31 January 2018
Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) and Peter Obi, his running mate, were interrogated by Kadaria Ahmed on national television last night. Following the train-wreck of a performance from President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo earlier this month, the PDP should be satisfied that they showed Nigerians that they are above the bar set so low by the incumbent. But not much else.
More on Buhari’s shockingly poor appearance:
Atiku showed he could answer questions, without Obi holding his hand, unlike Buhari. The answers may not be adequate, but he could, at least, make a fist of answering and was a step above Buhari’s mumbling incoherence. However, interviewer Ahmed was prepared and reasonably well-researched and put Atiku and Obi on the defensive straight away.
On why Nigerians should vote for him, Atiku resorted to stating what was wrong with the current administration. He had to be reminded that he needed to make the case for himself. This prompted him to claim that he is “the candidate for the future”. A very strange claim for a 72 year old to make, especially one that was vice president from 1999-2007. Obi was then reminded of what he said about Buhari being too old (he was 72 then) four years ago. The former Anambra State governor couldn’t adequately address why, if Buhari was too old then to be president, why Atiku is also not too old now. The trouble for Atiku and Obi was that Ahmed was only just starting.
Watch the programme below:
Atiku was asked for a definition of “corruption” and he said it was about using your position to enrich yourself. Then came the killer punch: As a Customs officer, he had set up a company to benefit from the clearing of imports. Atiku claimed that under then “indigenisation” rules, he could legitimately acquire shares in a business. Ahmed missed the opportunity to probe where the money to buy the shares that gave him a significant stake in the company came from.
She chose to focus on whether the company had a monopoly concession in key ports for 25 years. Atiku denied that there was a monopoly, but was reminded that this information was on the company’s website. He was stewing in that hot mess, when the radar moved to Obi.
The former governor was asked about investing public funds in a brewery in which his company, Next, was a major shareholder. All Obi had in terms of a defence was to claim that Next was a “family company” set up by his father. He said he also invested state money in banks and it doesn’t matter if he invested state money in businesses he had a share.
This is boneheaded ignorance. It does matter. It is a form of corruption. It is at best a conflict of interest. It is also irrelevant whether it made money for the state. The key issue is the perception that he also increased the value of his family business and this raises questions about his motives for that investment. Secondly, it is not clear if the legislature approved of this expenditure. If they did, they must have been sleeping on duty.
Obi, perhaps sensing he was wounded by those allegations, went on the attack. He said no other state made such investments. Erm.. maybe because they were wrong? He said that when he left office that there was about 75bn naira ($207m) in investments and cash that he left for the government. His successor disputed those amounts and reported that Obi left the state 127bn naira ($350.5m) in debt. Obi also self-indicted by stating that he also invested state money in Fidelity Bank – where he was once a chairman and still had an interest. Another clear case of conflict that he didn’t appear to think was wrong.
The questioning then moved to the dispensation of justice in Nigeria. Atiku said the problem was about “delays”. He didn’t have any clear ideas on what to do about the problem, apart from offering to “sit down” and talk about it with the judiciary. On further probing, he said there should be time limits on investigation, prosecution and the dispensing justice. Needless to say that Ahmed exposed the shallowness of such an idea by reminding him that, due to complexity, some cases took longer than others and a time limit was neither sensible nor practical.
Atiku proposed some kind of amnesty if corrupt people returned the loot. Obi had, perhaps, the best line on the night when he said it was better to provide amnesty in such a way than the system of “safe haven” if you joined the ruling party.
On the differences between the two main parties, PDP and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), with both Atiku and Obi having switched parties, Atiku on several occasions, Atiku resorted to whataboutism: The president has done the same thing. Ahmed said there was “no daylight” between both parties. They both seemed to be offering the same policies and Atiku and Obi only said they will do it better if elected.
She reminded Atiku that his state, Adamawa, was one of the poorest in the country and told Obi that he didn’t “transform Anambra”. Naijiant.com has made similar claims about Obi.
Both men seemed to be saying that the difference between them and the ruling party was that they were offering “private sector driven” economic growth. Ahmed argued that capitalism was leaving a lot of people behind with the growth in the gap between rich and poor. She also suggested that both men seemed to care more about the rich, investors and so on and not the poor.
Obi gave the example of China as a country where growth has been private sector driven. This is not true. In “23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism”, development economist Ha-Joon Chang argued that “free market policies rarely make poor countries rich”. China, according to Chang, “has heavy restrictions on cross-border flows of capital, a state-owned and highly regulated banking sector, and numerous restrictions on foreign ownership of financial assets…..The country has a large number of state-owned enterprises, many of which make large losses but are propped up by subsidies and government-granted monopoly rights”.
Obi, who has been disparaged on social media for always talking about China, needs to do some more reading before his next public appearance.
Some audience members had some key questions for the duo. One asked Atiku if as an employer he would employ someone whose previous employer gave the sort of reference former president Olusegun Obasanjo gave Atiku. He then read out comments from Obasanjo’s book about Atiku being someone that can’t be trusted, relied on marabouts, was corrupt and so on. Another asked what the candidate would do about “herdsmen/farmer clashes”. The third man asked about treatment for people like him with serious illnesses.
Not surprisingly, Atiku couldn’t deal adequately with those questions. He said if there was anything corrupt about him, it would have been found out by Obasanjo, who investigated him more than anyone else. This could mean that Nigeria’s prosecuting agencies are not effective and not that Atiku is not corrupt. He said that one solution to wandering and murdering herdsmen would be the establishment of “feeding lots” across the country. Atiku is a reasonably clever man. He knew that saying “grazing reserves” (the proposed “solution” by the current regime) would make him very unpopular among people that come from the areas that the Fulani herdsmen have caused the most devastation. So he called it “feeding lots” instead. He didn’t say anything about how the cows could move from one “feeding lot” to the next.
Instructively, Atiku had more to say about the states that have tried to ban “open grazing”. He said freedom of movement and freedom of residence were part of Nigeria’s laws. Those laws also state that you can curtail such freedoms if they are infringing on other people’s freedoms.
This was another example of a conflict of interest. Atiku is reportedly the biggest cattle owner in Nigeria. His interest in that business means he can’t take serious action to solve the problem.
Atiku also had nothing tangible to say on the healthcare question. Why should he care? As vice president, he flew abroad for treatment when he fell off his treadmill. His running mate has been using a private doctor in the UK based in Wimpole Street, London for a long time. They both do not have a stake in fixing Nigeria’s healthcare system. Atiku didn’t do anything about it in eight years as vice president and Obi didn’t either in his state, in eight years as governor.
Their next big policy wheeze is cutting corporation tax. The interviewer told them that she spoke to businesses and many argued that they would even prefer paying more taxes to get the right infrastructure. Mustapha Ndajiwo, a tax expert at Tax Justice Network argued that: “Studies suggest that tax incentives are generally considered to be the least important factors in making investment decisions in low-income countries, because the investments would have happened with or without them. Factors such as infrastructure, security and rule of law, to mention a few are ranked higher. Similarly, other studies confirm that tax incentives have more negative than positive impact on sustainable development in developing countries. Despite all the evidence and arguments on the ineffectiveness of tax incentives, the Nigerian government, through the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment expanded its pioneer status regime by including 27 new industries. Although the Nigerian Government reviewed the list of companies and sectors eligible for Pioneer status in 2017, the review was premised on the notion that the businesses were mature enough not to need tax incentives, rather than carry out a thorough analysis on whether the tax incentives are at all useful. Furthermore, last year, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, together with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) launched the Compendium of Tax Incentives to promote Nigeria as an attractive investment destination using tax incentives. So on the one hand, while Nigerians have been inundated with talks about how the government intends to broaden the tax base and reduce its reliance on oil revenue and make taxation the source of development, the government on the other hand is signing away its tax revenues without any evidence that suggests that a careful cost-benefit analysis has been carried out to ascertain if the tax incentives are going to be beneficial or not.”
Obi demonstrated that his understanding of governance was at best rudimentary when he challenged those questioning Atiku’s building of a private university in Adamawa State with: “Who else built one?” Obi said that if Atiku was interested in making money, as vice president, he could have secured land in Abuja or Lagos for his university. Ahmed replied that she felt that Nigerians would have “hoped” that the role of those in government was to improve public education and not invest in expensive private education. But this is not a “hope”. It is a constitutional requirement. The constitution in Chapter 2, section 18 states: “Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.” By building a private university, Atiku had an interest in not ensuring public universities were adequate in order to drive business towards his university.
Atiku then tried unconvincingly to demonstrate his commitment to education. He claimed that he visited Anambra State when Chinwoke Mbadinuju was governor, between 1999 and 2003. At the time, public schools were shut down for about a year. Atiku claimed that he “made sure that Mbadinuju didn’t go back” as governor. This was another self indictment – a case of undemocratic behaviour, to go with corruption, conflicts of interest and so on. The choice of who should govern Anambra State should have been left to the people of the state.
Nigerian voters will decide on the choice of who should govern them on 16 February. The evidence from Buhari, Atiku and their running mates, is that they are not equal to task,