should rule us.

I also believe that an incumbent who has shown considerable promise over a very short period in office deserves a shot at a longer tenure. Besides, being an incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan's aura, personality and performance to date is an embodiment of the standard or the gauge against which we should measure or compare others seeking to replace him.

What do you think best informs his decision to want to run in 2011?

- The knowledge that he is widely popular and very well respected because of the competence that he has displayed so far and the fact that he appears to have a pure heart and clean hands. He radiates quiet confidence and is not carrying loads of "baggage" like one or two of the other aspirants. His handling of the 3 greatest threats to our well-being/development as a nation, which were in danger of "consuming" us less than 12 months ago and in respect of which we were seeking urgent Presidential intervention/action, has endeared him to many.

What threats are you referring to here?

- The threats I am talking about are:- 
a) Electoral Reform; b) Militancy in the Niger Delta; and c) Reform of our moribund Electricity Sector and Energy Policy in general. 
Many of us cannot remember when last we had a President that was in a hurry to do a lot in terms of REFORMING our failed electricity sector. Some of our past Governments since 1980 virtually "abandoned" the sector in terms of new investments and a few others behaved as if they thought the problem could be fixed through increased Budgetary allocations and constant tinkering with Government personnel and postings alone.

President Jonathan is continuing with Yar 'Adua's policies in the area of enforcing the rule of law and the amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants, but he appears to have deliberately departed from his predecessor in his interpretation of the role of Government in business. He appears to be more private-sector oriented than his predecessor. This is perfectly natural. Every intelligent and perceptive subordinate makes up his own mind regarding what to copy from the boss and what not to copy.

Late President Yar 'Adua will always be remembered for the New Thinking that he brought into the Niger Delta Militancy issue via the nouvelle Amnesty Programme. The truth is that his Amnesty Programme (though incomplete) helped lay the foundation for peace and the easing of tensions in the Niger Delta. On the face of it, President Jonathan is better placed to build on late President Yar 'Adua's early successes in this area than some of the presidential aspirants.

Also, in the area of Electoral Reform, I think many of us were impressed that President Jonathan did not attempt to use the "Federal Might" to conduct a sham election and "forcibly install" a Governor from his own party - the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the Anambra State Governorship elections held earlier in the year.

There is more to electoral reform than signing an electoral act or appointing a Chairman and Commissioners for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The truth is that a meddlesome President, who is not a genuine Democrat at heart and who is merely trying to get INEC to do his party's bidding, can derail electoral reform. We need a President who will genuinely empower INEC by creating an enabling environment that will make it possible for them to conduct free and fair elections irrespective of whether he is a participant in the Presidential race.

And so the argument that President Jonathan should not contest an election because his presence in the race will inhibit INEC is puerile. It is tantamount to saying that Switzerland should not take part in the World Cup because Sepp Blatter (the FIFA President) is Swiss. President Jonathan is not the one conducting the elections. 

Major-General Muhammad Buhari subverted the 1979 Nigerian Constitution by staging a military coup that toppled President Shehu Shagari's Elected Government. If Buhari is now free to contest Presidential elections then why should anyone seek to stop President Jonathan from contesting?

How realistic is President Jonathan’s recently unveiled road map for the power sector?

- I think it is bold, realistic and achievable. It seeks to build on the same pillars which were responsible for the radical transformation of our telecommunications' sector in the last decade.

What do you make of the opinion of some stakeholders and major players in the power sector, that the President’s blue print is wishful thinking and uninformed?

It could be that these "faceless" stakeholders are terribly misinformed or are seeking to mislead. I would encourage every Nigerian who is internet literate to go to the website of the Presidential Task Force on Power (, download the Blueprint entitled "Road map for Power Sector Reform"  and read President Jonathan's One and a Half Page FORWARD contained therein as well as the 11-Page INTRODUCTION AND EXECUTIVE SUMMARY and judge for themselves. It is essential reading.

How much has the economy suffered under the present unsteady state of the electricity/energy sector?

- I cannot even begin to pretend that I can accurately quantify the magnitude of what Nigeria and Nigerians have lost over the last 3 decades alone through the myopic and incompetent management of our electricity sector. Suffice to say that, by some estimates, our annual Gross Domestic Product could have been growing by up to 3-5 percentage points more if the whole country had enjoyed uninterrupted electricity. Expressing the problem in terms of GDP growth probably even "masks" and "under plays" the true extent of the losses. How about the psychological trauma that our citizens have suffered needlessly in terms of unemployment and under- employment?

The reality is that individuals, families and businesses have even paid the ultimate price through unnecessary deaths, bankruptcies etc. How do you quantify the loss of a baby that died in an incubator because there was no electricity and/or no diesel to fuel a generator? Businesses became uncompetitive and died and are still dying. The banks that financed them also lost money and probably went down with them in some cases. How do you quantify the national ridicule to which we have been subjected? A giant of Africa that is perpetually in darkness?

How do you describe a situation where manufacturing industries have closed or are closing, banks have gone under or are reeling, private initiatives are folding up daily and yet the political space is bubbling?

- The political space is still "bubbling" because we have managed to keep hope alive. That hope revolves around the promise of electoral reform and we should give credit to President Jonathan and the National Assembly because every major step they have taken so far has been in the right direction. Many believe that we have passed an inflection point and so the next elections should be more credible than the 2003 and 2007 elections. We need credible elections in order to make it less risky for decent people to seek elective office. The previous scenario whereby a vagabond could "hijack" an election and occupy a stolen seat in the National Assembly for 3 years before the Judiciary would reinstate the rightful winner to complete the remaining one year of a 4-year fixed term was farcical and clearly unsustainable.

Do you agree with the oft stated notion that the presidential system of government is expensive and that it puts a serious strain on the economy?

- YES it is expensive and can become particularly unwieldy if run by miscreants. As "bad" as the system might be, the reality is that we have to live with it for now and so I think our priority, in the run up to the January 2011 elections, should be to concentrate on ensuring that we protect and enjoy the fruits of the Electoral Reform which so far has been ably spear-headed by President Jonathan.

The media and the Intelligentsia also have a critical role to play in sensitizing the electorate not to vote for "high-risk" candidates.

A convicted Paedophile who has fully served his 17-year jail-term for his past crimes has a Constitutional Right to apply to be the Headmaster of a Nursery School. But then, if I sit on the School's Board of Governors, it is also my Constitutional Right to articulate the case against hiring him in an environment where more credible alternatives abound. It is about pursuing the less risky option.

The Paedophile can even plead that he has taken responsibility for his past actions. He can apologise and plead that he has since turned a new leaf and that the Bible and Koran preach forgiveness. YES, I can and will forgive the Paedophile if he has atoned for his sins, but am I obliged to canvass that we bypass better-qualified and less risky candidates and hire the Paedophile just so I can prove that I have a forgiving spirit? I may opt instead to ask the Paedophile to come and fellowship with me in my church. Is that not forgiveness?

Do you think any previous government had done enough to improve the economy in any direction and to the point that the country can be a model for any other country?

- If I look back 30 years (forget about 50 years), it is a sad story in terms of how we have managed our economy. President Shagari's Government frittered away all our external reserves and then saddled us with external debts that we could not service. Buhari took over in 1983 and was obsessed with fighting corruption, but as far as the management of the economy went, he appeared to be clueless and tried a warped form of economic central planning based on rationing/import licensing.

Generals Ibrahim Babangida and the late Sani Abacha presided over an infamous "lost decade" in terms of economic achievement. Their regimes also had the worst human rights' record in Nigeria i.e. even worse than Buhari's. Suffice to say that Nigeria's per capita GDP towards the end of the 1990s fell to below 1980 levels, thanks to their stewardship.

General Abubakar's tenor was very short and his priority was political transition which he delivered on schedule and so we should commend him. He never promised to transform the economy during his short tenure.
It was Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abacha who promised so much, but delivered so little as far as the economy was concerned. They could not even deliver macroeconomic stability.

Obasanjo's Government scored 3 major economic successes:- a) Macroeconomic Stability; b) Debt Forgiveness which led to the virtual elimination of our external debt burden; and c) Rapid Transformation of our Telecommunications' sector

I would not add the banking sector consolidation to the above because quite a few banks became even more troubled post-consolidation.

One of the best appointments that President Obasanjo made was Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Finance Minister. Between her and her team comprising the Minister of State (Mrs Nenadi Usman), the then Head of the Debt Management Office (Dr Mansur Muhtar) and others they secured debt forgiveness from our largest external creditors. That was a model for other heavily indebted countries to follow.

There is the Chinese example, Malaysia example and the India example. But we have what we called the Nigerian factor.  Where did successive government’s get it wrong on the economy?

- I do not accept that there is anything like a "Nigerian factor" which is always capable of negating positive change. There is no challenge that we are facing that is unique to us now or which has not been faced by some other nation at an earlier point in their economic development. Successive Governments got it wrong here because they entrusted dubious and/or incompetent persons in key positions who were not capable of  reforming the economy and therefore baking a larger cake. One or two good and knowledgeable people will achieve very little in the midst of sharks. To "move mountains", you need a President who is knowledgeable and sincere plus a critical mass of at least half a dozen smart and dedicated people in key senior positions. That was why President Obasanjo scored some major successes between 2003 and 2007.

The Presidency is the key. If the occupant of that high and exalted office is not sincere, able, competent and trustworthy then we are in deep trouble.   
Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo had visited India, which is regarded as a country with the highest number of small-scale enterprises but Nigeria didn’t pick something in that regard despite the army of unemployed graduates and skilled manpower.

- Small-scale enterprises are particularly vulnerable in an environment where the Government has failed to provide good physical and social infrastructures. We have earlier discussed the crippling burden that is posed by the lack of constant electricity. Add to this the absence of running water, good roads, efficient transportation, security, healthcare etc. It is a miracle that some of these enterprises are still alive in Nigeria. You reap what you sow.

Obasanjo once said that Government has no business running business and enunciated the policy on privatisation and divestments. Why has that policy not worked in some sectors like it did in the Communications Sector?

- First, let me make it clear, that for Nigeria, I believe more in full privatisation than partial privatisation and/or commercialisation. The reason we were privatising in the first instance was because our Governments were meddlesome and often interfered with day-to-day management when ever they owned businesses. There was almost always a misalignment of goals between the individuals who ran the Government-owned business and what the business itself needed. Directors and Managers had no "skin in the game". Typically, there was no shared vision from the boardroom all the way down to the lowest paid employee within the Government owned business. Reasons for this included general cynicism, job insecurity, appointments made for political ends etc.

Available evidence suggests that our Governments (Federal and State) often continue to meddle even after partial privatisation, as the businesses are still seen as instruments of state power. It is full privatisation that gets Government appointees out of the Boardroom completely.

Some countries are able to make commercialisation and/or partial privatisation work. Some are unable to make it work because the political elite refuse to allow it to work. Nigeria is in the latter category.
When people here talk about turning NNPC into another Petronas (Malaysia)or Petrobras (Brazil), I ask them if they can remember all those adverts from the NNPC over the years which proudly announced that the President has approved the following promotions into senior management etc. Why would the President be approving staff deployments and/or promotions within NNPC? Why then do you have a Board of Directors for NNPC? How many CEOs has NNPC had in the last 3 years? I believe the number is 4? Is that how Petrobras operates in Brazil? This was one of the problems I had with the draft Petroleum Industry Bill that I saw last year. It sounded like the same old bad dream for the Federal Government to hold on to some of the "commanding heights" of the economy.

Full privatisation has worked very well in Nigeria except in the few instances when we sold businesses to core-investors who should never have been pre-qualified in the first place because they never possessed the requisite skills and/or resources. The failure was due to a process/execution error and not a policy error. There are ways to mitigate against that in future.

Corruption thrives in every facet of the economy and government. How can this be curtailed and why has it remained intractable?

- It starts from the very top. At the last Nigerian Economic Summit when I was contributing from the floor I made a statement that I thought Obasanjo anointed the pair of the late  Yar 'Adua and Goodluck Jonathan because he was pre-occupied with ensuring that he did not hand over the Presidency to people who would loot the National Treasury. One participant approached me afterwards and impugned all kinds of sinister motives to General Obasanjo's succession plan. He even insisted that General Obasanjo chose President Yar 'Adua because he (Obasanjo) knew Yar 'Adua was very sick. I told the Participant that I voted for Yar 'Adua and Jonathan in 2007 and asked him if Obasanjo held a gun to my head before I did so?

I voted for Yar 'Adua and Goodluck Jonathan because, during their campaign, they came across like honest and well-educated graduates who meant well for Nigeria. During their campaign, Yar 'Adua spoke well (without any notes) when he unfolded his Economic Agenda in early 2007 at a Business Dinner in Victoria Island and Goodluck Jonathan also spoke well (without any notes) at a more private dinner that I attended a week or two later. I was also convinced that Yar 'Adua's health problems were wildly exaggerated by his opponents when I heard him (Yar 'Adua) challenge them publicly to a game of squash racquets. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the health concerns were real?

The price of oil is currently around $75 a barrel. As a nation, we are still trying to get back some of the funds that were looted from the national treasury by a military leader and stashed away in various foreign banks in the mid to late 1990s when the price of oil was as low as $8 a barrel. Can you imagine what would have happened if the price of oil was $80 a barrel in that era and not $8?

The Gulf-War windfall income from Babangida's era was not properly accounted for, hence the controversy surrounding the Okigbo Report which vanished mysteriously until today.

There is more to fighting corruption than going after just one or two bad eggs. If a corrupt person gets into Aso Rock, then the game is already over. We need a President with clean hands who can lead by example and then choose good people to fight corruption.

Is the reason that the South-South region sustains the economy with oil a sustainable excuse for it to seek the political leadership of the country?

- No individual in this country should need an excuse to seek high political office if he has the courage. It is almost every adult's constitutional right. We should be talking instead about President Goodluck Jonathan's very strong personal attributes and his expert and deft handling of the Yar 'Adua illness crisis in the face of extreme provocation plus the policies and programmes that he stands for.

We often forget that, being a Sitting President, can be a blessing and a curse. If you perform well it can be a blessing, but then there is always the possibility of a scandal or a blunder which can work like a "curse"? Would the South-West Zone of PDP endorse his candidacy if he was enmeshed in one scandal after another or if he was bungling everything every day? Certainly Not. Therefore it is his GOOD WORKS that qualify him for endorsement and not his GOODLUCK or ethnicity.

That President Jonathan is from the South-South is not important to me. What was far more important to me was his Road Map for the reform of the electricity sector etc. I have since seen it, read it and endorsed it. 
There is no civilised society that will stop a Performing Sitting President or Governor from exercising his constitutional right to present himself for an election. For those who are unable to appreciate a Sitting President or Governor, all they have to do is to vote for their preferred candidate at the Primaries or in the General elections and, if they are really in the majority, the Sitting President or Governor will become history.

I think therefore that the entire Zoning hullabaloo is arising because President Jonathan's opponents realise that both his strong personal attributes and the policies and programmes that he stands for make him a formidable candidate and the one to beat. Indeed, some of his opponents sound as if they are alternating between delusions of grandeur/strength and weakness.

In anycase it is obvious that those who claim that the PDP Zoning formular was very clear and precise are being economical with the truth. If this policy was that clear and precise then why did Governors Peter Odili, Donald Duke, Obong Attah etc waste their money printing posters to promote their candidacy in 2007? Were they under the influence of alcohol or what?

Every novice knows that a clear and concise major policy agreement must address some pretty obvious "what ifs".  E.g. what happens if a sitting President or Governor dies mid-term? If you did not discuss all that then it is clear that you are in a "force marjeure" situation in which case you have to go back to negotiate and listen to all sides. There is no other alternative. PDP's National Executive Council has since done exactly that and ruled that a Sitting President or Governor can run.

I am not interested in South-South or North-West or South-East because zoning on this basis is logically incomplete if it is based on ethnicity. For instance, I asked a friend in PDP who is a zoning proponent that under this their supposedly "clear and precise" zoning agreement, when exactly would it be the turn of the Yorubas from Kwara and Kogi State? He first argued that it would not be acceptable for a Yoruba person to become President only 4 years after Obasanjo (i.e. 2011), but when I reminded him that Kwara and Kogi were Northern States and so a Yoruba person from those 2 states contesting now was very much in line with his wonderful zoning formula which said it was the turn of the North, he was dumbstruck.

We have even allowed foreigners to join this zoning debate and portray us as if we are colonies of apes fighting for supremacy. The Intelligentsia in this country should rise up and show leadership on this matter.

Incidentally, Zoning has nothing to do with the Federal Character Principle which is, in any case, enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.

Some of the people making the loudest noise about zoning have held high Federal Offices before. Perhaps we should ask them to tell us what exactly they achieved for their zone during their time in office?

We had a succession of Northern rulers from 1979 to 1999 and yet huge sections of the North are still so impoverished? Allowing one or two of your kins men to get away with over-invoicing whilst you are in office does not constitute an achievement for your zone. There is no evidence of any subsequent meaningful trickle-down effect anyway.

The media should give less "air-time" to those who really mean to hold back the task of nation building through the ethnic and/or religious polarisation of our politics. We have risen above this before and we can do so again. I was among millions of christians who voted for M.K.O Abiola and Babagana Kingibe (two Muslims) in the free and fair 12 June  1993 Presidential elections. A muslim showed up (Babangida) and annulled the elections. There were street protests galore in Lagos in particular. When Babangida's Government sent soldiers to shoot the protesters, many of those who died were christians protesting the injustice meted out against 2 Muslims.

We should not forget that the whole PDP zoning arrangement arose in 1999 as a reaction to the injustice that was meted out to M.K.O. Abiola (a Southerner) who won a free and fair election in 1993 but ended up being confined in prison until he died in 1998. Babangida has said that he accepts responsibility for the annulment and so he should because all CEOs know that if a bad policy decision is taken under their watch then it must be their fault, more so under a military dictatorship where you can summarily dismiss even your immediate deputy. So if General Babangida's annulment of the 12 June 1993 Presidential election was the "problem" and zoning was the "solution". Is it not ironic that some of his supporters today are insisting on zoning? Can you present yourself as both the "problem" and the "solution" at the same time?

What qualities do you think Nigerians should look out for when deciding who to vote for to become their next President?

- The Presidency is arguably the most demanding job in the land. 
The travel demands on the President's time both within the country and overseas are enormous and he is also expected to provide direction and supervise the Ministers and cooperate with the National Assembly and even create an enabling environment for the Judiciary to function in an unfettered manner. I could go on and on. The demands of this office can easily "consume" anyone who is not very strong physically and/or anyone whose mental alertness has become suspect.

With all due respects to our Judges, I believe they have a much easier or less demanding schedule than the President and yet we insist that at 70 they must retire. Most Nigerian banks enforce a compulsory retirement age of 60 years.

I am not advocating a compulsory retirement age for the President. The Constitution has left that to the political parties and the electorate to decide. My only advice is that we think long and hard about the importance of electing a President who has a very good chance of being able to cope with the demands of this exalted office until 2015. The probability that a sick or old President can last the distance and/or discharge all these duties effectively until 2015 is quite low. You cannot cheat nature for very long.

We must screen the participants more vigorously than we have done in the past. It is the Constitutional right of a Geriatric or a Sick person to seek to be elected President. We (the electorate) can however decide that we do not want to take that kind of risk again. In any case do we not know that it is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks? Perhaps this is why the U.S. (Barrack Obama), U.K. (David Cameron), Russia (Medvedev) all now have energetic Presidents who below 50 years old? Are we going to send them people who are their father's age to develop a rapport with them on Nigeria's behalf?

The Intelligentsia MUST also start NOW to educate our people to vote for policies over tribe and/or religion. As the saying goes:- "the best time to have planted a tree was 25 years ago. The second best time is NOW".
As for the qualities that a healthy and highly energetic and mentally alert President needs to bring to the table. I think I would list the following:-
Our President should be someone whose antecedents suggest that he can be TRUSTED. Ideally, our President should be a well-educated graduate that is knowledgeable and capable of multi-tasking and learning very quickly; We need a President that has the right temperament. Ideally a God-fearing person who can remain calm and controlled in almost all situations. We need a listening President who will defend our nascent democracy and protect press freedom. A President that understands the need to introduce policies that encourage the public sector to proactively partner with the private sector so that we can work speedily together to achieve rapid economic growth and create jobs in order to quickly reduce the incidence of unemployment and under-employment. Experience is also important but ideally it should be past experience of working with or within a democratic setting. This is not the time for apprenticeship or experiments.

This list is by no means exhaustive.

We should also quiz the leading contenders properly. We should not be afraid to ask them "uncomfortable" questions about their distant past, recent actions, inactions or misadventures. Nor should we be shy to ask about their policies and programmes (for the few who have). We can also warn the electorate to be vigilant. How else can we expose any wolves that could be lurking around in sheep's clothing?

In any case if we ask the right questions that correctly probe the perceived weaknesses of the aspirants, we effectively raise the bar as the contestants will de-mistify themselves before the eyes of their party members and the electorate each time they give unsatisfactory and/or incoherent answers or embark upon a futile effort to sweep important issues under the carpet.  
Should we not ascertain whether the Leopard can really shed its spots overnight?

Let the race begin.