The standard flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, was in Lagos recently to interact with leading businessmen as well as members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, about his campaign anifesto. Segun James reports
The presidential flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is campaigning on how he would manage the nation’s critical economic and polarised political system. If he wins the presidential election, his government must negotiate a new royalty system on petroleum exploitation and push through a new law requiring the private sector to take over the petroleum industry activities.
Critics of Atiku often say he is a man without principles. This charge is principally based on his frequent movement along the ideological divide and party lines. This may not be fair, given the fact that he has never hidden his ambition to be the president of Nigeria.
However, when it comes to his conviction that Nigeria should be run like a business venture, that the country had been ruled by leaders who have no business ideas; and that government has no business in business, he has been strikingly consistent.
Back in 1999, Atiku as Vice President was the czar behind the sale of government-owned businesses which had become moribund and ineffectively managed. He did this without caring whose ox is gored. But if there was one government business he regretted not being able to sell, it was the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the behemoth that controls the cash cow of the Nigerian economy, the petroleum industry.
While Atiku believes that the breakup and sale of the NNPC are inevitable and that it would bring competitiveness and better management of the nation’s economy, he, however exposed a negative flaw – loyalty to friends and business partners as he suggested that there is nothing wrong if the corporation is sold to friends and cronies. “My friends deserved to be rich also,” he quipped when asked about this.
While many may see this unintentional outburst as the sole reason why Atiku has been seeking the presidency since 2007, the truth remains that many of the business ventures where he has interest or control have been effectively managed and are thriving.
This was the situation when the PDP standard bearer met recently with the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE) in Lagos, the economic capital of the nation.
At the interactive session , Atiku promised to revive economic policies that were implemented during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007 when he served as vice president if elected president next year. To him, that policy saved the nation from the brink.
Specifically, he said he would encourage increased private sector investment to stimulate economic activities, promote job creation, and give attention to poverty alleviation.
Atiku stressed his administration would work closely with the private sector to fix the country’s infrastructure deficit. He restated his favourable disposition to resource control by endowed sub-national units.
According to him: “The private sector is pivotal to my agenda to rejuvenate the economy and close our infrastructure deficit gaps. If I am elected president, I will work closely with the private sector by giving them incentives to create more jobs and also grant them tax holidays in order for them to intervene in our infrastructure development.
“It is obvious to all that government doesn’t have all the money and the debt burden has continued to weigh us down. Therefore, the government has to be creative and engaging the private sector is one way of solving our infrastructure problems sustainably.”
The PDP candidate said his first job, as president if elected, would be restructuring the nation’s political and structural system. He restated his commitment to ensuring that necessary constitutional amendments that would cause a transfer of more powers and resources to other tiers of government would become activated from his first day in office.
On the political crises in the country which has led to a breakdown in the system, he pledged to form a government of national unity.
Atiku stated that in the last few years, the country had been polarised along sectarian, religious and ethnic lines, hence, only a government of national unity would heal the wound.
He however was very nostalgic about his time with Obasanjo at the helm of affairs from 1999 to 2007 as he plans for a government of national unity, saying what the PDP government did under the Obasanjo administration, brought in the opposition Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP) to government after the PDP won the election in 1999, for reconciliation and unity following a tense period.
“Even though PDP won overwhelmingly in 1999, we still included members of the opposition parties in a government of national unity and with that, we were able to ensure unity,” he said.
Atiku declared that he would not behave like President Muhammadu Buhari, who picked almost all the heads of security agencies from a section of the country, saying if he becomes the president, he will ensure that every geo-political zone has a sense of belonging and is represented in the headship of the security agencies.
On the economy, he said he would continue with the economic policies Obasanjo implemented, particularly, the privatisation of ailing public enterprises.
Atiku stressed the importance of a private sector-driven economy, saying the greatest economies in the world are private-sector-focused.
“Most successful economies allow the private sector to play its role and we saw prosperity during Obasanjo’s administration,” he said.
According to him, rather than borrowing money to build roads and bridges, the government could concession such to the private sector, which would help create the needed jobs and prosperity.
On how he would improve the security situation in the country, Atiku said he would ensure more recruitment of personnel, purchase more equipment, train more personnel, and commit more funds to the security agencies.
He also declared his support for state police and promised to include more women in governance, saying PDP included more women when it was in government, compared to the current All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled federal administration.
Atiku stressed that he had been an apostle of resource control, devolution of power, and restructuring, even when the north was not favourably disposed to them.
He disclosed that he had assembled a pool of constitutional lawyers to help him put together legislation that would be forwarded to the National Assembly to facilitate the necessary amendments to the constitution to ensure restructuring.
On the lingering crisis within the PDP, Atiku assured his audience that it would soon be resolved, describing it as a family affair.
His words: “Talks are going on. It is a family issue and we regard it as such. We will resolve our family issue very soon”.
He, however, pointed out that it was unfortunate that a section of the media chose to misinterpret his comments at a session with the Lagos Business School Alumni Association last Tuesday.
According to him: “It is rather unfortunate that a section of the media reported my remarks at an event yesterday, which casts doubts on my readiness to implement my restructuring agenda.
“Let me, therefore, use the opportunity of this gathering today with the gatekeepers of the Nigerian media to say that my restructuring agenda is intact and it will be implemented from my first day in office.
“Already, I have received report from a team of constitutional law experts, which I assembled to look into our constitution and highlight areas where there are items that can be moved to the concurrent and residual lists of the constitution.
“Let me tell you that I will start work on the implementation of that report from my very first day in office if I am elected president next year.”
Few days earlier, the PDP presidential candidate had at another session with critical stakeholders in Lagos business community released his policy paper titled: “Nigeria Dresses in Borrowed Robes,” where he stated categorically that “first, in times of uncertainty such as we are experiencing today, it is the hallmark of leadership for business and political actors to pause and anticipate before taking the next steps. Our actions today will have consequences on our tomorrow and the day after”.
According to him: ”Nigeria is in transition as the APC leaves the stage and the PDP takes over—with your support and goodwill—come May 2023. It is your duty, therefore, to take stock of the assets (if there are any) and liabilities (which will be huge!!!) of the APC administration.
”It is also your responsibility to interrogate those who aspire to govern the country. You must assess their understanding of the environment, their policy priorities, and their strategies for dealing with a plethora of local and national issues.
”You should never allow political slogans to take the place of development plans. Political propaganda on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is never a substitute for proper socio-economic and political agenda.
”The private sector is key to any government’s development agenda and must be always listened to.
”According to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data, the public sector accounts for only 7.5 percent and the private sector, 78.9 percent of national consumption expenditure.
”Indeed, 85% of the investments in the Medium-Term National Development Plan 2021-2025 are envisaged to be private sector funded.
”According to the Nigeria Infrastructure Master Plan, Nigeria has an infrastructure financing deficit of approximately US$3trillion over the next 30 years. This means a financing requirement of approximately US$100 billion per annum which cannot be met by the public sector.
”A warm handshake with the private sector is inevitable for any economic policy or programme to succeed. Indeed, private sector leadership in driving growth is the first of the three key principles of my economic growth and development agenda.
”In all my life endeavours, whether as a businessman or as a public officer, I have always nurtured a desire to create abundant opportunities for people and enhance their capability to explore those opportunities so that they live happy, healthy, and productive life. I feel fulfilled when I create prosperity for others.
”Creating economic opportunities for Nigerians will represent significant implications for social cohesion and national security. Increased jobs and income opportunities will reduce the likelihood of our youth being involved in crime, violence and conflict motivated by manipulating religious or ethnic differences.”
“The number of unemployed people is more than the population of Lagos state or the inhabitants of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abia, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Kwara and Nasarawa states combined!
“What is even more worrisome is that the majority of the unemployed are young men and women, who lack not only the means to survive but any hope for the future. The number of unemployed youths increased by nine million from four million in 2015 to 13 million in 2020.
“High youth unemployment and limited employment opportunities pose serious economic and security challenges. Ensuring there are enough jobs for Nigeria’s youth is therefore already an urgent concern. More Nigerians are poorer and more miserable today than in 2015”.
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