NewsWest AfricaNIGERIA: "We are pushing the population to the brink"; Donald Duke


Posted on Monday, 16 July 2018 13:39

NIGERIA: "We are pushing the population to the brink"; Donald Duke

By Eromo Egbejule

Donald Duke, two-time governor of Cross River State and a part-time saxophone player at jazz festivals, wants to conduct a much larger orchestra next year: Nigeria’s 180 million people. In June, the 56-year-old politician declared his intention to run for president in the 2019 polls. He speaks to The Africa Report on President Muhammadu Buhari’s scorecard, the Niger Delta, insecurity, industrial policy, devolution of powers and a $500m flop from his time as governor.

TAR: First things first, why now? Why are you contesting now and not in 2007 when everybody felt that was the best chance to get into Aso Rock?
Donald Duke: In 2007, I felt the opportunity was good but on the back of People's Democratic Party (PDP), it would not have happened because the system at the time was overwhelmingly dominated by President [Olusegun] Obasanjo. And he didn’t want it to happen. [The late Umaru Musa] Yar’adua and I had a discussion on this. He came to me in a very interesting manner. He said if I won the primaries, he would like to be my running mate; and if he won the primaries, he would like me to be his running mate. So, it was foolhardy running against him. The structure of the party gave literally everything to Obasanjo at the time, and he did what he did.

And now? There is an unwritten rule that a northerner has to be president in 2019.
See, it is political trickery. It is only a formula put together to accentuate someone’s chances. So, if the north wants to run for instance, they will say it is time to give it to the north. It is not in the constitution. And when you go to the north, they say, 'Oh, give it to the north-west.' The last time the north-east threw up a person was Tafawa Balewa from Bauchi. But you know that the north, they’ve had [Shehu] Shagari, Yar’adua, Buhari, all from the same state. When you talk about the north, you have to wonder about Kwara. And they say no, it has to go to the north. So it’s a fallacy. The north always contests elections. They have been contesting non-stop since 2003. More importantly, I don’t think we have the luxury of that right now. My perception of the country right now is it is in dire straits, and we are here right now because of our failure to put the best foot forward every time. I am not running as a southerner, I am running as a Nigerian.

Nigeria today has a plethora of problems. What will your campaign be pivoted on?
I don’t believe in the statistics that says unemployment in Nigeria is 15%. Of course not. Unemployment in Nigeria is probably between 70-80%. Even those that are employed are underemployed and underpaid. It puts a lot pressure on those who are employed because they have to support the unemployed. There are folks who will come to me believing that my sea can never dry – so I’m supposed to pay their house rent and all that. We run a goodwill economy whereby the majority of the folks live off the goodwill of the minority, and that ought not to be. In a nutshell, the focus will be to create as many jobs and include as many people into the economy as possible. That will douse a lot of things – corruption, security threats.

There is corruption of need and the corruption of greed. The corruption of greed is a corruption of the privileged, those who have money but they use influence to get more. But that of need, that policeman on the roadside who is asking you for a bribe is more of need. Imagine you have five or six children. You have school fees, you have rent to pay. You have medical bills, but you’re earning N25,000-N30,000 ($69-83). Our leadership is not in tune with the reality of this country. It’s a very docile population that has not exploded, but we are pushing it to the brink.

Are there any specifics in your first 100 days in office to tackle security? Like policing upgrades?
Policing is not generally having one central force that gathers and has guns. The most important part of police work is information gathering. We have only 300,000-400,000 policemen in Nigeria, and half are following big men. In a country of almost 200 million people, the police force ordinarily should be two million – that’s one policeman to 100 people. That’s broadly the international standard. But since it is a centralised force, it is very difficult for the federal government to engage two million people in the police force. So what do you do? Decentralise it. Not independent forces, but quasi-independent forces. For instance, in the states, you see the chief security officer, all he does is buy vehicles and provide support to the federal police, which is inadequate. Therefore, you have a reactionary police force service. What you require is a proactive police service. How do you do that? Get the states. Literally every single civil service is overstaffed by anywhere between 10-25%. Folks are not doing anything. Get them into police force to gather information. They live amongst the people, they know what each and every one is doing.

The planned Tinapa Resort racked up debt for Cross River state under you. As president, would you also build infrastructure with that kind of debt?
Why are you worried about debt? It is how you use the money. Why do you go to the bank to borrow? Because you want to grow. Tinapa was a function of continuity. We built a $500m business resort. We wanted to create traffic. Cross River is at the end of Nigeria. You don’t go there unless business takes you there. We needed to make it compelling for people. So the real essence of Tinapa was not infrastructure, it was an economic free-trade zone. [It is] the only one in Nigeria – the others are industrial trading hubs. The average Nigerian traveling out is going for shopping. We were trying to make all those things you find out there available at a cheaper rate. If you bring traffic, the hotels will explode and the entire hospitality chain too. Hotels sometimes work with farmers. If the hotels are prosperous, a lot of people are employed. That plan alone according to KPMG would have brought in three million people annually into Calabar. If on the average, each one spends N100,000 in hotel bills, shopping, taxi services and restaurants, that will bring N300bn into the economy. The multiplier effect will be at least $1.5trn.

It is money in circulation. The government now gets their money from taxing its people, and that is an anomaly in the Nigerian economy. It is based on government collecting rents from oil and not based on people generating income and the taxing from the income. Follow nature, you can’t go wrong. A tree survives from osmosis. It gets its nutrients from the soil and feeds up. If all you did was put up a tree on a concrete surface and water the leaves, it will die off.

We borrowed to build Tinapa; it wasn’t sustained. Government shouldn’t end on 29 May every four years. By now, Tinapa should have been thriving. The essence was to create an economy independent of the federation account. So we have 23,000 km² of land, and we are only three million people. So we can afford to give you 10,000ha of land to go farm. Oyo State can’t because there are so many people that you will be running over communities, but I can give you contiguous 20,000ha of land in Cross River. So we identified agriculture and tourism. We developed Tinapa as a world-class resort. Have you been to Obudu cattle ranch? That’s even better. For me, Obudu is the icing on our cake. We made commuting there easier – 45 minutes from Calabar and 30 minutes to the bottom of the mountains. We created traffic. In my time, Calabar became the fourth-busiest airport in Nigeria after Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. There was traffic. We had nine flights in and out per week. Today, we have only two.

So literally when you got out of office…
It went south because of a failure of continuity, which is not unique to Cross River. It is a national issue. Every government comes in and wants to jettison what everyone else has done and start anew. Governments don’t work that away. You take the assets and the liabilities.

Lagos is doing well. Central to that is better collection of taxes and its port. Did you also try to make the Calabar port work?
Yes. We wanted to create a niche in port services. If you take a flight out of Lagos, going eastwards towards Port Harcourt or Calabar and you are sitting on the right side of the aircraft and you look out, you will see a long line of ships. That is costing Nigeria a phenomenal amount of money because they are going to charge demurrage. But you have idle infrastructure that you can deploy. So I made a case to President Obasanjo that we use Calabar as a roll-on, roll-off port for cars and for commodities. We built, with the support of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, a parking yard to allow for trucks and cars, so when the cars come off the ships, they can be parked. That worked. We created a very informed industry. People were trained and all that. But [there was] no continuity, so it has gone back to an agro-port. Continuity is critical in every sector and country.

So you agree that leaders need to get the right people around them?

Former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her new book said you advised her not to join the Jonathan administration.
She lied.

You didn’t call her?
Listen to my story. There are two sides. We were friends. I was in Washington. I called her up, which I normally do in Washington when she was there, and invite her for lunch. I go to see her and asked her if it is true she will take the job. She says she was thinking about it. I told her not to rush thinking about it because she was fired from her last job when she was the minister of finance.

I thought she resigned?
She was moved to foreign affairs, where she had no experience whatsoever, but she still wanted to head the economic team. The person said 'No, you can’t,' in other words, I am disengaging you from finance, which is your core competence. And she knows she couldn’t function in foreign affairs. So when the president said take it or leave it, she left.

Even beyond that, and this is why I think she was a bit disingenuous, if you read the book further, she talked of someone who would not allow her come into the [presidential] villa, right? In an instance that is even worse, where the International Monetary Fund chair was prevented from going into the villa, you don’t mention that [person]. I am very cautious of people who write books after their tenure.

Is that why you never wrote one?
When I write, I will not be talking about myself. I will write about the government, but I won’t write about myself. It is a bit egoistic. I think it was a laundry book. Why she chose to write it at this time, I don’t know but it is like Nasir El-Rufai’s book or Obasanjo’s book. You find that there are many things that may not have happened the way you perceive it happening.

But surely they are writing from their own perspective?
Yeah, but what is the thinking? Are you trying to clean up something? I responded to her. I told her that you made the economy poorer than you met it. But we are still friends.

A practical question – what will you do in the instance of both Ajaokuta steel company and the refineries?
Steel manufacturing is completely energy intensive. With the energy policy as it exists today, even if you produce steel, imported steel will still be cheaper so you can’t sell it. There is no way because I want to be patriotic, I’ll buy a ton of steel from you at say $1,500 because you are in Nigeria, when I can get it for $500 from China. So, you’ve got to make your industrial output affordable. Government is an enabler. You’ve got to enable people to prosper and become productive. Our gas assets are amazing. Nigeria is a gas country, not an oil country. We flare gas more than any other nation on earth. Rather than flare it, give it to the industries, they will become more productive. Your tax base will become higher and your goods will be affordable and you can export. If you made gas available to everybody, everybody will come and manufacture here. The Chinese and the Americans will manufacture here to export. Making Ajaokuta work was promised by Obasanjo. But why didn’t it work? Two things: poor management - people who never ran a steel mill before running it; two, the energy policy. You can’t compete with the Chinese or India, so you’ve got to take a critical factor that makes production costs lower. In Nigeria, poor infrastructure and poor energy supply are two critical factors because if I’m going to transport steel from Ajaokuta for instance, to Calabar, it will cost me a lot of money because the roads are bad. It shouldn’t be on road – it should be on rail, it would be cheaper.

Back to could argue that they might not increase directly proportionally to our population.
You have to grow the non-oil economy at 15% annually for 10 years minimum to grow the economy from a $500bn economy to a $2.5trn economy. And how do you do that? You’ve got to make credit affordable, you’ve got to deal with the energy issue. And I have told you how to do – make the gas available for industries instead of flaring it. You’ve got to back a lot of import substitution. There are so many things that can stimulate growth. I can give you a concession for instance, to produce caustic soda to make soap cheaper. You can see the tariff thing going on in the United States, that is job creation. That has been America’s foreign policy since Alexander Hamilton. So, what Trump is doing is a playbook of the American fiscal policy since secretary of treasury Alexander Hamilton.

The Niger Delta question, soot in Port Harcourt, militants waiting in the wings, spillages....
All the folks are asking for is opportunities. You have all these institutions like the Niger Delta Development Commission and all that as interventions, but you need a long-lasting solution. There’s 5,460km of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta. Some of those pipelines have been there for 40 years, and they are leaking. But if you said this pipeline going through your community, I will pay you X amount for every kilometre or whatever. In exchange, you must report leakages and protect it, that will take care of the rest because they now have a stake. The problem in the Niger Delta is that the landowners don’t have a stake in what you are doing. Make them stakeholders. It is not a new idea. In Alaska, it is the same.

Beyond that, are you down for fiscal federalism and restructuring?
Absolutely. You restructure your life every day. As a society grows, it has to adjust the way it does things. The fear of restructuring is the money. A state like Kebbi will say if you restructure, they won’t be getting money from the federation again. In the 1963 constitution, 50% of the revenue went to the federal [government], 50% went to the states. It was in 1966 we started operating in a unified system. It is open for discussion […] First of all, the fact that we are even paying 13% [for resource control]. Now, maybe they are asking for 25%. It doesn’t matter, but let’s stop the dependency syndrome. Even if you have no minerals, look at what Kebbi is doing with rice. Audu Ogbeh, the minister of agriculture, told me a story relayed to him by governor Atiku Bagudu. He called a meeting for rice growers in Kebbi State on a particular day and they told him that they can’t come. 'We are doing our harvest, postpone it for two weeks'. For a governor to call a meeting and folks say no they can’t come means that they are independent of government. That is a good sign. Kebbi rice growers will do more if there was affordable credit. The beauty of Nigeria as a country is our numbers, but when those number are not productive it becomes a curse. And those numbers are going to expand exponentially. If we cannot solve these problems people are having today, in 30 years we will be eating each other.

So what about President Buhari’s scorecard?
Buhari ran for office on two main issues – security and corruption. You can only judge him based on what he said. We are still as corrupt as ever. In fact, if we use the [Transparency International] integrity index, we are worse. I’m not a member of Transparency International, but we all read it and the government acknowledged it and tried to make excuses.

Incidences of kidnapping are still rampant, and the herdsmen problem has reared its head even more. Boko Haram, [Buhari's] announced about three times that it is over, but it is still there.

He didn’t say much about the economy although he said he will make the naira stronger, but we all know it couldn’t happen. What people are looking at is not the value of the currency but the stability of the currency. If Nigeria wanted to make the dollar equal to 1 naira, it could, but it would only last for maybe one month because you will put your entire foreign exchange available right now and it will be 1 to 1.

If I am a foreign investor and I bring $100m to invest in Nigeria and my returns will start in 5-6 years, I want to know what the exchange rate will be in 5-10 years when I will be repatriating my money out. So those guys who established long-term investments here, when the thing moved to 360 naira to a dollar, they ran out of business. And because you are a monoeconomy, you need to engage the IMF. You need to have a buffer with them and create a confidence that come what may, we are giving you guarantee that we have reached a deal with Nigeria whereby the price of the naira will remain at 350 naira to a dollar for the next 10 years. With that announcement, people will rush here.

One of the biggest boohoos that Buhari did […] In the United States he was asked how he will deal with the Niger Delta, the south-east and all that. He said those who did not vote for him should not expect as much as those who voted for him. That’s not leadership. I will use my example. In 1999, I got only 19,000 votes from an entire senatorial district, Cross River North. If you took out the vote from that district, I still won the election. What did I do? I focused on them. I invested heavily. Obudu Cattle Ranch is there, it has been there forever, but we developed it to be the best resort in West Africa. I opened up a medical university there. I ensured that most of the north was put on the national grid. When I ran the second time, they told me not to bother to campaign. You are a leader of not just part of the country, you are a leader of the entire country. To me, that was a failure of leadership.

You know, the cry for Biafra is a cry of marginalisation. The people feel that you don’t care for them. Each time a section of the country doesn’t feel carried along, they are going to react. I may not like the way [Indigenous People of Biafra leader] Nnamdi Kanu went about it, but he’s sending a message that this man is marginalising us. For me, Biafra represents a statement of marginalisation anytime you hear that cry. In my state, there was a huge cry at a time for Ogoja State, but after my first term, it died off. Nobody heard of Ogoja State anymore because they were proudly Cross Riverian.

You’ve talked about the corruption of need and greed. Some of your former colleagues who are in government have some allegations levelled against them. Are you going to investigate them?
It is a system. It shouldn’t depend on the whims of who is president.

Yes, but it takes political willpower.
If the system works, of course they will be investigated. Just because the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigates you doesn’t make you a criminal. You have to be convicted – whatever the courts decide. But you’re asking me if I will shield them? No, I will not. I will not shield anybody.

There is a difference between shielding and actively prosecuting.
The EFCC has to do its job. Everybody has to do their job. And if they are doing their job, they will actively prosecute. The problem with Nigeria comes down to one word, consequences. The failure of consequences is what has brought us to where we are today.

What platform are you contesting on?
It is evolving, and I don’t want to preempt it. Right now, there is a conversation on the opposition parties coming together and all that. I am still a member of PDP, but I don’t want to preempt it. It may be the PDP, it may not be.


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