President Muhammadu Buhari and the main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, were absent at the presidential debate organised by the Nigerian Election Debate Group (NEDG) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) on Saturday.
The Buhari campaign organisation released a statement saying that the president was not at the debate because he had already attended a live town hall last Wednesday. On his part, Mr Abubakar, who was at the venue of the debate but refused to mount the podium, said there was no point participating in the debate if Mr Buhari will not be attending.
In their absence, the presidential candidates of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) Oby Ezekwesili; The Alliance for New Nigerian Party (ANNP), Fela Durotoye; and the Young Progressives Party (YPP) Kingsley Moghalu, took to the stage to tell Nigerians of their plans for the country if elected president in the election in February.
The candidates, who are all political outsiders as this is the first time they are seeking elective positions, kicked-off the debate with gusto. They told Nigerians why they were qualified to govern the country and what they were going to do differently if elected to lead Africa’s most populous country.
Ms Ezekwesili started by saying the country is in a dire situation and therefore in need of urgent rescue. Quoting legendary Nigeria novelist, Chinua Achebe, the former minister of education narrowed down the problem of Nigeria to that of leadership.
With a flurry of bleak statistics about the country, she said the people to take the country out of the present quagmire were technocrats and not career politicians. She said if elected president, she would disrupt the pattern of leadership in the country.
On her plans to revamp the economy, Ms Ezekwesili said her plan would lift 80 million Nigerians out of poverty if elected president. Arguing that many Nigerians earn less than N700 per day, she promised to increase the productivity of Nigerians as a means of rolling back poverty. She promised to remove the barriers that impede productivity and to privatise public institutions as a means of boosting productivity.
“If people are more productive, they earn more and are lifted out of poverty,” she argued.
Ms Ezekwesili suggested that she will revisit the Steve Oronsanye report which recommended the reduction of government agencies as a cost-cutting measure. She said her government will reward merit by finding the most competent people and putting them in positions of leadership.
Ms Ezekwesili, who was calm for the entirety of the debate, said she plans to tackle widespread insecurity in the country by setting up a SWAT team of the best brains. She said she would seek and encourage local and continental collaboration as a panacea to the country’s security challenges.
Decrying the growing spate of youth unemployment and underemployment, she promised to solve the problem by not only creating employment opportunities for the youth but also investing in skill acquisition and teachers’ quality.
She said her educational policy will pay particular attention to early childhood education. She promised a review of the curriculum with more attention paid to innovation and teachers’ quality.
She, however, erroneously claimed that majority of teachers in the country still have the minimum qualification of Teachers Grade II. However, in most states in the country, the minimum qualification for teachers is the National Certificate for Education (NCE). In fact, in 2015, a former minister of education, Ibrahim Shekarau, suggested that the minimum qualification for teachers should be a bachelor’s degree.
The former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said he joined the presidential race because he believes it is time for a different kind of leadership in the country.
Mr Moghalu said his aim was to address the root causes of the problems that beleaguered the country.
“We will restructure the country to establish its potentials,” he said. “We would restore Nigeria position in the world. Nigeria’s position in the world has fallen.”
He took a swipe at President Buhari saying his government will work with women to grow the country. “They will not just be in the kitchen or the other room,” he said to cheers from the audience.
On fixing the economy, he said the country’s politics has to be first fixed. “The path to fixing Nigeria economy depends on who becomes the president of the country,” he said.
However, his plan to cut government spending seems ironic as he promised to hire I.5 million more policemen and work towards moving unproductive civil servants to other sectors of the economy where their contribution will be enhanced.
He, however, did not explain how employing 1.5 million more police officers will cut cost but he declared at the end that he would cut government spending by 50 per cent in his first two years in office.
Mr Moghalu promised to move Nigeria away from an oil economy by focusing on innovation and spreading ICT to rural areas by providing incentives for start-ups to move to the rural areas.
Mr Moghalu who took a swipe at the APC and PDP for not showing up at the debate saying that was because they lacked the solution needed to solve the problems and they have turned their backs on Nigerians. He said he will bring political will in solving the country’s security problems.
He vowed to cut corruption and tribalism and ethnic considerations in the appointments of military leaders.
“We will bring to the problem intelligence and win the hearts and minds of the people. We will improve border security and improve economic opportunity,” he said.
He said he will invest in the creation of 21st-century police force in the country as a means of solving kidnapping and other criminal activities
He said he would solve the separatist agitation in the South-east by making every Nigerian feel Nigerian. He said the country’s leadership is divisive and unlike the government will practice a merit-based inclusive government.
Mr Moghalu promised to increase the education budget to 20 per cent of the annual budget and will reform pedagogy. He also promised to end the perennial strike of university lecturers.
The leadership trainer said Nigerians have been ruled but not led in the last 50 years. He said as a leadership expert of over 25 years, he has what it takes to provide the type of leadership the country lacked.
“Those who we have accepted as being leaders are people we would not hire ourselves. I will restore the hope in Nigeria and together we would build a new Nigeria,” he said.
He said his plan to grow the economy is centred on the improvement of agriculture, housing and road construction. He promised to increase the use of Nigeria arable land from 37 per cent to 50 per cent.
According to Mr Durotoye, by fixing road agriculture and housing, he intends to create 30 million jobs.
He said he would reduce government spending arguing that instead of driving around with a 30-vehicle convoy as the incumbent president does, he would rather drive in a bus with other members of his cabinet.
We must re-orientate our people to understand the importance of paying taxes, he said.
Mr Durotoye’s plans on the economy was clearly the weakest of the trio. When asked how to source for money to implement his educational plans, he said he would encourage alumni contribution.
He said the country’s educational system was aimed at providing certification instead of preparing youth for employment outside the school.
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