By Tunde Oyedoyin (London) and Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja)
With just a month and five days for Nigerians to determine who succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari, the New Nigeria Peoples Party’s (NNPP) presidential candidate, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, has expressed optimism about clinching the topmost job in the country, saying he understands “Nigeria’s issues” and if elected, will replicate, at the centre, some of the successes recorded during his eight-year tenure as Kano State governor.
The NNPP candidate also took the Labour Party’s (LP) candidate, Peter Obi, to the cleaners at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), yesterday, when he took his turn at the conclusion of the three-day Nigeria 2023 Election series hosted by the renowned institute.
Kwankwaso said his party withdrew from discussion on alliance with LP because the party was “carried away by media hype” and built on “ethnicity and religion”.
While responding to a question on whether he would consider stepping aside and working with the LP candidate, he said: “I’m a PhD holder in civil engineering. I check your candidate for what he has. I have been in the system for over 30 years now. I was a civil servant for 17 years. I wasn’t a trader.
“I was Deputy Speaker of the House in 1992. I was in the constitutional conference as elected delegate. I was governor of Kano state for eight years.
I was in the Senate. If anyone wants Kwankwaso to withdraw, let’s bring criteria and select the best.”
He said: “The issue of Labour…you see, that is the problem we have. The gentleman that asked the question, I am sure is from a particular part of Nigeria and belongs to a particular group.
“Anytime I have a better candidate, I’m ready to talk to him. If you have a party, which is based on ethnicity and religion…that is the difference between Labour Party and our party, which is a national party.
“Let me say that I was one of those that initially wanted to work with Labour Party. Unfortunately, at that time, the Labour Party was under serious media hype and therefore, they could not see reason and is still not seeing reason.
“Why say that I should withdraw? I wish you did not have to go to that extent. You would have said I should consider working with Labour Party or PDP or APC. People here don’t even know what is happening. I want to say that our party, the NNPP, is the only growing party in Nigeria today.
“We have seen the maximum any party, especially Labour Party, can go. To us, it’s like Andrew’s Liver Salt. It came with a lot of hype and now, it is coming down. Just take note of it. Our party, the NNPP, is the only party that is now getting the support. Forget about the big people who are actually the problem of our country.”
KWANKWASO also preached at the two other main candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the Peoples Democratic Party’s Atiku Abubakar, who have been throwing muds and bricks at each other in the past couple of days.
Though he didn’t, for once, mention any of their names, but the audience seemed to be in the know whom he was referring to.
Kwankwaso, who spoke on ‘Service Delivery and Policy Alternatives’, was in a bullish mood as he outlined his plans for the country during his about 35-minute well-articulated speech.
Before even delving into his address, he poked his hand in the eyes of his rivals, telling the moderator, Dr. Alex Vines: “The difference between me and other candidates is that they are in the air, while we are on the ground.”
That, perhaps, was just an introductory jab compared to the flurry of punches he later landed on his absent three main rivals during the question and answer session.
He blamed the country’s woes, such as “growing poverty, growing unemployment, very weak institutions, oil theft,” among others, on choices made by successive governments from 1999, when the current democratic dispensation began under the PDP’s President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“We are where we are because of the mistakes and wrong choices made by leaders in the last 24 years,” he said, adding: “I understand the issues and we have a plan.”
The former governor said the country needs visionary leaders, especially for a nation whose population will, in 2050 be 400 million. “The leaders that our country needs are not those who will come and do business as usual,” he told the half full room.
He listed “improving non-oil revenues, improving crude oil production to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC targets, targeting inflation, preventing corruption, wastages and theft” as some of his policy agenda.
On the over 130 million Nigerians living in abject poverty, the NNPP flag bearer revealed: “We have a practical plan to lift Nigerians out of poverty” and even “ensure those lifted out of poverty do not return” there.
He also outlined his party’s plan for tackling social issues, noting that both out-of-school children and girl-child education will be on the front burner.
He said the party’s plan is actually a revolution. “Our revolution in the education sector will be guided by the philosophy that education is a public good.” Against this backdrop, “we shall reform the education sector in its entirety. We will eradicate illiteracy in Nigeria.”
Kwankwaso promised that the problem of two million out-of-school children would be over in four years. He said his government, when it comes on board, will make all examinations, like JAMB, WAEC and NECO free.
“This was successfully implemented in Kano for eight years when I was governor,” he said.
The Guardian Newspapers