As Election Campaign Begins, Economic Issues Take Centre-stage

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 Barely one month to the February general elections, the two major political parties, All Progressive Congress and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, have hit the ground running with Presidential campaigns in a few locations such as Uyo (Akwa Ibom state), and Bayelsa. As the parties move to other parts of the country in the days ahead, Festus Akanbi writes on some of the economic issues that will shape the campaigns

From Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, to Lagos, the nation’s economic nerve centre, last week was a period of near standstill for economic activities as presidential candidates of the two leading political parties,  President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, began their campaigns ahead of the February 14 Presidential elections.

  True to expectations, the gathering of potential voters in the two major towns proved to be image boosters for the two most prominent parties. While, the APC’s campaign last Tuesday reverberated throughout the length and breadth of Rivers State, the President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign in Lagos on Thursday took the state by storm.

However, to economic watchers, what is of interest is not the size of the crowds, which the two parties alleged included rented people from nearby states, but the various economic issues which both parties promised to put in place if voted into power.

PDP Banks on Performance, Preaches Continuity
   For the ruling PDP, it is a matter of continuity and perfection of some of its existing policies, having been in the saddle in the past 16 years and, according to the party’s national Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, the 16 years of unbroken control at the federal level have provided an enabling environment that empowered Nigerian entrepreneurs across board to flourish in business and economy.

   However, analysts said President Jonathan is expected to take along with him, some leading members of his economic management team as a boost to his promise to improve on some of the economic landmarks in his administration. It is therefore not a coincidence that the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has been co-opted into the president’s campaign team.

According to a statement issued by Professor Rufai Alkali, the Political Adviser to the President. Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was recruited to mobilise women while Chief Executive Officer, Rise Network, Mrs Toyosi Akerele, was appointed to mobilise the youths to vote for the president amongst others.

   Other heavyweights expected to give the president backing include Nigeria’s foremost entrepreneur and Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, and other leading lights in the nation’s economy.

   Therefore, as far as the PDP is concerned, some of the issues to be brought to bear include: the ongoing power sector reforms, blueprint on how to hedge the nation’s economy against the prevailing oil price shock; inflation targeting; banking sector reforms; privatisation; development of the non-oil sector; revenue mobilisation and the war against corruption, among others.

  To be fair to this administration, some fundamental progress have been made so far although the tempo of the reforms in the power sector has been slow as a result of the twin problem of lack of adequate gas supply (which was largely caused by pricing problem) and the debts hanging on the new industry players.

Power Sector
  Interestingly, government is currently implementing a cocktail of measures to make it profitable for gas producers to invest in the business with the a corresponding increase in their output while a special funding arrangement being midwifed by the Central Bank of Nigeria is raising about N213billion intervention fund to help settle some of the legacy debts currently stalling progress in the power sector.

Oil Sector
   President Jonathan has also continued to present as his scorecard, the effective handling of the crisis in the international oil market. Oppositions have continued to point at the falling external reserves position and the attendant naira devaluation, but handlers of  President Jonathan’s re-election bid said the administration is on top of the game.

   Apart from the amnesty programme which has helped in boosting oil output, government said it had succeeded in blocking some oil bunkerers with the attendant stability in oil sale.

Transport Sector
   The modest achievement of this administration in the transport sector, especially the revival of the railway and the commencement of inter-regional transportation is another positive feature of this administration and the PDP government will not hesitate to flaunt it wherever the party goes for the campaign ahead of the February 14 election.

   The routes include Enugu-Port Harcourt train service and the Lagos-Jebba rail lines, with the latter costing the government over N12 billion. To add value to the initiative, the NRC had also launched its Mass Transit Train Service (MTTS) in Lagos.

   Also being flaunted is the resolve to improve the non-oil sector, and expand tax net in order to raise the level of revenue internally generated. Jonathan said he needs re-election to enable him complete some of these projects.

The on-going National Identity Card scheme and the biometrics in banks which promise to help in data gathering and check delinquent debtors also got mentioned at the PDP campaigns.

The party’s publicity secretary had said in a statement that meticulous application by successive PDP administrations of policies as enshrined in the party’s ideology and manifesto had created and sustained an investment-friendly environment and empowered Nigerian businesses to thrive in all spectrums of the economy.

“The growth of the private sector under the PDP has been phenomenal. This did not happen by chance. Our governments at all levels have been guided by our economic policy, which directs the creation of a dynamic economy in which market forces are combined with the forces of partnership, solidarity and cooperation for the benefit of the people.

“The hallmark of the PDP administration remains the policy of transfer of wealth from the public sector to hardworking and enterprising Nigerians. This has not only revived and empowered the private sector but also expanded the nation’s economic frontiers with an unprecedented growth in small and medium scale enterprises, which has helped in providing employment for our citizens across the country.

“The fact remains that under the PDP, Nigerian entrepreneurs have fared better more than ever before.  Under our government, more private businesses have sprung up. More banks have been opened and performing well; the telecommunication, oil and gas and manufacturing sectors have witnessed exceptional expansion; more transport companies, hotels, farms, schools and hospitals are springing up; more reputable international retail businesses and food processing concerns have opened in our country.

Banking Reforms
   “Under the PDP, our hitherto weak and unreliable banking sector has been repositioned and strengthened. Today, our nation boasts of a strong and stable banking system which has restored investor confidence and provided support for growth in the other sectors of the economy. Nigerian banks are now growing stronger with many of them having hundreds of branches and business offices locally and internationally.

“Also, following the conducive business environment created by successive PDP administrations, the telecommunications sector has witnessed tremendous expansion in the last 15 years with firms such as Globacom, Etisalat, MTN, and Airtel among others opening new lines and empowering millions of our people through direct and indirect employment and access to global business connections.

“In the same vein, we have witnessed a revolution in the retail sector with reputable international concerns establishing in Nigeria and recording impressive performance following the nation’s encouraging demographics and stronger purchasing power of our citizens.

“International retail giants such as Shoprite, Internationale Spar Centrale BV, among others are expanding the retail frontiers. The rebirth of shopping malls in all major cities of the country attests to the empowerment of Nigerian entrepreneurs in this sub-sector.

    “In the manufacturing sector, the PDP has not only revived but also revolutionised the nation’s automobile industry. Today, through the New Automobile Industry Policy initiated by President Goodluck Jonathan, vehicles are now being manufactured in our country.

“Automobiles manufactured by Innoson Group, an indigenous firm are competing favourably in the market. Leading vehicle manufacturers such as Nissan, Hyundai, and Kia, have set up factories in Nigeria and are employing thousands of our people.  This is in addition to the revitalisation of Peugeot Nigeria and ANAMCO.
“Hardworking private individuals are now thriving in their business endeavours. Brand names such as the Dangotes, the INTEL Services as well as several others in food processing, hospitality, transport, construction, oil and gas are recording huge successes.

“Even in the media, there has been an unprecedented growth with Nigerians firms thriving and competing favourably in print, electronic and online ventures following the business and media-friendly environment provided by the PDP”.

Noting that the successes recorded so far came through careful planning and execution of its economic strategies, the PDP assured that with continuous implementation of its wealth creation polices, the future of the Nigerian business community is secure with attendant benefits to the citizens.

APC Promises Good Governance
    The opposition party, All Peoples Congress has also been marshalling its programmes which the party believes will usher in a period of bliss to the citizens.
Speaking on a Channels TV programme last week, the party’s Vice-Presidential Candidate, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, said the performance of the APC in the states it had its members as governors had demonstrated that good governance was not rocket science.

“It is the first time that a party will say that his policies are guided by what the man on the street wants.

“We are looking at how the government can better the lives of the people directly while encouraging business and industry to do the same.

“So at the core of the APC’s manifesto is the common man. The man on the street.

“We will have social security. We will focus on jobs for the young people, Universal Health Insurance, conditional cash transfers for the poorest people in the society and explore several options for power. Power makes it difficult now for industry and business to take-off in Nigeria,” Professor Osinbajo said.

Privatisation of Power Transmission
   Although the PDP-led government has privatised the power sector, Osinbajo said the difference in APC’s approach is that the party would further privatise the power sector’s transmission which he emphasised was an important process in power generation.

According to him, such a sensitive part of the power sector processes cannot be left in the hand of bureaucracy, explaining that if the transmission is run as a business, Nigeria’s quest to significantly improve its power delivery will be done deal.

War Against Poverty
    On Security, the APC Vice Presidential candidate said that the party would tackle the poverty in the north to ensure that the Boko Haram sect does not find young and poor youths to recruit.

The Nigerian economy is said to have maintained a steady growth, but Professor Osinbajo said that the economy would have grown more if the problem of the security had been tackled.

“The problem of the Nigerian economy is management of the resources and that is critical with the way the APC government would deal with issues. Some of the issues surrounding the economy is complete lack of accountability.

   “What the government needs is accountability. Resources must be managed well. If you don’t fight corruption and make people face the consequences of corruption you will find the same problem.

“What the government needs is accountability. Resources must be managed well. If you don’t fight corruption and make people face the consequences of corruption you will find the same problem.”

    The party had earlier unfolded a seven-point cardinal programme that would ensure that electricity generation hit 40,000 megawatts within four to eight years of its leadership.

The party, in a 31-page manifesto, which was presented to Nigerians, listed the   other components of the cardinal programme as war against corruption, food security,   integrated transport network and free education.

Others are devolution of power, accelerated economic growth and affordable health care.

According to the party, the programme will transform Nigeria into a progressive state anchored on social democracy.

“Our government shall vigorously pursue the expansion of electricity generation and distribution of up to 40,000 megawatts in four to eight years,” the APC   said.
It  said it would also   work at making power available from renewable energy sources such as coal, solar and wind.

The party   said, “The country can only succeed when all of us have equal rights, where no one is above the law; where the culture of impunity is abolished and where there is a level playing field.”

It stated that as a change agent, it would “halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria into a failed state; with a conscious plan for a post-oil-economy.”

The party stated that it would restructure the country and devolve powers to the units with the best practices of federalism.

It said that its government would muster the political will to wage a stringent war against corruption. The party warned that without successfully waging war against corruption, Nigeria’s post-oil-economy would be disastrous.

Explaining its agenda on agriculture, the APC noted that Nigeria, which used to be a leading exporter of agricultural produce, had become import dependent.

It stated, “APC will embark on a massive and progressive re-organisation and revolution of the agricultural industry.”

The party also stated   it would embark on a national infrastructural development programme through a private-public sector partnership.

According to the party, through this, it would construct 4,000 kilometres of “super highways.”

It said that it would revitalise the railway system through the modernisation and rehabilitation of tracks.

On industrialisation, the APC said it would conduct a state by state census of ailing industries.

This, it explained, would enable it to establish an industrial resuscitation fund.
The party added that it would create new development banks that would make affordable credits available for industrial growth.

On job creation, the APC said that it would maintain “a sound macro-economic policy environment, run an efficient government and preserve the independence of the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

The party said that it would make the economy one of the fastest growing economies by achieving a real GDP growth of 10 per cent annually.

The APC also promised to amend the 1999 Constitution and the Land Use Act “to create freehold/leasehold interest in land matching grants.

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