By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Dirisu Yakubu and Olayinka Ajayi
ABUJA — Campaign for the 2019 presidential election formally opened, yesterday, with the two leading candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP unveiling their plans and at the same time, hitting at each other’s policies.
Buhari at the unveiling of his campaign at a well attended launch in the presidential villa vowed to take the country to the next level against the background of what was claimed as 16 years of waste under the PDP.
He was immediately countered by Atiku who declared Buhari’s Next Level theme as a new level of propaganda, saying that the administration had failed in its three key promises to enhance security, employment and anti-corruption.
Atiku, who is to launch his campaign today according to a policy document obtained by Vanguard, will unfold his policy to attain single-digit unemployment rate by 2024 through the creation of three million jobs annually; usher in what he said would be the lowest tax rate in Africa, and plans for the generation of 20,000 MWs of power by 2024.
President Buhari at the flag-off of the campaign observed that education remained his biggest ambition in sight, but nevertheless acknowledged challenges, notably the farmers-herders clashes which he said have been aggravated by struggle for land, climate change among other issues, which he said were worsened through cynical manipulation by the political class.
Yesterday’s formal campaign flag-off by the President took place at the Presidential Villa and was witnessed by leaders of the APC, including governors, ministers, and senior government officials.
Ahead of the president’s flag-off, senior operatives of the administration enunciated achievements of the government in the last three years.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said Saturday’s victories by the APC candidates in bye-elections in Kwara, Bauchi and Katsina signalled the acceptance of the Buhari administration.
He said: “We came in when Nigerians clamoured for change and the rest of the world looked up to our nation for direction. We came in when hope was lost. A leader with distinct integrity was needed for our nation. The journey has been tortuous but we have weathered the storm.”
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, in his presentation, said that no other government since the Shehu Shagari administration had conceived the kind of housing programme that is presently being undertaken by the Buhari government. He said the administration’s housing projects could be found in 34 states.
Rotimi Amaechi, the Director-General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation and Minister of Transportation in his presentation said, whereas the PDP was in power for 16 years, the APC in power for three years had accomplished far more, including rail, roads and fiscal prudence.
The next level
Speaking on his mandate and quest for another four years in office, Buhari said: “The next four years will be quite significant for our country. Nigeria is faced with a choice to keep building a new Nigeria — making a break from its tainted past which favoured an opportunistic few.
“Our choices will shape us, our economic security and our future prosperity. Nigeria, more than ever before, needs a stable and people-focussed government to move the agenda for our country forward. Join us on this journey to the Next Level of a prosperous, strong and stable Nigeria!
“Four years ago, we promised Nigerians real change in what we do and how we do it. Nigerians sent a clear message in the last election and our platform offered a new ambitious plan for a secure, prosperous and corruption-free country.
“We have worked hard to fulfil our promises and while the road may have been difficult, over the last three and half years, we have laid the foundations for a strong, stable and prosperous country for the majority of our people.
“Foundational work is not often visible, neither is it glamorous but it is vital to achieving the kind of country we desire. Judging by the prior depth of decay, deterioration and despair that Nigeria had sunken into, we are certain that these past few years have put us in good stead to trudge on the Next Level of building an even and stronger nation for our people.
“First things had to come first. We were a nation at war — but we delivered on our commitment to secure the territorial integrity of our nation in the face of a raging insurgency that devastated many parts of the North-East.
“We liberated 17 local government areas from the grip of insurgency. Brokering and sustaining peace in the Niger Delta has also been crucial to stabilising the polity. Despite the difficult circumstances presented by weak oil prices and reduced oil production, we delivered on our commitment to make public investments to spur economic growth, job creation, and broad based prosperity.
“Agriculture continues to expand our economic base, as do our investments in deficient infrastructure across the length and breadth of this nation.
“We implemented a responsible and transparent fiscal plan for the challenging economic times that we faced.
“The next level of effort focuses on job creation across sectors. From an enlargement of the N-Power programme to investing in technology and creative sector jobs to agriculture and revolutionising access to credit for entrepreneurs and artisans, there is scope for over 15 million new jobs.
“We believe that our people who are still in poverty have a direct way out and up through our expanded National Social Investment Programme.
“We know that, to succeed, moral integrity and conscience must continue to form the dominant character of our nation and its leadership. Corruption is an existential threat to Nigeria.
Stoking patriotism, the president said: “I am not unmindful of the fact that presidential and National Assembly campaigns start today. I implore candidates to go about peacefully and decently. We have no other country, let us not set it ablaze.”
In the campaign manual obtained by Vanguard, the Buhari Campaign used the platform to debunk insinuations that the president was opposed to restructuring even as it affirmed that the president was not a deceptive person on issues.
“Sometimes in 2017, the APC set up a committee headed by Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State to make far-reaching recommendations on restructuring.
“That Committee submitted its report early in 2018. In all his public outings throughout the years, the Vice President has advocated restructuring and true federalism.
“The President has never indicated he would oppose any move by the National Assembly to carry out constitutional amendments to fully reflect true federalism.”
In what was titled the history of the main opposition and popular views about its candidate, the Buhari Support Group said: “As President and Vice President, President (Olusegun) Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar granted themselves university licences and were building their universities whilst ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities) was on strike severally at that period.
“The privatisation programme of the OBJ/Atiku Government was fraught with fraud as most of the deals ended in fiasco. Some of them were NITEL, ALSCON, etc.
“The OBJ/Atiku Government denied Lagos State of its funds for more than two years until it left power in 2007 because of political differences. And this was done despite an order of Supreme Court compelling the Federal Government to release the said funds.
“The OBJ/Atiku Government conducted some of the worst elections in our history which was the 2003 and 2007 elections where results were simply written. Hence, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on the 3rd of September, 2018, publicly expressed his regret for not taking Lagos from Tinubu in 2003 because Tinubu was his friend.
“Despite all the recent grandstanding on restructuring, the candidate of the main opposition as Vice President never for once used his position to push for restructuring.
“There is no record of any Public lecture or open or secret memo he wrote to his boss or anyone, advocating restructuring in any form. Instead, he was busy trying to restructure PDP throughout that period to take it over.”
The group debunked the allegation that President Buhari condones corruption around him.
It said, “At one time or the other the President has had cause to order the investigation of close aides accused of corrupt practices. Those that were found wanting have been removed from office. The criticism that some of them have not been charged to court simply has two answers:
“The President does not interfere in the work of law enforcement agencies. In many cases, it takes time for people to be investigated and charged to court.
“No one has ever provided any verifiable evidence of corruption against the President or Vice President unlike in previous governments. The integrity of the President is not in doubt as expressed by various individuals, including heads of other governments, who have spoken on the character of the President.”
Also present at the event were Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo; wife of the President, Aisha Buhari; Governors Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa state, Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos state, Yahaha Bello of Kogi, Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, Abdulaziz Yari, of Zamfara, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi, Aminu Masari of Katsina State, SGF, Boss Mustapha; Rotimi Amaechi, Babatunde Fashola, Heineken Lokpobiri; Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, Senator John Owan Enoh, Senator Aliu Wamako; former Minister of Labour and Production, Emeka Wogu.
Atiku Campaign responds
Responding yesterday, Atiku in a prepared statement said:
“Reading through the presentation, we note that it is very vague on policy and very big on promises. Promises are cheap. Anyone can make promises and indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress did make quite a number of promises which they either denied or did not fulfil, such as the promise to create three million jobs per annum and to equalise the value of the Naira with the dollar.
“However, policies are the plans and road-maps that will be used to achieve those promises. Promises made without policies are like a house without a foundation, they will fall, and we have seen proof of that in Nigeria in the last three years.
“Without a concrete policy, these ‘next level’ promises are nothing more than next level propaganda. We counsel the Buhari campaign that the time for propaganda has gone and Nigerians are now interested in proper agenda.
“In fact, the feedback we have received from Nigerians is one of alarm. Over the last three and a half years of the Buhari administration, Nigeria was officially named as the world headquarters for extreme poverty. Nigerians are asking if this administration is planning ‘next level’ poverty for them?
“Under this government, 11 million Nigerians have lost their jobs and the administration is so panicky that it has refused to fund the National Bureau of Statistics to release the latest unemployment numbers. Nigerians are asking if this administration is planning ‘next level’ unemployment for them?
“Under Buhari, the value of the Naira has been so devalued that Bloomberg rated the Naira as the worst performing currency on earth. The nation wants to know if this government plans ‘next level’ devaluation of the Naira for them?
“In 2018, Transparency International announced that Nigeria made her worst ever retrogression in the Corruption Perception Index moving 12 steps backwards from 136 under the Peoples Democratic Party to 144 under Buhari. Nigerians are asking if this administration is planning ‘next level’ corruption for them?
“The so-called ‘next level’ launch was an anti-climax in that it just exposed the fact that all that the Buhari government is promising Nigerians is more of the same. If the state of the average Nigerian has not improved in the last three and a half years, more of the same is obviously not what they need.
“We therefore urge Nigerians not to lose hope, but to await the launch of the policies, plans and programmes of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to Get Nigeria Working Again. Remember those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Atiku has a plan. Atiku means jobs and at 12 noon on Monday, November 19, 2018, you will hear from the man with the plan.”
In his own policy document, Atiku pledged to transform Nigeria into a modern economy that creates three million jobs annually.
Atiku in a 63-page document slated for launch today to kick-start his Presidential campaign for the 2019 elections said his mission for Nigeria include “unravelling the Nigeria Paradox, Stitching Nigeria’s Structural Fault Lines, and Reinforcing Nigeria’s Unity.
He explained that despite Nigeria’s vast resources, it had failed to deliver standards that the Nigerian people expect year in year out.
Atiku said in reinforcing Nigeria’s unity, the country needs a unity that is transparently and collectively negotiated and agreed upon, stressing that there was need for Nigeria to restructure its polity.
In the policy document, Atiku decried the lacklustre performance of the economy even after exiting the 2017 recession, noting that economic growth declined from 2.11% in Q4 of 2017 to 1.95% in Q1 and 1.5% in Q2 of 2018, adding that growth rate is below targets in the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) and also below population growth rate.
He said although the oil and gas sector accounts for less than 10 per cent of the GDP representing 95% of export earnings and up to 60% of government revenue, the economy, he argued, remains largely undiversified.
The PDP candidate also said the manufacturing sector is weak and sluggish, and only accounts for less than 10% of the GDP.
He explained further that due to inhospitable business environment, the economy has failed to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the non-oil sector, adding that FDI fell to a new low of 0.88% of GDP between 2015 and 2017.
He said he would get Nigeria working again through human capital development, promoting economic diversification, reducing infrastructure deficit, reforming public institutions and building competitive and economic system.
NNPC for sale
Atiku also plans the partial privatisation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and implement the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB and ensure that Nigeria refines over one million barrels of oil per day.
This according to the policy document include, “Accelerate investment to double our infrastructure stock to approximately 50% of GDP by 2025 and 70% by 2030. Power sector reform will be a critical policy priority. By 2025, Nigeria shall make giant strides in diversifying its sources of power and delivering up to 20,000MW.”
The document revealed further that by 2025, Atiku would increase the inflow of direct foreign investment to a minimum of 2.5% of the country’s GDP, while also working towards achieving the lowest income tax rate in Africa.
The document provided that in the agricultural sector, there would be collaboration between federal and State governments in the design and implementation of robust and sustainable land reforms.
With close to 16 million people unemployed, Atiku intends to stimulate growth of the Nigerian economy with a view to enhancing its capacity to provide opportunities for the economically active population to participate in the economy through wage or self-employment.
“Our vision is to transform Nigeria into a modern economy that works for his people and capable of taking its rightful place among the top 20 economies in the world. My economic policy will be job-centred especially for our teeming youth.”
As part of his policy objectives, Atiku promised to establish training programmes linked with certain sectors that may lead to full-time, permanent employment.
This according to him will help to, “Reduce gradually the rate of unemployment and under-employment to a single digit by 2024. Target the creation of up to 3 million self and wage-paying employment opportunities in the private sector annually.”
To achieve this, Atiku has laid out plans to re-launch the National Open Apprenticeship Programme, NOAP, with special focus on young men and women who may not have the opportunity to attend school or complete basic education. The plan is to create 1 million Apprentices annually in the informal sector.
On entrepreneurship pathway, Atiku plans to ensure the speedy passage of the National Research and Innovation Fund Bill, and also introduce and actively promote a Graduate Trainee Internship, GTI, programme. This is aimed at creating 100,000 jobs annually.
Atiku also promised to prioritise support to the Medium and Small Scale Enterprise, facilitate establishment of the SME Venture Capital Fund by the private sector along others, quite the aim of creating two million jobs annually.