Kingsley Moghalu is a confident man. He needs to be. The former UN official and deputy central bank governor turned politician will take on President Muhammudu Buhari in Nigeria’s presidential elections next February, and the odds are stacked against him.
But if Moghalu and his Young Progressive Party face a daunting electoral challenge, he doesn’t look discouraged.
“I am looking forward to defeating him (Buhari),” Moghalu told EURACTIV over coffee in a London hotel. “I’m going to retire him to his village.”
Bullish as that statement is, the 55-year-old Moghalu is expecting a tough and probably dirty fight when the campaign kicks off in earnest after October, by which time most of the major political parties will have selected their candidates for the presidency.
“There will be attempts to intimidate the opposition, that is a standard operating procedure of the political class,” he said, adding that both Buhari’s ruling All Progressive Congress and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party will engage in vote buying.
“The international community should watch Nigeria very carefully,” he said.
Moghalu markets himself as a technocrat and says he wants to “re-position Nigeria as a valuable partner for the society of international states, and as a valuable partner for foreign investment from business.”
“Our recycled, old political class cannot guarantee that kind of environment because it is not in their interests. They are using politics simply for their stomachs,” he said.
That will mean setting up a State Business Council and a series of legal and judicial changes to protect the rights of investors, said Moghalu.
Aside from establishing a more business-friendly environment, Moghalu promises “a constitutional restructuring that would bring Nigeria back to a federation” and would include genuine fiscal federalism. Right now, he said, “Nigeria is practising federalism upside down”.
But he is aware that it’s a tall order. “That’s not going to take 100 days,” he conceded, “but we are going to launch the process in the first 100 days.”
Germany’s Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Theresa May both made a stop in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the largest economy, in August on their respective trips to promote increased trade and investment ties in Africa. But Moghalu believes that the government has been selling his country short.
“Nigeria will always be important because it is a market, but also because people are worried about migration from Nigeria to Europe because the situation in Nigeria is becoming increasingly bad. That was a very key message from Merkel and Theresa May’s visit to Nigeria.”
Moghalu promises that his presidency will “restore Nigeria’s standing in the world”, but with the important caveat that “there must be a domestic foundation for any real international engagement.
At the heart of that, he said, must be “a retooling of the country’s economy” that also means shifting Nigeria’s economy from his historic dependence on oil towards a productive, export-led economy.
“I would like Boeing planes to be manufactured in Nigeria,” he said.
An economist by training, Moghalu made his career as an international diplomat before serving in Nigeria’s central bank from 2009 to 2014.
But he is guarded on whether the proposed African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), which Buhari is one of only a handful of African leaders yet to sign, is going to be in Nigeria’s interests.
“The continental FTA is a good idea but I do believe that Nigeria has the right to make sure that its national interest is served by such a treaty,” he says.
African Union insiders working on drawing up ACFTA hint that dealing with rules of origin is the main source of concern to Nigeria. However, they still expect Nigeria and South Africa to have signed ACFTA by next January.
Moghalu says he will insist on a review of ACFTA to make sure it does not risk hurting domestic production in Nigeria.
“I would ask for a review (of the FTA). If there are disadvantages we would want to negotiate.”
That caution is repeated when it comes to trade with the EU. The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the ECOWAS bloc of West African states, which Nigeria refuses to sign, should also be re-opened, he says.
Moghalu argues that African countries must have the ability to promote domestic industrialization agendas that will enable them to become exporters.
“Europeans started free trade after their countries had developed. I want balanced trade,” he says, adding that “it is not in the interests of Europe to have economic relations with Africa that are so completely skewed.”
“In the WTO, there are special differentiated provisions that allow for unique regimes for countries to protect industries for seven years, and I think that is something that needs to be looked at. What is the benefit for developing countries? Are they only there to serve as markets? Do they also get to be exporters of finished products into big economies?”
This is becoming a growing fault-line between African governments and both the EU and the United States, with African regional blocs, including ECOWAS, arguing that existing trade deals do not give them the space to build up domestic industrial production.
In July, the Trump administration slapped Rwanda with partial suspension from its African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which offers tariff-free access for thousands of products, in July over the proposed introduction of tariffs on imported clothes.
“I always felt that ‘Africa Rising’ was a false narrative because you cannot rise if you are not an economically competitive region,” says Moghalu.
Without the campaign infrastructure of an established party, dislodging Buhari would require a political earthquake, though Moghalu’s technocratic background and campaign tactics have seen him dubbed ‘Nigeria’s Macron’ by some pundits.
Moghalu’s strategy, he tells me, rests on getting young Nigerians, particularly those who have never voted before, to the polls.
“We will win just as Trump’s campaign was against all odds. We will bring out young voters and new voters. If Nigerians get out of their political apathy and the middle class comes out to vote, I’ll be President tomorrow.”