The tone for the 2023 presidential campaign was set yesterday at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference in Lagos as the candidates of political parties took turns to project their programmes to their audience.
Among other topics, the presidential hopefuls spoke on the economy, insecurity, the lingering university lecturers’ strike amid calls for them to run issues-based campaigns ahead of the 2023 elections.
However, some of their ideas were punctured by critics who spoke with LEADERSHIP yesterday.
The candidates who spoke on the topic, “Democratic Transitions in 21st Century Nigeria: 2023 and Beyond,” are those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar; Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, and the vice-presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Kashim Shettima.
Other presidential candidates present at the event are Adewole Adebayo of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dumebi Kachikwu of the Africa Democratic Congress (ADC), and Professor Peter Umeadi of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).
The NBA conference was the first time all of the presidential candidates would be assembled in one place after the primaries which ended in early June.
The presidential campaign is slated to begin on September 28.
The presidential candidates have a tough job selling their ideas to Nigerians on how to turn things around.
With inflation rate at 19.6 percent, unemployment rate at 33.3 per cent, and population at over 200 million, the number of unemployed Nigerians is over 66 million, which is more than the population of Ghana (31.07 million), Cote D’Ivoire (26.38million) and Togo (8.279 million) put together. According to data sourced from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment rate has been on a steady rise since the first quarter of 2015.
Speaking at the event, Shettima, who represented the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, said their ticket is the best because of their skill set, capacity, and past achievements in office.
He said, “He is a city boy, I am the golden boy. In Jim Ovia’s words, competence is what people are assessed by. We have mentored men who have excelled in all aspects of human endeavours.
“I urge lawyers to be resolute, firm, to make bold, informed decisions, not emotional decisions. Align with the visions of APC candidates; we’ll create a Lagos experience all over the country. Make informed judgement, and vote for competence and capacity. Asiwaju is the man to beat.
He went on: “When Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu became governor of Lagos State in 1999, there was only one ambulance in the service of the Lagos State Government, now Lagos is earning N51billion every month as its internally generated revenue.
“Lagos is the third largest economy in Africa and the world is in transition. What is important is a Nigerian leader of the next dispensation must be a leader who has a mastery of financial management capabilities and someone who understands Nigerian psychology and someone who appreciates and understands the complexity of the Nigerian nation.
“Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has established an excellent track record for performance. He has mentioned men and women who are excelling in different fields of human endeavours and the world is changing and the trajectory of global growth facing Africa and Nigeria will make or mar that transition.”
According to him, in these days when other parts of the world are talking about artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, etc., Nigeria needs a leader with the requisite skill set and understanding of the global economy to shepherd it in this age.
Speaking about himself, he said, “In the history of Zenith Bank, no one, I dare say, apart from the legendary Ada Umeji, grew faster in the history of Zenith than my humble self.
“I urge my friends here to be rational, firm and have the boldness and courage to make informed decisions, not emotional decisions. Here we are on the threshold of making history. In the United Kingdom, a young man of Indian descent is about to become the Prime Minister,” Shettima stated.
Atiku on his part said that one of his major goals in vying for the 2023 general election is to unite Nigerians to fight insecurity.
Speaking on his five-fold plan for the country if elected, the former vice-president said, “Since the return of democracy, Nigeria has never been in such a critical situation as we find ourselves now. The problems of poverty, insecurity, unemployment, etc, are enormous but what is important is how to tackle them.
He also spoke about his plan to manage the economy by abolishing the multiple exchange rate and devolving more power to the states.
The PDP presidential candidate also hinted that he would hand over federal government-owned universities to state governments, a statement he later denied making.
He said, “I argued with a university professor from Federal University, Lokoja. He said he read in my policy document that I intended to devolve, in other words, to return education to the states. How dare I do that?
Also speaking at the event, the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, stated that the 2023 election will not be about religion or tribe but character and competence in leadership.
Obi said Nigeria’s woes had gotten so bad that the 2023 election would not be about religion or tribe but about who has the character and competence to deliver the country from its current mess.
He said, “Nigeria is in a mess. We got here simply because of the cumulative effect of bad leadership. The coming election is not about tribe or religion but character and competence. We need a bold transition from a highly insecure state to a highly secure state.
On his part, the Social Democratic Party candidate (SDP), Adebayo urged voters to respect the truth of what is going on in Nigeria. He lamented that the country’s crude oil is being stolen by the government.
He also urged participants of the conference to be suspicious of every statistic being thrown around, particularly by old politicians.
The APGA candidate, Umeadi, called for respect for the ballot and the need to have a free, fair credible election.
ADC candidate, Kachikwu, on his part, said solutions are desperately needed to the problems facing the country. He stressed the urgent need to recruit more people to fortify the existing security architecture.
But weighing in, the executive director of Yiaga Africa and convener of the Not Too Young To Run Movement, Samson Itodo, charged the candidates to go beyond buzz words but engage in competition of ideas when the campaigns start proper.
Itodo who urged the candidates to make themselves available for debates, said this election campaign should be issues-based.
Although he expressed concern at attempts to make the campaign dirty, he noted that the economy, insecurity and unity of the country will be the key issues Nigerians will access the candidates on.
He said, “We are hoping that we will see candidates focusing on the issues, and not just focus on the issues but by showing Nigerians and demonstrating first the knowledge of those issues, but also preferring solutions and the core issues that Nigeria has. We really look forward to it as the campaign periods begin.
They have to address these fundamental issues, and it’s not going to be a time for buzzwords; we are going to put these candidates to task. They have got to show and demonstrate that they have solutions to our problems.”
Itodo listed other burning national issues the presidential candidates must prepare to address Nigerans on to include high level of insecurity in terms of insurgency, banditry and kidnapping.
And based on that, he said, “voters will decide on who is more qualified, who is more competent, and above all, who has the moral capital to provide the leadership that Nigeria deserves at this critical moment of our political history,” he said.
ASUU, Ex-VC fault Atiku’s plan to hand over federal varsities to states
Some education professionals have expressed dismay at the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar’s reported plan to hand over federal universities to the state governments if elected president in 2023.
Abubakar, while speaking as a panelist at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Nigerian Bar Association’s annual general conference in Lagos yesterday, said he will hand over Federal Government-owned universities to state governments, arguing that the government does not have infinite resources to manage them.
But in separate interviews with LEADERSHIP, educationists opined that the state government cannot handle federal universities, given that they are not able to manage universities well under their control.
This is just as the Academic Staff union Of Universities (ASUU), Abuja zone accused Abubakar of using the tactics to privatise the federal universities if he is able to emerge president.
The zonal coordinator of ASUU, Dr. Salahu Mohammed Lawal said his intent is not to handover those universities to the state governments but to acquire public universities for his own good.
He said, “Atiku Abubakar is an individual who never believes in children of the masses to have access to free education and in his manifesto which I was privileged to read some pages. He made it clear that if he is elected, all public universities will be handed over to governments of the states where they are located.
The former vice chancellor, University of Abuja, Prof. Michael U. Adikwu said the state universities are already having unresolved issues, the more reason ASUU is making its demands.
Also speaking, the former chairman of ASUU, Abuja zone, Professor Theophilus Lagi said it is ridiculous for a presidential candidate to even think of handing federal universities to state government control.
“It is funny when state governments cannot adequately fund their own universities. So, is it not ridiculous? It is very ridiculous for him to even contemplate handing over federal universities to state governments. It is unthinkable,” he added.
However, Atiku, in a statement by his media aide, Paul Ibe, denied saying he will hand over federal universities to states, adding that education will remain on concurrent list
Atiku in the statement said, “We have noticed with dismay the mischievous misinterpretation of what the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, said at the plenary of the 62nd annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association as it relates to education and how to address the crisis in the sector.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Atiku did not say that he will hand over federal universities to state governments if he is elected president come February next year.
“The report is false, untrue, unfounded and not a true reflection of what Atiku Abubakar said while responding to a question on devolution of powers, a key component of his policy framework.
“What the PDP presidential candidate referred to was his plans for a phased devolution of power to the federating units.
“The report in some sections of the media is therefore a misleading and false account of what transpired when the PDP Presidential candidate fielded questions as a panelist at the opening ceremony of the NBA conference.
“In answering the question posed to him, Atiku Abubakar merely recalled his engagement with a university professor where he argued that the United States of America shared similarities with the first set of universities in Nigeria which belonged to the regional governments and noted that with proper planning and phased devolution of power, federal universities that have now become unwieldy could be made to work better under the component federating units. He also maintained that education would remain in the concurrent list under his administration when elected.
“The report was clearly a misleading one designed to cast aspersion on the person of the former Vice President and to create an impression that he will shirk his responsibilities if he is elected president in the next presidential poll due in February 2023.
“We wish to restate Atiku Abubakar’s avowed commitment to education as a game changer for socio-economic development and national security. He remains concerned about the prolonged strike by university teachers and restates his position that under his watch the ASUU-FG imbroglio will be better managed in the interest of both the students and academic staff.
According to the statement, to underscore Atiku’s commitment to address the structural deformities in the country’s system, he had empanelled a committee of judiciary experts to draft a presidential position paper which will guide his administration, if elected, from day one, on the terms and conditions of transfer of power and resources to the other layers of government aimed at making the federal government leaner and more effective in its core functions.