Stephen Williams talks to Al Haji Lai Mohammed, the National Public Secretary of the All Progressive Congress (APC), about the party’s policies should it win the election.
Perhaps the most crucial issue in the election is the continuing challenge posed by the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast of the country – or, more accurately, the ineffectiveness to date of Nigeria’s armed forces in confronting and defeating the terrorists, characterised by the military’s inability to secure the release of hundreds of abducted schoolgirls.
The rapid decline in the oil price is also rocking the economy, so heavily dependent on oil exports. Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele devalued the naira by over 15%, but market forces are still tugging the beleaguered oil-linked currency even lower, and election year uncertainty is doing nothing to help stabilise the situation.
So much so that it is widely believed that more than half of the country’s state governors now believe that Goodluck Jonathan should be replaced as Head of State. Even Jonathan’s erstwhile mentor, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has expressed misgivings over the current administration.
However, it’s one matter to criticise, quite another to offer an alternative. When asked how the All Progressive Peoples Congress (APC) policies would differ from those of PDP, Al Haji Lai Mohammed, the National Public Secretary of the APC, told African Business: “I’ll be very frank. I don’t think the PDP party really has any policies! I will get straight to the point. Remember, our party is a product of the merger of three independent opposition political parties and this is what is going make this particular election different from other elections.
“Until now, the ruling party has enjoyed a free ride, there has been no effective opposition because there were only small regional, ethnic-based parties. But after almost 15 years, the leaders of the small parties came to the conclusion that to get the PDP out of power, to change the status quo, they must come together to give the ruling party a run for its money. Today we have an official party that has about 169 members in parliament as opposed to the 40 or 50 each of them used to have before.”
It would be a mistake, however, to think that the APC has just relied on negative campaigning to make its electoral case. What distinguishes the two parties, according to Lai Mohammed, is that the APC formulates policies after listening to the people.
“After coming together as a coalition, we conducted a survey to really find out what is wrong with Nigeria. More than 28,000 people were asked various questions. The most commonly heard as the single most important of the problems facing Nigerians was unemployment, closely followed by the curse of corruption, and then issues of security,” Lai Mohammed explains.
“Now, the point is that 70% of Nigerians were unhappy with the job the government was doing, so we crafted our manifesto to address the creation of jobs; tackling corruption; and confronting problems relating to security.
“We have a manifesto that covers six broad areas: national security, good governance, human development, economic development, and land reform and natural resources development. But what makes us different is that we are going to tackle head-on the issues of national security, corruption and infrastructure.”
Lai Mohammed makes it clear that the APC believes that the primary responsibility of any government is the security of the lives and property of the Nigerian public. He believes that the root cause of the security issues in Nigeria is the corruption and neglect that has left the military, as he puts it, “prostrate”.
“Even though, year in and year out, large sums of money have been budgeted for the armed forces, it’s frittered away. We have recognised this so we intend to develop capacity and capabilities in the armed forces and re-establish professionalism.”
One of the proposals that the APC have is to reinvigorate professionalism in the army by reducing the interference that the ministries and the civil service exert on the security forces and the army. Commanders will, the APC proposes, be given operational autonomy and held responsible for their operations and their consequence.
“We will require the security commanders to present their own budgets and hold them accountable for any lapse,” Lai Mohammed explains.
However, issues of corruption and misappropriation of state funds are not confined to the security services. “Corruption is a major headache,” Lai Mohammed insists.
“The kinds of figures that we talk about in Nigeria are phenomenal. The former Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, blew the whistle on a discrepancy of $20bn between oil receipts and oil sales. And what did the government do? They fired him rather than investigate!
“Do you realise that while Nigeria consumes 35m litres a day of petroleum, or what we term ‘petroleum motor spirits’, we are paying for 59m litres a day, an excess of about $15bn a year!
“Two years since the discovery of this anomaly, nobody has been prosecuted. So, what the APC believes is that corruption has not only given Nigeria a bad name, but it’s also driving away investors and partners, depriving people of jobs and the state the resources to invest in infrastructure.
“The first thing we intend to do is implement a freedom of information act to allow civil society to access economic data and hold people in positions of responsibility fully accountable,” Lai Mohammed pledges.
He cites education as the key to unlocking Nigeria’s vast potential. The APC’s position is that employment has ramifications when tackling issues of security, even corruption.
“We must fight illiteracy by making sure the first years of education are not only free but compulsory,” Lai Mohammed says.
“We intend to make education better and sustain many of our vocational and technical institutions so that we can have a pool of talented youths that can join the workforce with appropriate skills as our economy grows.”
However, the potential that Lai Mohammed says lies dormant in Nigeria – that can be unlocked by investments and reform of education – can only be exploited by a focus on infrastructure development.
He describes Nigeria’s power infrastructure, currently amounting to under 4,000MW for a population of 170m, as “frankly, derisory”.
Consequently, the AFC has pledged to rapidly increase the pace of improvements to the national grid, at the rate of an additional 2,000MW a year, as well as rolling out major transportation infrastructure to underpin the economy.
The AFC has also formulated a less obvious policy objective of establishing a fully computerised land registry. “Without the ability to transfer land as an asset, you cannot develop. So we are going to provide a grant to every state within a two-year period to computerise their land registries.”
He says that the APC believes this will have direct bearing on employment as Nigeria has over 40m hectares of arable land that is not cultivated. Creating a credible land registry can securitise this valuable asset to enable finance to be raised to create viable agricultural enterprises – as well as underpinning the mining of the many solid minerals that Nigeria is endowed with.
In addition, formalising land ownership would stimulate the building of new homes. Nigeria is in desperate need of fresh housing stocks.
“We anticipate that each state will be able to build another 100,000 houses a year. That is still short of Nigeria’s requirements, but it would not only provide shelter but create and jump-start the economy with a boost to the construction industry and the numbers the sector employs. Once you allow people to have access to land, have title to land, you have an unlocked vast potential.”
A sad situation
Turning his attention to the oil industry and the policies that the APC has formulated for this all important sector for Nigeria, Lai Mohammed points out that hydrocarbons account for 70% of the state’s revenues, but employ less than 15% of the country’s workforce.
“All we do is export crude,” he bemoans, “we don’t add value. It is so sad. So we are going to, as a matter of priority, pass the Petroleum Industry Bill and engage in privatisation, remove government from the state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).”
The APC also wants to remove the group of oligarchs that currently control the industry and implement the master gas plan, to stop gas flaring and use the gas to generate power. Lai Mohammed also says the APC has pledged to incrementally stop the importation of petroleum products.
In total, the APC party has set out a compelling case for the forthcoming elections and it will fascinating to see if the Nigerian electorate will vote in this month the first change of government in 16 years. It would be even more fascinating to see if the policy shifts that Lai Mohammed outlined to African Business could actually be executed and what progress the West African giant would make in attaining its long-promised potential.