IT was the turn of former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and his running mate, former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, to appear on ‘The Candidates’ on Wednesday to try to sell themselves to Nigerians.
‘The Candidates’ is a town hall event designed to get top presidential aspirants of various political parties to explain to Nigerians why they are best suited for the job and should be voted for come the February 16, 2019 presidential election.
On why Nigerians should vote for him, Atiku said he is the most experienced and most qualified of all the presidential aspirants as he has a proven track record in job creation and resource management. He added that he is the candidate for the future.
ON ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION
Atiku denied all allegations of corruption dating back to how, as a serving officer of the Nigeria Customs Service, he allegedly floated a company that was into clearing and forwarding thus conferring an unfair advantage to himself.
He explained that what happened at the time was that he took advantage of the indigenisation policy when the military government at the time allowed serving public officials to acquire shares in some foreign companies that were already operating in the country. Atiku said it was legal at the time to do so, and that the freight company which later metamorphosed into ‘INTELS’ was already in existence and was not founded by him.
He also denied that the company was granted a monopoly to operate in all the major ports in Nigeria. “There was nothing like a monopoly,” he said. “We had competitors and we still do.”
Atiku also explained that though the name of one of his wives was mentioned in a money laundering and bribery case in the United States of America, no charge has been brought against her ever since therefore nobody can accuse her of any wrongdoing.
He said if his wife had been found wanting in any way, given the thoroughness of the US justice system, she should have been prosecuted. He added that his wife still travels to America regularly.
Speaking on the several negative commentaries against him by his former principal, Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku pointed out that the former President has since recanted and has endorsed him as the best candidate for the job. Besides, he added, “I am the most investigated politician by Obasanjo. If he did not find me guilty, that means I committed no wrong”.
Obi also denied allegations that he invested Anambra State’s money into a brewery that now yields interest for his family business. He explained that having facilitated the foreign brewery’s entry into Nigeria, the company approached him and offered him 15 per cent stakes, but that he instead accepted 10 per cent on behalf of the Anambra government, and that the $30 million state money he invested into the brewery is now worth $100 million. Obi boasted that no governor in the history of Nigeria, left even 10 per cent in the state’s treasury of what he left in Anambra State’s treasury on leaving office.
Atiku said he would work with the saying that “prevention is better than cure”, hence his administration would focus on measures that could prevent public officials from being exposed to incidences of corruption.
To achieve this, he said he would focus on automating the public service, as it is done in many other developed economies like the United Arab Emirates, where one can apply for anything from the comfort of his room and get that thing sorted out. According to Atiku, the elimination, as much as possible, of personal, face-to-face contact between public officials and service takers, would go a long way in curbing corruption.
Atiku also said his administration would brainstorm with the legislative and judicial arms of government to find a solution to the delay in Nigeria’s justice system so that justice would be seen as being done. He noted that a situation where some of the court cases instituted when he was vice president are still ongoing in court today is unhelpful.
Atiku also said his government might consider an amnesty for officials who were found to have embezzled public funds in the past. He said the method worked in Turkey and some other European countries, where the government granted amnesty on the condition that the monies be brought back to the country and invested in critical aspects of the economy.
Adding to this, Obi said it is better to have an amnesty where somebody brings back monies he took from the government and reinvests it into the economy than for one who has stolen government money to join the ruling party and have his sins forgiven.
Atiku added that his administration would consider creating an Election Fraud Commission to tackle all forms of election malpractice which, according to him, is another form of corruption.
ON PLANS FOR THE POOR
Atiku said he has a robust agricultural policy which is contained in his manifesto and which is designed to empower farmers to be more commercially oriented. He said the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the current administration is “fake” and only impacts on just a few farmers.
ON THE ECONOMY
Atiku said his administration would focus on a private sector driven economy, which has worked all over the world. He said he would lower corporate taxes to encourage investors to come in and set up businesses and employ citizens.
According to him, it is like a cycle; lowering taxes could mean a reduction in government revenue, but when the jobs are created, unemployment and dependency rate would be lowered, and the citizens who have been employed would pay taxes.
He agreed with the interviewer that he is the second largest employer of labour in Adamawa State, behind the state government, hence he intends to translate this track record to the national level.
ON FARMERS/HERDERS CLASHES
Atiku said his administration would carry out massive public enlightenment programmes to try to sell the idea of “feeding lots” to the herders. This he said would greatly reduce the herders’ crisis which, according to him, dates back to the time of Prophet Mohammed.
He said the idea of feeding lots would not only ensure that our cattle producing more milk and beef, but it would also create employment opportunity as companies manufacturing animal feed would come to invest in Nigeria.
He also promised to look into some of the laws banning grazing of cattle across the states, to ensure that such laws do not go against the constitutionally guaranteed rights of citizens to move around or reside in any part of the country they chose to.
Atiku said he would improve the Universal Basic Education Act and make it an offence for states or local government areas to mismanage funds allocated to them for education development.
Atiku promised to look into the complaints of lack of adequate equipment and welfare for the soldiers who are taking part in the counterinsurgency operations. He said he would be willing to investigate the allegations of corruption in the hierarchy of the Nigerian military, as well as ensure that underperforming officers are sanctioned appropriately. Atiku promised to deploy “the right kind of political leadership, and the right kind of military leadership” in combating the Boko Haram crisis.
Speaking on the clashes between soldiers and members of the Shiite Islamic sect, Atiku said the army ought not to have any role to play in the situation. If some people are rioting, Atiku said, it was the work of the police to deal with such situations, not the army. He also promised to carry out an independent investigation into the allegations of human right abuses against Nigeria’s security agencies by groups such as the Amnesty International.
If voted into power, Atiku promised that his administration would attract more private investment into the health sector, while backing that up with commensurate government intervention in order to make quality healthcare affordable to all.
Finally, asked whether he would accept the result of the election should he lose, Atiku’s reply was “why not”.
“If the elections are adjudged to be free, fair, and credible, why not? I have lost elections before and I admitted.”