Last week, the first part of this article was published outlining in lucid terms the momentum building around the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi. That first article attributed his bounce in the polity to the power of his spoken words and message which so far sounds like music to his teeming followers’ ears. To them, Obi is the best thing to happen to Nigeria’s political landscape in the run-up to 2023. These foot soldiers are crazy about Obi and are ready to voluntarily follow him wherever he goes. this is the first of its kind in the polity.
So far, they are highly energized, enthused, and are volunteering their time and resources to put a President of their own in the Villa next year. Many do not think it is possible; of course, they are entitled to their opinion. Those who dismiss the Obi momentum have failed to see the high level of anger, frustration, disappointment and discontent seething out of the youths across the country. However, it does appear the elements are working in Obi’s favor. Why is it so?
The first reason is that with the apparent rumored gap widening between the All Progressives Congress Presidential Candidate, Bola Tinubu, and the Presidency, Obi may emerge as the biggest benefactor. Second is the schism in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where Governor Nyesom Wike is locked in battle with the party national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, and candidate, Atiku Abubakar for Ayu to step down.
Yet, even with the wave rising in Obi’s favor and with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) set to declare 2023 campaigns open, he needs to be very careful with his messaging. In this election, messaging is key in convincing voters why you deserve their votes to become their President. Many presidential favorites have had their ambitions scuttled because their messages failed to resonate with voters. This is what we would be outlining in broad terms today.
The first step to take is for the candidate to undertake a detailed study of the diversity of the country and the comparative advantages of each geopolitical zones. If any candidate does not have this information at the tips of his fingers, how can he govern a country and people that he knows little or nothing about? Is it not an invitation to disaster?
In a video that went viral recently, Obi was seen googling figures on his phone to buttress a point in an argument. That is not enough. What Obi needs is a secretariat with a dedicated unit for research. People in this unit must be eggheads and well-versed in research work. Obi has to commission them to go to work and assemble watertight research materials that he can rely on during the campaign trail. He must demonstrate that the figures he is reeling out are incontrovertible and verifiable. The key reason for this is that the candidate would not only demonstrate that he knows what he is saying but also it is essential that he sustains the trust reposed in him by his grassroots supporters.
So far, Obi has not outlined his blueprint for Nigeria. In the few public appearances, he has not spoken convincingly that he succinctly understands Nigeria’s problems. Obi needs to understand there is more to the presidency than merely cutting costs and championing an austere lifestyle as he did when he was governor of Anambra. The Presidency is a very Big Deal and Nigeria is currently besotted by headwinds brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and lately Ukraine – Russian ongoing war.
Apart from these, Nigeria is hemorrhaging from crude oil theft which has reduced revenue accruing to the federation account and placed the country as the only oil-producing country that could not save from the war’s oil windfall. There is also the perennial epileptic power supply, and importation of petroleum products because none of the four refineries is working. In the last seven months, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike and students have been at home. The sitting government has no clue how to get them back to work.
Therefore, these are the cumulative problems that would confront Obi if he wins the presidency in 2023. How much does he understand these problems and how is he going to persuasively communicate his solutions to his followers? One of the tricks Obi must adopt to move ahead is to create a differentiation in the field. He needs to show that he not only understands Nigeria’s problems and Nigerians, but that he is better equipped with the right solutions to the problems. In other words, he is not going to follow the same path those past leaders had repeatedly taken and failed.
Let’s begin with the theme of his campaign and probably take the slogan “From Consumption to Production”. Obi has repeatedly talked about how he would transform Nigeria from a consumptive country to a productive country. Of course, Nigeria fritters its oil revenue on the importation of goods and services that can be produced locally to conserve foreign exchange, create jobs and get many industries back on their feet.
Let’s take petroleum products as an example. How would Obi end importation? The solution is simple: He needs to say how he would muster the political will to remove the oil subsidy. But before doing that, he must get the four refineries back to work. He has to address the entrenched interest and corruption in the state-owned oil company as well as kick butt in the national oil company. To get the refinery back to work, Obi can sidestep the usual contract regime and either engage local engineers in the refineries who can do it but have been stopped from carrying out the repairs by vested interest. In the alternative, he may choose to broker a deal with the original builders of Nigeria’s four refineries to return and turn them around to produce optimally.
If all four refineries go full stream, they would bring about a whole lot of multiplier effects on the economy. Nigeria would save all the forex wasted in the importation of petroleum products, it would become clear that there was no subsidy ab initio and that the budgeted subsidy was being sustained because they deliberately refused to fix the refineries to sustain the subsidy fraud.
Talking about the multiplier effects of getting the refineries to work again, the four refineries would absorb all their sacked or redundant workers. In addition, the refineries would once again produce derivatives and most companies producing tyres, paints, textiles, etc that hitherto shut down for lack of raw materials would spring back to life. Airlines would also heave a great sigh of relief and market forces would now be allowed to determine prices while agencies including the Petroleum Products Regulatory Agency (PPRA) should all be scrapped because they are no longer useful.
How is Obi going to finance the infrastructure deficit? There is an ongoing brickbat between the presidency and the opposition PDP over claims by the presidency that it has made monumental progress in this area. Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed claimed that the government had leveraged such innovative schemes as the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) (which is being used to finance the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, 2nd Niger Bridge, and the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road), Sukuk (which has delivered a total of 1,881 kilometers of roads between 2017 and 2020).
He mentioned other schemes including the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme (for the construction and rehabilitation of the Lokoja-Obajana-Kabba-Ilorin road, reconstruction of Apapa Wharf road, construction of Apapa-Oworonsoki-Ojota road, and the Bonny-Bodo road with bridge). The NNPC-funded part of the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme (RITCS) has also delivered nine roads in North-Central, three in North-East, two in North-West, two in South-East, three in South-South, and two in South-West for a total of 1,804 kilometers of roads.
Yet, quite a lot still needs to be done to close the infrastructure gap. Is this the same path Obi would want to chart? First, the present administration has eroded whatever gains it claims to have made with the humongous debt profile it has accumulated as a result of its so-called infrastructure financing through borrowing. Although the PIDF and RITCS are quite novel schemes, their application is opaque, lacks accountability, is fraudulent, engenders cronyism, and is deceptively a conduit to patronize friends and family members.
Obi, therefore, has to show how he is going to do things differently without accumulating more debt. There is a window of opportunity for infrastructure financing for Obi. To do things differently, Obi needs to embrace the Private Public Partnership as a new model in infrastructure financing. What are the gains? In adopting this strategy, Obi is deliberately charting a new direction for the economy which would now be driven by the private sector rather than the government. The government would only act as a regulator while allowing the private sector to drive the economy.
In that direction, key sectors like electricity, railway, roads, and bridges would be concessioned to highly qualified vendors with proven track records for a period of time to build operate and transfer at the expiration of the concession agreements. This way, the government has no business borrowing money or floating bonds to build infrastructure. The vendors would source their funds and inject the funds into the economy to grow our foreign direct investment. We would no longer complain of scarcity of dollars as is the case today.
The most important gain from this model apart from saving the country from borrowing, is that it would engender good corporate governance as it would completely abolish the current fraudulent contract system that is a conduit to inflate and steal from the commonwealth. It would also begin a deliberate process of building strong institutions that would withstand the taste of time. The roads that are concessioned should be tolled and commuters would pay to use the roads.
In the area of energy supply, the current administration says it has commissioned Siemens to build capacity. It is unimaginable that the contract to energize an entire country would be dumped in the hands of one company no matter its proven track record. Nigeria is a frontier market, vesting energy supply on one company negates the principles of fair trade and competition. It is not even safe for the security of a complex country like Nigeria.
This sector needs other players who need to bring in their money under a PPP model to compete for market share. Nigerians should be given the right to choose who to buy their energy from and at what rate. Siemens alone is a monopoly. We need competition not an exploitative and monopolistic regime in the energy sector.
Obi needs to demonstrate the knowledge that with 923,768 square kilometers (356,376 square miles) Nigeria could easily become a net exporter of food to the world. In the north where you have the largest swathe of land with an equally disturbing number of out-of-school children, how can he turn this menace into a productive tool given its comparative advantage in landmass?
Finally, it is not rocket science to know that Nigerians do not need more than just the basic things of life. These are accessible and quality education, healthcare, affordable and dependable transport systems, electricity, employment opportunities, social security, and security of life and property. These things are achievable if our leaders have discipline and commitment to do the right things. Obi has to demonstrate that he possesses these attributes and is ready to rise and fall with the people. Once this is achieved, a new President is born.
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