The Vice presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Prof Yemi Osinbajo, and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, Peter Obi, headlined yesterday’s debate ahead of the 2019 election as they threw verbal jabs over the state of the economy and method of the fight against corruption.
The two leading candidates also differed over the signing of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, in a debate which focused largely on the economy, foreign policy and fight against corruption.
Osinbajo and Obi were joined by three other vice presidential candidates namely: Ganiyu Galadima of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN); Khadija Abdullahi-Iya of the Alliance For New Nigeria (ANN) and Umma Getso of the Young Progressive Party (YPP).
The 2019 presidential election debate organised by the Nigerian Election Debate Group for the vice presidential candidates which spanned over two hours was held at the Transcorps Hilton Hotels in Abuja.
Meanwhile, as the candidates debated in the hall, supporters of a presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore, staged a protest outside the venue against the exclusion of Sowore and his running mate in the debate.
One of the high points of the debate was the witty exchange of verbal jabs between Osinbajo and Obi over building the economy and fighting corruption.
The vice president disclosed that a solid infrastructural base was essential to the development of a strong and sustainable economy.
He said, “On why Nigeria has not risen beyond 16 percent in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the common denomination for China and South Africa is infrastructure and Nigeria in the past years had had setback though the Buhari administration is putting in place the right infrastructure.
“We are building infrastructure across the country, like the Lagos to Kano railway project; we are also expecting the first phase of the Lagos-lbadan railway to be ready in January. At the same time we are doing the Alaja-Warri route. The Kano-Madi railway which is one of the oldest commercial routes in the country is just beginning and the TFE, the German bank, is sponsoring it. We are also looking at the Lagos-Calabar rail and these are some of the rail routes. In every state of Nigeria today we have a major road project. Practically 16 years after the Lagos- Ibadan express way was abandoned, we are dealing with that today and we are building that road everyday. That is a major road out of the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria”.
Obi, while noting that anti-corruption is not an economic policy, lamented that the federal government had stifled the economy. He said, “You can’t leave your shop and be chasing criminals”.
But, Osinbajo replied immediately, that, “If you allow criminals to steal everything, there will be no shop,” while stressing that anti-corruption fight is a basic part of the economic policy.
He added that, “We cannot allow the type of grand corruption that has taken place in Nigeria in the past 16 years.”
The government of Buhari, he said, had spent N2.7trillion in two budget cycles, the highest ever in Nigeria despite earning 60 percent less than the previous administration.
He added that when oil was 100 dollars and slightly above, no infrastructure was built which was, however, not the case presently. Poverty, he added, existed without social investment scheme.
On the siging of the free trade agreement, Osinbajo, said that the APC-led federal government was still consulting with key stakeholders before signing.
He said that the administration was blocking all loopholes that would make the agreement have negative impacts on the country.
The vice president added that though the agreement was important, he underscored the fear about the possibility of transhipment said “So we can have a situation where local industry is killed just by the mere fact that we signed on to this without ensuring that all of the loopholes have been blocked. So we are in the process of ensuring that all of the loopholes are blocked.”
Osinbanjo said that the key stakeholders in the private sector including Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture and other business bodies were against the agreement but government was consulting with them.
“We are a private sector siren economy. We cannot say because we are involved in the process, we should just go ahead and sign it.
“It is our duty as a responsible government to make sure that we take into account all of the different issues that are involved before we sign.
“ There is no need for hurrying into signing the agreement . We must make sure we cover all our basis before we sign. ‘’
Obi on his part, noted that there was nothing to fear about signing the policy if necessary things had been put in place stressing that it was going to be win-win for Nigeria if the agreement is signed.
He noted there was not way the country could be part of preparing the policy and back out at the signing stage.
Obi said that Nigeria has the market, the population and everything it takes to benefit from the trade agreement and not just depending on oil for foreign exchange earnings.
“If we sign it today it is going to be a win-win for us.
“Other countries that don’t have oil are deriving their foreign exchange earned from manufacturing.
“You have to look into the agreement fix those things we are not doing well here, put them in place and sign that agreement because it is going to be a win-win for us.’’
On her part, the Vice Presidential Candidate ANN, Kadijat Abdullahi-Iya, said that the country have to look in to issues surrounding the policy and see how it would affect Nigeria’s economy which is private driving before signing the agreement.
“We have to look at how the agreement affects the common man on the streets, how many employment it create, how it will boost the industries we are looking at diversify, how will it affect our Gross Domestic Products (GDP). These are the things we must look into.
“A lot on-time we see that the Chinese government come in without considering Nigerians that are not employed.’
The Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) Ganiyu Galadima, said it was commending that federal government had not sing the agreement because many thing were not working well in the Nigeria economy.
“Any policy that will sign that will turn Nigeria into dumping ground for goods from other countries and cripple our local industries will not be in the interest of the country.’’
He said it was a good thing that the countries involved would trade with each other but the question was that would Nigeria benefit from it.
“I think the proper thing is for the government should but the signing of the agreement in hold until the economy of the country improved and manufacturing industry is revived’’
YPP candidate Getso, Said it was not a wise decision for the country to sign the agreement looking at the current situation of the country.
She added that such kind of policy would be favourable to the country when the country was strong in production and not when it was importing country.
Thank God that the siting government had not sign it because it will not be in the interest of the country.
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