Nigeria: ‘We need a meritocratic country of the brightest and the best’ – Bola Ahmed Tinubu
The race for the Ondo Government House was largely seen as a contest between the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party as voters hit the polls over the weekend leading to an APC victory. Ahead of the election, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the national leader of the APC – and potential presidential candidate for the 2023 elections – shared his ideas about politics, regional balance and promoting unity.
TAR: Do you want to see electoral reforms in Nigeria, if so, what are the most urgent things to fix? What are your concerns about the conduct of the state elections in Edo and Ondo states?
Bola Ahmed Tinubu: Our country has made significant progress since the return of democracy in 1999. The tangible progress that has been made was most clearly demonstrated by the outcome of the 2015 election that swept President Buhari into office. That historic election represented the first ever peaceful handover of power following the defeat of an incumbent President at the ballot box. It was an important moment in our history.
Furthermore, INEC continues to learn and grow from each election it conducts and has shown a single-minded determination to keep on improving its processes. The recent introduction of a system for officials to upload results to a single online portal for viewing by any interested member of the public is another significant step forward and promises to improve transparency in the reporting of election results.
That said, I am a strong advocate for more electoral reforms to further improve transparency, integrity and fairness of our elections. Reforming electoral laws to strengthen the legal basis for the use of card readers and improvement in identification and biometrics technologies are some of the areas to which attention should be focused in this regard.
My primary hope for the upcoming Ondo election is for the election to be conducted efficiently, peacefully, fairly and transparently by INEC and for the people of Ondo to be able to vote for the candidate of their choice in a safe and secure setting.
You are reputed to have been the leading force for progressive politics in the south-west. How would you characterize your political ideology? Pan-Africanist, social democrat or socialist?
I am a progressive and a social democrat. That is to say that I believe government should serve the people not the other way around and I support policies that promote the economic, social and environmental health and wellbeing of the ordinary men and women of this country.
I am also a strong believer and advocate of political and fiscal federalism. I would like to see reforms introduced to rebalance the legislative authority of the states in comparison with the federal government in order to increase states’ autonomy in line with accepted principles of federalism.
As a progressive social democrat I am happy with the performance of President Buhari and his team. In the most difficult circumstances, the president has taken some very tough but necessary decisions such as the withdrawal of the subsidy of petroleum products. He has also achieved important victories in the area of social welfare and economic empowerment of the poorest members of our society, including by protecting millions of Nigerians from the ravages of the coronavirus, both in terms of stopping the spread and reducing the economic impact of the virus.
Is the zoning of the presidency a great stumbling block to democracy or an essential keeper of the peace?
My personal belief is that the only factors that should be used in selecting this country’s leaders should be their competence, knowledge and experience. However, it is also important to understand the political and social environment in which we all work. Many of those who support zoning do so because they think it is important to the maintenance of equity and balance in the context of a nation as culturally and religiously diverse as our own.
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However, while I recognise that the supporters of zoning may have good intentions, I strongly believe that there are intelligent and talented Nigerians scattered all across this great nation. The focus should not be on the enthronement of zoning but, instead, on the development on a truly meritocratic country where the brightest and the best from all parts of the country have the opportunity to rise to the top no matter their background, tribe, religion or even gender.
I see it as my job as a political leader and patriotic Nigerian to help bring about the development of such a society and it has always been my policy to surround myself with the most talented and capable people as I can find regardless of their tribal or religious affiliations.
Is the two-party political system sustainable in Nigeria or will it morph into something more fluid?
The two party system is definitely sustainable. In fact, I believe its continued survival is vital to the health of our democratic system. Two large, big-tent political parties are, to my mind, the best way to bring together people from different parts of the country, to promote unity and fellowship across tribal and religious boundaries.
Unfortunately, our two main parties are already somewhat fluid. The sight of politicians crossing from one party to another and then back again is not rare. It is not difficult to find two elections, one term apart, being fought between the same candidates flying the flag of one party and then the other. This fluidity does not reflect well on the ideological rigour of many of our politicians and, therefore, does little to strengthen our democracy.
However, the APC is still a very young party and I believe that we will see less fluidity and movement across party lines as people naturally sort themselves into whichever large camp includes those with ideals, principles and political objectives most closely resembling their own.
Do you think, as in India, that Nigeria could see the growth of more regional parties offering a stronger challenge to the central government?
As I have said, my view is that small regional parties are a thing of the past. The future is the APC/PDP duopoly and personally, I see this as a very good thing indeed. Disintegration into regional factions will do nothing for the unity of our people and only promises to enthrone tribal politics and small minded parochialism above the collective national interest of all Nigerians.
With a new emphasis on raising tax revenues, what are the lessons the federal government can learn from the experience in Lagos state pioneered under your governorship?
I would say that the federal government has already done a laudable job in this regard. The lessons which I would say can be learned are to deploy the most cutting edge technologies, simplify and streamline the tax code and ensure that people understand their tax obligations and are given a variety of easy payment options by which they can meet those obligations. Simplification of the tax code and a devolution of some tax authority to the states, for example in areas of VAT and stamp duties should also be considered by the government.
What advice would you give oil producing states to help them maximise their socio-economic potential and solve security problems?
I would simply advise them to adhere to globally accepted principles of good governance, accountability and transparency in the administration of their affairs. Further, I believe it is more important than ever to focus on environmental protection and control as well as the development of policies and programmes for the rehabilitation of areas affected by pollution.
Is the government’s Bouncing Back programme an adequate response to the pandemic-induced financial crisis facing Nigeria?
The bouncing Back program represents an ambitious program of recovery and is in keeping with the administration’s focus on social welfare and economic empowerment of all Nigerians but, in particular, the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.
Multi-billion dollar investments in agriculture, housing, broadband penetration and renewable energy are very welcome and demonstrate the administration’s determination not only to recover from the pandemic but to create a better, more prosperous nation. I, for one, am fully behind such efforts.
One of your greatest achievements is said to be your mentoring of young political talent – can you name some of the greatest successes in this regard and some of the upcoming politicians to watch?
The Vice President of Nigeria and a number of other cabinet members are among those to have been mentored by me and there have been many others over the years. I take great pride in the achievements of all of the men and women that I have been privileged to give mentorship and advice.
In terms of upcoming talent, I would say that Nigeria is rich in intelligent, skilled and diligent people ready to contribute to the development of our great country. My principal piece of advice to them has always remained the same; capability and competence are worthless without character.