Being Remarks by Atiku Abubakar, GCON, former Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria and Presidential Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, at the meeting with Leaders and Stakeholders of the South East Zone of the PDP.
Let me begin by sincerely apologizing to the leaders and stakeholders of the South East zone who got the notice for this meeting late or even failed to get it. I am also told that the party did not liaise properly with the zonal officials regarding arrangements for this meeting, but you went ahead and made the arrangements anyway. I will definitely let the party know so we do better in the future.
This past week has been a very difficult one for me and I am sure that must have contributed to my not getting a timely briefing on the arrangements. But I take full responsibility and promise to do better in the future. In fact, I have not communicated adequately myself and for that I sincerely apologize. Our task is a collective one and I appeal to all to watch out for lapses and bring our attention to them so that corrective measures can be taken in a timely manner. We cannot leave anybody behind and we cannot take anybody or anything for granted. The campaigns and elections are huge, complex and highly demanding undertakings and we must win the election for the sake of our country and our people.
I sincerely thank our own Gburugburu, His Excellency Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for his demonstrated commitment to the success of this parley, for the elaborate arrangements made, and for our electoral victory next year. I am told, and I have seen, that he went the extra mile to ensure that adequate preparations were made despite my communication shortcomings. That’s leadership; that’s commitment, that’s selflessness, and I highly appreciate you, Gburugburu.
This very important visit is part of my consultations with the leaders of our various zones to thank them for their support, to listen to them regarding the issues specific to their zones both in terms of preparations for the campaigns but also governance after the elections. We must be prepared to hit the ground running from Day One, if Nigerians give us their mandate. Our country is in very bad shape and rescuing it requires proper preparations and attention to details, not just in terms of general issues affecting the whole country but also issues specific to each zone and the states therein.
As you know, the South East is close to my heart. You have supported me through thick and thin and I will always remember that. Your sons and daughters have played very positive roles in the development of our country. They were key personnel who played important roles in the PDP government in which I served as Vice President. And they have continued to excel in other roles across the world. You are a key contributor to economic activities in this country and a government that wants to revive our economy and provide opportunities for our people must carry the South East along. I am a business man and I know that businesses need supporting environment to thrive and when they thrive the country thrives. I do not see the provision of infrastructure in any part of the country as a favour to that part. If anything, it is a favour to the country because we are one country, one economy. A bridge across the River Niger or a coal power plant in Enugu is a favour to the Nigerian economy because they will contribute to growth in economic activities not just in the south east but across the country. We do not require identity cards from people and goods crossing a bridge, and electric power does not carry ethnic or religious currents when they pass low or high tension cables. When you understand the importance of infrastructure for economic development, jobs and wealth creation your focus would be to provide as much infrastructure as is needed in every part of the country rather than treat it as favours to be bestowed on those you like and denied to those you dislike.
When I was campaigning for the privilege of being your Presidential Candidate in the forthcoming election I outlined five priorities: reunify the country, improve security, fix the economy; restructure the federation; and improve human capital development. These are the areas that I believe would have the most impact on all other aspects of our development and our quality of life as citizens and as a country.
Our country is more divided today than it has ever been and it is our responsibility to reunify through equity, justice and fairness. That way we can all pull in one direction to develop our country and improve our people’s lives. This will require giving every segment of this country a sense of belonging, not just by meeting constitutional requirements on federal character but through government policies, programmes and projects, and our body language and utterances as leaders.
We need to provide efficient and effective government that secures the lives and properties of our people. Without security, life itself is meaningless, economic and other legitimate activities become impaired and investors would only flee. That is why security will be a top priority for a government that I lead. We will recruit, train and adequately equip and reward more police and other security personnel. We shall devolve policing powers so states that so desire can establish state police to help to secure their states. I have been calling for this for several years and we now seem to have reached a national consensus on it. Part of our task is to separate genuine political grievances from mere criminality. Political grievance will be addressed through the political process while criminality will be dealt through law enforcement. However, we will address the root causes of insecurity including the lack of opportunities, collapse of education, climate change and its impact on agriculture and animal husbandry, and lack of modernization of same. We shall modernize our agriculture including animal husbandry to help to reduce the persistent clashes between farmers and nomadic herders which have increasingly become violent.
Since the late 1960s we have had a faulty federal structure that concentrates too much power and resources at the Centre, thereby turning the federating states into appendages or parastatals of the federal government. A PDP government that I lead will work with the legislatures to restructure our federal system and devolve more powers to the states with corresponding resources. That way states will be better able to set their own development priorities while the federal government focuses on setting and maintaining standards. A federal system that does not encourage the federating units to compete among themselves in order to be better is a faulty one. This restructuring is not a favour to any section or group of sections of the country. Our country needs it badly in order to survive and thrive.
Our economy also needs major reforms if it’s to grow and provide jobs and opportunities for our young people. We must involve the private sector more in economic activities and investment, including in the provision of infrastructure. We shall stop fiscal support for non-performing government enterprises and also end the fuel subsidies which have become a cesspool of corruption. Support for the private sector as well as the medium and small scale enterprises will unleash our people’s creative energies as well as attract investments from outside our shores. Millions of jobs will be created. We did this before. In the government in which I served as Vice President you saw Nigerians returning from abroad to invest and seek other opportunities in the country. Under the APC that trend has since reversed. People cannot wait to run away from Nigeria.
Another critical priority area for me is human capital development. We shall provide good quality education and skills that would enable our young people to compete in the modern economy that is knowledge-based and driven by technology and innovation. We shall also provide good quality health care system that focuses on preventive care. We shall, therefore, make massive investments in these critical areas. A well-educated and healthy workforce is critical for economic development and wealth creation in today’s world.
My dear friends, this agenda will benefit the southeast. A Nigeria that truly works will work for all its zones. We must tackle the feeling of marginalization which is providing an excuse for the separatist agitations in this zone. National unity will benefit the people of this zone who need a wider platform to operate on. Restructuring that devolves powers from the federal government and gives states the power to set their priorities is better for this zone than what we currently have and have had since the late 1960s. I believe that you should not pull back one of your child that appears to be doing better at some point so that your other children would catch up. Rather you encourage the one(s) lagging behind to emulate that one so they can all do better. Holding the faster one back would result in all of them falling behind and handing victory to children who are not from your family. Also, insecurity pervades the South East now as much as other zones and without security people cannot go about their normal businesses. I am aware of how the economy of this zone and the livelihoods of its people are being destroyed by the Monday sit-at-home being imposed by a small misguided youth from this zone. It is difficult to understand how you liberate a people by destroying their economy. This has to stop and we shall address all political grievances not just by words but by deeds. The provision of Infrastructure is provisioning is critical for businesses and economic growth in the region, including necessary linkages across the country. Improved education is critical for this zone and the country. So is good quality health care.
But beyond these priorities, I would like to listen to the specific issues peculiar to this zone, which we need to address as a party and as a government. To that end, and without prejudice to what I will learn during this parley, I would like us to have a joint committee of our Campaign and the zone, with one representative of each state, to liaise on issues specific to the South-East zone that we will need to address if we work hard enough to win the elections. We will replicate these joint committees across all six geo-political zones in the country. We need this level of detail not just to win the elections, but, more importantly, in order to be able to provide good governance. The process will help us to hit the ground running on those issues as soon as we are sworn it. I know, for instance, that it is important to Enugu State that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport gains full approval to handle international flights.
Once more, I thank you most sincerely for your support for me, our party and all our candidates. We must all work very hard to make the South East our fortress. This will be a tough election. Let us work to secure every vote possible. The Party and the Campaign I will give you the support you need.
Gburuguru, I thank you again immensely for your support, your commitment and your patience. God bless all of you and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.