By Garba Umar
Just like every other seasonal activity, it is predictable that the 2019 election cycle will dawn. What was not predictable, perhaps until recently, are the characters whose faces will be the emblem of this particular political season. In terms of the configuration of the political parties that will jostle for votes, there isn’t much difference from what was in 2015, as the two leading political parties remain the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – safe for the fact that this time around, the erstwhile opposition party is now the ruling party.
And, this time around, President Muhammadu Buhari is the incumbent and he’s being challenged chiefly by the candidate of the opposition PDP, former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar. There is motley of other political parties with candidates also campaigning for president.
However, if popular opinion amongst Nigerians is anything to go by, the 2019 election will be won and lost on the merit of the plan of action that each of the presidential candidates is able to articulate to the electorate.
Perhaps this is the thinking in the camp of Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate who recently announced the kick-start of his campaign with the launch of his policy document. The document, which is a compendium of proposals on action plan of the former Vice President if he is elected president, was unveiled on Monday after a live social media interaction with Nigerians.
A press release from the campaign organization of the PDP presidential candidate had quoted that “The intention (of the Atiku Campaign Organisation) is to take (its) policy directly to Nigerians and to register the belief of Atiku Abubakar that it will take the collective efforts of every Nigerian to rebuild the country. That is why (they) want Nigerians to access the policy directly and ultimately take ownership of it.”
A review of the document shows that the policy covers a wide area of concern including jobs creation, infrastructure development, agriculture, restructuring, youth and women development, technological innovation, education, healthcare, security and foreign affairs.
The entire compendium is tied around the JOBS acronym of Atiku’s presidential campaign, which essentially entails employment generation, creating opportunity for all-inclusive prosperity, being united and security. The plan supports the encouragement of the private sector to create employment through an initiative called National Entrepreneurship Development and Job Creation Programme.
It also provides specific finance and strategic support for job creation in the entertainment industry; transformation of the culture and tourism sectors into one of the big earners of foreign exchange and job creation and review of corporate tax rates and capital gains tax in order to lower transaction costs in the capital market.
Under infrastructure, the policy proposes by increased investments in road and rail construction, water supply and sanitation, power and oil refining; reforming the power sector with goal of producing 20,000 megawatts by 2030 and 50,000MW by 2050; create Special Infrastructure Office to help speed construction and implementation; using private sector, establish an Infrastructure Debt Fund (IDF) with an initial funding of US$20b, mobilizing domestic and international private resources to finance and deliver large projects across all sectors of the economy; build small refineries in the northern parts of the country, increase oil refining and oil products from under 0.5% to 2% of GDP; construct up to 5,000km of modern railways through privatization, PPPs, and public investments; more than double investment funding from 15% to 35% of GDP in addition to licensing of mini-grids, including solar as solutions for power generation.
On infrastructure, the policy seeks for an ambitious increase of the nation’s stock of infrastructure from $150bn to approximately $600bn (contrary to the $90bn being reported in a section of the media), which will require a commitment to invest a minimum of $35bn annually for the next five years. However, funding for infrastructure development will not come from public budgets only. Government will incentivize the private sector to set up an Infrastructure Development Fund with an initial funding (privately mobilized) of $20bn while many more projects will be birthed via PPPs
In agriculture, the policy suggests the construction of farm to market roads; improved farming with modernization and mechanization of small-scale agriculture; transforming agricultural sector into a viable enterprise creating rural wealth and farmer prosperity; investment in local agric-processing clusters by offering concessional financing, tax breaks and seed funds and reviewing import duty on machinery and equipment for agricultural processing and for export production.
Perhaps the most ambitious component of the policy is on the knotty issue of restructuring. Under the Atiku’s plan, within the first hundred days of his administration, his government will put in place a National Committee for the Devolution of Powers.
There is also a plan to mobilize the legislature to effect constitutional amendments to allow greater powers to states and local governments. Relocating the Niger Delta Ministry from Abuja to the Niger Delta making it closer to stakeholders and beneficiaries.
There is also a recommendation for an increase in the number of government appointments made to young people and women to 40 per cent. It also targets youth, including graduates, early school leavers, and the massive numbers of uneducated youth not in schools for employment or training and provision of microfinance and financing schemes specifically targeted at youth and women.
The education plan of the PDP presidential candidate includes the development of an all-inclusive nationwide educational system with focus on young girls and special needs students.
There is also a provision for the utilization of technical colleges and vocational schools to produce skills and competencies for innovation and idea creation. Also, the development and promotion of science and technical education to create skills for the new economy.
On a general note, the Atiku policy document dubbed the ‘Peoples Policy’ appears robust and well articulated. It is however expected that policy experts within and outside the country will begin to interrogate the policy which, according to the PDP presidential candidate, had taken 18 months of rigorous brainstorming to incubate, on its merits and demerits. But beyond the narratives that will trail the review of the policy document is that its very existence has set the ball rolling for an issue based campaign in the 2019 election season and that is a very welcome development.
Dr Garba Umar wrote from Abuja and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org