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Buhari, Atiku offer distinct pathways to Nigeria’s economic future

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Nigerians will in five days’ time go to the polls to elect a president for the next four years. Although there are over 60 candidates vying for the president of Africa’s largest economy, analysts have said the contest is between Muhammadu Buhari, incumbent president and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and flag-bearer of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Some commentators say they do not see a difference between the APC and PDP candidates. Buhari and Atiku are similar in many ways. Both are septuagenarians. Both are Muslims from Nigeria’s northern region. And both are of the Fulani ethnic stock.

But it is in their plans for Nigeria and Nigerians that Buhari and Atiku differ as both offer a completely different pathway to economic prosperity, security, national pride, and the fight against corruption.

Analysts say the two major candidates offer Nigerians a choice between a private sector-led economy and a statist regime, between clear, measurable development plans and optimistic rhetoric, and between appointments by merit and appointments through nepotism.

Buhari, 76, takes pride in being seen as an “upright, modest man” and often expresses what could be described as a disdain for successful people, perceiving most wealthy people as corrupt. For the APC candidate, poverty appears to be a symbol of uprightness.

Atiku, 72, on the other hand, has earned for himself reputation as a successful businessman, even though enmeshed in controversies on account of perceptions that his wealth has been a product of personal enrichment from public funds. The former vice president has, however, insisted he is not guilty of any wrongdoing, even describing himself as the most-investigated politician in Nigeria.

BusinessDay analysis of the policy documents of the two candidates shows that Atiku, perhaps due to his business inclination, favours a private sector-led economy, and his “Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again” document highlights a policy priority to build a broad-based, dynamic and competitive economy with a GDP of US$900 billion by 2025.

Buhari, on his part, has since inauguration in 2015 demonstrated an aversion for the private sector, exhibiting more of statist tendencies and creating an environment that has made survival difficult for many businesses. For Buhari, the government needs to retain as much control as possible to avoid the chances of corruption he thinks the private sector is likely to stimulate.

Agriculture has been a sector successive governments in Nigeria have claimed will be used to diversify the economy and lift millions out of poverty, and Buhari has followed similar rhetoric so far. Buhari’s plan in agriculture is mostly hinged on the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, an initiative of the Central Bank of Nigeria to support input and jobs to 1 million farmers. The Livestock Transformation Plan aims to create 1.5 million jobs along the lines of dairy, beef, hides and skin, blood meal, and crops. There is also an Agriculture Mechanisation Policy with tractors and processors to create 5 million jobs. None of the plans, however, has specific or measurable metrics that can be used to ascertain success or failure, neither has the president expatiated on any of this in his several campaign stops so far.

Atiku, on his part, says he plans to improve the agriculture sector’s access to financial services through the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) by de-risking lending to the sector by commercial and development banks. He also plans to improve farming productivity through modernisation and mechanisation of small-scale agriculture to international levels and offering concessional financing, tax breaks and seed funds.

The Atiku campaign policy document states plans to increase agricultural output from the current level of N23.85 trillion to about N40 trillion by 2025. This would imply an annual growth in agricultural sector from 4.11 percent to 10 percent between 2019 and 2025. If elected, Atiku says his government will develop a thriving commodities trading ecosystem. This will not only aid the diversification of the economy and foster real GDP growth, but will create jobs within the value chain of the ecosystem, thereby engendering inclusive growth.

Buhari’s plans for the oil and gas sector are not clear, save for his insistence that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will continue to be run as it is. But for Atiku, the mission appears simple: privatise the state-owned NNPC that has been grossly underperforming and is a hub of uncontrolled corruption. Government ownership of the company, Atiku opines, has been fuelling the organisation’s inefficiency. He is also aiming for more transparency and efficiency in management of institutions in the oil and gas industry. In his plans, Nigeria will start refining 50 percent of its current crude oil output of 2 million bpd by 2025.

In health, Buhari plans to introduce co-payments in health insurance to share the cost between individuals, the private sector and government. The poorest 40 percent will be exempted from such co-payments. He also plans to commit 1 percent of Consolidated Revenue to fund health in compliance with the National Health Act, and use N-Power Medic to encourage and pay young doctors to stay in rural areas.

Atiku, on his part, plans to commit 15 percent of the budget to health and promote a health-care delivery system that is comprehensive, efficient and can deliver effective and qualitative services to the citizens.

Buhari’s plan in the education sector includes retraining teachers in order to deliver digital literacy and remodelling and equipping 10,000 schools per year.

For Atiku, if elected, his government will set up special purpose funds for infrastructure investment in education and increase investments in the human development sub-sectors, especially education, by committing 25 percent of the budget to the sector. The policy plans for both candidates offer varying levels of contrasting plans on how they intend to get Nigeria working, and as far as proposed policies go, there can be no confusion on intended goals and competencies.

Perhaps the most obvious behavioural contrast between the two candidates is that while Buhari prefers to keep a small circle of trusted kinsmen around him, Atiku has been described as a more detribalised Nigerian open to working with all individuals without recourse to nepotism.



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