Could there be more to the manifesto of a legacy Nigerian political office aspirant than promising Work, Road and Light?
Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), unveiled his policy document on Monday. It becomes the official marker for the commencement of his campaign which will run for less than 90 days till D-Day next February. Atiku’s policy document launched a day after President Muhammadu Buhari launched ‘The Next Level’ as the working theme for his re-election campaign.
More than two dozen candidates are hoping to take Buhari to task for the privilege of being called Commander-in-chief next May but the PDP flag-bearer is widely seen as the president’s biggest challenger. What is he offering that is not on the ‘next level’ agenda?
The Brief: “Atiku means JOBS”
A former Vice President for eight years, Atiku believes he is capable of providing the political leadership that will bring about unity, security and prosperity. His priorities are four-fold: Jobs, Infrastructure, Poverty Eradication and Human Capital Development. Achieving these goals will begin by “stitching” Nigeria’s political and economic fault lines, a curious choice of vocabulary for conveying the worn state of the nation.
In one of many references to the need for restructuring, the policy document describes Nigeria’s present federal system as “unworkable” due to an “overbearing centre and weak federating units”. To solve this, he proposes a “decongestion” of the exclusive list of the Nigeria Constitution (the part where the duties “exclusive” to the Federal Government are enumerated). Among the key functions performed by the centre which Atiku hopes to devolve to states are the Police (in other words, the creation of independent state police outfits), transport and environment matters.
While hoping that Local Governments will be independent under his tenure, he proposes a new revenue allocation formula. That means states’ commissioners of finance and accountants general will still go to Abuja monthly for a share of the national cake but there may be mechanisms to ensure more gets to local governments. He will not be able to do this without the National Assembly, an important factor to remember especially as restructuring was on the APC 2015 agenda until Saraki-as-Senate-President upset the apple cart.
Speaking of challenges, he will have his work cut out with the ambition to present the budget for a subsequent year by the month of July of the previous year. For context, Nigeria’s 2018 budget was presented in December 2017 and signed into law by third week of June, the longest delay between presentation and signing ever.
Will Atiku find it easy to pull off budget approvals in record time (without padding) even with an Executive-Legislature relationship more in sync than the Buhari-Saraki one? It is a desirable goal that he must match with a rate of implementation far higher than sub-optimal percentages that has become synonymous with the last three Buhari budgets.
Agenda 2025: Why A Six-Year Plan?
Not a few targets outlined in the document are set towards 2025 for their attainment. You could consider the policy document designed as a mid-to-long term strategic framework similar in going beyond one electoral cycle to Buhari’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017 – 2020). One could ask: why the privilege of being “heard out” is not being granted the Buhari government since its plans have not reached their set timetable?
Well, Atiku (like Buhari three years ago) expects that if elected in 2019, he will have done enough to gain Nigerians’ confidence within the first three years to be given the nod for at least three more years to achieve his projects’ set goals.
Some ambitionsAtiku hopes to attain by 2025 include:
- A $900billion GDP economy
- Generating 20,000 megawatts of power
- Increasing manufacturing output from 9% to 30% of GDP
- Lifting 50 million people out of poverty (currently 80 million)
- Reduce housing deficit to less than 10 million (current deficit is 15million)
- Set process in motion for local refineries to be able to refine 50% of nation’s oil needs by producing 2 million barrels per day (current capacity is 450,000 bpd)
- To increase the inflow of direct foreign investment to a minimum of 2.5% of GDP
- Cutting down recurrent expenditure from 70% to 35%
How Will These Be?
Each of the above is a desirable goal triggering several lines of questioning. Firstly, how will he set the foundations for each to achieve remarkable impact in his first three years if elected? Should the plans for restructuring falter in the early months or years of his presidency, how will any of these be achieved since the “unworkable” structure of the nation will inevitably inhibit progress?
And how exactly will he cut down recurrent expenditure by half without expressly firing more than half of those on payrolls of federal and state governments? What is the plan to handle the heat of the Nigeria Labour Congress who will, as night follows day, surely reply any posture towards mass retrenchment of workers with a grinding nationwide strike?
The document makes more mentions about incentives for private sector participation than of how he will engage trade and labour unions. The only union mentioned is the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN) with whom he hopes to collaborate to “vigorously enforce” a buy-made-in-Nigeria goods campaign. He will have to explain how an administration that will base its policies on market viability will lean towards protectionist ‘local content’ in the name of supporting indigenous enterprise for the growth of the naira.
Land and Intellectual Rights
Atiku’s language on agriculture is unrevealing: he proposes to “collaborate with states in the design and implementation of robust and sustainable land reforms”. Does that imply that he will revisit, repeal and replace the Land Use Act of 1978, Nigeria’s archaic but extant land law credited by many as one of the roots frustrating the flourishing of property rights in Nigeria?
It does seem right that a necessary condition for addressing the problem of intellectual property laws in Nigeria (which are taken for granted – just check the latest between Stella Dimoko Korkus and Linda Ikeji) will be to address land decisively as remains the basic factor of production.
Borrowing from Obasanjo, Jonathan – And Buhari
Taking Nigeria forward will involve going back to the past. Atiku proposes to restore the National Open Apprenticeship Scheme, an Obasanjo-era project of the National Directorate of Employment. Atiku’s plan is to recruit 100,000 MCPs (mastercrafts persons) annually who will train 1 million apprentices in various trades. This is one of four pathways by which he hopes to create 3 million jobs annually, a staggering ambition by any standard. The other paths will be entrepreneurship, schools to jobs, and MSME/ICT Special Entrepreneurship pathways.
Still under job creation, Goodluck Jonathan’s SURE-P will have a grandson, a potential successor to Buhari’s N-Power in the form of a “more efficient, cost-effective and sustainable national Entrepreneurship Development and Job Creation Programme”. Atiku’s languauge suggests N-Power will be replaced while the continuity of Buhari’s other Social Investment Programmes like the Anchors Borrowers’ Programme for farmers, the School Feeding Programme and Trader Moni – all of which have been criticised as fraudulent, bloated or means of advancing patronage – will also be in doubt.
Not every Buhari approach will be discarded, however. Atiku’s plans for infrastructure funding will be in keeping with the Buhari administration’s use of bonds and Sukuk financing for railways and some highway projects.
Health, Sports, and Quota for Women
Other highlights of interest in the Atiku plan include:
- Making the health sector function based on market dynamics by involving the private sector. What will that mean for his other goal of “universal access” health insurance and what will he do with the NHIS?
- While the representation of women in appointed offices are below the numbers in countries like Ethiopia, will quotas for women appointments to boards of agencies count as empowerment?
- And what does he mean by “diversifying into minority sports” in order to give Nigeria a “better chance” of winning international laurels? What does that say about Nigeria’s ‘majority’ athletes?
Atiku also proposes a National Savings Strategy that will offer fiscal incentives for each naira of savings. Nigerians have low savings in banks which probably count against ability to secure credit facilities for business and a rich president would not have his people continue that way.
Getting Nigerians to Read Work
In a society that reads and remembers, citizens will raise lots of questions from the above that will demand Atiku think hard before he answers. But there is probably already sufficient anger at the present state of affairs that you can expect many will not bother with the contents of the one hundred and eighty-six page plan as a basis for making up their minds. That will work in the candidate’s favor and would push him closer to gaining the platform to get Nigeria working again. Hopefully, there should be more than one opportunity in media chats, campaign stops and – if the man he is seeking to unseat will show up – at a televised debate – to probe for proof of feasibility of his lofty ambitions.
Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform