THE vice presidential debate ahead of the 2019 general election kicked off at 7 pm on Friday with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) going head to head against Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Among the topics that came up during the debate were the issue of the war against corruption, petrol subsidy, diversification of the economy, the Continental Free Trade Agreement etc.
Vice Presidential candidates of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN); Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN); and Young Progressives Party (YPP), Ganiyu Galadima, Khadija Abdullahi, Umar Getso, respectively, also took part in the debate.
On the war against corruption, Obi said the Buhari administration was going about it the wrong way. He said the economy is almost brought to a standstill in the guise of fighting corruption.
“You cannot shut down your shop because you are pursuing a thief,” Obi said. He noted that almost all economic indices in the country are down from what they used to be in 2015 when the APC took over power.
In response, Osinbajo said given the massive corruption that has happened in the country in the past, the fight against corruption demanded the thoroughness which the present administration is giving to it.
He noted that all the international economic organisations were unanimous that corruption is the major hindrance to development and growth in Nigeria, hence the zeal with which the Buhari administration is combating it.
On the issue of subsidy, Osinbajo admitted that the government is still paying some sort of subsidy but that the subsidy “is being taken from the balance sheet of the NNPC”.
He maintained that “subsidy helps” and that once it is removed, the price of almost everything will shoot up. “Subsidy is useful now,” Osinbajo insisted.
But Obi disagreed, saying that what the Nigerian government is subsidizing at the moment was “inefficiency”. He said there is an average of 2 million cars on Nigerian roads, and as such subsidizing petrol does not make much economic sense.
He also said that prices of goods and services could remain stable if petrol subsidy was removed and the government in power does the right thing.
On economic diversification, Obi said when voted into power, he and Atiku’s government would focus on industrialization and manufacturing as that is what drives almost all the developed economies of the world.
He pointed out that countries like China, Malaysia, and Indonesia, has the manufacturing sector contributing over 40 per cent to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while in Nigeria, out of the over N19 trillion being owed commercial banks, less than three per cent went to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
To this, Osinbajo responded that the Buhari administration has set up SME hubs in about 20 states of the federation to boost small businesses. He also pointed out that the government has set up independent solar power plants in various markets across the country also as a means of encouraging small and medium businesses. Examples of the markets where solar power plants had been established are the Ariara Market in Aba, Abia State, and the Sabon Gari market in Kano, Kano State.
On the refusal of the Buhari administration to sign the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), Osinbajo said the Nigerian government was being careful not to sign any agreement that could hurt its economy.
He noted that even the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN) rejected the agreement, alongside some other professional bodies in the country.
“We are a private sector-driven economy,” Osinbajo said, “the Continental Free Trade Agreement could kill local industries.”
But Obi said if the PDP was voted into power, it would sign the agreement.
On foreign policy, almost all the candidates agreed that Nigeria’s foreign policy will focus more on economy and security, but Obi said a PDP government will not keep borrowing the way the APC administration is currently doing.