In this interview, Professor Kinglsey Moghalu, who contested the March 2019 presidency on the platform of the Young Progressive Party, shares his experiences during the campaign with The News Chronicle, his evaluations of the Buhari presidency and plans for his political future
TNC: First let me congratulate you for helping to raise the game for ‘third way’ politics in Nigeria. Prior to you, Omoyele Sowore and Fela Durotoye, ‘third way’ presidential aspirants virtually did no campaign and had no campaign offices. They seemed to be in it for their egos and CVs or merely for an opportunity to debate a sitting President. I strongly feel that you, Sowore and Fela Durutoye deserve a pat on the back for holding town hall meetings across the country, showing some doggedness despite the obvious odds against your candidacies. How were you able to persevere to the end despite the general belief that though you are eminently qualified for the office, you were not likely to make it?
KM: Thank you. I thought carefully before venturing into politics. What motivated me was a deep disappointment in the failure of leadership and governance in Nigeria, and the unacceptable levels of poverty that failure has created. I was under no illusions it would be a walk in the park, but I was sustained by my belief that this was something that needed to be done, and that this was the time to do it. It was also obvious that the idea of something new was well received by citizens who were tired of the status quo, although, ultimately, the vast majority could not summon the courage to actually translate their sympathy for my vision into a concrete vote for change, and so they chose to remain with what they are familiar with. I ran to win, but in politics there are many kinds of victories. Although we lost at the ballot box, I think we won an important strategic victory by shifting the narrative in Nigerian politics. My candidacy and that of some others points the way to what should be the future of our democracy.
TNC: Campaigns anywhere in the world do not come cheap, especially in Nigeria. You were virtually the only known name in your party, the YPP. How were you able to fund your campaign? And can you give us an estimate of how much you spent in the campaign?
KM: Yes, indeed it was a very expensive venture for me, largely because I was campaigning mainly with my personal savings in a sacrificial manner, and with donations from ordinary Nigerians who were not wealthy political godfathers. I feel it is unfair to ask me exact amounts that we spent when no one asks the two big parties, APC and PDP the same question. There is a double standard there. We will provide our campaign expenses as required by law or regulation. What I can tell you is that, of course, what we spent campaigning for the presidency was a fraction of what the big parties spent. They have access to public funds they can divert to election campaigns. But we got a lot of mileage from whatever we spent, measured in terms of impact in the minds of Nigerians, so I consider it an investment.
KM: How would you evaluate your experiences during the campaigns? Were there things that shocked you, raised or dampened your hope for the country?
KM: It was overall a positive experience. We were very well received across the length and breadth of the country in the 30 or so states we visited for campaigns. Nothing shocked me, except perhaps the level of poverty and the extent to which people were ready to sell their votes. That was sad. Of course, I did not engage in vote-buying, which meant that the parties and candidates that did so were more likely to win. That, together with rigging, the operational failures of INEC, and other challenges raises a fundamental question of whether we really have a democracy in Nigeria.
TNC: Some people suspect that your running on a platform of a little-known party, the YPP, was part of a long – term political calculation – that you wanted to gain name recognition in the political space and perhaps make a more audacious bid in 2023? How will you respond to that?
KM: I am a person who thinks and acts strategically and with the long term in view. Even if what you say was the case, there is nothing wrong with that as a strategy. The reality was that, if I was serious about seeking the presidency, for which I felt I was well qualified and experienced, I simply could not have vied on the platform of either APC or PDP in 2019 because I would not likely have emerged as the flagbearer of either party. Besides, I made a deliberate decision to enter politics as an alternative to the status quo that differentiated me and gave me a clear brand recognition of what I stood for. Therefore, there was no option but to contest on the platform of a new-generation party in 2019. As for 2023, the future will take care of itself. At this point I am focused on engagement through a non-partisan platform; a civil society organization named To Build a Nation (TBAN) of which I am the convener.
TNC: How would you evaluate the Buhari presidency, especially vis-à-vis his predecessors in office? If Buhari offers you a political position, will you accept? Why?
KM: If I thought that President Buhari had performed well in his first term of office I would not have contested for President. I did so because I was not satisfied with the performance of his government and so I decided to offer my vision as a well-thought-out alternative. As for the second part of your question, I think it is hypothetical and so I will not speculate on it. Nigerian politics is winner-takes-all. Not many leaders can rise above that to focus on the real needs of the nation because there are often many pressures from party members and other vested interests. So, I would be very surprised if President Buhari were to overcome those limitations and offer me a serious role in his government. If he does, I will reflect carefully on it and take a decision depending on the presence or absence of certain conditions, because I ran on a vision to serve Nigeria, not just to hold positions without making impact on the lives of our people.
But I am honoured that many Nigerians speculate on this as a possibility. It means the people saw the vision that I offered as a presidential candidate as something that would add value if it were brought to life through public policy. Let’s forgive that they still bowed to the status quo at the ballot box! This is a journey, not a sprint. Fortunately, I have a second address as a professional outside politics and so I am not one to depend on politics or government jobs for a livelihood. There are many ways to contribute to nation-building.
TNC: What are your thoughts on some of the contending political issues of the moment – the APC’s zoning of leadership positions in the National Assembly, the trial of Onnoghen, Atiku’s election petition and claims by the government that it has credible evidence that he plans to destabilize the Buhari government?
KM: All the noise about the zoning of offices in the National Assembly is just the usual politics, so I will not comment on it. What matters is that we have not yet had transformational leadership in this country, either through the executive branch or the legislative branch of government. The Onnoghen matter was not handled in accordance with the constitution and respect for the rule of law. I have said that before. That is a separate matter from whether or not he is guilty of the charges against him. Atiku Abubakar has every right to challenge the election results in court with his petition. Let’s leave it to the judges to decide. I will not comment on claims that he plans to destabilize the government because members of this government were accused by the previous government of having similar intentions when they were in the opposition, so these kinds of statements are not abnormal in Nigerian politics when the stakes are high.
TNC: What will be your proposed agenda for Buhari in his second term in office?
KM: If I were to advise President Buhari I would say to him: be the President of Nigeria. Leadership cannot be sub-contracted to advisers. Keep an eye on your historical legacy and be mindful of how history will record you. Nigeria is gravely threatened by insecurity and by poverty. Focus on restoring the security of life and property, and running an inclusive and competent government.