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“Less government but plenty questions”: TheScoop analyses the Atiku manifesto

Politics

“Less government but plenty questions”: TheScoop analyses the Atiku manifesto

Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar has unveiled his electoral manifesto to Nigerians ahead of the 2019 elections as he hopes to defeat incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 contest. TheScoop’s editorial team analysed the document and stripped it into what you need to know.

READ: Big government reloaded: TheScoop Analysis of APC’s #NextLevel manifesto

Why it matters:

According to Atiku, his policy document themed ‘Get Nigeria Working Again’ offers Nigerians a different deal “in the light of the policy failures of the past.” It is hinged on three major promises of first – “a strong, resilient and prosperous economy”, second –  “Nigeria’s unity”, and third, “strong and effective democratic governance.” Atiku had quite a lot to say in 186 pages, offering useful details (far more than Pres. Buhari) on what he intends to achieve if elected president.

Things to note:

Atiku offers an optimistic plan to grow the Nigerian economy to US$900 billion by 2025. In essence he is betting that the GDP will grow from less than 2% currently to more than 10% annually under his leadership. That sounds like an unrealistic prospect given the current fiscal situation of the country and the shocks in the oil sector.

As expected, the plan is focused on the economy which is Atiku’s main rallying message and heavy on details in comparison to the abridged document made available by the APC.

However, Atiku’s manifesto is far from perfect and could be very confusing, leaving room for questions. It appears to be a little bit ambivalent, containing contradictory points on occasion which would worry those who require consistency from their candidate.

Highlights:

Less government involvement in the economy: While the Buhari/APC plan is all about the power of big government, Atiku and the PDP are prescribing a plan that believes in the power of the private sector. That’s the basic difference between the APC and PDP in this election.

“To build the economy of our dreams, Nigeria will actively support and rely on the private sector as the ‘engine’ of economic growth. The promotion of private sector-led growth shall, indeed, be the first basic principle of our economic development strategy,” the document stated. Atiku’s plan if followed through, will be a delight to fiscal conservatives but would pit him against the progressives/labour class.

Top on his plan is privatising “State-Owned Enterprises” including the NNPC and its “refineries and the concession of Nigeria’s sea and airports.”

Atiku made an unsuccessful bid to partially privatise around 2002 during his tenure as Nigeria’s Vice President. There was stern resistance to such plans by the labour unions. It is unclear how a President Atiku would pursue this move seeing that it is quite unpopular with the masses who might not really understand how it would benefit them in the long run. Other privatisation initiatives in Atiku’s plan including railway and power transmission infrastructure.  Atiku criticised the power sector privatisation effort, saying that “Electricity supply has not improved in spite of it.” The jury is out on his previous privatisation efforts as the economic chair of the Obasanjo administration and Nigerians might require more convincing on another large scale privatisation effort.

Subsidy Removal:  Atiku offers a bold plan to eliminate subsidies on petroleum products to give room for “market-determined prices for Petrol Motor Spirit (PMS).” The only other candidate who has been as forceful in a call for complete subsidy removal is Oby Ezekwesili of the ACPN. On the other end of the spectrum are candidates like Pres. Buhari and Omoyele Sowore, who support the subsidy regime.

If Atiku’s plan goes through, it would mean a drastic increase in petrol prices in the short term which may put pressure on the poor (although it can be argued that the poor in certain parts of the country already pay much higher for fuel). The manifesto proposes to set up a Special Purpose Fund for the utilization of all monies saved from subsidy removal in building infrastructure in education, health and the empowerment of women and youth Atiku hopes that pursuing this plan would create massive jobs as a result of investments in refineries and other allied industries. This is one of his boldest proposals — seeing that the issues of subsidy removal has led to the erosion of the political capital of previous governments. If implemented, this plan could result in a big boon for the economy.

One problem with Atiku’s position is that it contradicts the position of his party, the PDP, which recently claimed that Atiku has a policy template to fix and crash the price of petrol. Atiku is yet to deny the statement. He cannot on the one hand claim to pursue deregulation and on the other hand talk about fixing prices. He needs to tell Nigerians what he actually believes, and correct the position of his party if he disagrees with their position.

One tiny question for Atiku: Several of the promises in his manifesto have a 2025 timeline which falls outside his first term in office. Considering that he is on record to have promised that he would serve for just one term if elected, he needs to clarify whether he has changed his mind or those long timelines are expected to hold irrespective of who takes over from him after four years.

Job creation: Atiku promises about 12 million “self-and wage-paying employment opportunities in the private sector” within 4 years. He promises to achieve this through apprenticeship schemes targeting about 1 million crafts persons. Another key part of his job creation plan is an executive backed National Research and Innovation Fund Bill that is expected to provide funds in form of grants, equity, among others to “at least 100,000 budding entrepreneurs annually.” Other funding proposals include an SME Venture Capital Fund of about $250 million to be sourced by private sector and Financial Innovation Fund to incentivize MSMEs sector lending. This is in addition to a plan to recruit 100,000 Master Craft Person’s annually to train 1,000,000 apprentices. We would need a lot more details in the course of the campaign season than the manifesto provided, in order to be convinced about the workability of the jobs plan.

Tackling Poverty: Atiku’s plan to tackle poverty has some substance with regards to financial inclusion, access to credit and inputs as well as the provision of “basic amenities.” However, several parts of the plan contradicts his position on restructuring — that social development at community level is not a key responsibility of the Federal Government. The Atiku plan also totally fails to regard instruments such as Conditional Cash Transfers as means of eradicating extreme poverty and improving social development indicators such as education and healthcare for the most vulnerable people in the society.

Budgetary allocation: Atiku dished out that old trick of promising 25% of the annual budget to education and 15% to health. Such prescriptions are hardly workable as the APC discovered after making similar promises in 2015. Atiku is basically saying he would allocate 40% of his budgets to those two sectors, while every other sector from security to agric to infrastructure to debt servicing and all the other poverty eradication inititiatives in the budget will share the remainder. Hmm.

The Education plan also has some holes. Atiku wants to hand over federal universities and schools to states. More clarity is needed here. And then there is the line where he said “universities shall be encouraged to charge user fees at market rates under a partnership between the federal, state and local governments.” That’s terribly vague. What does user fees mean and how is he defining market rates?

Forex restrictions? Atiku’s plan basically espouses free market principles. However, he seems to maintain the Buhari administration’s status quo when it comes to the Foreign Exchange market and trade. A red flag: He says he intends to “improve availability of foreign exchange for legitimate production input purchases.” That position is no different from the Buhari/Emefiele ideology that led to the restriction of items eligible for FOREX access.

Buying Crude from Niger Republic and Chad? According to the manifesto: “In order to improve domestic supply of refined petroleum products, government will incentivize those investors that are willing to cite modular refineries in the North to source crude from neighbouring Niger and Chad via pipeline to be constructed under Public Private Partnership.” Atiku’s plan has a major emphasis on domestic refining of Nigeria’s crude oil and seeks to attract private sector led investments to achieve this given the right policy environment. However, Atiku’s proposal to invest a portion of public revenue to invest in pipelines to source crude from Niger and Chad is quite dubious.

One other point of controversy that needs resolution is Atiku’s position on local governments. He said in the document that “local governments shall remain as independent tier of government. Grassroot development requires the recognition of the local government not as appendages to the office of state governor.” The challenge with this position is that in a speech last July at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Atiku said this, “Local governments are not federating units. State governments should have the freedom to create as many local governments as they wish or not have local governments at all.” Then at a symposium in Abuja seven months ago, he said, “The federal government should hands-off the administration of local governments. States should have the power to create as many local governments as they wish or to not create any.” 

So which is it? Is he saying states should decide what they want to do with LGs or he is saying LGs shall remain, in which case states have no choice? It cannot be both.

Bottomline: Atiku is clearly for limited government and most investors would be thrilled by his policy plan. A lot more thought appears to have gone into it than in the Buhari Next Level document which seemed hastily put together. Atiku’s plan is however weak on social development aspects including education, healthcare and social welfare for vulnerable populations. For societies to function optimally, there must be a balance of both. Finally, the Atiku plan looks like a document that tried to pander to different ideologies, sometimes even when they conflicted.

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