Lagos — Nigeria's election next February will be the first nationwide two-party contest since the end of military rule in 1999. The emergence last year of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a merger of the country's four largest opposition movements, altered the political landscape, posing a serious challenge for the People's Democratic Party which has held the presidency for 15 years.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the new party's unofficial national leader and chief strategist, served two four-year terms as governor of Lagos, the megacity-state second in size only to Cairo in Africa, with a population exceeding 20 million, according to some estimates. Tinubu, who earned a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Chicago State University and worked as an accountant for Deloitte in the United States and Mobil in Nigeria, was also a leader of the democracy campaign that erupted after the Nigerian military annulled the 1993 election. There has been widespread speculation he could be chosen as the APC vice presidential candidate during the party's convention on 24 May. The leading contender for the top slot is believed to be Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general who served as military ruler in the 1980s and has run for president in the past three elections, coming in second each time. Tinubu spoke with AllAfrica's Reed Kramer about APC's prospects and platform.
Why should vote Nigerians for APC?
With APC, a new Nigeria is possible. This nation needs leaders who think and perform - not just ordinary thinkers, but doers. It's very rare. You can find policies all over the place, but have you been able to implement? I have done that in Lagos, and they've seen it. A new city has manifested in their very eyes. It's working. We moved from [controlling] one state when I was a governor, to many across the country today - 16 states.
Is that enough support to defeat the PDP and win the election?
It's enough, because those are the critical states - unless we carry the wrong message. If we did lose the election, then it means they've rigged. How can they win the election if they don't have Kano, Lagos, Rivers, Oyo, Ogun [states]? Do the arithmetic. It's the numbers. Nigeria has started on a new democratic journey.
Why did you include in your recent birthday celebration a symposium that focused on 'the common man'?
My friends organized it. They know my passion - to give an opportunity for ordinary people to express themselves, to pour out their frustrations, difficulties and the problems that they might be having in their various endeavors. If you understand the difficulties out there in the grassroots, you will be able to plan to mitigate that difficult situation. If there are weaknesses in the system which are preventing them from realizing their objectives, then you can plan. It's very important to be informed.
What are some examples of information that came out of the symposium?
The fertilizer problem is one - there's dishonesty in the distribution. The fact is that it's become too expensive and shouldn't be controlled by the Federal Government. Why should the Federal Government take that responsibility? Why not push it to the states? The states are closer to the people. Local Councils are much, much closer to farm producers. Why not leave it to them?
What is your overall assessment of the Federal Government's agricultural reforms, which includes restructuring delivery or fertilizer and seeds to farmers?
There are good intentions. Since the 1960s, every leader in this country has talked about agriculture and food security, but none of them has implemented it faithfully. They come in with academic theories, but the way you handle agriculture in America or Britain is not the same way you can do it here. The infrastructure there and the commodity markets are not the same as that of Nigeria. You can copy method, processes and procedures, but you cannot copy totally because they mechanize farming. They have irrigation. We don't have much of that. You have to localize it, and whatever support in terms of finances that you have must go directly to the farmers. By creating bureaucracy, you're not going to get reform achieved.
How would the APC approach agriculture differently?
APC's plan is to create demand first. For example, in the schools [we need to] provide nutritional value for our children by offering, let's say, one egg for every pupil in the school per day. If you do that, poultry will spring up all over the country and that will create small-scale industry and jobs. The chicken feed required to create those eggs is an industry by itself. If you add half a loaf of bread, that will create tremendous bakery opportunities. You can include some pineapple juice, mango juice, some milk. Our pineapple plantations will grow. Mangos wasting away will be used. You will have an industrial base. And you will increase nutrition of our children and the enrollment in schools by 5000 percent. Children will voluntarily go to school, if only to eat. You take child labour and vagabonds out of the streets. This will galvanize the economy, and you must be ready to fund it.
Can the government afford this?
The funding is there. What is the cost of an egg? What is the cost of making an orange juice? We have a pilot programme going in Osun State, and it is working. If you put internal controls in place to prevent irregularities and fraud, you will make enough savings out of the monies that are now being wasted and stolen to save the children of Nigeria.
Is it possible for Nigeria to conduct a credible, free and fair election and to have that election peaceful?
Oh yes. Every democrat must strive for a free and fair election in order to deserve the joy of victory. There is no programme that is perfect, but there are basic steps you can take. Biometrics, for example, is a modern technology that will validate and verify the detail of every registered voter. Why not employ that? We're using it on I-Phone. Why not for voting? We are going to hold the umpire to account.
The umpire being the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC]?
INEC, yes. We have to hope and expect INEC to operate with independence and respect for the rule of law. It is only when you do that that you have a nation.
It seems if there's anything that Nigerians agree on, it is that all their politicians are corrupt. Are all politicians corrupt?
No! We shout of corruption all the time, but what have we done to control it and to really enhance the value and quality of life of our society? Poverty is part of this multi-faceted problem. Every human being has a desire for a good quality of life. You cannot talk about corruption in the judiciary, for example, if you have not developed a system where you pay your judges well. If you give them a standard of living and don't steal their pension plan, there's no need for corruption. Have you paid your police officers an amount necessary for them to support their family? If you have not done that and the guy on the roadside collects a bribe, then don't blame him.
With transparency, accountability - honesty in the system - you can stop corruption. When I was a governor, I told my bureaucrats: please understand that the public is your customer. Treat them like you want them to treat you if you go into their grocery store to purchase a package of items? This is a two-way street. The service agency has a responsibility to the public, and the public has responsibility to insure that any government agency will perform.
Were you able to make progress against corruption when you were governor?
I was. I eliminated that thing in my judiciary, it is clear. I eliminated it in the civil service, particularly the permanent secretaries and down the line. Agencies were functioning effectively for the people. We were able to create jobs without increasing taxes. Ordinary people were sweeping the streets. I could have gone for procurement of mechanical sweepers, and that would have created few job opportunities. But I said: Let's use human beings. Let's bring dignity of labour back.
Can this be done on a national level?
If it succeeds in Lagos, there is no place that it will not succeed in Nigeria! This is a microcosm of the country.
What is the key to poverty alleviation in Nigeria?
Concentrate on the people. Make the people the cornerstone of the social and economic policy of the nation. It's not being done. We are earning enough here to improve the quality of life of our citizens. Economic growth must come first, and government must pay attention to medical care, to infrastructure and electricity. Why are they not concentrated on that? [There is a] lack of clear vision to respond to the needs of the people.
What can an APC government do differently to address the insecurity in the north of the country?
We will end it! No one should kill other human beings, innocent people, and say 'God is great'. These people declare war against our liberty. We've experienced this type of insurgency before - during the Miatatsine [a 1980 uprising led by an Islamic preacher in Kano that claimed several thousand lives]. It was General Buhari who chased them out of the country. There is monumental corruption in the system [involving] money for those people who are supposed to fight the Boko Haram. The guy who is benefiting from the insurgency may not want it to end! They have allowed the problem to fester.
We would take serious and decisive action. These people are not dropping from the sky. They are coming from somewhere. Have we summoned the presidents of Cameroon and Chad to take decisive action? We have to hold our neighboring countries responsible.
Don't pass the buck Mr. President. You failed. That is all I will say to that.