Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed is the Founder /Pro-chancellor of Baze University and a Presidential aspirant on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform. In this interview, the British-trained economist speaks about his vision for the nation.
What is your motivation for joining the Presidential race?
My motivation is the very poor state of Nigeria and the inability of the government that we have today to solve those problems. To put it in very simple and modest term the government that we have today is incapable of de campaign promises. And having seen them mismanage Nigeria for almost four years, it is a security risk to continue to have such a government. It is my desire to see a peaceful, prosperous and stable Nigeria.
Can you itemie some of those challenges that Nigerians are facing and what policies or manifesto are you looking at?
First is security. The problem of terror has been treated only politically and not in earnest. Despite several claims that have been made, IDPs are yet to return to their respective communities. We have seen all other forms of sophisticated crimes that bear the signature of terror spread across Nigeria.
So, now there is a wider region under terror than before and the problems of armed robbery have only increased.
However, it appears as though Buhari’s government is only interested in things that affect the elite. If armed robbery is committed by the masses then it can be overlooked after all, it is the masses getting a little from the elite who stole money. I study things deeply. I am very thorough and I have been thorough in understanding the psyche of Buhari’s government. So they used security and played politics to defeat Jonathan in 2015 without any plans of keeping Nigeria secured. They have failed. So, context number one is the security issue. The other issue is that they had neither the ideas nor plans to improve the Nigerian economy from day one. That is why we lost 60 percent value of the Naira, and the moment you lose the value of your currency inflation reflects for an import dependent economy like ours. That is why price of food stuff, medicines, and everything else has more than doubled in the country particularly foods stuff.
And you know the more the inflation the greater the insecurity, especially social and physical insecurity. Then there are critical sectors like education. You build a society with education, not strictly agriculture where Buhari pays his attention to because that is where the bulk of his masses are; every year they make some profit and go and marry a new wife and give birth to more children This is the kind of psyche they promote not education. I promote education, enlightenment and awareness. So you can see that we are on different ends of the spectrum. And the day that the masses begin to become aware and enlightened that is day that Buhari’s politics begin to end. They thrive on lack of awareness and misinformed hatred of the elite by the masses and they have capitalised on that. They thrived on religious differences right from 2003; Mohammadu Versus Obasanjo to win the Northwest or to cause disaffection in the Northwest. This was repeated in 2011 and 2015. They thrive on ethnic differences which is very dangerous for a complex federation like Nigeria. We don’t need leaders that use peoples’ sentiments and create further divisions. We need people like me that whatever your differences it doesn’t matter as long as we are working for same objective which is a prosperous, stable and peaceful Nigeria.
In specific terms, how would you address the economy?
The first thing is to stabilize the Naira by declaring the government’s attitude willingness and capacity to back the Naira for the next 12 years from the value that you meet it and get the world bank and IMF to reason with you. There will be a roll out of your plans to back it at that level for 12years. Then you use that to flood the Nigerian market with loanable funds for portfolio investments to drive down interest rates gradually without destroying profitability of the banks; so, we are looking at seven and eight percent for long term, nine and 10 percent for medium term loans and 11 and 12 percent for consumer loans.
Also we begin industries like mortgages, begin credit living more or less instantly; hire purchase for cars, furniture and equipments, mobile phones, mortgage and buildings for offices. Number three is to lead a quality revolution that will ensure that every tradesman and professional is committed to doing his or her job a little more and then allow competition to set in. Another plan is the principle of realistic living wage. I know where there is money to pay Nigerian public servants; what will take them from the first to last day of the month. As far as I am concerned if we don’t achieve that living wage principle whatever you do will be washed away.
So I have given you four key cornerstones of my economic strategy to develop Nigeria because there has to be a point that you will start. The inflated contracts, that money that is wasted, should be prevented and diverted into paying public servants. Public servants cannot keep it, it must go to the private sector and then you get the economy moving.
Where does industrialis ation come in, in all of these?
The moment you have people being able to borrow money from the bank. For example, mortgages. If public servants and the organized private sector employees can also afford it, you will have a rush in the construction industry. When you have that rush in that sector, you will have corresponding industries from the building materials from paint makers and furniture experts responding accordingly because the moment you begin to put in furniture, the number of houses will correspond. So we will see the manufacturing of pipes, cables, ceilings and other simple technology in Nigeria. At the same time you are allowing the private sector to partake in power and energy. As part of my economic development strategy, I also have what I call strategic products which include cement, oil products, fertilizer and steel. We will do everything within market forces to bring down the prices to the bearest mumimum without destroying the profitability of the businesses involved in the industries. We will also engender competition and open the market and gradually stop the importation of refined petroleum products and so on.
There are many aspirants who are considered as heavy weights in the race. Do you feel intimidated by them?
Absolutely not. We only tend to read public offices. If you read private offices, with all modesty, you will put me in that big league. I don’t have to tell you. Read up what you have about me. But the Nigerian psyche has been stereotyped and programmed to think that you ought to have been a governor to be in the big league. In civilized egalitarian societies, a governor is rather a medium ranking person. You are an elected public servant. But in Nigeria once you are a governor, you are a king or emperor. In advanced democracies, senators are higher than governors by far.
Look at the case of the United States, the gap is far. But when you have cash at hand and you can control delegates then you are regarded as a king. But I am not one bit intimidated by the array of aspirants, I won’t lose my modesty saying this. But we are living in a cash based society. But the questions we need to start asking are what did you do while you win office? What controversies have you earned yourself in those offices that will deflate your size? What credibility have you built in the private sector, that should inflate your size? So I am not one bit intimidated by what they have held before. However I am hopeful that one day, Nigerian party delegates will decide to rescue Nigeria from business as usual and then look for a credible person and elect that person.
One major challenge facing Nigerians today, particularly those in the rural areas is hunger. How will you ensure that there is food on the table of Nigerians?
Your question is answered directly by my economic development strategy. It’s about the principle of living wage. You start from the public sector and almost instantly it fritters into the private sector. What they used to consume before, calories per household will increase. This goes straight to the farm. In fact, there are people who get paid today and later in the evening they are in the farm. And whatever is lacking, I assure you, the villages will be producing.
Remember also that for those who produce, so long as they are selling, they will keep the surplus for their feeding. So my answer to you is the principle of minimum wage. My prayer is that within a period of four years, God almighty should enable me and my team to quadruple the legitimate income of Nigerian public servants with a few exceptions that are super paid so that what you are paid in a month you are paid in a week. And by so doing we will get their loyalty. So that the policeman becomes loyal to the federal government of Nigeria, no need to take N50 on the road and then all the equipments needed for our security, like ICT powered CCTVs and kilometers of roads through the markets, firearms, kitts, patrol vehicles will be available.
Your ideas are very clear but you will run a on party Platform. How will you drive your manifesto through the party so that it comes out the way you conceive it?
Well, it will be through communicating the party structures and for them to see reasons by providing powerful arguments backed by data. But the good thing about your question is that the graund norms of the party will easily receive my ideas because they are consistent with the grand norms of this political party and that is why I am in the party. My ideas are consistent. They are off shoots of the basic principles that the party is founded on. So it is a matter of communicating effectively and understanding each other in the party and communicating to the electorates
What is the situation with regards to having a consensus candidates from the aspirants?
I am not at liberty to speak on party issues. That is strictly a party leadership issue.
But will you to open be a consensus arrangement?
I am an aspirant and I wish to contest.
How do hope solve the problem of electricity?
I have told you that the private sector is going to take charge of what is bonafide to them in this millennium. Government is longer competent to handle certain issues. There are global players in electricity that have not yet been involved and it takes a credible leader to bring these global players and it takes a very strong leader to liberalize the economy and then it takes a visionary leader to achieve the kind of income increase.
The moment we increase the income, Nigerians will be able to afford the kind of electricity that the companies want to provide. Also there are technologies particularly solar and not everybody has to on the network. There are micro generated power that can be enhanced, particularly in the rural areas in addition to many other distribution strategies that I may not be at Liberty to discuss because of business concerns.