Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a former vice president of Nigeria. In this interactive session with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), he speaks on his manifesto, how he intends to tackle insecurity, revive Nigeria’s economy, create jobs and the role women will play if he is elected president in 2023. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
As one of the major candidates for the election, what are your plans for the people, considering the challenges facing the country?
Before I launched my presidential bid, as very typical of me, I sat down to analyse the challenges facing our country and came up with a five-point policy programme, which in broad, captured the fact that the unity of our country has been threatened. So, I said we need to restore the unity of our country and give each and every part of this country a sense of belonging in our federation. From unity, I moved to the issue of insecurity. We need to secure our country fast. There is no geo-political zone in this country that has no security challenge. Thirdly, I moved to the issue of the economy.
It is only when you have a united country, where you have peace that you will begin to think about the economy. And the economy is such a very verse area, youth unemployment, inflation and so many other things. Then, of course, I moved to restructuring. Anybody who has followed my political career will know that I started advocating for restructuring when we were in office. When it was very unpopular, particularly in our own constituency, the northern part of this country, I still went ahead because it is something that I believe will bring more unity to this country and give every part of this country the opportunity to develop at its pace and with its own resources. Then I moved on to the issue of education, which is too dear to me because of my belief in education. All these things we are talking about, we will not be able to achieve everything without education. So, basically, education should be the number one agenda as all of us would not have been in this hall if we are not educated. So, you can see the imperative of education in our life. After I came up with these five policies, I then assembled a team of experts on all of these thematics and constituted what I called a policy group to go into details about how to achieve our objectives. I had a number of sessions with the policy team and I told them what I had in mind, and because they are experts, they were able to advise me on the ones that are doable and all that. Eventually, we came up with the document which is titled ‘Our Covenant with Nigerians.’
You have been drumming restructuring as one of the things you are going to do; are you going to allow states or regions to control their resources?
I have assembled a team of constitutional lawyers from each of the geopolitical zones and I told them to give me a proposed legislation, which I can immediately put before the National Assembly on day one after assuming office. I already have a copy of the draft legislation but I cannot share it with you. I want you to know and realise that amending the constitution requires the executive, the National Assembly and the states Assembly. So, we all have to agree on what type of restructuring we want. Of course, when we say devolution of powers, obviously, devolution of powers must go hand in hand with a certain measure of resource control. But if your interest is only resource control, for sure, you will have a measure of resource control depending on the powers that would be devolved to either states or local governments. It is the same thing with the revenue sharing formula.
What are you doing to reconcile the lingering issues with the PDP governors?
I can assure you that talks are going on and I believe we are going to reconcile. It is a family issue and we are regarding it as such. We are talking to ourselves and I believe we will resolve our family dispute.
What will you do to guarantee 35 per cent affirmative action for women if you become president?
We did that between 1999 and 2007. Again, there is the issue of memory and then there is the issue of age. Most of our population today, 70 per cent of them are young men and women. And then, regrettably, our schools no longer teach the history of this country. So, unless you do extensive research, which our young men and women are not at the moment not too good at, you will not recognise that our government had the highest number of women. This we promised and I pledge to continue with that, at least 30 per cent of women.
In 2019 you talked about how you resolved the issue of security at the American University in Yola. How would you want to secure this country from insurgency?
We faced this same insecurity problem when we came in 1999. I will deploy more boots on the ground, more equipment and more training. Even by the time you double the strength of the Nigerian Police Force to maybe about 700,000, you would have reduced unemployment. So, if you extend that operation to the armed forces, by the time you finish doing that, you will find out that you have taken out more than one million people out of the unemployment market.
You are known as the unifier, but the way things are, Nigerians are not united. I would like to know what plans you have to ensure that Nigerians see themselves as one?
I have answered that question before and I try to remind our people, of course, maybe perhaps, 69 per cent of our voters today were just born when we first set up the first democratic government in 1999. In 1999, all the two major political parties had southern presidential candidates. This is because when we rose from the Constitutional Conference of 1994, we all agreed that our next president must come from the South.
Irrespective of whichever party we belonged to, we conceded the presidency to the South and we had two presidential candidates who came from the South – Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae. After the elections, because the country was divided then between the North and South, we constituted a government of national unity.
Even though PDP won overwhelmingly, we brought in members of the All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) as ministers. With that move, the country immediately became one and that provided the peace and stability we needed to embark on a number of reforms to make sure we gave the people of this country the good governance they required. So, this is what I intend to do. I have said it that PDP will form a government of national unity and we will bring other members of the opposition who would have lost to us in the election.
This is just one leg on how to unify this country. Today, we have 17 heads of the various security agencies, all of them come from the North. I wouldn’t do that. I will make sure that every geopolitical zone is represented in those security agencies. This is also another way you can unify the country and give every part of this country a sense of belonging.
Many Nigerians are unable to fend for themselves and their families today, what would you do differently to return the economy to what it used to be?
Basically, I intend to continue with the economic policies we embarked on between 1999 and 2007; liberalise the economy and promote the private sector to create jobs and wealth in simple straight forward terms. Liberalising the economy is broad, empowering the private sector is broad and of course continuing with the privatisation of our public enterprises; in other words, more private sector-driven economy.
If you look at the greatest economies in the world, you will find out that government has very little to do with their economy. They allow the private sector to play its role and you can see the prosperity in the development the private sector has unleashed in their greatness.
If you see the amount of work the government has to do in this country like building and rebuilding our ports, constructing our railway lines, building our highways, the amount of money that you require, you will know that government doesn’t have it. I would rather concession most of these projects to the private sector and give them tax breaks. They will invest and recover their money and we will have development, progress, jobs and prosperity. That is going to be my approach to the economy.