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Manifesto: It is economy, stupid!

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Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President and PDP presidential candidate in the 2019 Presidential election.
Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President and PDP presidential candidate

…if programmes alone win elections, then Atiku has it

By UCHE CHRIS

As Nigeria enters the home run towards the 2019 elections, a difficult task awaits most Nigerians: This is the likely choice for the next president. Although there are about 70 presidential candidates on the ballot, only two appear strong contenders and legitimate aspirants to the exalted position. They are President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, of the PDP.

Running against a formidable incumbent the task before the opposition candidate seems daunting and insurmountable and an encore of the 2015 feat looks quite far-fetched.  Nigeria, nay Africa, is notorious for sit-tight leaders and only in rare cases as in 2015 allows for the transference of power to an opposition party and candidate. Whether this historic feat is replicable awaits answer in few weeks.

However, two factors make the option and choice of the PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, very promising and indeed, attractive to discerning voters. First is the widespread public disenchantment with the present government. To say that the government has failed is trite and obvious; most people accept that verdict except the government and those in their payroll.

Under this administration, Nigeria has acquired the inglorious acclaim of being the poverty capital of the world. Unemployment which was 14 percent in 2015 is now 22 percent. Public debt is currently at N25 trillion from N11 trillion in 2015; exchange rate of the naira has risen from N198 per dollar to N360, while inflation previously at single digit initially rose to as high as 18 percent in 2016 before it dropped to the present 11.8 percent.

Also stock market capitalization dropped from a giddy N32 trillion to the current N13 trillion. Insurgency in the north east did not only persist but marauding herdsmen took violence to different parts of the country making life extremely more insecure. Again the country has become highly divided and ethnic trust completely eroded especially given the mode of appointments and impunity of the government.

The only positives include increase in the foreign reserves from about $27 billion to $42 billion, reduction in import bills especially rice, and growth in agricultural production. Generally most Nigerians are worst off today than they were in 2015 and there is no hope in sight.

In spite of this pathetic performance government’s characteristic response is that it has done well and indeed fulfilled all its electoral promises to create jobs, tackle insecurity and curb corruption; while also blaming the previous PDP government for the present woes and why they should not be allowed to return. Most people find this brash and arrogant attitude quite annoying and provocative.

But what makes the Atiku option really enticingly irresistible is the political programme it released as the compass and guiding philosophy of the prospective government. Entitled, Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again, the 184 page document is a template for the future of a great Nigeria. It is a comprehensive critique of what is wrong with the country now and how to fix it. Nigeria and Nigerians could not ask for more.

However, preparing beautiful documents seems to be the least of our problems; Nigeria is known with some great policy documents such as the National Development plans, constitutions and other legislations. The challenge however, is what we do with them. History shows that we have not discharged ourselves creditably in performing, hence the unimpressive and depressive condition in the country.

Yet there is still more to the document than just its details and good intentions. With its focus on the economy, it is quite different from convention political and election programmes and manifestoes in the past and portrays a high degree of preparedness and sure-footedness to governance. It brings to focus the legacy of late sage Chief Awolowo during elections.

Its focus on the economy is critical. Today the economy is the nation’s Achilles Heel, because it lags behind population growth, unemployment and infrastructural development. Without fixing the economy, it will be difficult to fix any other aspect of national life.  Comprising of 18 subheads, 14 centre on the economy while only four focus on politics and governance.

Before coming to power, the APC had a manifesto which most people identified with for some of its progressive bent, but which President Buhari craftily circumvented preferring its three point agenda of employment, security and corruption without any road map to them. Three years into the administration it was compelled by both circumstance and opposition to prepare the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, which has no resemblance yet to reality.

“Our Mission,” declares the Atiku plan, is to provide “the appropriate political leadership for: building a strong, resilient and prosperous economy; establish a strong and effective democratic government that secures our people and provides opportunities for them to realize their full potentials, allows greater autonomy for our federating units, and gives each region of the country a sense of belonging; and reinforcing Nigeria’s Unity by promoting the spirit of cooperation and consensus among its heterogeneous peoples”.

This mission or objective is captured in a four letter-acronym: JOBS – jobs, opportunities, being united, security.

These three critical elements are closely linked and influence one another in a dynamic manner. For example, as has been universally demonstrated, the spirit of co-operation and consensus in a nation of diverse ethnic groups, cultures and religions, is required to establish, nurture and sustain a strong and effective democratic government. In like manner, good governance is key to efficient delivery of service and economic development.

In general, creating and sustaining an enabling environment for economic growth and development requires not only resources but even more fundamentally, the exercise of political power to manage the resources efficiently – in other words, good governance.

Our pledge to the Nigerian people is: WE CAN GET NIGERIA WORKING AGAIN!, the document declares.

 

Unraveling the ‘Nigeria Paradox’

Nigeria is blessed with vast amounts of natural and human resources. Africa’s largest economy is 6th largest crude oil producer in the world-with current production of approximately 2.5 mbpd. It has the 6th largest deposit of natural gas and currently ranks 28th in gas production in the world.

It constitutes about 14% of Africa’s population, and accounts for at least 40% of West Africa region’s GDP. Its population of nearly 200 million provides a reservoir of skills and a huge market to support economic expansion.

Despite its vast resources, Nigeria has failed to deliver the development and living standards that the Nigerian people expect or demand.

The two major indices of deterioration in the welfare status of Nigerians in recent times are the increasing rates of youth unemployment and high level of poverty. Africa’s largest economy, with GDP of over US$500 billion, remains ‘one of the poorest and most unequal countries’ in the world.

Estimates of the country’s total number of unemployed were as high as 16 million people in 2017, rising from 7 million 2014. Nearly 34 million people or 40% of the country’s labour force population were classified as underemployed and unemployed.

More than 80 million people, approximately 40% of the population, are living below a poverty line of $2 per day. Nigeria has reportedly overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty!

Extreme poverty is heavily concentrated in rural Nigeria and among women. Intensity of Poverty ranges from 38% in SW and SE to 44% in NE and 45% in NW.

Nigeria’s Human Capital remains grossly under-developed. In 2014, Nigeria’s HCI ranking was 114 out of 130 countries, compared to Kenya (78), Ghana (72), and Rwanda (71).

Ranking for education was 116 and health and wellness 120 out of 130 countries. Public spending on education as percentage of GDP in 2017 was 3.1% which was very low compared to other African countries like Burundi (5.4%); Ghana (6.2%), Malawi (5%), Mozambique (6.9%) and Namibia (8.3%).

Every year, nearly 50% of Nigeria’s 11 million primary school pupils are unable to complete school. Only 4 million of the 5.5 million pupils who are lucky to complete primary school will fit into the spaces available in secondary schools.

This means that about 7 million are lost from the system and thrown into the labour market barely literate, unskilled and unemployable.

It is estimated that Nigerians have been spending about $1billion on medical tourism annually in Europe and Asia since the beginning of the 21st Century.

Maternal mortality remains considerably high at 567 deaths per 100,000 live births, accounting for 1 in every 5 maternal deaths globally. The infant mortality rate is 69 per 1,000 live births—8% of the global total—an estimated 70% of which are preventable. The child mortality rate is 120 per 1,000, about 10% of the global total. Overall, the country’s Human Development Index (“HDI”) score at 0.527 remains low compared to Egypt (0.691), Ghana (0.579), India (0.624), Indonesia (0.762) and Turkey (0.767).

  1. Economy remains undiversified:

Economic growth remains largely oil-sector driven. Although the oil and gas sector accounts for less than 10% of the GDP, it represents 95% of export earnings and up to 60% of government revenues. On the other hand, subsistence agriculture accounts for 22% of output but approximately 55% of employment.

Productivity is therefore very low. Manufacturing, weak and sluggish, accounts for less than 10% of GDP. With such a low productive base,

the Nigerian economy is import dependent and consumption driven.

– The economy remains fragile and susceptible to vicissitudes of the global oil market.

– Nigeria remains an uncompetitive economy as demonstrated by the recent World Economic Forum [WEF], Global Competitiveness Index which positions Nigeria as 115th of 140 Countries. This is three places down relative to the ranking of 112/135 in 2017.

– FDI (foreign direct investment) is limited:

As a result of Nigeria’s inhospitable business environment, the economy has failed to attract FDI into the non-oil sector. Sadly, FDI has continued to decline since 2011 from US$8.9 billion to US$4.7 in 2014 and US$3.1 in 2015. It fell to a low of 0.88% of GDP between 2015 and 2017, when Nigeria’s economy suffered significant contraction.

Inter-regional disparities in economic development:

Inter-regional disparities including in incomes, education, health care and environmental quality also limit the potential for growth and make the impleme- ntation of reform programs more difficult. On incomes for example, Lagos state alone contributed nearly 30% of Nigeria’s estimated gross national income (GNI) in 2016, compared with the combined GNI of 19 states at 26%. The Northwest and Northeast geopolitical zones are poorest with Intensity of Poverty at 45% and 44% respectively compared with 38% for the Southeast and Southwest zones respectively. Regional disparity in education is best illustrated by the Education Index which, in 2016, varied from 1.0069 (Lagos) to 0.3295 (Yobe). Other estimates are 0.9259 (Bayelsa), 0.9215 (Rivers), 0. 3336 (Sokoto) and 0.3955 (Kebbi).

The document said all the good things that will be done, as well as all the bad things that have not been done and their effects on life. But the herculean task is winning the election and after winning the election can those beautiful things contained in the document be done? Nobody can answer the question; we have to accept it by faith that it will be done and hope he wins.