Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who has officially declared his intention to contest the presidency in 2019 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this exclusive interview with Olawale Olaleye and Bayo Akinloye lays out his plan to reposition the country to realise its full potential
Atiku speaks on a wide variety of issues, including youth unemployment, the troubled education system, insecurity, and restructuring. Furthermore, for the first time, he committed himself to doing just one term of four years. Excerpts:
You officially joined the race for the PDP ticket ahead of the 2019 presidential election two weeks ago. What exactly is your agenda for Nigeria?
My agenda is centred on jobs. That is what I have been doing for the past 40 years. I am first and foremost an entrepreneur. A job creator. My group of companies has a workforce of about 50,000. This does not include the hundreds of thousands that are indirectly employed. I believe in creating jobs, providing opportunities, being united as one Nigeria, and securing it all with a military-industrial complex whose raison d’être is ‘Nigeria First.’
It is a fact of life that you cannot give what you do not have. In December of 2017, the government-owned and operated National Bureau of Statistics officially revealed that 7.9 million Nigerians had lost their jobs in the 21 months immediately preceding the Buhari government. The current government cannot create jobs because it is headed and peopled by men and women who have never run successful businesses. They ran their own private businesses down. So how can you expect them to run the public’s business up? What I am assuring Nigerians is that if they elect me, I promise them that everyone who wants to work will be given opportunities.
Even this thing they are doing, called N-Power, is a product of their poverty mindset. Nigerians do not need handout. Nigerians need a leg up! Our people are not lazy. Quote me anywhere; Nigerians are the most intelligent people on God’s planet. The reason our people are living in poverty today is that our current leaders have a poverty mentality. I will give you a very good example. How can I be president and criminals will attack my people and I will tell them that the only thing I can do is pray? Then, in that case, I should be a clergyman, not a president! How can a leader open his mouth and tell his citizens that it is better to give land than to die? That is as good as telling the people that they have been conquered.
You have become the champion of restructuring even more than Bola Tinubu, who no longer speaks of it. President Buhari described those clamouring for restructuring as parochial. What is your reaction to that? In addition, how do you really plan to restructure the country if elected in 2019?
Take something like insecurity. The other day there were killings in Plateau State and the President said the situation had got so bad there was nothing more he could do than pray. Even that statement itself is a cry for restructuring. The man is admitting that there is nothing he can do, within the current structure, other than to pray. That means the current structure, by his own admission, is not working.
If we restructured and had community policing, the man would not be in such dire straits. The Imam of Nghar village, in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State saved 300 Christians by hiding them in his mosque during the recent crisis. By that singular act, Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar saved 300 lives. That was a community solution to a community challenge. Now put your thinking cap on. Imagine how much safer that community would be if they practised community policing, which relied on community leaders like Imam Abdullahi Abubakar?
Even in revenue generation, I came up with the idea of matching grants when I gave a speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House, on April 25, 2018. Matching grants would motivate our states to be less dependent on federal allocation and more dependent on internally generated revenue. Today, both the Federal Government and the states are broke. They depend on loans to even pay salaries and in the midst of that, someone is saying that we do not need restructuring. Reality departed from such a fellow a while ago!
How do I plan to restructure the country if elected?
Restructuring is a process, not an event. However, I have said it that I would restructure Nigeria within six months of being elected. First of all, no state will get less than what they are currently getting from the federation account. In fact, they will get more. That is what my initiative of matching grant is all about. I only need a constitutional amendment if I want to take power and resources away. I do not need to amend the constitution to give power and resources away.
Let me give you an example. There are several federal government-owned assets and projects wasting away in Lagos and other states. I do not need a constitutional amendment to call the Lagos State government or governments of the other states and say take over these assets and projects and whatever monies they generate. I do not need a constitutional amendment to transfer universities from the Federal Government to the state government. I only need an Executive Order. Ditto for returning schools to the missions and religious organisations, which once owned them. The most vital part of restructuring is the devolution of powers, not the accumulation of powers and it is easier to give powers away than to take them from the federating units.