…Vows to run a lean government
…Explains how to handle NNPC and subsidy
…Discusses insecurity, federalism, PDP and Gov Wike
By Jide Ajani, General Editor
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is a man, who has been around. He’s in the legion of Nigerians, whose first name is easily recognisable because there are no two similar reputational standing: Gani (Fawehinmi); Fela (Anikulapo Ransome-Kuti); Beko (Ransome-Kuti); Rashidi (Yekini); and the list goes on. The name Atiku can only be followed by Abubakar in contemporary Nigerian political conversation.
Secondly, only Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President and Commander-in-Chief, has contested for the country’s presidency as much as Atiku. Whereas, Buhari emerged candidate on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, in 2003; All Peoples Party, APP, in 2007; Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in 2011; and finally on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in 2015, when he won; Atiku also has his history of pursuit steeped in disappointments.
For Atiku, he sought to be the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, in the 1992/1993 transition, but Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola got the ticket. In 2007, as candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, but lost the presidential election. In 2011, he sought to become candidate of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but lost to incumbent Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan at the primary. In 2015, he lost the APC ticket to Buhari; and in 2019, he was PDP’s presidential candidate but lost the election to Buhari.
Today, Atiku is the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate, and he sees this as the last frontier he must conquer in his political voyage that has spanned over three decades.
Like his main rival and friend, APC’s Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the Emi lo kan fame, Atiku fought and succeeded in the first part of the battle by clinching the ticket in a battle that has left aftershocks in its wake with the crisis rocking the PDP today. The runner-up at the contest, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State is yet to get over the loss, partly because of claims that Atiku has not reached out to him in a respectable manner. That is a claim because there have since been counter claims.
That said, as has been done for Datti Ahmed and Peter Obi of Labour Party, and Kashim Shettima and Tinubu of APC, we presented Governor Ifeanyi Okowa last week, we are presenting Atiku, vice presidential and presidential candidates of PDP, today.
His views here are harvested from verified Tweets, interviews, speeches, press releases and public statements, some dating back as far as 2019, and they range from serious national challenges like ASUU strike, Economy, Federalism, Insecurity, NNPC, Unemployment and corruption allegations against him.
Like him or hate him, Atiku is a blunt man.
He understands Nigeria and has massive support across Nigeria. But like his co-contestants, there are those who do not buy into his vision. But Atiku is confident that he will win.
In the event that he emerges President and Commander-in-Chief in 2023, Nigerians can hold him down to the following commitments:
Between 1999 to the present time, our democracy has thrown up all shades of characters at the leadership levels. Many, if not all of them, have tried their best to deliver good governance to the country.
But the results of their efforts, judging by what we have at hand today, clearly show that our best has not been good enough thus far.
It is clear that the problem of leadership is at the epicentre of governance issues that has afflicted Nigeria since the restoration of this democratic dispensation.
To get at this problem would require the voting citizens of the country to undertake a more critical evaluation of national leadership recruitment – a rare gift that democracy guarantees through the instrumentality of periodic elections.
Our current federal structure is clearly not working. There is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre. And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating. I will simply summon the governors and tell them these are the reforms I want; these are the powers I want to be devolved to the states; so, they should not go and stop their states from voting for a constitutional amendment. I want to see a very lean government.
I will rationalise the federal government agencies because they are just too many and they are duplicating services. I will introduce e-government; and I know it is not popular but I will do it and reduce human contact in doing government business.
And as I’ve said openly, I’ll reduce the size of the Federal Government completely and make sure that I hand over responsibility to the state government or zones.
That will increase productivity and create efficiency.
For Nigeria to grow the economy, exports require a coherent and investor-friendly foreign exchange policy that improves the global competitiveness of domestic enterprises. Larger volume of non-oil exports will earn more foreign exchange for Nigeria, improve our foreign reserves, and help in stabilising the Naira. All of these will contribute to growth in GDP.
We must pay attention to agriculture; both in the North and South, it is the mainstay because oil merely accounts for just about 20% of our earnings. We have to promote industrialisation and manufacturing. If you focus on agriculture, industrialisation and manufacturing, you’ll raise so many people out of poverty. We must focus on diversifying the economy to generate real growth.
Secondly, within the first 100 days in office, we shall unveil an Economic Stimulus Fund with an initial investment capacity of approximately US$10 billion.
On the value of the naira and exchange rate, I’m a market-oriented person and I believe and expect that there should be a convergence between the two exchange rates without interfering in the activities of the Central Bank.
I chaired the privatisation council and championed the reforms in the telecoms sector, oil sector reforms and pension reforms.
We intend to continue with the reforms so as to give the private sector more roles in the areas of rail lines and even give them tax breaks. In any case, if you don’t encourage the private sector to come in, where are you going to get the money? Is it to just continue to borrow and borrow?
Nigeria has both a revenue problem and a debt problem. The debt problem can be approached in a number of ways. One, is through restructuring and unfortunately, we don’t have any moreschemese for debt forgiveness and I’m actually reading a paper on it now – debt problem and revenue problem. We must deal with the problems because we are going to inherit a government that is deeply indebted and one that has also not expanded the revenue base as such.
I’ve said it, I’m committed to privatising NNPC, I swear, even if they are going to kill me, I will do it. At the end of the day, privatising NNPC is going to be to our advantage because we are not going to lose anything.
My view is that we can do to NNPC what we did with LNG, in other words, privatising it in the stock market so that as many Nigerians as possible can acquire shares and this will improve transparency, efficiency and even profitability and sustainability of the sector. Yes, we’ve been told that this government is privatising NNPC but it is being done secretly. Nobody – Nigerians and other members of the international community – has seen it done in a transparent manner. I do not know how it is being done, by whom and the scope and how much is being privatised, how much is being retained by the government.
I recall that when we were in government, I called some multinational oil chief executives to a meeting on how to raise cash for the government. They said, at that time, that even if you sell just about 10% stake of NNPC to the international community, you can be able to get about $35b/$40b and with that money, you can build all the roads and rails and ports you needed to do and you would have also improved the efficiency and profitability of that entity. I made that proposal to the President, but it was not accepted.
I believe, just like Saudi Aramco has done to rake in more money to invest in their 2030 programme, that is the type of thing I expected to be unveiled but what we are seeing is something a very secretive transaction being conducted by the government, and I don’t see any element of transparency there. We saw what Saudi Aramco did and how much money was raised but we are yet to see our own; maybe we are yet to get to that stage.
Other than the announcements being made from NNPC, I’ve not seen how the process currently going on has taken into account the states or the oil producing areas. When I become President, I will open it up and whoever has a stake will be part of the process. I don’t see that happening at the moment.
In the area of oil theft, you’ll need to bring in the security forces for the protection of our oil infrastructure because as it is now, people are just doing as they like without supervision and without leadership.
On the issue of subsidy, I thought Nigerians have come to accept my position on subsidy removal. When I was Vice President, we had designed phases of subsidy removal. I was chairman of the committee to remove subsidies and I worked closely with Adams Oshiomole, who was the head of labour at that time, and we removed phase one and phase two and by the time we finished Phase two, we left office. Unfortunately, the regime that came after didn’t follow through and the policy got stuck. It is inevitable that it has to happen but it has to be accompanied by other things and I believe through negotiations with organised labour and other sectors, that policy should resume and be completed.
I pledge that if I am elected President by Nigerians, I will go above and beyond the United Nations recommendations and ensure that a minimum of 21% of the federal budget is devoted to education. Look at what is happening to ASUU.
I take very strong exception to the strike by ASUU. The inability of the government to resolve that crisis will never happen under a PDP government or administration that I will oversee – an administration that I will oversee. I will cause a meeting of all stakeholders including university administrators and state governments to have a review of how universities are
As you know, I have invested heavily in education because of my passion for education. I believe you also need the private sector in education. In education, funding is key and that’s the reality. If you look around, the private universities are not on strike because they are funded. So, the government does not provide enough resources to maintain the universities and that’s why we have what we have. Just make sure that you equip the universities and pay the teachers regularly.
It is about investing and ensuring that the investments in education are judiciously deployed.
For the first five years of my university, I was giving every student a free computer. After five years, we made it conditional that part of the requirement for resumption is that you must come with your computer and we specified the type of computer we wanted.
Google came all the way to our university because they discovered internet penetration like no other in a small community in north eastern Nigeria and thought it was a scam; so, they flew all the way to Nigeria and discovered our sprawling university.
They discovered that we were technologically driven in all aspects of our lives there on campus so, they signed an agreement with us and they left. Therefore, it depends on the vision of the leader.
If you elect an analogue leadership, expect analogue management of all aspects of your national life.
You can’t do that with me my friend. I have a passion for education and I have invested in it. The vision of the leader drives it.
Increased education has been scientifically linked with lower rates of crime and insecurity, along with lower infant and maternal mortality and a higher lifetime income. We must try to incorporate those youth who are above school age into a massive public works programme. There was talk of 774,000 Special Public Works jobs for the youth, which was to have started in January 2021.
This is a commendable step, but it must be done with proper agenda. Perhaps we may want to consider the Malaysian model, whereby with the exception of very few highly specialised jobs, foreign contractors are not allowed to import labour into the country.
Nigeria needs to do three things urgently to encourage capital inflow and foreign direct investment.
First, Nigeria must move toward a single exchange rate to be determined by market forces. Second, the Federal and State Governments must reduce taxes, to make Nigeria more business friendly.
Finally, financial and monetary institutions, like the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Securities and Exchange Commission, must be free from the type of political influence that resulted in the prohibition of Bitcoin and other crypto currencies.
If we can get the 13.5 million out of school Nigerian children into school, we will turn the corner in one generation. If we do not do this, then the floodgates of unemployment will be further opened next year and in the years to come.
Ensuring the security of lives and properties and the dignity of Nigerians by restructuring and enhancing the funding of our security agencies as well as training of security personnel is very important. There has to be massive recruitment into the Force and providing equipment. I’m a supporter of state police and we need to review what we have.
When I was growing up, we had a local police force. But here we are, with the Nigeria Police, and these same men and officers have been deployed for international duties in other countries and because they were fully equipped and well trained by the international bodies, they performed very well. We will deploy technology but funding and welfare of our security men is very important. Before, it was all about providing barracks for accommodation and some allowances but welfare of our security personnel goes beyond that. Motivation is important and this can only come by way of vision from the top.
POWER AND COLLAPSE OF POWER GRID
In 1999 when we came in, the total generation was about 4000 megawatts. We initiated the building of nine additional power stations and by the time those nine were finished, the capacity had gone up from 4000 to about 13,000 megawatts. Unfortunately, there was no corresponding increase as far as transmission lines were concerned. When your transmission line cannot evacuate what you have generated, they’ll keep on collapsing. These additional power stations were completed by Jonathan. So, that’s why it keeps collapsing.
What I’d tried to do is to decentralise both generation and transmission. I went to my boss, President Obasanjo, and told him that we could use various sources of power – hydro, solar and even coal. And, then, break the concentration, but the President said he believes in gas. But I told him gas is located in one location and we would have a problem with gas; and then it would take us longer to have a gas plant that will supply the whole of the country.
By the time you do that, you’ll discover that the electricity you’ll be generating will be too large for our transmission. But if we decentralise the generation, in the North East, for instance, we have many dams there doing nothing and all we needed to do was install turbines and of our current transmission system, we can transmit.
In the North West, they have large dams too. In the South South you can use gas, hydro or coal. After all, I told him that the entire Eatsren Region was supplied with electricity using coal in the First Republic, but he stuck to gas.
That was how we built the additional gas-powered plants. But I still believe that it is something we can consider, to diversify our generation and even with the transmission lines we can still supply power to homes.
ANTI-CORRUPTION AND ALLEGATIONS
President Obasanjo submitted a stiffer draft law which, however, was watered down by the then National Assembly. We must review the anti-graft law with a view to making the law more stringent.
If you make it mandatory and compulsory for any public officer who has to issue an approval or license or anything to the private sector or anybody for that matter, to lose his job and you have an efficient monitoring system (to detect duplicity and complicity), you would have dealt a blow to corruption. And there was none during our time when we privatised the banks or other institutions. I don’t know of, nor have I heard a story of anybody coming to say either the president or myself took money to do that. The intention of deregulating the economy and giving the private sector the responsibility of driving the economy is about bringing prosperity to members of the public.
I have challenged the people of this country over and over and over again, if you have any corruption case against me, please bring it up. Nobody has brought any corruption case against me. Yes, I was accused of corruption just like any person in public office. I was investigated, nothing was found. Is there a way then that people can just judge an individual? The fact that you are a public officer does not stop you from engaging in business which is where I started from. There is no conflict of interest. The fact that you are a public officer does not stop you from engaging in legitimate business. There is no law against legitimate business.
First and foremost, you have to give every part of this country a sense of belonging because there has been exclusion in some parts of this country. Two nights ago, I was arguing before a very top government official about how come – and this is common knowledge – 17 security outfits in this country and (almost) all of them being headed by one section of the country. That’s a very serious imbalance so, how are you going to expect people not to protest or rise. There is an insufficient number of law enforcement agents on the streets.
I will give a sense of belonging to each and every part of this country; I’ll give a sense of belonging to every ethnic group; I’ll give a sense of belonging to every religious group. After unifying the country, then we tackle the insecurity.
Unless we restore law and order and peace, we cannot do anything. After restoring security generally, we will now go to the economy. We have the experience. We took Nigeria from the bottom to the highest economy in Africa.
On the issue of unity and herders and anti-open grazing laws, states are at liberty to take any measure they want to take regarding grazing. It is not a federal issue. Even in the First Republic, we used to have grazing reserves in the northern region. It is not something we should legislate at the national level.
On unifying the country, I was given a ticket in 2007 and I picked a South Easterner, Igbo; I was given a ticket in 2019, I picked an Igbo; and in 2022, I’ve picked an Igbo man again consecutively, this is just to show you my desire to unify the country. It is common knowledge that I have friends in Yorubaland and I have the greatest respect for them.
POLITICAL JOURNEY, WIKE AND PDP CRISIS
Even when I was trying to run to be the governor of my state, from the old Gongola State up to the present Adamawa State, I ran four times, before I won to become a governor but I never served. Instead, I became a vice president. I’m driven by passion and the desire to give back to this country or my society what this country has done for me because if I were to be born around this time, I don’t think I would have been that fortunate or lucky to become what I have become today. At my age and what I’ve been able to accomplish, I think I’m driven by the passion and will to give back.
I’ve contested for this office many times before and whenever I lost, I did not try to blame anybody.
I will just carry my grievances through the court up to the Supreme Court and whatever the Supreme Court decides, I move on and plan for the future. So, first and foremost, Governor Wike was not rejected. It is the prerogative of the candidate to pick his running mate, a running mate that he believes he can work with amicably and also deliver the policies of the party and also try to unify the country.
Governor Wike is a brilliant politician and I believe he is courageous, he’s tenacious and I believe he has a future in the political evolution of this country. It’s not a question of rejection. The Ortom committee recommended three names.
Out of the three people, I picked one and I did not go out of their recommendation. Contrary to what is out there, there was no record of any vote. But we are reaching out to Governor Wike and we are talking with him and very soon, we will find a reconciliation. We are talking to his governor colleagues, too, and soon, we will resolve the issues.