How Presidential Candidates Pitched at NBA Conference
Following their first outing at the Nigerian Bar Association’s Annual General Conference last Monday, it is hoped that the presidential candidates of the leading political parties would continue to focus on reviving the prostate economy, tackling insecurity, and uniting Nigerians ahead of the official commencement of campaign for the 2023 elections, Ejiofor Alike writes
The Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference (NBA-AGC) last Monday provided a platform for the presidential candidates of the leading political parties – Abubakar Atiku of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Senator Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) – to articulate what they would do if elected into Aso Rock in 2023. The event was the first time the candidates were provided with such opportunity since they won their parties’ primaries.
The event, which also had the presidential candidates of African Democratic Party (ADP), Mr. Dumebi Kachikwu; Social Democratic Party (SDP), Adewole Adebayo and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Peter Umeadi, in attendance, however witnessed the conspicuous absence of Tinubu who was represented by his running mate, Kashim Shettima.
Since the presidential candidates emerged as the standard bearers of their respective political parties, besides trying to reconcile the aggrieved members, they have been spending time bantering, bickering and throwing tantrums and jabs at themselves, leaving the critical issues bothering Nigerians unattended to. But the NBA’s event changed all that.
Speaking as a panelist at the opening ceremony of the conference with the theme ‘Bold Transitions,’ Atiku said he would devolve more powers to states. He added that the government doesn’t have infinite resources to continue to shoulder the cost of university education in the country, especially against the backdrop of ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The former vice president noted that one of his major objectives for vying for the presidency in the 2023 general election was to unite Nigerians and also tackle insecurity. He pointed out that Nigerians had never been this divided in her history, stressing that uniting Nigerians remains one of his five-fold agenda for the country. The PDP’s presidential candidate also said he would abolish the multiple exchange rates and devolve more powers to the states if elected president.
On how to stabilise the economy, Atiku said the “multiple exchange rate,” must be “abolished.” He said since the return of democracy in 1998/99, Nigeria has never found itself in such a critical point in its history. He explained that despite its overwhelming victory in 1999, the PDP formed a national government inclusive of other political party members, adding that this boosted national unity.
“The only way is to make sure that you make conducive environment available to both foreign and local investors to participate in our country, whether it is infrastructure, education or power. I had an argument with a university professor from the Federal University, Lokoja. He said he read in my policy document that I intended to devolve, in other words, to return education to the states. ‘How dare I do that’?
“I said, ‘Mr. Professor, do you realise that the first set of our universities belonged to the regional governments?’ He said, ‘Yes’. I said who are the successors of the regional governments? He said the states. I said the children you send to America, to England, who own those universities? Mostly the private sector! So, why is it that you think we cannot do it here? We don’t have the money.”
Atiku said: “Since the return of democracy, Nigeria has never been in such a critical situation as we find ourselves now. The problem of poverty, insecurity, unemployment, etc is enormous but what is important is how to tackle them.
“When PDP came into power in 1999, despite winning overwhelmingly across the country, we decided to include members of other parties in our leadership. That singular action united the country and resulted in calm. I believe we can have that experience again. It is only when we have a sense of belonging that we can deal with insecurity.”
In his presentation, Obi said the 2023 election should not be about religion or tribe but character and competence in leadership. He also stated that his approach to tackle the worsening exchange rate problem in the country would be to encourage manufacturing and export of goods and services.
He said: “Nigeria is in a mess. We got here simply because of the cumulative effect of bad leadership. The coming election is not about tribe or religion but about character and competence. We need a bold transition from a highly insecure state to a highly secure state.”
Obi lamented the numerous problems facing the country. He restated that the “only way” to stabilise the naira is for the Nigerian economy to “move from consumption to production.” In his view, Nigeria had qualified to be a failed state. According to him, 80 per cent of the country’s crude oil was stolen and blamed the situation on bad leadership.
He added: “Nigeria needs an urgent transition from being a highly insecure country to a secure country, from a disunited country to a united country, from corruption to a successful country, from a country of lawlessness to a country of law and order. But in all these, it is important to look at where we are today for people to understand the gravity of the journey we are going to take if we are going to transit. Where are we today?”
“Even our most important source of foreign exchange revenue, oil, is today 80 per cent-stolen. That shows how bad it is. We are the only country apart from Venezuela (we know their own is because of sanctions) that is not meeting up with its OPEC quota.
“And you wouldn’t believe the quantity that is missing. In July, our total average quota was 1.83 million barrels a day. That means that in July, we lost 77,000 barrels per day. If you multiply that by 20, in 31 days it will give you 22.223million barrels of oil that we lost. This is a country that needs dollars. If you sell the quantity of the oil that we lost in July alone at the average of $110, it will give you $2.45bilion, meaning by our exchange rate of N550, we lost N1.344trillion.
“That is your country; that is what we lost in one month because of stealing. It is important that we know this. “Number two item to show that we are a failed state is that you are no longer in control of our economy. We have an economy where over 100 million people live in poverty; our unemployment rate is one of the worst in the world because we have a combined unemployment of 50 per cent.
“Out of 200 million Nigerians, 60 per cent is supposed to be working; so, we are supposed to have more than 120 million persons working but today Nigerians that are working are under 50 million; so, 70 million plus of Nigerians are not working – are not productive. When you compare this to your productivity, you will see how low it is. But what is even worse is that we are in a total physical mess because of all these,” he added.
On his part, Tinubu, who was represented by Shettima, said his principal would replicate what he described as the wonders in Lagos and Borno states, if elected president. The former governor of Borno State disclosed that he built some of the best schools in the state during his tenure, adding that Tinubu’s administration will address issues of the economy and security, among others.
Shettima said the former Lagos State governor will deploy his “mastery of financial management capabilities” in revamping the economy.
He said he (Shettima) would use his eight-year experience tackling Boko Haram in Borno to deal with banditry and insurgency. According to him, the strength of the country’s armed forces is abysmal relative to its challenges and compared to its peer countries. He believes Nigeria’s troops’ strength needs to be boosted to at least 960,000.
Shettima said: “I want us to juxtapose two scenarios. At the end of the unfortunate Nigerian Civil War, the Nigerian Armed Forces ballooned to 250,000 combat troops. In 1970, Nigeria’s population was 55.9million, our GDP was $22billion, and our military spending was $660million representing 5.28 per cent of our GDP. I would like us to juxtapose the figures in 1970 with the figures for 2022. At the end of July, Nigeria’s population was 216.9 million.
“Our GDP was $455million and our total number of troops was 213,000. The percentage of our GDP that is spent on the military for security was only 0.5 per cent.” He noted that Nigeria’s “peers across the world” such as Iraq, Israel and Turkey spend far higher percentages.
He argued that the Tinubu-Shettima ticket was the best combination to tackle Nigeria’s economic, security and other challenges because of their vast experience. The former Borno State governor said his combination with Tinubu, if elected next year, will replicate the “wonders” they performed in Borno and Lagos states.
“I will handle the security and lead the troops while my principal (Bola Ahmed Tinubu), who is an economic wizard will handle the economy. Nigerians have the capability to see through the worn-out rhetoric and sophistry of pretentious politicians,” he explained.
Shettima promised that they would hit the ground running from the first day, if elected.
The pitching of the presidential candidates did not end with criticisms. For instance, Shettima was criticised for saying that would be in charge of security and lead Nigerian troops, a role specifically reserved for the Commander-in-Chief, while his boss, Tinubu will handle the economy.
“Do you understand the implication of this? His he saying that they would swap roles? His saying that he would be the Commander-in-Chief? Is the VP not supposed to be in charge of the National Economic Council? Why is Shettima saying he would be in charge of security. Is that not an anomaly?,” asked Adegbai Eromosele.
Obi, on the other hand, was faulted for describing Nigeria as a failed state, with many saying such a comment ought not to have come from him.
While the NBA conference provided an opportunity for the presidential candidates, a majority of the listeners at the event said that going forward, they would not want to see bickerings but how the candidates intend to deal with the fiscal crisis Nigeria faces – how to shore up revenue, cut cost, fix monetary policies and the foreign exchange rate regime, tackle insecurity, end the debilitating subsidy regime, end oil theft, clean up the Niger Delta, and fix electricity.