On Sunday, 30 September, Presidential Aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atiku Abubakar appeared for a Presidential Nomination Media Chat under the auspices of The United Nigeria Group (TUNG) at the Silverbird Galleria in Abuja. Below is an excerpt of the chat as captured by THISAGE:
Why do you want to be President?
I want the job of the President of Nigeria because more than at any other time since the advent of our democracy, I think we need a leadership that has the experience, that has the capacity and that has the knowhow.
And our most challenging issue in the country today is the issue of unemployment and creation of jobs, unity in the country and states. I believe I am more suitable to handle all these. As a civil servant, I have worked 20 years in the federal bureaucracy, as a politician I served successfully for 8 years as the Vice President and in that position I chaired the economic team of that administration.
I brought so many innovations to our administration that led to the creation of jobs, creation of wealth and prosperity and relative peace and stability. Again, if you go back to my private sector experience I have been a farmer. I am still a farmer and am still an investor. If you put all these experiences together, that gives me the advantage over some of my contemporary. Not that they don’t have something to put on the table, each and everyone of them have something to put on the table, but some can put more on the table than the others.
So I believe this country requires all of these that I enumerated. In fact since the civil war I have not seen Nigeria in such a bad shape. Our unemployment rate is the highest, over 12 million men and women are unemployed. Our growth is at its lowest, when PDP administration was in power GDP growth rate was about 6 per cent. But they took it over and crashed it; and dragged the nation into recession. We are trying to come out of recession at about 1.6 per cent growth, but consider the growth of our population.
Any country that its economic growth is below its population growth is in danger. That is the danger that is facing our country today. So, anyone who can come and lift up our economy to a level where our GDP growth will surpass our population growth, I think is the leader we should at this point in time support and give the opportunity to take our country out of this crisis. And that is what I stand for.
Why should PDP delegates vote for you?
You see as I said, currently the country is doing very bad in terms of jobs, in terms of economic growth, in terms of prosperity, in terms of the unity of our country, in terms of security. I believe I have the experience and the capacity to deal with these issues more than any one of them, because I have dealt with them before. I assembled the best economic team (as Vice President) with that we did well and Nigerians attested to what we did in those 8 years. We liberalised the economy, we expanded the private sector’s participation and tried to limit government to the necessary issues. If these policies we started were continued, today we will have been in a better country. I believe we need somebody who can come and continue with these policies so that we can bring back our prosperity, create more jobs for our unemployed youths. The most important thing is who can put this country back on the path of growth? I am sure that I am that person.
If you get the ticket how will you rally the other 12 aspirants to support you?
There is no single aspirant that I have not been to, to ask for his support and also to work together. Fortunately, each and everyone of them bring something to the table different from the other. And I believe it will not be a problem for me bringing them together to participate with me in government and also in whatever capacity they feel they can support the government. Government is such a very big deal in Nigeria even though my dream is that by the time I leave office government will be smaller. There is room to accommodate everyone of them, so I am talking to them and we are still interacting.
How will you manage the economy and create more jobs for Nigerians youth that are unemployed?
When we came in 1999 a barrel of crude oil was less than 10 dollars in the market, we met less than 5 billion dollars in our foreign reserve. With all that, we are still able to manage the economy of the country to the extent that we paid all our foreign debt and became debt free. In terms of managing our economy, we must embark on economic reform policies. Part of it is opening up the country to foreign investors. It is extremely important to open up the country to foreign investors; management of the micro economy policies is also very important. We were able to turn around the economy then, so I don’t think it is an impossible task to do now. If given the opportunity, I believe it is doable.
The delegates from each geo- political zones will like to know your idea of restructuring?
There is need to restructure the polity, unless we restructure the polity and give more power and resources to the geo- political zones you are not likely to see much. If you concentrate all the powers in the federal government just like we are seeing now, then you are going to stifle growth and initiative. I think the best way to get geo- political zones developed and prosper is to give more powers and resources to the geo political zones. Definitely, we need to review our political structure to ensure diversification of the economy growth across the country.
It is obvious you cannot achieve this without the national assembly, so how will you go about it to restructure the country?
It requires political skill and I have done it before. During our administration I was in charge of dealing with the National Assembly, and we did not encounter any challenge as we have it today. There were differences of political parties, and other differences were there and they will continue to be there. It requires someone with the skills and experience to deal with the National Assembly to achieve the restructuring agenda. I will work perfectly with the National Assembly to achieve those fundamental issues like restructuring, economic growth, diversification, unity, security and many more.
You talked about political skills to handle the National Assembly, what are these political skills?
It all depends on how you relate with these members of National Assembly. I have done that before for our administration, even when the Presidency was faced with an impeachment I negotiated with members of the National Assembly.
What do you have for the youth and women?
What I have for the youth is job and education. Our education has witnessed serious setback, in the sense that we are producing graduates that are not employable in the labour market. We should have entrepreneurship as a fundamental issue in our syllabus. I have seen it work in the university (AUN) that I founded where whatever course you are studying, you must also take entrepreneurship course. That is why graduates from AUN are the biggest job creators. As soon as they graduate, they create jobs.
To employ about 12 million youths there is need to bring investors into the country so that they can absorb those graduates. But we also have to train them on how to be self- employed. Today, I see the government giving some people 10,000 naira, how can someone set up a business with that? I own one of the most successful Microfinance bank in this country. I am working with people from Bangladesh because they are the best when it comes to microfinance system. We have since moved 45,000 families out of poverty by the interventions of the bank.
And what is the best way to move a family out of poverty? It is to empower the woman. Because of this, I directed the bank to give 80 per cent of their loans to women. They have been implementing that policy and today we are one of the most successful microfinance banks in Nigeria. The women repay, take more loans and look after their families. I am a product of that kind of woman, because I lost father at a very tender age and my mother was doing all kinds of businesses to look after me before I became what I am today. The best policy to move families out of poverty is to empower women. If you do that you will see how fast you will get out of poverty, particularly now that Nigeria has been designated as the capital of extreme poverty in the world we need to engage our women to turn it around for good.
What will you do about the issue of insecurity, especially that of the North East?
The general security situation in the North East is regrettable. Honestly, I cannot understand why? I always try to look back at history, even though we have abandoned history, which is very important for us to grow. I always try to compare what is taking place in the northeast and when we fought the civil war. When we fought the civil war it lasted for 30 months and with a harsher environment. And here we are in a semi- desert or desert region fighting untrained militia for 9 years. I want to know why? I really want to know why and I cannot know why until I am inside. During our administration 2001 and 2003, such thing tried to come up in Yobe state and we immediately crushed it. I really want to know why we have been fighting a group of untrained youths for 9 years. A whole powerful Nigeria, it will be difficult to say this is what I will do, until I go inside and find out why we are fighting this war for more 9 years. The situation is completely unacceptable and that does not even make sense. Look at the huge Nigeria army that is well trained, with all the sophisticated equipment and look at the young men untrained with AK 47, yet we cannot defeat them. I really want to know why. Something must be happening.
You have moved from one political party to another, how do you intend to convince the delegates who probably think that you have not been consistent on a political platform?
Tell me one political leader who has been consistent on a political platform. There is none that has not changed parties. But changing party is not the issue, have you been consistent in what you believe in, in your policies? I think that is the most important thing. Changing party is part of our political development process.
Why is there no ministerial appointment for Abuja indigenes?
In 1994/1995 when I served in the constitutional assembly to draft the present constitution, what we made provision for FCT was a mayor. But when it was review by the military regime, they dropped the areas we recommended and substituted it with what you call area councils. As far as I am concerned, it is an error that can be corrected. There is absolutely no law that says that an FCT indigene cannot be appointed as Minister of Abuja. With the constitutional amendment going on, if we want to build a nation we must remove this issue of indigene and replace it with residency. So, any resident of Abuja could be elected a mayor, when that is corrected it.