Director, Centre for Applied Economics, Lagos Business School
WHY DID you decide to contest in the presidential elections?
All of my life, I have struggled to walk my talk. I have tried very hard to do what I preach. In Nigeria, it is too easy for people to complain and hope that other people solve the problems. If you look down into my career, you will see that anything I have stood for, I have tried to do something about it. I have advocated the culture of entrepreneurship; I have also been a business angel. There are many companies I have helped to bring to life. I have also preached the simple life. It is not about living as a church rat, but being modest. I was at The Palms to do some shopping the other day and people were shocked that I could push my cart myself. In preaching about a better ordered society, you might write articles and all, but I came to the conclusion that the political elite have reached a point where they ignore civil society and make jokes among themselves – and I have been there to witness them crack these days. So what I did was essentially to put my money where my mouth is – literally. It was important to meet these guys in their arena. That is why I decided to run for office. But I didn’t make the mistake of thinking I would emerge the most popular candidate because I know the resources and wealth that is available to these people.
Any plans to merge with an existing party?
I am a member of the ACN and I have retreated to my party. I called Olu Falae and said we have tried these prospects and they didn’t work, so everyone should join ACN and let’s work with what we have.
Will you contest in the next elections?
I don’t live to contest. If it will make a difference, I will contest. Contesting should not be for the sake of it.
What do you think about President Goodluck Jonathan’s government?
I have not seen a clear vision. I have not seen execution. I have found that he is more interested in having power than purpose.
What are your thoughts on the Lekki tolls?
I hear there are alternative routes, but I’m not quite sure I know where they are and if they are motorable. I think N150 is a little too high to pay at each toll gate. That’s $1 in a country with this level of economy. In the U.S., it is about 25 or 50 cents. I hear there are three toll gates, which means they pay $3 to work and $3 from work. Many of the people who live in those places can’t afford this. I think N50 would have been okay.
What are your thoughts on the removal of fuel subsidy?
Like I have always said, I don’t stand for the government taking money from the citizens for its own aggrandisement in whatever name. We have a government that is notoriously corrupt. They have done so little with all the money that has come into their coffers. Whenever I have discussed this topic, I have quoted several major economic writers like Arvind Subramani and Xavier Sala-I-Martin who have said Nigerian government represents a metaphor par excellence of a failed development experience. That it makes more sense to write cheques after oil receipts and post it to every Nigerian, rather than allow the government have more money. It is only deregulation where the government is not involved that can change my mind about this. Even at that, the infrastructure for delivering petroleum product is so steep in government, that they might still use it to favour some people.
A lot of people see your increased social media presence as a strategy. What do you have to say about this?
That is not true. As far back as 2007, Utomi for Nigeria was one of the most visited Facebook pages. Until Goodluck Jonathan came on the scene, I was the African politician with the highest number of fans on Facebok up till 2010. I don’t know where that school of thought emanated from.
Wouldn’t you rather make an impact in the capacity of an advisory role in government?
I was in an advisory role at the age of 27. So it is nothing I am for or against. I don’t have any problem with it. If my desire was to make money, I would have been going in and out of government. I have been invited several times to take up one position or the other. I recognize the fact that you can go take up such positions and destroy yourself rather than solve problems. When you speak out too much about an issue, they take you into the government and squash you. The last of such discussions I had was with President Musa Yar’Adua, shortly before the cabinet reshuffle that brought in Dora Akunyili into government. He invited me to the Villa in 2009 and tried to persuade me about joining. I told him that I am a patriot and I am available to help out 24/7, so far it is in the interest of the people. But that if he wanted me to be part of government, he should show me seven quality people that are serious-minded and are committed to service. President Yar’Adua’s response was for me to pick those seven. So I came home and thought over it. I eventually forwarded the seven names to him in a letter. That was the last I heard about the matter.
What is the way forward for Nigeria?
One of the things that the Obasanjo government brought was the emergence of people like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, etc. If you have a small core group of two or three such people, who are committed to service, it doesn’t matter who else is in the cabinet, Nigeria will experience change. It is because there is no philosophy and no vision to what the cabinet stands for. The cabinet is not to be awarding contracts. That is a disgrace. They have turned the cabinet into a tender’s board. They should be implementing policies that will move the country forward.
What are your future plans?
My biggest personal dream and goal is that 15 years from now, if God gives life, I will contest for the office of a Councilor in my ward in Delta – even if I serve as president. And I am convinced that what I will do there will make a great difference in the lives of people there. Y!
*This piece was published in Issue 7