The presidential candidate of the Peoples Trust, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, told our correspondent, OLALEKAN ADETAYO, that Nigeria needs new leaders with experiences to take it out of its current problems. Excerpts:
What informed your decision to run for the highest seat in the land?
I have a passion for this country and the passion has been noticeable since I was a young man. While in school, I was one of the students’ union leaders that fought for democracy. We have always believed that this country can be better than what it is now. We paid a price for that. I was detained under Decree 2 in those days. I was 1989 Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience at the same time that Dr. Nelson Mandela was a Prisoner of Conscience in South Africa. It was my passion for Nigeria that was at display at that time, not because we were expecting that we are going to be politicians. It was even very dangerous as of that time, some of our colleagues actually died in the process of that struggle. So, what I am doing is a self-imposed duty that started about three decades ago. I understand how the modern international political economy operates and I know that we can drive all the forces of progress to make Nigeria a prosperous country. I also understand Nigeria. As one who has done business successfully in infrastructure, oil and gas, public affairs and engineering for 27 years, I will be able to steer Nigeria’s economy towards accelerated growth. I will also unite Nigeria and secure the country. That is why I am running.
You are aware that the position of the President of a country like Nigeria is not a small one, what kind of political background do you have that made you feel you are qualified to hold this office?
I have been in leadership positions all my life as a young man. I was a prefect in secondary school. We started leadership from that stage. You don’t just become a leader from the blues, you must have done something before that your peers believe that you can lead them. I was a students’ union leader in the university. I was one of the human rights leaders in Nigeria in the 80s. I was the National Publicity Secretary of a national party, National Democratic Labour Party, in 1996. In 1998/1999, I played a very serious role in establishing the democratic order and I was elected the first Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party. I was in the policy engine room in those years and as a matter of fact, when President Obasanjo was organising his Policy Advisory Committee, I was the secretary of the Youth and Women Sub Committee. We did most of the policy works on youths and women. Hajia Dongoyaro was the chairperson as of that time. I was also on the Political Advisory Committee in the Office of the Political Adviser up till 2003. At the policy, party management and civil society levels, I have very solid experience. But most importantly, as a businessman, I understand how to build infrastructure and how to create jobs. I think that is what Nigeria needs now. Nigeria does not need politicians that have always been depending on government all their lives. What we want to do now is to expand the economy. It is not just the usual people that you need to take Nigeria to the next phase of our development. We need essentially new leaders with new experiences. It is just like when Americans decided to go for Donald Trump, he has never been a governor or a senator and you can see how tremendous growth has occurred in the US economy because the Americans were interested in the economy in the last election. Nigeria does not need the usual set of politicians who have failed the country. Nigeria needs a new set of people who will think outside the box, not just repeating the same thing that has been done for about 30 years without result. We need to break from that era, we need a completely new and better Nigeria. That is why the core of my message is how to create a $4trn economy because the conversation has always been how to manage the small economy. Like when Nigeria had $510bn GDP in 2013, it was celebrated. But that size of economy cannot take Nigeria out of poverty. Nigeria needs $4tn size economy to be a medium-income economy and to be at par with countries that we were at par with at independence like Malaysia, Thailand and Turkey. These are middle-income economies. If we are going to have a per capita income that is going to be between $16,000 and $20,000, we need a $4trn economy. The new Nigeria economy programme that we have set up in our blueprint will take Nigeria to a $4trn economy within 10 years. We will be able to create like four million jobs on annual basis.