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Tope Fasua, the presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, ANRP during the 2019 general election, was among the young presidential contenders with revolutionary ideas to reform Nigeria.
IN this exclusive interview, the businessman-turned-politician spoke with Olugbenga ADANIKIN of The ICIR on why it will be a mere waste of time for a cerebral personality like him to want to contest for the presidency in Nigeria, given the level of backwardness of the country at this time. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the 2019 general election?
Well I would have wanted to give the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, a pass mark but after all said and done, and looking at the scenario that played out, especially with the gubernatorial and state assembly election, unfortunately, I will say it was a big sham and it was defined by so much violence. Vote buying can probably now be taken for granted, as politicians take advantage of the mass poverty of our people.
I think it [the election outcome] basically shows that Nigeria is on the reverse in humanitarian terms, as well as economic and social terms. We are backward. Sadly, we cannot castigate only INEC, no. We as a people have lost ground, so instead of making progress, we are moving backwards.
Would you score the conduct of the presidential poll that low?
The presidential poll was a bit better organised and we had fewer incidents of violence. However, one could say that the final results too also looked quite skewed. The APC scored 97 per cent of the votes and the remaining people including myself only managed to share about three per cent of the votes.
But, if you look at the general dispersal of the results, it seemed like votes in the south of Nigeria were suppressed, because nowhere in the south could we find 1 million votes, whereas in some parts of the north such as Kano, Sokoto, Maiduguri, even Kaduna, they were having 2 million votes and each of these states had 2 million votes. Lagos which is the biggest in the South could not manage 1 million votes. Between Atiku and Buhari in Lagos, they had just less than 1 million votes. Between Jimi Agbaje and Babajide Sanwoolu, they had less than 1 million. That means perhaps, there was a deliberate attempt to ensure that what happened during the presidential election in the South may be closer to reality.
Of course, in the presidential election, the focus was on Buhari and Atiku but in the gubernatorial and state assembly, the focus was dispersed. We had a lot of desperate people trying to get into state assembly, lots of governors trying to come back or putting their stooges or whoever it is they have anointed and of course that is why we saw the level of violence escalated immediately, and that is what defined everything.
What lesson did you learn as an active participant in the election?
I think we underestimated the effect and general combination of the poverty factor in Nigerian politics. We thought that people were actually really willing and ready to emerge from the current situation but what we saw eventually was that the country was still enslaved to the tyranny of the majority and according to what Socrates had said way back in 339 BC or so, that democracy which is the rule of the mob will lead to this kind of outcome. They [the majority] don’t have the tools, education, sophistication and the visions to be able to make that call. I think that is one of the key lessons we learnt in this election. That basically is the lesson, in my view.
What is your view of the Nigerian electorate?
What is called grassroots in Nigeria where the voters have been deliberately impoverished, left in that state where they could never possibly make any critical decision about who leads. As they say, you can only take people to where you know. You can only paint a picture of what you are used to. That’s what we see. That is what we have seen. It is the grassroots of Nigeria who have been impoverished over time that can only lead Nigeria out of poverty. But they also can lead the country into more poverty if they are not educated and enlightened. This is what we have witnessed in the last election.
On a more grand level, I made particular note of trying to see what the experiences of the younger ones are, especially in the schools they attend. I went to a number of big schools randomly. When I was travelling past the north, east, west, south of this country, what I noticed was that in many parts of the north of Nigeria, even when they had schools, there were no teachers at all. So those students were not being taught. Even the discipline and rigours that should follow like in many parts of the south was not in those schools. So students walked in at 10:00 am walked out at 11:30 am. When I went there, I observed that they saw western education, or going to schools as a place to socialise, see their friends, and gist. Most of the time, they are there on the field, and no learning was taking place.
When I went to the South, specifically in the Southeast, I saw that though those schools were impoverished, their roofs were blown off, there were weeds and all of that but students were still being taught. So, there is nothing in the North like you get to school at 8:30 am and you are being flogged. No, it will never happen because they understand that if you do that, the children will stop coming. In fact, if you do that, you are going to have a lot of trouble on your hand. That is the reason we have the kind of outcomes we had in the election.
The larger chunk is the so-called grassroots. That grassroots need to be helped to get away from poverty and illiteracy cycle the political leadership had subjected them over a long period of time, since independence perhaps. They need help clearly before we saddle them with the responsibility of choosing leaders.
In what way do you think the future election can be improved?
I’ll say we need to take a long-term view. This thing called education needs to be worked on. We need to invest more in education beyond rhetoric. Public education is what we are saying. The big men in this country send their children to best schools, home and abroad but deliberately left mass education and this mass education is very central to our quest for development and it is the reason we are here today. So, we need that long term view of mass education so that those of voting age will take more reasonable and more enlightened decision about those who are supposed to lead them. That perhaps is in the longer term. That is the only thing I’m thinking about now.
In the interim, we have a country where many parts of the so-called grassroots are already being run by so-called warlords and agbero. Unfortunately, the confraternity in the universities and polytechnics have now made it to the streets. You see okada riders being members of confraternities such as ‘eye’, ‘aiye’, ‘black axe’ and that is what is running the country right now. So, I don’t know how we are going to solve that problem. When you look at the scenario, you will see that it will be tough for us to get away from the issue that our politics is run by violence.
You will see a lot more deployment of violence but I’ll say let’s move towards education. Let’s also try in our interest to close the income gaps. I’m sure you know that Oxfam report which came out January last year made that clear statement that, in terms of commitment to reduce the inequality in the system, Nigeria was among the worst case in the world, ranking 157 position from 157 countries surveyed. If that is the case, if we don’t reduce inequality and begin to lift people from this level of poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and despondency we have found ourselves, we will never be able to improve our politics. It will get worse until the country implodes.
In fact, we used to think, there will be a time when our people will be so frustrated and they will fight back but it seems like our politicians have designed a means by which they can continue to push the people, even through the walls. In which case, the country becomes vulnerable to external forces like Russia, and external machinations. Somebody can come into this country today and put guns in people’s hands, sells guns and pitch us against each other. We have every element of what happened in Rwanda in 1994.., we have had enough statements being made on social media, radio, television and people calling each other cockroaches. We have had all of those elements right now that perhaps is a bigger thing, worse evil that may happen. Someone spoke of a proper civil war for example, it could happen sporadically; things could get out of hands, and the government finds itself unable to control it.
Before you know it, 10 million or 20 million people are dead. Of course, 30 million or 40 million people are displaced into other countries in Africa and beyond, and of course, this land will be taken over. We have shown the world that we don’t know what to make of this land by not making progress.
We are not supposed to be talking of 2 or 2.5 per cent growth rate in GDP in the phase of population explosion. I also realised that there is a dichotomy in the concept of the population between the north and the south.
In the south, ‘many of us are educated’. Of course, we believe that we don’t have to have as many children but in the north, it is a political and economic weapon. So you have all of that. However, the average population growth rate in Nigeria is 3.2 per cent and we can’t even manage the 3 per cent GDP growth, meaning that we have negative growth in our hands and you know where inflation is. So, if your growth rate is way below inflation, everything is negative growth. Inflation is at least 11 per cent as we speak. The progress is not really looking good. We also have problems with the debt crisis. Even the IMF and co have now been forced to tell us that our debt levels are unsustainable. We don’t want to hear any of that, it’s quite bad.
Will you contest again for the presidential post?
No, I won’t. At least not in 2023, I don’t know maybe years after but I made a promise that I will contest this one. As for this presidency, as a matter of fact, I’ll also say that given the experience I had, I am not sure that our people are ready. It is way too early. Our people are not ready for any cerebral kind of governance – meaningful, progressive governance. They are not. The government people get clearly is a reflection of who they are and it is what they want. So it will be a waste of time for me to try it soon and I am not deluded, I have never been deluded. It’s going to be impossible near impossible if not impossible for people like me to become president. However, I am also of the opinion that within my party structure, we need to give somebody else an opportunity to try the next time. It is always important to have that inclusiveness in whatever it is we do.
How much did your election campaign cost?
I think I may have spent about N45 to N50 million. I was able to raise about N12 million. I have done my account. I put it on Facebook and Twitter. The rest of the N12 million I was able to get from people and the rest is my money. I had to sell off one or two assets in order to do that. At the initial financial statement I put out at interim, and I told people, if there is anybody I may not have captured, they should get back to me. A couple of people paid into my personal account which I missed out. I have also updated that. I didn’t expect to win so I didn’t expect to collect so much money from people just to waste. So I didn’t collect N200 million from people and I knew how people will feel if one collect that kind of money from them and you know you were not going to win. I believe also that my own investment should be higher than any other person because I was the one that wanted to go for the presidency and I knew it would be a sacrifice I was making for my country and it is worth it.
In what way were your family affected in your presidential bid?
Ahh…..of course, I was not available for months. At some points, I toured the entire country, at least 32 states. That took a toll. Well, I had an understanding of my family. Right now I’m back to base and of course making amends for that absence as it were. Otherwise, I think my family was positive. Both my nuclear and extended were positive from the beginning. They gave me all the support I needed and so on. Of course, it is natural that politicians sometimes get lost and keep moving around the entire country, and some times, people lose themselves but I tried not to lose my self in the process.
What is your advice to the youths that may be interested in politics considering the Not Too Young To Run campaign?
I’ll probably say that before you start thinking of politics, make sure that you have a job and you have made some savings and don’t expect that the entire political foray will be sponsored by other people. It is important that you have a skill in the game and not just taking other peoples skills and money. That will be wrong.
Secondly, there is actually no hurry. I have met a number of people who want to go into politics straight after youth service. I think that is wrong. Otherwise, you are going to be part of the problem and not the solution. In my view, we don’t need people like that in politics truly. We need them to be more grounded. Today, in Nigeria we live in a world of get rich or die trying. Everybody wants to be a billionaire immediately. That is wrong. You can’t do that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a 9 am to 5 am. Not everybody has to be an entrepreneur. I am pushing back against that right now. There is nothing wrong about that. Even in capitalist countries in Europe and America that we copy, people still do 9 am – 5 am works. They go to work and come back, earn their money, train themselves, keep their costs within their limits. I think that is eventually what we need to be targeting. So at the end of the day, it is not that everybody wants to be a Dangote, Elumelu or whatever. If we can achieve that, then we can put the government in immense pressure to ensure that there is free basic healthcare, free education up to, at least, secondary school level, the way it works abroad.
Right now, everybody is on his own. If anybody has a serious medical challenge, you are probably dead or sometimes, you see them sometimes on television begging for money from Nigerians. That is not the way forward. So my advice is to stay positive. We don’t want people who will come and steal money in politics. We don’t want people that lack integrity in our politics. It is best they don’t get involved, rather than come into politics with the view to stealing.
However, as I said, get your money, your network and to a large extent, be on your feet. So whatever it is you are ready to spend, you are ready to sacrifice it for the good of this country and I believe this is the way forward.