Being an Address Delivered by His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar, Vice President of Nigeria 1999-2007 and Presidential flag bearer of the People’s Democratic Party -PDP on Wednesday, 30th January 2019
I thank the Lagos Island Club for giving me this platform to speak to such a distinguished audience and on such a relevant issue. I specifically want to thank you for giving me the liberty to suggest a topic for today’s discourse. I had no hesitation seizing this excellent opportunity to speak to you on my vision for this great country.
However, before I delve into this subject, I need to say a few words on the fact that many of you already know: our democracy is in peril.
After unsuccessfully abusing the instruments of state to remove the leadership of the legislature, President Muhammadu Buhari has turned his sights on the judiciary.
The action of unilaterally suspending the Chief Justice of Nigeria by President Buhari is unconstitutional. The Constitution provides laid down rules for the suspension or removal of the CJN and this has not been followed. This is a grave attack on our constitution and the people of our country. As someone who has vigorously defended our constitution over some decades, you can rest assured that I will to do all in my power to ensure the matter is resolved by our constitution. For a critical part of my vision for Nigeria is respect for the rule of law, because without it you can have no society.
My preference for this topic is informed by one primary consideration. It has always been my view that those who aspire to govern Nigeria must begin to unveil their policy priorities and their strategies for dealing with a plethora of local and national issues from the mundane to the most complex. Indeed, it is time for citizens to demand as a matter of right, from people aspiring to lead them, a plan on what they want to accomplish and how. Political slogans should not take the place of development plans, and propaganda is a poor substitute for proper socio-economic and political agenda.
It has now been universally established that the ability to articulate a possible future status, whether for a private organization or a nation state, has been a vital component of successful leadership. We are all awed by the strategic prowess of Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft or the Maverick Elon Reeve Musk of Tesla Inc.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Dr. Mahathir of Malaysia and Xi Jinping of the Peoples Republic of China, are just a few of illustrious ‘CEOs’ of nations because they were visionary and had a positive notion of development.
The lesson we all learn from the success stories of countries such as South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and the People’s Republic of China is that economic development does not happen by accident. Their experience teaches that to be successful, economic reforms require a progressive and forward-looking government that can craft a coherent vision and to develop consistent policies that will actualize its vision.
I have faith in the capacity of Nigeria to make a quantum leap from the third world to first that Singapore, under Lee Kuan Yew, or Malaysia under Dr. Mahathir, made. We have the human and material resources required to leap and in fact, many of our nationals have helped other nations make that transition.
However, I also have reasons to worry about the current status and prospects of our great country as neither our economy nor our society is working for our people.
Sadly, in the last four years, Nigerians have witnessed a deterioration of all aspects of essential human development as our country suffered avoidable social and economic decline. The absence of coherent and comprehensive economic policy has robbed the economy of its capacity to attract investment, to support the growth of small businesses and absorb a fast-growing labor force. Africa’s largest economy, with GDP of US$450 billion, remains paradoxically, ‘one of the poorest and most unequal countries’ in the world. According to the UN last year Nigeria overtook India, a country with six times our population, as the world capital for people living in extreme poverty.
Under the present Administration, our people are not working.
Unemployment has unfortunately been our only boom industry with over 13 million people joining the ranks of people without a job, which now totals 21 million. If people do not have a job, they struggle to feed their families which is why 0ver 100 million of our people cannot afford one decent meal a day.
What is also of cause for concern is that the majority of the unemployed are young men and women, who lack not only the means to survive but any hope for the future.
On the political front, our unity as a nation has been fatally bruised. Social cohesion is being eroded, democratic consolidation being undermined, and national integration and security threatened by ethno-religious tensions, agitations, restiveness, and disputes over titles and entitlements.
Over the years, Nigeria has promoted, tolerated and indeed celebrated a defective political structure. Our states and local governments are too weak to meet their constitutional responsibilities. Consequently, the Federal Government has succeeded in emasculating them and taking away those responsibilities and, along with these, the resources which belong to them.
The structure of our country is not working.
If we are to develop into a United, Secure and Prosperous nation, we must be bold enough to stitch all the structural faults lines that have arrested our development as a nation. We must adopt a new economic management model and a new political structure that will cure all the federating units of their addiction to oil revenues. We must re-structure the polity and the economy.
So having outlined the challenges we face, you may quite rightly ask me: what is my vision to get Nigeria working again?
My Vision for Nigeria has been encapsulated in the #TheAtikuPlan which I launched on the 19th of November 2018. As I demonstrated in the #TheAtikuPlan, Nigeria does not need a complex vision. All we need, and will assiduously work to achieve, is a United, Secure and Prosperous nation that will work for all Nigerians irrespective of their gender, age, religious beliefs, ethnic identity, local government, state or geo-political zone.
Nigerian citizens want a Better Tomorrow.
We envision a New Nigeria that will have, as a minimum, seven basic features.
1. An indivisible, indissoluble, ethnically diverse but strong country that protects its citizens and secures their socio-economic benefits.
2. A modern, dynamic and competitive economy that is capable of taking its rightful place among the top 20 economies of the world. Nigeria has the potential to double its GDP by 2025.
3. A strong economy that is capable of providing in the next five years, a minimum of 3 million job opportunities annually, reducing poverty rates to below 20% and significantly closing the income inequality gaps.
4. A Nigeria that guarantees citizens’ access to economic opportunities and makes the basic needs of life, including health, education, electricity, water, and housing, readily available and affordable for everyone.
5. Anew political structure that guarantees freedoms and ensures accountability at all levels of government. Tomorrow’s polity shall reinforce the country’s concept of true Federalism by conceding unfettered autonomy to the subordinating units.
6. A Nigeria that promotes the politics of inclusiveness and minimizes citizens’ frustration and alienation and eliminates the compulsion to take up arms against the society or fellow countrymen.
7. A country that recognizes the central place of the rule of law and ensures the supremacy of law over all persons and authorities. The Nigerian constitution will be the anchor on which the independence of the judiciary, personal liberty and democratic and other fundamental rights rest.
So that is all very well and good, I hear you say, but what will I do to actualize my Vision?
Ladies and Gentlemen, as you are aware, I have been in politics for some decades and have also been in the private sector running my businesses that employ tens of thousands of Nigerians. Both experiences have afforded me the ability to think about the policies of my team, and I will enact that will have the benefit of practical application to create an environment conducive to economic growth and job creation.
Given your time, here are just ten examples of the sort of and pragmatic policies we plan to enact immediately should I be so fortunate so to be chosen by the Nigerian people to lead them:
1. We will restore investor confidence on the Nigerian economy.
We all know that over the last four years, the actions or inactions of the Federal Government, have resulted in a significant drop in investor confidence in the Nigerian economy. As a consequence, there has been a significant decline in capital importation since the regime came into power in 2015.
Today, Ghana – a country with just 14% of our population – attracts more FDI than Nigeria. To reverse the trend our economic policies will be more coherent, consistent and therefore, more predictable by the business community. Nothing could be more threatening to investment flows than an environment that is full of policy flip-flops.
2. We will support the private sector by undertaking reforms to unleash its growth potential and to play a key role in the economy.
#TheAtikuPlan recognizes the private sector as the engine of growth of our economy. A strong, productive and pro-growth private sector is needed to create wealth, generate employment opportunities and help fight poverty. We pledge to improve government consultations with the private sector in policy design and policy implementation. We will work with the Organized Private Sector to identify ways to reduce the cost of borrowing, tackle incidences of multiple taxations and improve the availability of foreign exchange for legitimate production input purchases.
3. We will liberalize the economic space and privatize all ailing enterprises. In particular, the #TheAtikuPlan will undertake a de-regulation of the downstream sector of the economy, review the PIB and privatize all four State refineries that operate at 10% of their installed capacities. We shall channel the proceeds from the privatization into a special fund for the development of education and health.
4. We will assist the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises to grow bigger and to be more productive. As we all know, small businesses offer the greatest opportunities for achieving inclusive pro-poor growth, through increased self-employment. Our focus shall be on improving their access to affordable, long term funds, provision of critical infrastructure as well as adequate training for their workforce to improve productive capacity.
5. We will prioritize Human Capital Development. Our philosophy is that people are the fundamental reason for economic growth. Accordingly, we will increase investments in the human development sub-sectors especially education and health by committing 25% of the budget to education and 15% to health under a collaborative process and within the 3G partnership;
6. We will create jobs by growing the economy and promoting innovative flagship job creation programmes such as The National Open Apprenticeship Programme through which we shall enhance the capacity of Master-Craftsmen and women to train 1,000,000 apprentices every year. Our National Innovation Fund and SME Venture Capital Fund initiatives will provide stable and sustainable long-term support to aspiring entrepreneurs.
7. We will create an Economic Stimulus Fund with an initial investment capacity of approximately US$25 billion to support private sector investments in infrastructure. Power sector reform will be a critical policy priority. Our vision is to accelerate investment to double our infrastructure stock to approximately 50% of GDP by 2025 and 70% by 2030. Re-building infrastructure and reducing infrastructure deficit will enhance the carrying capacity of the economy and unleash growth and wealth creation.
8. We will improve liquidity by undertaking fiscal restructuring and improving the management of our fiscal resources by:
a. Improving spending efficiency by reducing the share of recurrent expenditure and increasing the share of capital expenditure in the budget. Recurrent expenditure over the medium term should not exceed 45% of the budget.
b. Raising additional revenue by blocking leakages from exchange rate adjustment. The official rate on which the 2019 budget is based US$/N305 with a parallel market rate of approximately US$/365. FGN will appropriate the premium more than N60/US$
c. Reviewing subsidy payments on PMS. The Federal Government has set aside billions of Naira for subsidy payment in the 2019 budget. This will instead go into the funding of education and health.
9. We will build strong and efficient service delivery institutions for more effective coordination of government policies and effective support to the development of a dynamic and internationally competitive private sector. We will re-position the public sector to become more disciplined and performance-oriented.
10. We shall, through constitutional means, achieve a new political structure that guarantees freedoms and ensures government accountability at all levels. Our political reform shall reinforce the country’s concept of true Federalism by conceding unfettered autonomy to the subordinating units (States and Local Governments);
So, in conclusion:
Since the return of the country to democratic governance in 1999, I cannot think of a more important election than the one we face in just over two weeks, given our daunting development challenges. The opportunity to change the course of history and rebuild the country begins on February 16th when Nigerians will exercise their sacred duty to elect their President and other political leaders. Nigerians must reject the status quo and bring in a leader who has a history of economic reform and political transformation.
Nigeria needs a leader who shares its hopes and aspirations, who understands the complexities of the development process and who can articulate an acceptable notion of development.
It requires strong commitment, bold initiatives, and a discernible shift from the mistakes of the past, to lift Nigeria from the abyss, and make its people happier, healthier, and wealthier.
Media Adviser to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar