The presidential candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress, Muhammadu Buhari, has pledged to restore Nigeria’s lost glory if he emerges as the next president of the country in the March 28 election.
Speaking at Chatham House, London, on Thursday on the topic: “Prospects for Democratic Consolidation in Africa: Nigeria’s Transition,” Mr. Buhari while specifically talking about the insurgency in the north-eastern part of the country said the Nigerian government’s handling of the Boko Haram terrorist made the country and its military a laughing stock.
The former head of state said as a retired general, he is well acquainted with the state of the military in the past and recalled its heroic adventures in Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur and in many other peacekeeping operations in several parts of the world.
“But in the matter of this insurgency, our soldiers have neither received the necessary support nor the required incentives to tackle this problem. The government has also failed in any effort towards a multi-dimensional response to this problem leading to a situation in which we have now become dependent on our neighbours to come to our rescue.
“Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently; that Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service.
“we will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with; we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas.
“We will always act on time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester, and I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the front and return Nigeria to its leadership role in regional and international efforts to combat terrorism,” he said.
On the economy, Mr. Buhari said the fall in prices of oil has brought Nigeria’s economic and social stress to the fore.
He said after the rebasing exercise in April 2014, Nigeria overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest economy, adding that the country’s GDP is now valued at $510 billion and its economy rated 26th in the world.
“Also on the bright side, inflation has been kept at single digit for a while and our economy has grown at an average of 7 per cent for about a decade,” he said.
He, however, said the country’s touted economic growth is more of paper growth, a growth that, he said, on account of mismanagement, profligacy and corruption, has not translated to human development or shared prosperity.
Mr. Buhari said “a development economist once said three questions should be asked about a country’s development: one, what is happening to poverty? Two, what is happening to unemployment? And three, what is happening to inequality?
“The answers to these questions in Nigeria show that the current administration has created two economies in one country, a sorry tale of two nations: one economy for a few who have so much in their tiny island of prosperity; and the other economy for the many who have so little in their vast ocean of misery”.
He argued that even by official figures, 33.1 per cent of Nigerians live in extreme poverty, almost the population of the United Kingdom. He said there is also the unemployment crisis simmering beneath the surface, ready to explode at the slightest stress, with officially 23.9 per cent of the country’s adult population and almost 60 per cent of its youth unemployed.
“We also have one of the highest rates of inequalities in the world,” he said.
He stated that it is therefore, not surprising that Nigeria’s performance on most governance and development indicators (like Mo Ibrahim Index on African Governance and UNDP’s Human Development Index.) are unflattering. With fall in the prices of oil, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of government revenues, and lack of savings from more than a decade of oil boom, the poor will be disproportionately impacted, he said.
What to do
The opposition politician said in the face of dwindling revenues, a good place to start the repositioning of Nigeria’s economy is to swiftly tackle two ills that have ballooned under the present administration: waste and corruption. And in doing that, he would, if elected, lead the way, with the force of personal example.
Mr. Buhari said there would be no confusion as to where he stands on corruption, adding, “The corrupt will not be appointed into my administration”.
“First and foremost, we will plug the holes in the budgetary process. Revenue producing entities such as NNPC and Customs and Excise will have one set of books only.
“Their revenues will be publicly disclosed and regularly audited. The institutions of state dedicated to fighting corruption will be given independence and prosecutorial authority without political interference,” he said.
Mr. Buhari also emphasised that any war waged on corruption should not be misconstrued as settling old scores or a witch-hunt.
“I’m running for President to lead Nigeria to prosperity and not adversity,” he said.
In reforming the economy, he said he would use savings that arise from blocking these leakages and the proceeds recovered from corruption to fund his party’s social investment programmes in education, health, and safety nets such as free school meals for children, emergency public works for unemployed youth and pensions for the elderly.
“As a progressive party, we must reform our political economy to unleash the pent-up ingenuity and productivity of the Nigerian people thus freeing them from the curse of poverty.
“We will run a private sector-led economy but maintain an active role for government through strong regulatory oversight and deliberate interventions and incentives to diversify the base of our economy, strengthen productive sectors, improve the productive capacities of our people and create jobs for our teeming youths.
“In short, we will run a functional economy driven by a worldview that sees growth not as an end by itself, but as a tool to create a society that works for all, rich and poor alike.
“On March 28, Nigeria has a decision to make. To vote for the continuity of failure or to elect progressive change. I believe the people will choose wisely,” Mr. Buhari said.