By Dr. Kayode Fayemi
We commend Professor Chukwuma Soludo’s for his insightful and incisive article published on January 26th in the Vanguard Newspaper, The Nation Newspaper and major online news platforms under the above title. We agree with Professor Soludo that if the political parties, including ours, must justify the overwhelming enthusiasm of Nigerians about the 2015 elections we must remain focused on the issues that matter most to them, which is the progress of our country and the well being of our people. Indeed, this has been the driving conviction of our party and our campaign all along.
While we accept his critical comments on our party, more for the intentions than for the letters, we believe some clarifications would be quite necessary. We wish to emphasise that our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), presents a real option to Nigerians. Professor Soludo expressed the sentiments of most Nigerians when he spoke about the incalculable damage that the PDP under President Jonathan has done to the Nigerian economy and the unprecedented hardship that his six years of the locust has brought upon Nigerians.
However, the APC does not intend to ride into power on a mere rhetoric of ‘change’. The change that we propose is fundamental in many ways as it is critical to the very survival of our country. This in itself presents a major distinction between our party and the PDP. Perhaps, the most compelling argument against the People’s Democratic Party today is that its government and leadership do not even see that Nigeria is in trouble. While majority of our people wallow in abject poverty, and the gap in inequality gets ever wider by the day, yet PDP has basked in self-celebration of imagined accomplishments. How can a party or a government even begin to solve a problem that it does not believe exist? Like in all things, PDP is stuck in denial.
APC does not promise Eldorado. Neither our candidate nor our manifesto has made such promise. Our programs are based on the critical awareness of the difficult task ahead, while holding out a ray of hope to our people. The promises that we make reflect our innermost belief that the people must be at the centre of development. Especially, we believe that any economic growth that leaves the majority of the people behind, and does not protect the weakest and the vulnerable among us, is merely delusional.
Professor Soludo has drawn our attention to the striking but unfortunate similarity in the nation’s economy in 1982-1984 period and what we are experiencing today. Back then, a period of sustained high crude oil prices had also ironically led to unsustainable debt levels and introduction of the austerity measure. Just as it happened more than three decades ago, it is difficult to explain how a sustained period of oil boom should ultimately lead to austerity measure except to say that huge opportunities that the period of boom presented were frittered away by mindless profligacy, wanton corruption and bad economic choices made by the PDP government, which has rewarded a protracted period of boom with uncertainty and austerity and is still asking for another mandate to do more damage.
If we sound upbeat in our manifesto, it is because we recognise that this crisis period also presents us a great opportunity to restructure the economy in a way that improves the quality of lives of our people by ensuring that our economic growth is job-led. Our party has identified job creation as a critical priority of government. We have noted with concerns that Nigeria’s unemployment rate of 23.9% should be seen as a national crisis. And if this government was more sensitive to the enormity of the challenge that this presents, it would be reluctant to jump all over the place in self celebration while so many of our youths are wasting away. In the immediate future, our priority is to tackle unemployment and provide good jobs by embarking on a massive programme of public works, building houses, roads, railways, ports and energy plants. Over the long term, we believe we must wean Nigeria off its dangerous addiction to oil, which currently provides 80% of our spending leaving us at the mercy of volatile international oil prices. Even as a federalist party, we believe that an economy that is dependent on a commodity that is so dangerously exposed to price volatility must always prepare for eventuality through savings and investments once the agreed thresholds are met. What we disagree with is the unilateral and arbitrary deductions in accruable revenues in a way that hampers the development of the federating States.
Going by the government’s own statistics, is it mere coincidence that the three States with the lowest unemployment rate – Osun, Lagos and Kwara – are all APC States? This is evidence of our Party’s ability to tackle this problem head-on. APC’s policy thrust will create an enabling environment and incentives for the formal and informal sectors to lead the quest for job creation. This will be done in addition to skills acquisition and enterprise- training to ensure our youths are equipped with the appropriate skills to take these jobs. Merely introducing a National Qualification Standards would power a whole new world of opportunities for our artisans by launching them into the international job markets. We note the issue that Professor Soludo picked with our figure of 720,000 jobs. We need to clarify that this is limited to immediate direct employment opportunities from public projects and maintenance works only. Our manifesto actually promises a lot more jobs but we see that as the product of the enabling environment we seek to create for private sector-led job creation, especially in high opportunity sectors like agriculture, construction, entertainment, tourism, ICT and sports. APC economic policy is driven by an overwhelming concern for the level of inequality in our country today. Specifically, to quote from our manifesto, we intend to achieve our job-creation agenda through:
- Massive public works programme especially the building of a national railway system (complete with tramline systems for our major cities), interstate roads, and ports. These projects must commence early in the life of the new administration.
- Establishing a new Federal Coordinating Agency – Build Nigeria – to fast track and manage these public works programmes with emphasis on Nigerian labour.
- Embarking vigorously on industrialization, public works and agricultural expansion.
- Diversifying the economy through a national industrial policy and innovative private-sector incentives that will move us away from over reliance on oil into value-added production especially manufacturing.
- Reviving textile and other industries that have been rendered dormant because of inappropriate economic policies.
- Reinvigorating the solid mineral sector by revamping our aged mining legislation and attracting new investment.
- Developing a new generation of domestic oil refineries to lower import costs, enhance our energy independence and create jobs.
- Working with state governments to turn the country into Africa’s food basket through a new system of grants and interest free loans, and the mechanization of agriculture.
- Encouraging and promoting the use of sports as a source of job creation, entertainment and recreation.
- Creating a knowledge economy by making Nigeria an IT /professional/Telecom services outsourcing destination hub to create millions of jobs.
- Filling the huge gap in middle level technical manpower with massive investment in technical and tradesmen’s skills education.
- Ensuring that all foreign contractors to include a plan of developing local capacity (technology transfer).
- Creation of six Regional Development Agencies covering the country with representatives from the Federal Government, States and the private sector to manage a new N300billion growth fund.
Our obsession with job creation stems from the fact that we believe we must focus on actions that would serve the twin purpose of closing the gap in inequality and creating opportunities for our people, especially the youth. Our current situation is dangerous for the stability of the country. The Human Development Index position ranks Nigeria 152 of 169 countries surveyed. This is incompatible with the present administration’s insistence on celebrating GDP growth and our absolute economic size hinged on a routine rebasing exercise. As many commentators have pointed out, rebasing the GDP is not an achievement. Rather, it is a mere statistical adjustment that does not impact on the real or imagined standards of living of the people. So, we also wonder what this PDP government is celebrating. And maybe it is not that difficult to explain when one discovers that a small elite has captured the state and converted our commonwealth into private gain, becoming disproportionately rich from massive corruption while poverty has deepened. The income gap and illicit capital flight are growing alarmingly. Instead of investing in modernizing our economy, massive theft has starved the country of desperately needed resources for infrastructure and public services and left us dangerously dependent on fluctuating global oil prices for our economic survival. For the ordinary Nigerian, the much-touted economic growth cited by the present administration has not translated into employment or development. Over 100 million Nigerians are struggling to make ends meet on a regular basis.
Furthermore, we understand Professor Soludo’s concern on the cost of implementing our various programmes, especially those relating to social welfare. The enormity of this challenge is not lost on us. We also know that sometimes, going into government is like buying a “no testing” electronic equipment. You may never know the true state of what you are buying until you get in. We want to assure Professor Soludo and other like-minded Nigerians that our policy team is looking at all the options – including the worst-case scenario of a completely empty treasury. We are however confident that by blocking avenues of wastage and corruption alone, savings could run into billions of Naira that could be deployed for productive use. Even so, we agree with Professor Soludo that savings from corruption alone will not tackle the enormous challenges we are likely to confront in government. We are however comforted by the fact that a four-year period provides opportunity for phased implementation while growing the resource base as well as changing the culture of graft while reducing the cost of governance.
Quite significantly, we know that periods of economic downturn also potentially provide opportunity to lay the foundation for real economic restructuring and development; and we can reflect on how Singapore under Premier Lee Kuan Yew and the United States of America under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used historic moments of economic downturn in their countries to launch a period of sustained development and a new deal for their people. General Buhari has never claimed to have the magic wand nor the answers to all of the country’s problems. His greatest assets would be his moral authority borne out of his self-sacrificing integrity, his sincerity of purpose and his patriotic zeal to return Nigeria to the path of progress and genuine development. He is committed to utilize competent and committed people of integrity wherever he may find them. This is precisely why he promised when flagging off his campaign in Port Harcourt on January 5, 2015 that if voted into power, it would be an opportunity to, in his words, “finally assemble a competent team of Nigerians to efficiently manage this country”. This is a clear sign that a meritocratic process will govern the appointment of those that would be entrusted with managing our economy and country. His stint as Head of State shows a track record of using self-sacrificing professionals in his governance team. His previous cabinet included the likes of Dr. Onaolapo Soleye, Professor Tam David-West and Professor Ibrahim Gambari.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) is determined to lead Nigeria in the direction of change that is so urgently required. And even as we prepare for the immediate rescue mission in 2015, our minds are also set on building the necessary democratic institutions that would entrench our ideological conviction as a progressive and people-centred party. A National Progressives Policy Institute is part of this plan in the near future but we are very clear about the enormity of the task ahead. We would not seek to underplay it. We are supremely confident that we are equal to the task and we appreciate the commitment of majority of Nigerians to this quest for change.
Dr. Kayode Fayemi heads the Policy, Research and Strategy Directorate of the APC Presidential Campaign.