Dr Bukola Saraki is a former President of the Senate and ex-governor of Kwara State. In this interview monitored on Arise Television, he speaks on the chances of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 25 presidential election, and why Nigerians should return the party to power, among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
What is the path to success for the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar?
First of all, I strongly believe that the 2023 election is a referendum on the performance of the All Progressives Congress (APC). And I believe that countries like ours, very progressive countries with a lot of progressive individuals, will never reward failure. The question that Nigerians must ask is: Has this government and the party failed or done well in the past seven years?
Let’s take the indices one by one because I want to stay on issues and move away from sentiments. In 2015, they promise to Nigerians was that ‘we will fight insecurity, improve the economy and create jobs for the youths.’
Those were the major issues. In 2015, if you can remember very clearly, the issue of insecurity in this country was limited to the North-East but since then to today, we have seen insecurity in the North-West. Farmers cannot go to their farms and people are being killed and kidnapped. We have seen herdsmen/farmers clashes in the North Central and we have seen the highest level of oil theft in the South-South and we have seen kidnapping.
On the issue of security, they have failed. Let’s take the economy and again I’m going to take them one by one and I will challenge them because they are all very knowledgeable decisions. Let’s take inflation, where we are today is about 16 per cent but it was never like that during the time of PDP because it was a single digit. We have the highest number of Nigerians below the poverty line which is more than 33 million.
It was not like that before. Unemployment under PDP was again like six to eight per cent, today it is 33 per cent, while youth unemployment is 54 per cent. Foreign direct investment; if we are lucky may be about $2 billion compared to $9 billion under PDP. These are facts that you cannot run away from.
In the economy as well, the official exchange rate of the naira to the dollar was N185, while the parallel market was N230 during the time of the PDP. Today, the official rate is N450 and the parallel market is N755. It has never been like that and these are facts. When you take all these issues, you will see that the APC has failed and as they have failed as a political party, we cannot reward failure. So, I don’t even think that the race should be about APC because they have had an opportunity to make Nigerian lives better but they have not.
The question now goes, who is next? Some will say we don’t want to go back to PDP but let’s talk about that back to PDP. In the PDP days as I said, insecurity was just limited to only one part of the country. In the PDP days, we had Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of about eight per cent and now we are seeing GDP growth of around two per cent, which is less than the population growth.
In the PDP days, we are talking about, we had Foreign Direct Investment into this country at about $8 billion, and we had the largest economy in Africa. Exchange rate was not N700 going to N1000 at a time. In the PDP days, the country was more united. It is normal in a democratic setting that the populace has a choice to say they are tired of a particular party and say we are going to try another party.
But when the new party fails, you come back to what is called the good days and that is what PDP offers under Atiku Abubakar. When you talk about the other parties, with great respect to the individuals, particularly Mr. Peter Obi, don’t forget that we run a presidential system in Nigeria and when you go to that ballot box on the day of the election, you are voting for the party, you don’t see Peter Obi but you see the party. A party, which from day one, don’t have candidates for all the parliamentarian seats is a recipe for disaster because you know that the executive and the legislature are not going to have a majority.
And a lot of people will say they are concerned about the term restructuring; these are things that need constitutional review, so you need you to have a majority in the National Assembly.
Investors are no longer satisfied with executive orders; they want to see legislations to support investment. So, if you are a small party, you don’t even have a spread because we have seen from our experience in 2015 that we should move away from intentions to reality and practicality. The practicality is that APC has failed because the party was a special purpose vehicle to win the election, not a party built with cohesion.
And so a small party that doesn’t have spread across the country, even if it has a president and doesn’t have the parliament from day one, we are not going to see what Nigerians want to see.
The laws that will change the constitution, restructure and make the country efficient can only be made by the National Assembly. Now, that takes me back again to Atiku Abubakar; in Atiku Abubakar you have a candidate that is ready from day one. You will say what do I mean by that?
The experience he has is even at the federal level not sub-national. All the other two candidates with respect to them are at best governors at a sub-national level. I have been a governor as well but I will tell you from my experience as governor for eight years and my experience as president of the Senate, presiding over Nigerians from different parts of the country, different languages, religions and cultures, is totally different. You don’t gain that experience at sub-national because you are a governor.
Some people have said that for anybody to win the presidential election, he must get a certain percentage in a certain number of states, do you think that PDP has done enough to get the needed spread?
Very simple, the PDP as a party with the kind of candidate we have in Atiku Abubakar will easily get our 25 per cent constitutional requirements across the country. If you do any poll or discussion, you will find out that we are either coming first or we are coming second. The South-South has been a strong PDP area and we will do very well there.
In the South-East, the challenge we will have there is of course Labour Party but we will still do well in the zone and take our 25 per cent. We will do well in the North Central. We will also do well in the North-West and North-East. You need four zones to win the election. Our four zones will be North- West, North-East, South-South and North-Central and we will take our 25 per cent in more than 24 states. There is no doubt about that.
But the structures you talked about are what Labour Party presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi said he wants to dismantle…
Yes, you can do away with the old but it has to be comprehensive. In France, when President Macron came in, he was not part of the structure but the movement there was not just on the executive, the country voted for even parliamentarian candidates of that party. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that but what I’m saying from what we can see is that the party itself started a movement that is just about the presidential.
The movement must also be for the Houses of Assembly and National Assembly. Where a party from day one, does not have candidates filling all the positions in the National Assembly, it is already a problem. I’m not talking about structure in that sense. So, from day one, based on my experience and I’m sure you have seen it, it means that the government will not be functional because definitely it will not have the support to be able to drive its policies and programmes.
When you are promising as a presidential candidate that when you get there you will make sure that states have powers, it can only happen if you have the support.
Were the failures you highlighted in APC the reason you left the party?
We all know the history of why that I parted ways with APC. I was among those that campaigned for APC to come to power. But I realised early that we are not going to deliver on the promises we made to Nigerians.
We promised Nigerians as I said that we will create employment, we will fight insecurity and that we will ensure that there is a climate for investment but these did not happen. As such, there is no way my conscience will allow me to continue to stay in that party. I have said it many times and even those in that party cannot tell Nigerians that they have performed because the indices are there. That party has failed and if it has failed, are we going to reward failure? I don’t think so because in our clan we don’t reward failures, in our families we don’t reward failures and in our offices, we don’t reward failure.
They have failed the same way in 2015 when Nigerians thought PDP has failed and they voted them out for another party. So, I’m saying that no matter the propaganda, we must go back to content.
Have they performed? If they have failed, then the discussion we should have in the next four weeks is: Where do we go as Nigerians? Do we go to any of these smaller parties that are offering a dream or do we go to safe hands? I’m saying that Atiku Abubakar is a safe hand because of the situation of this country today we cannot afford an experiment again.
Why didn’t you stay in APC and be part of the change within that will correct those failures you have pointed out?
That is a question from five years ago but what I’m saying is that the party has failed. Yes, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is asking to be given the opportunity to correct the failures but he says he will continue from President Buhari.
But I’m saying with what Nigerians have been through, the pain and hardship, this is not the time to go through that again. Nigerians are looking for a better time and a much more fruitful future. So, it is a choice they have to make.
Do you personally think that it will be fair in terms of equity to have another Hausa/Fulani as the next president of Nigeria?
Unfortunately, the reason why we got to where we got to was that ethnicity has become so paramount. It is again part of the failures of APC and Atiku Abubakar doesn’t belong to that. Here is a man if you look at his career, has lived in the North, lived in the South and he is surrounded by people from all parts of the country. His focus will be pan-Nigerian and he has always been like that. I think we will get a better Nigeria with Atiku because he will be transparent and will not have one-sided appointments.
What has raised an issue like this is because of what we have seen the APC do with appointments. They take actions as if certain parts of the country do not matter. That is why most Nigerians are aggrieved but more important than that is who will make Nigeria better, who will unite this country, who has friends across the country irrespective of their tribe and religion?
In what ways would your presidential candidate revive the economy, considering the rising debt profile?
That is huge but if you can recollect, in 2015, when PDP was leaving office, the debt profile was about N10 trillion, today, they might tell you it is N40 trillion but if you add ways and means, it is close to N77 trillion and you are running at about 90 per cent of debt to revenue.
I remember when I was president of the Senate and we had an economic recession; we organised meeting with the private sector and one of the things driving them was investment and looking at assets in which we can allow people to invest but the APC is going just going one line, which is borrowing.
There was no opportunity given to people to come and invest. Under Atiku Abubakar and he has always said that; it will be private- sector driven. You will see investments coming in because there are a lot of people that still want to invest in this great country but the language and attitude of APC government have not encouraged them to invest.
Three things are key; oil theft needs to be dealt with decisively and that has not happened. And that is why we lost a great opportunity, oil-producing countries under this Ukerine-Russia war have benefited from the war. It is not acceptable how we are still having oil theft and that has to stop. The corruption there has to stop. Atiku has also said that the foreign exchange multiple rates will stop because there are a lot of people who want to bring money into the country but they are not going to come in when they know that the official exchange rate is not realistic. So, we will try to ensure that funds come in so that there will be more money available. Thirdly, if you have a private sector- driven economy, infrastructure development can be taken off your hand.
In terms of specific massaging that will help Nigerians make up their minds on the candidate to vote for, what are the key things that your candidate wants to do and how he will do them?
I think the media should also take part of the blame for what we are seeing today because we have seen a lot of propaganda and people are not held accountable. How can we be going for a presidential election and candidates are evading debates and discussions?
In developed countries, presidential candidates are scrutinized and they tell you what they want to do not by proxies or third parties. When you discuss with Atiku Abubakar and he talks about his policy, you will know that these policies were not written by people and were just given to him. He will take you through his fivepoint agenda. He is saying that he will secure the country. How do you secure the country?
He talks about more recruitment into the security agencies and bringing in technology, and very importantly, he is going to ensure that there is a collaboration between the agencies. One of the major problems of this APC government is that the security agencies have not been able to share intelligence as much as possible. He said he will address the economy as the second agenda. In addressing the economy he said he will be able to raise money by the time he tackles oil theft and take out fuel subsidy. Those two items alone if done properly can give you up to $10 billion.
So, when he says some of these things, he is not just saying them and I like the point of what you are saying that some of these candidates should tell us what they are going to do and how they will do them. When Atiku tells you that he is going to invest in small and medium enterprises, he knows where the money is coming from because he has the political will to do them.
These two issues of subsidy and oil theft are issues this government should have tackled. He said that he will ensure that there is investment coming into different sectors of the economy. People want to invest in agriculture, gas, the tech sector and the creative industry. Unfortunately, media organisations don’t focus on those issues. When a candidate cannot tell us what he is doing, how would you hold him accountable? These are some of the issues he will do in the economy.
Then, he talked about restructuring, which is important because we must get the sub-nationals more efficient and that is something that Nigerians want. He talks about uniting this country because that is key. Again when PDP was in government, the unity of this country was much better than now. We must be able to speak the truth because the level of disunity in this country has never been like that before. APC brought us there.
And the last is education. He focuses on the importance of education as central to our development. These are the agenda he has for the people of this country. When you talk about messaging, Atiku is the one speaking on the things he wants to do from day one.
He has had an opportunity to sit down with the major television channels in the country and he responded about his policy for two and half hours telling Nigerians what he wants to do. Campaigning through proxies is different from you sitting down and telling Nigerians this is what I intend to do, so that Nigerians can judge you. I heard people talk about teams, yes, but there must be leadership and vision.
Nigeria needs leaders that are hands-on. If you are not hands-on as we have seen in the last eight years, it will not work because the work that needs to be done is a lot. It needs somebody who knows what he expects, who is ready to go after what he expects and who has an idea.
Your team is as good as where you lead them to. So, this is why I believe strongly that going forward in this country, Atiku is the best-prepared candidate to take us to where we want to go to.