…Says He’s Not Afraid Of Anyone In Nigeria’s Political Space
Presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has described the G-5 governors as confused people because of their inability to take a stand on the coming elections regarding their support base.
In an interview with BBC Hausa Service, the former vice president, said that dialogue between him and them was still open, urging them to come back and work for the party in the coming presidential election.
The PDP presidential standard bearer also said that he is not afraid of any of the candidates of the other political parties, urging Nigerians to vote for him to resolve all the challenges facing the country. Excerpts:
Campaign has been intensified. What are you telling Nigerians and your areas of focus?
You must know that government is a continuous thing and engagement, and it’s very important that whoever succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari should continue with the existing good policies and programmes of his administration. For me, I have informed Nigerians during this campaign that I will focus on five areas, namely; security, unity, justice, economy, education and improving the people’s standard of living. For me also, the Federal Government is overburdened and they need to be offloaded of some of its responsibilities. So, I will work towards devolution of power to states and local governments so they can function well. These are areas that I will focus on if by the grace of God, I am elected the president in the coming presidential election.
How will you do things differently to this time because other contestants have promised similar things now and previously?
You may be right on that but there’s difference. I am different from several other people contesting the election. I have enough experience, administratively and otherwise, and I have done all these things in the past and people have seen them. The other contestants have not done that to the seeing of the people. That’s the big advantage I have over the other contestants.
There is insecurity in some parts of the North, particularly the Northwest. How will you tackle the issue?
I have lined up strategies to combat the rising insecurity in different parts of Nigeria, particularly that of Northwest. There are short and long measures that I will take. To start with, there will be significant deployment in number of security agents to the troubled locations meaning that there would be massive recruitment into the security forces. After that, we would make massive procurement of work tools for their work especially technologically advanced gadgets. In addition to that, there would be upward review of their salaries and other entitlements. There would also be regular trainings and re-training of the officers to acquaint them with new ways of doing things. Technology would play a great role in this regard. These are some of the immediate things that we would do to solve the security problems. Other long run decision is the suggestion of allowing states to establish their own police as long as there won’t be abuse of the police. Or using them against people perceived to be enemies of the state or the government.
But all these require money and Nigeria is reportedly broke. How will you get money to execute these projects?
Undoubtedly, the debt burden of Nigeria is alarming. But one thing is that you can sit in a discussion table with your creditors and have a frank discussion with them. You can explain to them the economic situation of the country and plead with them to give you some time to pay off the debt. You can even discuss the terms of repayment of the loans, and possibly ask for extension of repayment period so as the economy can be allowed to improve. After then, you will be paying the loans as agreed. Another thing is that we need more foreign direct investment, and this can only come when we must have ensured that peace and unity is restored in our communities. We would equally provide conducive environment for more foreign investors to come to our country and take advantage of investment opportunities available in the country. This will result in wealth creation and poverty reduction.
Talking about investment, people are concerned with continuous fall in value of Naira.
It’s a thing of concern for all of us. However, the fall in Naira value is simply as a result of bad policies and programmes of the government. For instance, there are different prices of the Naira in foreign exchange market. That shouldn’t be. Ideally, the market forces should be able to determine the price and value of Naira in the exchange market.
You talked about improving education. Unfortunately, northern Nigeria has high number of out-of-school children. How will tackle this?
It’s also a thing of concern. There are 12 million children in northern Nigeria who are currently out of school. That’s a big failure for our leadership especially in the North. Obviously, states and local governments have failed to utilize huge funds provided by the Federal Government to improve basic education. That practice won’t continue if I eventually win election and become president. I must ensure that funds meant for basic education are used properly for such purposes.
What about the unending ASUU strike. How will you handle it?
There is no much problem with that. I will sit with them and discuss the realistic measures to tackle the issue and have a permanent solution to ASUU strike. Recall that I have a university which I have ran for over 20 years now and we have never recorded any form of industrial action by the lecturers for once in the past 20 years of the existence of the university. We paid them all their dues.
But your university is for the children of the elite who can afford it?
Yes, even in public universities, there are opportunities for scholarship. The Federal Scholarship Board is baby of the Federal Ministry of Education. The Board was established to assist students who cannot afford the cost of education at the moment. In addition to that, we would establish loan opportunities to enable students access funds and pay back after they might have started working and earning some income.
Nigeria is running short of medical doctors and other health workers because many of them have left the country. How will you handle the challenges?
If you recall years ago, long before the return of democracy in 1999, we witnessed similar thing, mass exodus of qualified professionals. Many of our doctors left for Saudi Arabia and other countries in search of better opportunities. However, if government is interested and determined in fixing the health sector and stop doctors from leaving the country, they can do it within a shortest period of time.
You mean your administration will facilitate their return?
Yes, by the grace of God. We will fix the hospitals and the health sector in general. Provide the necessary working facilities and conducive working environment. Renegotiate their salaries and other entitlements. This will encourage them to return to Nigeria to serve the country because they are sure of their welfare and improved working conditions and environment. No body likes to stay away from his home as long as it’s convenient for him or her.
In your party, there’s serious crisis, the G-5 led by Governor Nyesom Wike controls PDP strongholds. Aren’t you worried?
You must know that all political parties in Nigeria have one problem or the other. We are still discussing with the aggrieved G-5 PDP governors, but many of them are confused on what to do. They are neither here nor there. However, that will not stop us from winning the election because we have more confidence in the electoral process now more than before when a governor will singlehandedly decide who wins election in his state. The new electoral law has brought tremendous changes and sanity in the electoral system and we are grateful for that. The electorate determine and decide who wins the election.
Are you disturbed by the rising profile of Labour and NNPP presidential candidates, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso, respectively, being that they were your allies in the past?
Yes, I am disturbed and I will not be. Rather, my concern is how to win the election and I will continue to worry until I am declared the winner of the election.
Is there a possibility of alignment ahead of the election?
Yes, it’s possible. It’s politics and anything can happen even at the 11th hour.
Tinubu has been your friend over time and might have your political secrets in his palm. Are afraid he might sabotage you?
I am not afraid of APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu or anyone else in the Nigeria political space. I have never been afraid of anyone as long politics of Nigeria is concerned.
You have contested presidential election several times. What conviction do you have that you will succeed this time?
My confidence is that APC government has failed Nigerians woefully and their failure is obvious. From all indications, Nigerians can’t wait to vote them out of power.
There’s financial corruption allegations against you. Won’t it affect your chances?
They are still at the level of allegations. No one has been able to prove the case of corruption against me. Those making the allegations should provide proofs and convince the court about the case.
Will you declare your assets if you finally win election?
I have always declared my assets whenever it’s necessary. My records are there for all including journalists to verify.
As former Customs officer, are you comfortable with the decision of the government, few years ago, to close the borders?
That decision was contrary to ECOWAS constitution which Nigeria is a member. First in the constitution are the recommendations for free movement of people and goods within the ECOWAS member states and territory. Whoever (any country) that wants to close its border against other ECOWAS member states must have a discussion with other members before doing that. But that wasn’t done by the government before the decision of closing the border was taken. Secondly, there’s border community trade, which happens largely within and among the border communities in Nigeria. ECOWAS constitution gave permission to that so that people can freely move and trade, and in return, improve the economic lives of the affected communities and the people.