The four leading presidential candidates in Abuja on Thursday expressed their blueprints and how they will tackle critical issues if elected president in the coming election.
Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC); Rabiu Kwankwaso of the Nigerian New Peoples Party (NNPP); and Peter Obi of the Labor Party (LP), speaking at the 20th Daily Trust Dialogue organized by Media Trust Limited, publishers of the Daily Trust newspaper.
Theme: “Questioning the President’s Agenda 2023,” the program was attended by former governors, traditional rulers, diplomats, civil society groups, students and academics.
The presidential election is held on February 25 and candidates from all the registered political parties in the country will be on the ballot.
Speaking on his program for the country, Atiku said currently Nigeria has sunk below all recognized standards – in social, economic and political benchmarks.
“Our experience in the last seven years under the APC government has made us doubt our strength as a people. APC will be remembered most for how it failed to maintain the integrity of our unity,” he said.
Atiku promised that the first direction that “our administration will take is the principle of government in recreating national unity.”
“For me, it’s not all about victory in the upcoming election. On the contrary, it will be a win-win for all because I will deliberately try to win the confidence of all Nigerians when we create an atmosphere that will make all Nigerians take ownership of government and governance.
“The drive to achieve national unity is easier. With our unity restored, it becomes easier to face the other challenges related to security, economy, education and devolution of powers,” said the former vice president.
Similarly, the APC candidate said that if he is elected, he will create a better life for all, and a promising future for our youth.
“We will revive our economy, our manufacturing sector and bring Nigeria back to a place of industrialization and job creation. We will manufacture, produce and increase the quality of goods and services we need,” said Mr. Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State.
“Nigeria will be known as a nation of producers and creators, not just consumers.
We will export more and import less to earn more foreign exchange and strengthen the naira. We will deliver food security and affordability by continuing to prioritize agriculture and helping farmers and other actors in the agricultural value chain through enlightened policies that promote productivity.”
Then, on the other hand, Mr. Kwankwaso of the NNPP argued that Nigeria needs a leader who will address insecurity, which plagues the country.
“As it is today, we have more security issues, even in other parts of the country, especially in the North West and even in the North East. That is why we are increasing the number of weapons and that is why we are going to provide special training, special equipment, relevant technology, and so on to deal with the situation or the uncertainty of 2023 and above.
“And we believe that Nigeria has the numbers, they have the capacity and determination to ensure peace in this country and that is exactly what we will do,” Mr. Kwankwaso said.
He added: “With peace, you will see people coming to invest; you don’t have to go out and shout. They see the situation and that is why they decided to leave the country to go to another place where there is better peace.”
In agreement with Mr. Kwankwaso, the LP candidate also said “the main priority today in Nigeria is the issue of insecurity.”
Mr. Obi said: “Insecurity is a factual issue for Nigeria. You cannot talk about being in your country if that country is not safe. If you deal with insecurity you will face food inflation, and we will immediately review and restructure the country’s security architecture.
Regarding the economy, the LP flag bearer said, “I will move this country from consumption to production. Look at the great lands we have in the North. That is the most important fiscal asset in the country today.”
Concerned security situation
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Chairman of Media Trust Limited, Kabiru Yusuf, said this year’s event was put together with the hope that Nigerians will learn what will prepare them for the twists and turns of the coming weeks.
He lamented the dire state of insecurity in the country, saying that the government and its security agencies must be aware that banditry and kidnapping have made normal life impossible in hundreds of towns and villages across the North West and North East of the country.
“It remains to be seen whether people facing existential threats can patiently queue to perform their civic duty,” said Mr Yusuf.
“In the South-East, a violent agitation by IPOB, mostly directed at the police and INEC facilities and personnel, could turn entire communities away from voting. This deliberate disenfranchisement will further the divisive agenda and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“When you add this to the political vitriol online and offline; the dirty tricks campaign and dirty money doing the rounds; it is difficult to imagine an election result without controversy.
“Indeed, if the citizens ignore the instigators, Nigeria could be the ultimate winner at the polls. It is for our collective good to give this poor yet rich country another chance to rise from the ashes,” he said.
For her part, Mary-Beth Leonard, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, said that the US supports transparent and credible elections that reflect the will of the people in a process that is carried out peacefully.
“The 2023 elections are a crucial opportunity for Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country and the continent’s largest democracy to cement its place as a democratic leader in Africa,” Mr Leonard said.
Mr. Leonard said her country does not favor a particular candidate but a peaceful and transparent electoral process in Nigeria. She believes that elections are the foundation of democracy based on the legitimate transfer of power.
“But it is valuable for us to reflect on the fact that since 1999, Nigerian voters have successfully shown their democratic powers to elected leaders six times in the country,” she said.
“For over twenty years, Nigeria has demonstrated to Africa and the whole world its strong commitment to peaceful, credible and transparent elections at a time when many parts of West Africa are facing challenges to democratic processes. For Nigeria, the rules of these democratic games are internalized and accepted.”
The diplomat also said, as the day of the election approaches, “we call on political parties to adhere to their commitment to peace and the promise of September 2022.
“The candidates will soon have another opportunity to confirm their commitment to the democratic process by signing a peace agreement on the day of the pre-election and by accepting the election results.”
The US stands firmly by the demands and wishes of Nigerian voters for full transparency in election integrity, Mr. Leonard said.
“People who undermine or will undermine the democratic process in any way including intimidation and violence may be ineligible for visas to travel to the United States. We have taken steps in the past to impose US visa restrictions on those involved in involvement in electoral processes
“We will refuse or cancel visas for those who try to undermine the upcoming election. Visa records are confidential, we cannot and will not announce the identity of those subject to the sanction but I can tell you that I am personally aware of people who have been barred from traveling to the US on the grounds,” she said.
A massive change is needed
Also speaking, the Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, raised a question in the program asking “will this election lead to meaningful change in our nation.”
According to him, a relatively small group is running the affairs of the nation mostly freely between two political parties without any particular ideological identity but mainly structures to capture power.
Mr. Onaiyekan argued that if things are to change for the better, that change needs to be drastic.
“It cannot be business as usual. There is a need for a major change in orientation, especially in the concept and practice of political power which characterizes politics as a true and honest service to the common good and not as ways and means of capturing power for self-interest.
“Let the professional riggers make it very clear that this time it will not be business as usual. This is not a threat but a sincere warning and let those who have ears please listen,” Mr. Onaiyekan said.
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