Martin Onovo is the presidential Candidate of Action Alliance (AA) in the April election. He unfolds his campaign programmes in this interview with GBENGA AKINFENWA.
YOUR party has endorsed you as its Presidential flag bearer, but the issue is that many people don’t really know you. How do you hope to convince people to vote you when they don’t know you?
I disagree with you. Every activist knows me; I have been involved in activism since 1987. I am very well established in civil societies. I am the national leader of the Strategic Union of Professionals for the Advancement of Nigeria (SUPAN), we were part of the vanguard against Third Term, and we have also been part of the vanguard against deregulation. We have been in the struggle against the general national dysfunction.
Compared to the major political parties, Action Alliance seems very obscure. What machinery do you have in place to market your candidacy?
You are wrong, you are definitely wrong. Action Alliance is a very formidable purposive party that has presence across the country. Now, we may not have the structure of the major parties that are financed by corruption, the same problem we are trying to stop. How are those structures created? Multi-storey building offices, how are they funded? We must be very careful, especially in the mass media so that we don’t sell wrong values that what is wrong is right. We may not have all the infrastructural gigantic offices but we have people, which is the ultimate strength and advantage. And the people we have are not commercial people; they are not people who receive salaries in politics, which is what is going on. They are not people we have to sew uniforms for, give stipend and provide transportations for. No, because that is the source of livelihood for them and it is do-or-die. We are talking about reasonable hardworking people who are committed to a change, and the message we have is a message of change and you must not undermine the potency of that message; because the driving forces are stronger than what is driving the changes in the Middle East right now and in North Africa.
We are talking of a country where according to the United Nations Human Development Index Report 2010, life expectancy in Nigeria is put at 48.4; we are talking about a country, which exports energy but has the lowest per capita power in Africa. If you are comfortable with that, we in AA are not comfortable with that.
Is Action Alliance holding talks with other opposition party(s), with a view to forming a formidable alliance?
We are a key part of the Mega Party; it did not work. We are running, we are talking to so many parties, many parties are willing to endorse us but we are still waiting. Many parties have already endorsed us because it is very clear for all to see who is prepared. What criteria do you want to use? If you want to use vision, it is very clear that Action Alliance has projected the best vision. It is on the Internet, it is on our Website; it is called the Accelerated Development Agenda. Now, we not only told you what we are going to do, we told you how we are going to do it. There are some hard information that if you only think about it you’ll find out that there is no alternative party right now to Action Alliance and that is the message we want to communicate to our people. You were promised 6,000 Mega-Watts of power since 2004, you did not get it. You were told you’ll have it in 2006, you did not get it, this is 2011, and you have not got it. Why don’t you have a re-evaluation of your position?
You claimed that some political parties have formed alliance with your party. Can you name them?
We would not talk for them, we have talked to so many parties, many of them have endorsed us and they would come to the public soon. Very many parties, why because they agree with us. Let me tell you, there is overwhelming agreement in the opposition for a change. The small disagreements you are seeing are about who would hold the touch, because it is a question of who has the capacity to win. Who can easily be sold and that is what we are interested in, but many parties have endorsed us. Some of the candidates are considering stepping down for us and we are moving on, but the key thing is that the message of change has become inevitable.
You lost the Presidential ticket of the National Conscience Party (NCP) to Dele Momodu, was that the cause of your defection?
Well, I joined the Action Alliance previously; I have moved around parties, oh, that is very clear. But let me tell you what is in a party; it is a platform, it is a vehicle. Of the 63 political parties in Nigeria, over 50 are welfarist, that is the fact. The Nigerian Constitution is welfarist, don’t let anybody deceive you. So, it is just about nametag and it is about people you associate with. I disagree with the NCP leadership and I had to leave because they form the majority in the NCP, not in Nigeria and that is the right thing to do. If you want to know, as at 1999, I was a PDP man, but when I realized that the party was not heading for development, it became unrealistic to remain. In 2007, I ran for the Senate on the platform of the Fresh Democratic Party in Lagos West, that is the fact. I won that election and you know how election is conducted in Nigeria; it is not a secret, all over the world they know how elections are conducted in Nigeria.
So, parties are just platforms. Out of all the welfarist parties, because I believe in welfarism, I can work on any of the platforms; it’s about the people and the programmes.
You claim to be a former member of PDP, what drove you from the party?
(Cuts in) Yes in 1999, and I later moved to Fresh Party
What are the structures and programmes of the PDP that sent you packing?
Well, if you go and read the manifesto of PDP, you’ll know that it is welfarist. It is unfortunate, if wrong people take over the right manifesto, then you have to leave. There is nothing wrong with the manifesto of the PDP; the question is, have they done what they say they would do; why do you like to be deceived; you like PDP? Goodluck to you, but Nigeria does not need goodluck and patience. Nigeria needs integrity and diligence.
You’ve desire revolutionary change in the socio-economic, political and other sectors. What are your plans to transform this nation?
My personal plan is to sacrifice myself for the development of my people and that is the religious definition of love– the one who gives himself for the benefit of the beloved. I am using personal resources, I am using personal contact and I have exhausted myself to the limit, for my people because of love.
Now, for the people of Nigeria that we love, we have proposed the Accelerated Development agenda. I don’t want to go personal; there is a presidential candidate that promised a million houses every year. Go and do the arithmetic. That is a false promise. But why should the people rejoice at such promise, it shows they are not thinking, so they should blame themselves. That is the reality. If anybody accepts that a presidential candidate can build a million houses in a year, the person is not thinking. The budget is N4.23 trillion; it cannot build a million houses in one year please.
What are your blueprints to tackle power, education, security, unemployment, healthcare and other major needs of the Nigerian masses?
Our Accelerated Development Agenda is prioritized. The programmes we have are prioritized. The first one is anti-corruption, you know why? Because waste and corruption are the sources or channels to losing national revenue and to fund our agenda we need to close those channels, otherwise, we can’t fund anything. Our anti-corruption strategy is called the 4Es– Example, Empowerment, Education and Enforcement, because we think that people need to be convinced that corruption is inappropriate, corruption is unethical, corruption is sinful. The leadership must live by example; Senators that argue against minimum wage cannot over-compensate themselves outside the law; that is bad example.
The third thing is Empowerment, if as a Journalist you are underpaid, you are more likely to compromise. People need to be empowered through education, employment, welfare and orientation. The fourth E is Enforcement; because that’s where everybody runs to. They forget that prevention is better than cure. So you can see that we are mentally superior to our opponents.
On energy, I am an energy expert; my first degree from the University of Ibadan is in Petroleum Engineering, my second degree from University of Houston in Texas is in Petroleum Engineering Economics. So I understand the key subject, I understand the energy side, I understand the economy side, I understand the project side and what I have done for a living for over 20 years now is engineering, project management and project economics. The key constraint we have in power is generation. So far in this country, we have been able to distribute what we generate. We believe that in all the considered sources of power, gas power is the best option for us. That does not mean we are excluding others; but in the hierarchy, gas comes first. Nuclear power we lack the technology, it is internationally expensive, politically speaking. We know what is happening in Iran and elsewhere, nuclear power has large capital cost, it has large project delivery circles and it has very high risk. In Nigeria we have very poor ethics and it is very, very dangerous. Now, most of the power plants in Nigeria are actually gas-powered, because our people are used to gas technology, which is one. Number two; there are basic infrastructures in place, number three it is cheaper.
Gas is super-abundant in Nigeria, go and count the number of flares, there is no candidate that understands this subject, this is my area of professional expertise and this is the core problem of Nigeria. If the $25 billion that the party in power spent since 1999, if we spend half of that we will guarantee you a minimum of more than three times the power we have now. And we are going to target four times the power we have today.
On the petroleum sector, downstream is where the problems are today, a bigger problem. Upstream seems to have less problem, all we have to do is to improve the efficiency of our upstream operations. Downstream, we have scarcity of products, Kerosene is subsidized at N50, you cannot get it to buy at N100; corruption, waste, inefficiency, impunity is responsible for that. There are fundamental dysfunctions in Nigeria, one of which is the downstream petroleum sector. Nigeria is the only member of OPEC that is importing refined products, at an acceptable regime. And it doesn’t make sense for us to import what we produce and we have been in this situation since 1999. You must change the leadership, a leadership that does not know what to do or that does not know how to do, has to be changed especially if that leadership is corrupt. We must change that leadership.
Now in the downstream petroleum sector, cost of domestic production of a litre of petrol is about N38.50k in Nigeria; now what the Action Alliance government wants to do is to sell fuel at N38.50k. Do you know how we are going to do that; we’ll boost domestic production capacity, how are we going to boost domestic production capacity? We’ll repair the refineries, we’ll build new ones, we’ll produce enough, we’ll sell at cost recovery price. So, there would be no subsidy and we’ll sell it at N38.50k. If you think it is political rhetoric, go and check Venezuela, they are selling petrol at equivalent of N 4.50k. It is our fellow OPEC member.
How can a government exploit its own people, a government is supposed to support and not to exploit them. That is what we guarantee you and subsequently, once we achieve that we’ll groom domestic production to the level where we’ll export refined products and there is market in the west coast of Africa.
Let’s look at security, unemployment and education too. What do you have in the offing?
Unemployment is the root cause of insecurity. Our strategy is very simple, we would initiate massive infrastructural projects that would employ very many people; and you know what we are going to achieve by that, not just employing people but also improving infrastructure at the same time. So, we are going to put people to work, we are not going to add people to our pay roll, people who do nothing, no, we are not going to do that. We are going to put them to work; they are going to do productive work. So, that is immediate and short-term approach. Now, we’ll improve power to boost industrial capacity. If you look at the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) report, you’ll see that their problem is power. So if we address it, they would have high capacity utilization, companies going to Ghana would no longer go. You must know that by solving one problem, you’ll solve three, if you don’t understand that, you cannot understand our program because our programs very, verystrategic, which address the fundamental causes of the common problems.
We’ll encourage entrepreneurship, so that people would be self employed, very important. We would improve education and training so that our people would be better skilled and more employable; we would encourage agriculture and allied industries. Agriculture alone can absorb all the unemployed people but we are taking a multi-prone approach because it is an emergency.
We would establish new refineries in order to put people to work and not forget the power plants we plan to build; then we are going to promote values. The two key words of our campaign are integrity and diligence, not goodluck and patience. So, we are going to change from to Integrity and Diligence, that’s the change.
The Accelerated Development Agenda (ADA), what is it all about?
The Accelerated Development Agenda is a prioritized program, which identifies the key national issues. We intend to address it hierarchically, that is the difference. And I told you our first priority is anti-corruption and we are not going to waste our time with the past, it is a distraction. We can allow the cases that are going on to go on, but we would start with ourselves, so that we’ll have the moral authority not to condone corruption. The second one is energy, like I told you; the third one is sound education because that is our future. After education is agriculture because we must be able to feed ourselves, we cannot continue to be a beggaring nation, asking for aid and food and yet claiming to be the giant of Africa. We are the giant of corruption and not the giant of Africa. But we will be the giants of Africa immediately the AA is elected.
What are your expectations of the April general elections?
I do not have high expectation because the indices do not look good, but we have time to remedy any deviations and we cannot give up on our country, that’s a fact. I do not think personally that Jega is in control of the situation; I think he’s overwhelmed. I think Jega must take a second look at the root causes of the challenges that INEC is facing because what happens in Nigeria is that we first go ahead and do the wrong thing and start analyzing after, that is lack of planning. When you plan very well, you’ll see your challenges, you’ll see your issues, you’ll see your risks and you’ll take remedial action; that is how to plan properly. But we don’t go ahead and do the wrong thing, even after the court barred some candidates from contesting, INEC went ahead and accepted them and published their names. There are clearly fifth columnists in INEC, our party has reported some of them in a very patriotic manner and that is why I suspect that Jega does not have real control.
Few weeks ago you raised an alarm that there are plans by some INEC officials to undermine the next election. Have you changed you position on this?
No, because we haven’t seen any remedy yet. Look at the number of cases, the polity is already heated up, why would anybody heat up the polity. And let me tell you, if you want peace you’ll work for justice, you heat up the polity through injustice and through corruption, you don’t heat up the polity by telling the truth, we must get our fundamentals right.
You spoke about the dysfunctional nature of leadership in Nigeria, what antidotes against bad leadership do you bring on board?
Very simple, authority and responsibility go together. If you vote a thief to power what you’ll get is criminality, if you vote a violent man to power what you’ll have is violence, if you vote an academic into power what you’ll have is lectures. Nigeria needs to look at itself, what are those things to deal with? Right now in our opinion, it is time to deal with ethical issues with respect to corruption, and then you deal with power. Those are the two key things, when you deal with power you have taken care of the fundamental basic issues for economic development, but before you deal with power you must deal with corruption.
What are those things the Goodluck Jonathan administration is not doing well that you hope to tackle?
They have promoted corruption; that is the first thing. They have been unable to fix power; they have developed evil policies like deregulation to further strangulate our people by importing at outrageous cost, what we can produce locally and what in the past we had produced locally. They have discouraged agriculture by encouraging corruption and people have seen an easy means of making unearned money and people have abandoned work and have run to chase easy, corrupt money from corrupt political leaders. People have also tried to clean their conscience, that everybody is doing it. You can see a few days ago how the PDP celebrated Chief Olabode George, an ex-convict who was coming from a maximum prison, what a shame if you are not embarrassed, I am.
You claim your party is populist and pro-poor. What are your plans for the masses?Very simple, if you look at our Accelerated Development Agenda, you are going to see that it is targeted at the ordinary people. Don’t forget that our slogan is ‘let the masses live’, it is not because we hate the rich, it is because we realize that in a democracy the poor people are in the majority and if you take care of the poorer people, then you can take care of more people. If we create power, the poorer people who cannot afford big generators would be given a chance to live. So, we provide things communally, when we reduce the price of petroleum products to about N38.50k, the poor people can afford kerosene and Diesel would.