Obiageli Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) has said her number one priority if elected president is the replacement of dependance on oil with human capital.
“If history will remember me, it’s going to be the fact that at my time, the Nigerian person translated into a world- class human capital replacing oil,” Mrs Ezekwesili said in an interview during a visit to PREMIUM TIMES office in Abuja on Friday.
“This for me is a signature mandate. This is top for me. That is visionary for me. I will be the president that takes us on a race to the top, not a race to the bottom while ensuring the equality of opportunities,” she said.
American billionaire and philanthropist, Bill Gates, had earlier in the year said the present economic template being used by the Muhammadu Buhari government does not have the ability to address the unique needs of Nigerians at present.
Mr Gates said the implementation of the Nigerian government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), a multi-billion policy thrust for Nigerians which was meant to capitalise on human capital, did not fully reflect people’s needs.
During Friday’s interview, Mrs Ezekwesili said the first step in achieving her plan on “human capital investment” would be by lifting majority of Nigerians out of extreme poverty.
Currently, Nigeria has the highest number of extremely poor people as it has taken over from India which used to hold the position.
A Brooking Institution report in June said the number of Nigerians in extreme poverty increases by six people every minutes.
Although the Nigerian economy is out of recession, many Nigerians are poor.
In 2016, the prevalence of people living below the poverty line ranged between 54 per cent and 60 per cent. About 82 million Nigerians are estimated to currently live below the poverty line of access to less than $1.9 a day.
“I want to remove this trend of poverty. Just look at it, China, Nigeria and other African countries were almost at the same place some five decades ago but guess what? China’s GDP today is over $14 trillion while Nigeria’s GDP depending on the exchange rate situation is below $400 billion.
“How did we get to this kind of painful stunted growth? We now know things that make economies grow and they are not rocket science. Sound policies, dynamic institutions anchored on the rule of law, the right priorities of investment in critical infrastructure in building the human capacity that supports citizens and businesses.
”We know that tackling poverty can happen in matter of decades because China lifted 700 million of their citizens out of poverty in less than four decades.
She said she wants ”to take down this poverty ”because we cant have half of our population called extremely poor and be comfortable with it”.
”Its not just about tackling poverty but also about growing wealth because what I will like us to become is a country that is prosperous, stable and harmonious because its not just about lifting does who are poor but also to have a growing economy that enables those who are already okay to keep being okay,” she said.
She also said for human security, the most essential thing is economic security.
”People always see security from a very militaristic perspective but if there is any lesson we have learnt from what happened in the North-east, it is the fact that human security is what enables sustainable peace in any society. It means that the matter of economic livelihood is at the centre,” she said.
”When there are jobs in crisis prone areas, it is correlated to the fact that willingness to negotiate disagreements goes higher. So economic livelihood of every part of this country is going to be key and one of our signature projects,” she added.
Mrs Ezekwesili once served as minister of solid minerals and then as headed the education ministry during the second-term presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo.
She was the co-convener of #BringbackOurGirls which has been campaigning for the release of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram. She will be contesting the 2019 presidential election alongside over 70 candidates.