• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

What Atiku’s ‘covenant with Nigeria’ means for citizens

Ahead of the February 25 Presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, a former Nigerian Vice President and businessman, will be leading the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to contest for the nation’s highest office as its Presidential candidate.

For Atiku, it will however, be a very familiar terrain, as he has contested for the office, every election year, since 2007.

Ahead of the election, Atiku Abubakar came up with his blueprint, a document that spells out how he will confront the myriads of Nigeria’s current challenges, compressed in a 5-point development agenda.

The fulcrum of the agenda driving Atiku/Okowa campaign, are hinged on; Unity, Security, EconomicProsperity, Education and Restructuring.

Amongst the major priorities, Atiku, after taking holistic assessment of the issues confronting the country, vowed to amongst other things, restore Nigeria’s unity through equity, social jusce as well as co-operaon and consensus amongst the heterogenous peoples, as he believes that the foundation of government is rooted in the social contract.

An Abuja-based Human Rights, Anti-Corruption, Policy and Legislative Advocacy Activist, Auwal Ibrahim believes that should Atiku Abubakar win the February 25th election, it is expected that his cosmopolitan nature and astuteness in business over the years, no doubt, will aid his ability to quickly mobilise and hit the ground running.

According to him, “Nigerians were utterly disappointed in 2015 with President Muhammadu Buhari because his approach and lackluster takeoff, in 2015, had led the country into early recession in 2016.

“We will not want to experience such in 2023; so, Atiku’s experience will guide him to start early.”

Despite having previously contested the Presidential election four times, it was difficult to believe that the President did not prepare for governance, when he won the election in 2015.

Unlike Buhari however, Atiku has developed friendship with people from all of Nigeria’s geopolitical zones. He is famed for having business partners globally and for the inclusiveness and for employing people on merit regardless of ethnic origin.

The PDP candidate in his document “My Covenant With Nigeria” which encapsulates his programme for the country, said he would establish a strong and effecve democrac government that guarantees the safety and security of life and property.

Atiku said he would ensure a strong, resilient, and prosperous economy that creates jobs and wealth and lift the poor out of poverty, as well as “a true federal system which will provide for a strong federal government to guarantee naonal unity while allowing the federang units to set their own priories.

“Improve and strengthen the educaon system to equip its recipients with the educaon and skills required to be compeve in the new global order which is driven by innovaon, science, and technology and to lead healthy, producve, meaningful lives.”

For him, “government emerges and finds legitimacy in the expectation that it shall work for the common good, parcularly to defend man’s inalienable rights to life, property, and dignity.”

He has also vowed to “uphold and promote the social contract,” through a deliberate policy that will meet and give praccal expression to the terms of the contract through policies and programmes in all aspects of life that will guarantee the common good for all.

According to him, “This Policy Document is therefore, a collecon of my policy commitments and responsibilies under the social contract.”

Atiku ‘s government will no doubt, face challenges on several fronts, chiefly amongst which are insecurity, high rate of unemployment, current social unrests posed by the Naira redesign and currency swap policy and low Federal Government revenue.

Nigeria, with an estimated population of about 213 million people, is the largest economy in Africa with a GDP of over US$430 billion.

The population is dominated by young people with a median age of 28 years and is expected to double by 2050.

A report by the Brookings Institution, last year, put Nigeria ahead of India on the poverty scale, indicating that the country now has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty.

It is also on records that more people were killed by terrorists fighters and in clashes between herdsmen and farmers, under the outgoing Buhari administration, a situation that has further widened the gap of unity.
When President Buhari came into office the insecurity was confined to the northeast geopolitical zone of the country, but now it has spread into the northwest and the South South, South East and the Middle Belt regions of the country.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund ( UNICEF) put the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria at 13. 2 million.
The nation’s economic indices show over 20 million unemployed people, which is more than the population of about 10 African countries of São Tomé and Principe, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Mauritius, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Gabon, Namibia, Seychelles and Botswana, put together.

Recent reports also indicate that Nigeria’s expenditure on education remains one of the lowest in the sub- Saharan Africa, while Public expenditure on health is insufficient, to meet citizens’ healthcare demand

The country will be going to the International Monetary Funds (IMF) due to its inability to visit the international capital markets.

With rising commodity prices, higher energy costs, slow growth in the agricultural sector, disruptions to food imports resulting from border closure and disruptions to food supply resulting from domestic conflicts, millions of people have been pushed below the poverty line and created more misery for the poor in towns and villages.

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Thus, basic commodities are now beyond the reach of the average Nigerian, who are now forced to pay nearly 100% more for a loaf of bread today than they did in 2020. Farmers now pay 200% more for a bag of fertilizer than they did in 2020. Nigerians now pay 400% more for a Bag of Rice than they did in 2015! The list is endless!

Many believe that the country’s high interest rates, recent Moody’s downgrade, will further create pressures on the incoming administration to evolve economic policies that may be unpopular with the masses

These policies will involve, removal of current fuel subsidy, adjustment in exchange rate and debt restructuring, which will further lead to increase in cost of transportation and other goods and services.

Pedro Obaseki, the Director, Research, Strategy and Documentation, of the Atiku/ Okowa Presidential Campaign Council, said the former Vice President, based on the benefit of hindsight, “will provide appropriate political leadership to implement a robust development agenda and facilitate the realisaon of his program as contained in the document.

“Our economic agenda has an over-arching objecve of providing a more hospitable environment for businesses to thrive and create jobs and wealth for Nigerian citizens, based on three basic principles

“These include re- affirming the criticality of private sector leadership and greater private sector participaton in development; While repositioning the public sector to focus on its core responsibility of facilitating and enabling the appropriate legal and regulatory framework for rapid economic and social development.

“Breaking government monopoly in all infrastructure sectors, including the refineries, rail transportaon and power transmission and give private investors a larger role in funding and managing the sectors, thus emulang the benefits accrued in the oil & gas and telecoms sectors.

“Allowing the market greater leverage in determining prices. This way we shall eliminate the persistent price distorons occasioned by current intervenonist exchange rate managementpolicy. Governmentintervenon,whereabsolutelynecessary,willbe done responsibly and judiciously.”
Despite its vast resources, available, the country is rated as one of the poorest countries in the world with the highest levels of inequity among its people. According to the most recent statistics, more than 90 million Nigerians live at or below the poverty line – people who spend the equivalent of less than US$1.90 per day. More than 133 million Nigerians are considered multi-dimensionally poor. They are not only cash poor but have limited access to the basic needs of life including water, sanitation, electricity and decent housing.

Furthermore, current challenges in Nigeria’s business environment means the economy will continue to fail to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the non-oil sector.

Thus, as a result of a persistent revenue shortfall, Federal Government Budgets since 2016 have been presented with huge deficits. Paradoxically this has increased the appetite for loans and grow debt service obligations. This is currently at an unsustainable level.

According to the Debt Management Office (DMO) Nigeria’s debt stock has risen 11.20 trillion naira in 2014 to 32.9 trillion naira in 2022! A situation that has further put a strain on government revenues due to associated high debt service costs. For example, in 2021 more than 80% of total revenue was needed for debt service.

Inflation has risen to unprecedentedly astronomical levels. Even official inflation data shows a food inflation rate of 19.5% in May 2022 compared to 15% in January 2020.

The pressure on the Naira has heightened in recent months. As of June 2022, the official ex- change rate was N415.65/US$ (CBN, 2022) but exceeded N800/US$ in the parallel market in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2021.

The country has been unable to defend the Naira, weakened by the slow accretion of foreign reserves as external reserves remain below $40bn despite higher oil prices. External reserves are likely to decline further as CBN continues to intensify its FOREX intervention which leaves several billions of Naira to opportunists, rent-seekers, middlemen, arbitrageurs, and fraudsters. It is significant to point out that one of APC’s cardinal promises in their CHANGE Agenda in 2015, was the achievement of a N1 to $1 parity!

Atiku said his response to economic development challenges will be to design and implement coherent and comprehensive strategies and policies.

This will include policy priority that will help double the size of the economy and achieve a GDP of approximately US$900 billion by 2030.

This would raise Nige-ria’s GDP per capita from the current levels of approximately US$2,000 to US$5,000, with an additional significant impact on jobs and poverty.

To achieve this, the administration will focus on six Economic Development pillars, including the promotion of economic diversification and linkages between agriculture, industry, and micro & small enterprises. This will engender employment and poverty reduction.

It will also Improve productivity of MSMEs and achieve significant transformation of primary produce into processed and manufactured goods for export, promote social development, while improving citizen’s access to qualitative basic public services such as water & sanitation, electricity and housing and ensure a reduction in infrastructure deficit to support the full mobilisation of the economic sectors and to enhance the ‘carrying capacity’ of the economy.

Atiku’s government will also help public institutions to engender efficiency in service delivery as well as deepen transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.

In the area of MSMEs and with only about 39% of Nigerians said to embrace entrepreneurship, trade contributes 16% to the formal GDP and employs 17% of the total labour force, the current currency swap is expected to create its own challenges for the incoming government.

But Atiku says his administration will establish an “Economic Stimulus Fund” with an initial investment capacity of approximately US$10 billion to prioritize support to MSMEs across all the economic sectors.

This offers the greatest opportunities for achieving inclusive growth.
The world currently experiences energy transition, as the world needs less and less oil. This posts a significant risk for Nigeria given our dependence on oil revenues. However, the oil and gas will continue to play a critical role in Nigeria’s economic growth and development as the 10th largest oil producer in the world.

The Atiku administration shall therefore, deploy modern technology in pipeline surveillance as an optimal way of combating the menace of pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft and deal more decisively with crude oil theft. Also, the Atiku Government will intensify engagement with local oil producing communities.

Given the country’s huge demand for petroleum and petrochemical products, Nigeria’s existing refining infrastructure is at worst disgraceful and at best, less than desirable. With a total installed capacity of 445,000 barrels per day, the nation’s four (4) refineries have struggled to produce less than 10% of installed capacity. This is far below the inter-national benchmark of 95%.

This makes Nigeria by far the most inefficient OPEC member country in terms of both the percentage of installed refining capacity that works and the percentage of crude refined, trailing behind countries like Iraq and Libya that are at war or experiencing civil strife. The federal government shall enhance local capacity to process larger quantities of our crude for domestic consumption and export to the rest of Africa.

Despite its huge potentials, the Solid Minerals Sector has been largely neglected by successive governments. Atiku will stimulate domestic refining of mineral ores.

This will help create jobs and alleviate poverty, by harnessing the Potentials of and Promoting the New Economy.

“We shall establish a Technology Support Programme (TSP) to be funded by a Diaspora Bond. Tertiary institutions, research institutes, Innovative Enterprise Institutes (IEIs) and relevant government agencies will be encouraged to develop research capabilities while our youth will have enhanced and advanced trainings in fields such as renewable energy, artificial intelligence,” he said.

In the area of healthcare, Atiku who observed that 5,000 Doctors left Nigeria in last 8years, said over $1 Billion is spent Annually on medical tourism, while average Life expectancy is a mere 54 years, with Doctor to Patient ratio of 1/6000

Nigeria’s infant Mortality Rate is 72 deaths per 1,000 Births, while the maternal Mortality Rate averages 917 deaths per 100,000 births!

“Over 75% Of Nigerians Do Not Have Access To Clean Water, Nigeria recorded about 200,000 Malaria-related deaths in 2021 alone,” he said.

To ensure improved Healthcare delivery, the Atiku led PDP Government shall immediately, the administration hopes to under take reforms in the National Health Act of 2014, facilitate Universal Health Coverage, expand Access to Primary Healthcare, Improve Care and Clinical Governance and the number of professionals in the Health Sector

In the area of security, Atiku’s said Nigerians have watched in shock, an APC leadership that is highly insensitive to their diversities, nonchalant to their aspirations, and completely indifferent to their hopes and fears.

“The ruling APC has promoted nepotism, narrow-minded and parochial sectional interest into national policy. Nigerians are now forced to live with a leadership that, by its words and actions, promotes disunity to the detriment of national cohesion and development. At no point in our history has Nigeria be so divided. In the face of the leadership failure of the ruling APC, it is the resolve of an Atiku-Okowa led PDP Government to engender justice, fairness, equity and responsibility in the polity. Increase the size of security outfits.

Thus, to ensure the security of citizens, and ensure the security and territorial integrity of the nation’s borders, there shall be massive recruitment into all of Nigeria’s security outfits especially the
Nigeria Police which currently has less than 400,000.

He assured that his administration will recruit additional 1,000,000 policemen and women in four years, will be added to the existing number.
“In light of current challenges, Community/local policing has become an existential imperative. We shall initiate a constitutional amendment to allow States who are willing and able to do so, to establish their own State or local Police. This is to enhance local security, based on the laws of those States, as distinct from federal laws which will be enforced by the Federal Police.

“In addition, the Atiku Government shall enhance capacity of security personnel, while improving their welfare. We shall proffer alternative approaches to conflict resolution in dealing with insurgency such as diplomacy; intelligence; improved border control; traditional institutions and good neighbourliness,” he said.

More so, there shall be strategic engagements with agitating groups, but without compromising Nigeria’s national sovereignty.

He assures that the regime will be Leveraging new technologies in fighting crime, ensure accelerated administration of justice without fear or favour and promote Regional Security Cooperation to curb the spread of illicit and small arms and
weapons.

Other policies include strengthening existing personal identification infrastructure, in the short and medium
term, to enable more Nigerians to be captured in the NIN by 2030 in accordance with the SDG16.9.

“Integrate the multiple identification processes and numbers in existence such as BVN, international passport, voter registration number, et cetera). This will streamline citizen /identification and consolidation of the nation’s biometrics database, in the long term, by 2030.

The administration also intends to pursue meaningful registration at birth as a way to reduce crime and protect Nigerians, as well as conduct the next national population census as the basis for further development planning and as part of vital security registration in the country.