At a first in the series of townhall meetings, organised by Arise News Channel on Sunday in Abuja, four of the frontline presidential candidates in the 2023 general election gave a prevue of their plans for the country if elected president respectively.
At the first leg of the townhall meeting, were a former governor of Kano State and presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), Rabiu Kwankwaso; a former governor of Anambra State and presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi; the Governor of Delta State and vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ifeanyi Okowa, who stood in for his principal, Atiku Abubakar, and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Mr. Kola Abiola.
The presidential townhall series was, however, focused on two issues: security and the economy.
Speaking at the interaction held in the Lagos hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, populated by players from different walks of life and critical sectors of the economy, including the organised civil society, Kwankwaso admitted that the current man power of the Nigerian military was grossly inadequate and remained one area he would focus in addressing the nation’s deteriorating insecurity.
Obi, during some of his submissions, said his government, among other things, would dialogue with genuine agitators which included proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Boko Haram sect and other agitating groups in the country, in order to engender peace and tame insecurity, while criminal elements among them would be made to face the law.
While giving an insight into some of the plans of their prospective government, Okowa said two of the most important things on their dashboard was ensuring state police and devising technology to tackle crimes across the country.
But PRP’s Abiola, who also dwelt on the worsening security situation like others, advanced the need to review its inherent architecture and argued that the security situation in the country deteriorated only, because the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari underutilised the office of the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno.
Unfortunately, the presidential debate was at some point, albeit at inception, threatened following Atiku’s absence, which created some row.
No sooner had the Chairman of Arise Group, Prince Nduka Obaigbena, announced that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, would rather join subsequent series, than protests commenced.
This got worse, when Obaigbena announced that Okowa would stand in for Atiku, a development that forced supporters of other presidential hopeful to reject his explanation and escalated their protests.
In protesting, they chanted: “No representation by proxy. This is an insult. We need Atiku and Okowa should go; No more governance for by proxy.” But the debate continued, regardless.
Presidential candidate of NNPP, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who said the current number of military officials was grossly inadequate, promised that he has made adequate arrangement to increase the number of military officers from two hundred and fifty thousand to one million military, army, Air Force and navy.
He stressed that he was going to take over every square metre of the country and pledged to increase policemen from two hundred and thirty thousand to two million.
“We will be willing to sit down with everyone with grudges in any part of the country to dialogue and at the end of the day, anyone, who decides to do otherwise, definitely, the law will take its course,” he said.
Further on security, Kwankwaso said, if the government was doing the right thing, many people would have put down their arms, adding that those who did not want to do that, it was the responsibility of the government to ensure peace as people went about their legitimate businesses not minding religion and ethnicity.
His words: “Today, in 2022, security agencies could not identify locations, especially, everybody including the criminals are using telephone and these telephones are not difficult to identify and these are the problems.
“In Kano, when I was in government, we constructed roads and of course, gates leading into the city and the idea was to put cameras, scanners so that anybody going into our city should be checked.”
He stated that NNPP was the only growing political party in Nigeria as other party did not have anything to tell Nigerians that was new.
“In Kano, there was no child of primary age that did not get a place in primary school. No child of secondary school age that did not go to school after passing exams.
“Provide for people, provide for agriculture, provide for infrastructure, bring the people together, unite then. We had so many programmes and projects and everybody was busy and happy
“We brought synergy between the military, the police, the SSS, civil defence. We were working together and we are still working together in Kano,” he said.
On the economy, Kwankwaso promised that, “We will create necessary palliative even if we take subsidy away, which is very necessary in the long term, that it has to be removed for better survival.
“In the economy, there are so many things that are intertwined, the issue of exchange, corruption, oil theft, we are supposed to give out 2.2 million going by the OPEC arrangement but the record is less than that, so we have to do whatever it takes to stop stealing.
“It is very critical to us that we work on how to stop stealing of oil and other assets owned by the nation. The issue of subsidy, we are aware that there is a lot of corruption in the field and the first area of attack on subsidy is the issue of corruption. Subsidy over all doesn’t do any good to anybody but at the same time, we are concerned with the welfare of Nigerians.”
He also revealed that he never borrowed in the eight years that he governed Kano State and that he left so much money in account of the electricity generation, adding that he left over 43 million dollars.
He said, “We inherited a budget, which recurrent was 70 per cent, capital 30 per cent but by the time I was going in 2015, we reversed that. I believe that in this country, we have enough money, enough resources and all we need is leadership that will ensure that every kobo goes into the right place.
“Our party is not based on the leadership of the money bags. Everybody knows that we have an ideology and beliefs on governance. We have done it before and by the grace of God, if we have opportunity, we will do it even better.
“We joined this party in less than seven months, we had our party structure, we have our candidates almost 100%, we have our leadership intact, and are campaigning, right from the sales of forms, we saw other parties spend hundreds of millions to buy but ours was completely different, because we believe in credibility, we believe in capacity and one united Nigeria.”
Presidential candidate of Labour Party lamented the level of poverty in the north, saying it was unacceptable, given the amount of arable lands available for agricultural purposes in the region, even as he insisted on the removal of fuel subsidy if he is elected president next year.
“How do I tackle the issue of IPOB, Boko Haram and all agitations? I have said it repeatedly; I will dialogue with every agitator. There is nothing wrong with agitation. I will consult. Governance and democracy is about consensus. I will consult, I will dialogue, I will meet everybody. Dialogue is normal, agitations is normal. So, we will deal with everybody. We will make sure we sit down and talk and resolve issues amicably,” he said.
On whether he was plotting to harvest votes from his former party, the LP presidential candidate said, “We are not taking votes from the PDP. We are contesting to win for Labour Party in this election and to win and serve Nigerians. We are taking votes away from the traditional parties, who have structures of incompetence, structure of bad leadership, structure of illegality, and looting of Nigeria and bringing us to a level, where we become a safe state.”
On how he planned to combat insecurity, Obi expressed disappointment over the level of poverty in the country, especially, in northern Nigeria, where he said leaders had failed to leverage the huge arable lands in the region to create employments.
“Today, in Nigeria, you have 35 per cent unemployment with our youth. With your youths, who are in productive age, you have 60 per cent youth unemployed. You can’t have that, and won’t have crisis. That’s where the guns are domiciled.
“So, you replace that with job, you replace it with employment, you invest in your micro small businesses, where these youths are domiciled by supporting them, pulling them out of poverty.
“The whole of Nigeria, in terms of physical assets, is those uncultivated lands in the north. You can’t have that huge land and we have the level of poverty that we are experiencing in the north. Niger State, has eight or seven local governments that are occupied by bandits. It is unacceptable,” he said.
Obi, who earlier alleged that people in government were involved in oil theft, said his government would remove subsidy to develop other critical sectors of the economy.
“The quantity of consumption is unacceptable and you can compare with countries like Pakistan with about 215,000,000 to 220,000,000; they have more roads than we have and they have more vehicles than we have but their consumption is below ours. That shows that something is wrong. It’s criminality that we need to deal with immediately.
“What Will I do? We will remove subsidy. Use the resources efficiently and support those, who are and set up refineries and channel the rest of the resources to other critical sectors,” he said.
Asked how he could have handled the abduction of the Kaduna train passengers as the commander in chief, he said, “There was a failure of intelligence processing, because before that incident happened, from information available, there were already indications of a security threats within that corridor of the rail as well as previous attempts.
“So, there was a failure of processing and given the attention to intelligence, which I would have probably dealt with when it happened. If I was commander-in-chief, we would have acted swiftly and throughout the process, we would have remained in communication and at least shown consistent empathy to the families of those that were involved and acted differently.
“I think that shows the overall need for us to improve in the intelligence processing and given to an immediate response whenever such situation arises. I’ve always said consistently, that the more you put people out of poverty, the more you reduce the criminality.
“And I’ve always argued that they are doing what they’re doing, because in a country, where those people are in government are richer than entrepreneurs, you manufacture poverty. I served estate for eight years, and you can go to that state. And see, not one day did I ever borrow from any financial institution in Nigeria?
“As a governor, I served a state for eight years and you can go to that state and see that not one day, did I ever borrow from any financial institution in Nigeria and that was not in any position, neither have I been invited by anybody to question their missing money,” he said.
Presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku, who was represented by his running mate, Okowa, said, the PDP would ensure a private sector-driven economy and would handle insecurity, by creating a state police that was fully equipped.
“We need to emphasise coordinated intelligence gathering and sharing. We need more boots on the ground to address insecurity in Nigeria. We need to evolve policing in Nigeria to ensure that people, who have a better understanding of their areas, know how to secure their areas. One centralised police force is unable to meet the demands that we have.
“We need more boots on the ground. We need adequate welfare to ensure that our security agencies are better-taken care of. We also need to address unemployment — otherwise more young people will be drawn to contribute to the insecurity.
“State police is necessary, because the police in the neighbourhood knows the nooks and crannies and know the environment and with that knowledge, the state police apparatus would be able to tackle the insecurity wherever it rears its head,” he said.
He explained that though kinetic force could be used where necessary, there would still be dialogue, adding that adequate employment should be provided for the teeming unemployed youth.
On the economy, Okowa said of the Atiku/Okowa presidency: “From 1999 to 2007, we knew where President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku, met the country and where they left it. Because of them, we were able to pay back a lot of our debt and we had debt forgiveness.
“In Delta State, we used to have agitations in oil-producing communities. But now, we have partnered in these communities to create jobs, create a new class of entrepreneurs and show people that we care about development.
“The right path is to use government resources to develop entrepreneurs, make people’s lives easier, and grow the economy so that people will live in better conditions,” he said.
Okowa also said the Atiku presidency would ensure that the education system worked as it should. Cautioning against the narratives of claiming to save money instead of using it directly, because money was losing value, Okowa gave instances of how he developed the Delta State economy as well as the healthcare system in the state, explaining that the Atiku/Okowa presidency would do same, if given the opportunity to lead the country
He further advocated the use of technology in intelligence gathering to track criminals, saying there should be training for the security officials to attain their maximum efforts
The PDP vice-presidential candidate said the party would run a pan-Nigeria government, which was the only antidote to address insecurity in Nigeria.
On subsidy, he said it was a scam, explaining that it was impossible for Nigeria to consume 60 million barrels of fuel, let alone 90 barrel.
To address the scam, he called for quick completion of the Dangote Refinery in Lagos and the introduction of the operations of modular refineries in the country
Okowa described crude oil theft as organised crime, which must be addressed through the use of technology and oil surveillance equipment.
He equally advocated a production economy as against consumption economy, explaining that it was the only away to tackle the effect of dollar on the naira, stressing that it was alarming that the official dollar rate would be N430, whereas the parallel market rate would be above N800.
“An Atiku/Okowa presidency will improve the export economy and less on import,” he said.
On corruption, Okowa, who queried some politicians over their funding choices, including those that fly private jets, urged politicians to keep to their promises and ensure that the electoral processes were correct and the judiciary was perfect and the court perform within the rule of law and transparently, saying, with these, corruption and electoral malpractices would be tackled.
He said it was unfortunate that Nigeria depended on oil, but insisted that solutions to all these was documented in their manifesto, which would increase an export-based country
According to him, the Atiku/Okowa would ensure the 35 percent implementation of gender rights for women., believing that with the right system, Nigeria would rise again.
“On the issue of IPOB, it’s something that we need to look into. What we’re seeing there is that we have to be able to separate genuine agitation from criminal elements.
“I believe that the right process to do this will be to sit down with them and have true dialogue on the pathway out. And I believe that we can record this feat. It’s a question of trust. It’s a question of inclusion and governance. It’s a question of inclusion in diversity.
“When people are reassured that they are part of a nation and that they will be recognised, something right will be done. But for the criminal elements, they need to be dealt with by the law. For those genuine agitation, we cannot suppress them,” he declared.
According to the PDP presidential candidate, if elected, Nigerians of all tribes will be brought under one umbrella and offered a sense of belonging, so that there will be no need for any part to want to leave.
“What we ought to do is to sit with them on the table and make them realise that there’s a government that recognises them and those things they seek. If Nigeria is working for everybody, no one will want out of Nigeria, because we are stronger together, no doubt about that.
“But because in the last few years, some sections of the country are feeling that they have been excluded from government, some things have happened, and these things have to be corrected.
“We need to run an all-inclusive government where everybody is recognised even when they feel anger. We need to sit on the table and get them to really have a dialogue with us and we will convince them that that there is hope for all. We need to run an all-inclusive government”, he pledged.
“On the issue of power, it is a part of infrastructure. Where we are today is not good enough. The laws have tended to hold us back. The fact is, we need to ensure that the private sector is heavily involved, from generation to distribution to transmission .
“And we must liberalise that sector to the extent that captive power must play a very important role. We cannot all depend on the national grid. It’s not possible. A lot of the private sector want to put their money in that industry. And we’ll find that within a short time. We’ll be generating a lot of power.
“We are promising this nation that we are looking forward to 25,000 megawatts generation by the year 2030. The private sector has to lead the way but we will provide the enabling environment for us to get there. But we must also do something about that transmission lines, because that one is breaking continuously,” he noted.
His views on the energy crisis included the fact that, “We must liberalise the energy sector. All communities must not be on the national greed and the enabling environment must be created,” insisting that Atiku had the requisite experience to be president, because he had been vice-president for eight years.
Presidential candidate of the PRP, Kola Abiola, who was big on security, said there was a need to address the security architecture of the country in order to tackle the hydra-headed security problem confronting the country.
He decried the fact that the national security committee of the country had allegedly not sat since 1999, in spite of the deteriorating security situation in the country.
Abiola described the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna rail that led to the death of about eight persons, while scores of others were kidnapped, and later released in batches.
Using the commotion that happened in the hall to explain away the larger problem, he said, “It’s just one of many security problems we’ve had over the years. For me, it goes to show one of the problems that goes to show the larger problem we have. There’s a need to go back and address our security defence architecture. Over the years, there’s been a lot of talk about reviewing that.
“The fact of the matter is that, if I’m right, since 1999, the National Security Committee Council, has not sat for one day. And that is the body that governs dispassionately the security situation in Nigeria. That body has not sat since 1999.
“It’s always been us going out of our architecture to run defence and security and that’s why the whole thing has collapsed till date. We need to go back and address that. We keep talking about faults in the system. But the truth of the matter is, we have never actually implemented the system itself.”
Abiola, scion of the late winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election, emphasised that the PRP would ensure that the eight-member National Security Committee Council sat to ensure proper coordination of security activities of the country.
He was of the opinion that to end insecurity in the country, the security agencies must work together.
“Security is an issue that stems from leadership. Unfortunately, the office of the National Security Adviser is the most underutilised in this country today, as well as in this administration. We’re not coordinating our security the way it ought to be done,” he insisted, noting that while he agreed that the personnel were inadequate, the number of personnel presently in the army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Civil Defence if put together would be about 850,000 or 900, 000, which if well-equipped could solve the insecurity in the country.
According to him, “Yes, we have a shortfall in security personnel, even in the military and the police. But really, if you think back and look at it, or you look at all the structures outside of the police, outside of the security systems, we have, if you pull them together, you have an immediate manpower in the short run.”
He decried the fact that Nigerians have lost faith in government, which led to the collapse of the security architecture in the country, saying he believed that next year’s election would have the highest number of voters’ turnout in the history of this country, because the two dominant parties had failed and would be voted out.
“And that’s why we have three new parties basically, going against the two established parties. And those established parties, their days are numbered for sure. They don’t have to take their votes,” Abiola stressed.
On economy, if elected, his government would stop subsidising consumption, but added that his government would rather subsidise mortgage, even as he condemned the fixed exchange rate that was twice the rate of the parallel market.
“Forex is a big problem. You can have the biggest of foreign exchange in Nigeria, which is the oil and could go up and down from time to time. Like during the COVID-19, it was at the lowest but your exchange rate remained fixed.
“There’s something wrong with that. You cannot have an exchange that is twice if not more the black, gray or white market or whatever you want to call it. There’s something very wrong with that mechanism. Something has to be done to deal with that,” he said.
Abiola said the PRP was not here to share billions to people but to serve Nigerians by creating jobs and giving a level playing field to help create those jobs.
He pointed out that if the security problem in the country was not solved, nothing would work in Nigeria and nothing would give investors the confidence to invest in Nigeria.
Abiola noted: “We’re going to create that environment. We are here to correct the falls from the old parties from the old generation to try to do differently for you.”
Abiola, who observed that Nigeria’s economic challenge could best be realigned by shifting focus on internal factors instead of external, argued that, “No matter what the exchange rate is or how high the inflation factor is, people are still going to go for the foreign currency because that is the only currency they believe will retain.”
He explained that Nigeria’s economy over the years have depended on oil but that the fluctuation in the foreign exchange have never been commensurate with the fluctuation in the price of oil.
To address the issue, Abiola suggested that the country would have to increase its revenue base “by making sure that we stop all theft” and harness the potential of the informal sector.”
“Presently, we have an informal sector that is about 62 per cent of the formal and if we can get that sector into our economy, it will make a huge difference in our revenue base.”
To realise the objective, the presidential candidate emphasised the need to politicians to start by making a commitment to the people through the establishment of good governance, adding that the government of the day have to earn the trust of this sector, which has existed over the years on their own.
“We have about 84 per cent of employment from that sector that is not even in the formal sector alone and how do you bring that sector to account for taxes and revenue. That is one thing that have to be addressed to realign our economic structure,” adding that, “We have to decide the philosophy of our economy whether it has to be market driven or public.”
On the issue of power, he said his administration would look at the potential of each region with the intent of coming up with a solution of energy mix, explaining that areas with hydro potentials and capabilities would be encouraged to develop along that line, while areas with solar and renewable energy would also be supported.
He stated that the country would continue to depend on oil as long as it was still available but would have to devise a means of adding value to the nation’s in such a way that it would bring down the cost of doing business in Nigeria.
Abiola, who addressed the challenge of perennial flooding, blamed successive administration and government functionaries of lack of sincerity in tackling the issue, noting that the development of the country’s inland water ways, whose billions of naira was usually diverted into private pockets apart from addressing the flooding issues, has great potential for investment and re-energizing the country’s economy.
Another way he felt Nigerians could come out of poverty was the need to revisit the land use law so as to enable Nigerians take ownership of resources.
“Once you own assets, you create wealth,” he said, arguing that, to achieve this, true federalism must be embraced and to boot, the amendment of the Constitution.
Chuks Okocha, Emmanuel Addeh, Adedayo Akinwale, Emameh Gabriel and Juliet Akoje in Abuja