The four leading presidential candidates on Thursday in Abuja enunciated their blueprints and how they will address critical issues if elected as president in the forthcoming election.
Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Bola Tinubu of All Progressive Congress (APC); Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), spoke at the 20th Daily Trust Dialogue organised by the Media Trust Limited, publishers of the Daily Trust newspaper.
Themed: “Interrogating the 2023 Presidential Agenda,” the programme had in attendance former governors, traditional rulers, diplomats, civil society groups, students, and academics.
The presidential election holds on 25 February with the candidates of all the registered political parties in the country on the ballot.
Speaking on his programme for the country, Atiku said currently Nigeria has dipped below all known standards – in social, economic, and political benchmarks.
“Our experience of the past seven years under the government of the APC had made us doubt our strength as a people. The greatest thing APC will be remembered for is how it failed to maintain the integrity of our unity,” he said.
Atiku promised that the first direction that “our administration will take is to reinvent the principle of government on national unity.”
“For me, the upcoming election is not a winner takes all exercise. On the contrary, it shall be a winner with all because I shall make a deliberate attempt to win the trust of all Nigerians when we create an atmosphere that makes all Nigerians take ownership of government and governance.
“The drive to achieve national unity becomes easier. And with our unity restored, it becomes easier to approach the other challenges of security, economy, education, and devolution of powers,” the former vice president said.
In the same vein, the APC candidate said, if elected, he will create a better life for all, and a future of promise for our youths.
“We will revive our economy, and our manufacturing sector and bring Nigeria back to a place of industrialisation and job creation. We shall manufacture, produce and increase the quality of the goods and services we require,” Mr Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, said.
“Nigeria shall be known as a nation of producers and creators, not just consumers.
We will export more and import less to earn more foreign exchange and strengthen the naira. We will deliver food security and affordability by continuing to prioritise agriculture and assist farmers and other players in the agricultural value chain through the enlightened policies that promote productivity.”
Then on the other hand, Mr Kwankwaso of the NNPP argued that Nigeria needs a leader that will address insecurity, an ill ravaging the country.
“As it stands today, we have more issues of security, even in other parts of the country, especially in the North-west and even North-east. That’s why we are increasing the number of the military and that is why we are going to provide special training, special equipment, relevant technology, and so on to fight the situation or the insecurity of 2023 and upwards.
“And we believe that Nigeria has the numbers, they have the capacity and are determined to ensure peace in this country and that is exactly what we will do,” Mr Kwankwaso said.
He added: “With peace, you will see people coming to invest; you don’t have to go out and shout. They see the situation and that is why they decided to leave the country to go elsewhere where there is better peace.”
In agreement with Mr Kwankwaso, the LP candidate also said “the number one priority today in Nigeria is the issue of insecurity.”
Mr Obi said: “Insecurity has become an existential issue for Nigeria. You can’t talk about being a country unless that country is secure. If you deal with insecurity you will address food inflation, and we will immediately review and restructure the security architecture of the country.
On the economy, the LP flag bearer said, “I will move this country from consumption to production. Look at the vast lands we have in the North. That is the most important fiscal asset of the country today.”
State of security worrisome
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Chairman of Media Trust Limited, Kabiru Yusuf, said this year’s event was put together in the hope that Nigerians will learn what will prepare them for the twists and turns of the next few weeks.
He lamented the dire state of insecurity in the country, saying the government and its security agencies must be aware that in hundreds of towns and villages across the North-west and North-east of the country, banditry and kidnappings have made normal life impossible.
“It remains to be seen if people faced with such existential threats can patiently queue to exercise their civic duty,” Mr Yusuf said.
“In the South-east, violent agitation by IPOB, mostly directed against police and INEC facilities and personnel, might put off whole communities from voting. This deliberate disenfranchisement will feed into the separatist agenda and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“When you add this to the online and offline political vitriol; the dirty tricks campaign and the dirtier money making the rounds; it is hard to envisage an uncontested electoral outcome.
“Indeed, if we the citizens ignore the provocations, Nigeria could be the ultimate winner at the polls. It is in our collective interest to give this poor, yet a rich country, another chance to rise from the ashes,” he said.
On her part, Mary-Beth Leonard, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, said the US supports transparent and credible elections that reflect the will of the people in a process that’s conducted peacefully.
“The 2023 elections are a pivotal opportunity for Nigeria — the most populous country in Africa and the continent’s largest democracy to solidify its place as a democratic leader in Africa,” Ms Leonard said.
Ms Leonard said her country does not favour a particular candidate but a peaceful and transparent electoral process in Nigeria. She believes that elections are the foundation of democracy on the basis of the legitimate transfer of power.
“But it’s valuable for us to reflect on the fact that since 1999 , Nigerian voters have successfully demonstrated their democratic powers to elect leaders six times in the country,” she said.
“For more than two decades, Nigeria has demonstrated to Africa and the entire world its strong commitment to peaceful, credible, and transparent elections at a time when many places in West Africa are facing challenges of democratic processes. For Nigeria, these rules of democratic games are internalised and accepted.”
The diplomat added that as the election day nears, “we urge political parties to adhere to their peace commitment and the September 2022 pledge.
“The candidates will soon have another opportunity to affirm their commitment to the democratic process by signing the pre-election day peace accord and accepting the results of the election.”
The US stands firm with Nigerian voters’ demands and desires for complete transparency of electoral integrity, Ms Leonard said.
“Individuals who undercut or undermine the democratic process in any way including intimidation and violence may be found ineligible for visas to travel to the United States. We have taken steps in the past to impose US visa restrictions against those complicit in undermining electoral processes
“We will similarly deny or cancel visas for those who try to undermine the upcoming election. Visa records are confidential, we can’t and don’t announce the identities of those subjected to the sanction but I can tell you I am personally aware of people whose travel to the US was blocked on these grounds,” she concluded.
Drastic change needed
Also speaking, the Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, raised a question in the programme asking “whether this election will bring about a meaningful change in our nation.”
According to him, a relatively small group has been running their affairs of the nation mainly freely between two political parties with no specific ideological identity but mainly structures for capturing power.
Mr Onaiyekan argued that if things are to change for the better, there is a need for that change to be drastic.
“It cannot be business as usual. There is a need for a drastic change of orientation, especially in the concept and practice of political power characterised by politics as sincere and honest service of the common good and not as ways and means of capturing power for self-interest.
“Let professional riggers be put on strong notice that this time around it will not be business as usual. This is not a threat but rather a sincere warning and let those who have ears please listen,” Mr Onaiyekan said.
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