How PDP can rebase presidential campaign
THE 2015 Nigerian presidential election campaign seems to be degenerating into a slanging match. Campaign speeches are long on the personal attack but palpably limited on economic plans and an explicit agenda for governance in the next four years.
As for ideology, it appears we have long given up the pretence in Nigeria that there could be an ideological underpinning for party formation and aspiration to rule.
When the candidates deign to give promises, they are often lacking in explication and worse, seem to be reading from identikit campaign sheets.
‘My government will combat corruption’ seems to be this season’s favourite, closely followed by bare pledges to deliver on electricity and increase employment.
There is, of course, the odd ‘rogue promise’ such as Buhari’s on stabilising oil prices but generally there is little to distinguish the campaigns so far on substance.
The pity with this uniformity in approach and ambiguity is that the essence of electoral choice — differentiation based on the perceived superiority of a party’s plans for government if elected — disappears.
The electorate is then forced to conjure such puerile decision-making parameters, as which of the candidates has the better looking wife, a currently trending point of contention among supporters of the two main parties!
The APC appears to be reveling in the direction in which the campaign has gone. For a party that styles itself as progressive, its manifesto has been surprising in its brevity, turgidity and shallowness.
One would have expected a serious opposition to attempt a comprehensive alternative agenda to observed PDP strategy and actions in government.
The APC seems, curiously, to have not been interested at all. Conveniently for them, however, the dovetailing of the campaign into ‘he said, she said, and I said’ has diverted attention from their patent ill-preparedness to offer any better solutions than the PDP has implemented since 1999.
It becomes incumbent upon the PDP, perhaps, to seek to quickly reposition the debate, or at least some part of it, so as to expose the paucity of the opposition’s promise to Nigeria.
And it will be the responsibility of the president’s minders, speechwriters and spokespeople, because the president himself must have a lot to contend with in running a campaign whilst still having to run the country. Here’s how they might do it.
They might seek to elaborate and celebrate the party’s achievements in government and particularly those of the incumbent president, who is running for another term.
They would use that as the pedestal to justify another four years in federal government. And they would then boldly challenge the APC to demonstrate how it could have done or plans to do better.
The president’s people might wish to build structure and integration around the PDP manifesto, to show comprehensiveness in planning and execution.
They can start by establishing the PDP’s manifesto to be a centrist one, quoting from its preamble where it promises a ‘dynamic economy’ that deploys ‘market forces’ yet seeks to build a ‘just society which provides basic needs (and) ensures equal opportunities.’
They would seek to show how much, as a party and president in power, the PDP has pursued these goals.
The economy would be the poster child for demonstrating the extent to which President Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda has wrought change for the better.
The president’s men and women would do this particularly when they address the chattering urban and intellectual classes.
They would point to the doubling of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) whether on the rebased or on prior measures between 2009 when Jonathan first took office and now.
They would point to the increase in per capita income from $1,091 to $1,721 between 2009 and 2013 even before rebasing.
The PDP campaign can establish that this government has done more than most before it to break the dependence on oil.
They would point to the increase in non-oil revenue from less than N1 trillion in 2009 to $1.5 trillion in four years.
They should also celebrate the lowering of the inflation rate from 15 per cent to eight per cent in four years, stemming significantly from having reduced Nigeria’s food import bill from over N1 trillion in 2009 to less than N700 billion currently.
Before the APC’s surprised policy wonks can Google Nigeria’s macro-economic statistics for the first time, the president’s people would have moved to some of the things the working classes hold dear.
Roads? They can point to the extensive work done on federal roads, including the completion of the Onitsha-Owerri and Vom-Manchok roads.
We would talk about extensive rehabilitation carried out on the Apapa-Oshodi, Benin-Ore-Shagamu, Enugu-Port Harcourt, Kano-Maiduguri and Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja highways.
The completed Oweto Bridge across the River Benue and the second Nigeria Bridge under construction would feature in the reference points.
The Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), into which the government has injected the savings from the reduction in petroleum subsidies, has funded much of this work.
The message on railways — the common man’s favourite means of long-distance commute — is already clear. The president has made the railways work after a comatose quarter of a century. A significant part of the funding has, again, come from SURE-P.
The Lagos-Kano line is functional once more and work is advanced on the Port-Harcourt-Maiduguri line. New lines are under construction from Kaduna to Abuja, Kano to Maiduguri and Lagos to Port Harcourt.
The opposition’s best comeback so far — that the coaches should be ‘more modern’ — should be easily dismissed with a wave of the hand and laughter in the many indigenous Nigerian languages.
Power? The PDP campaign should take the discourse on electricity beyond the opposition’s woolly promises and brandish the Power-Sector Road Map established by Jonathan’s government.
They can explain how 11 distribution companies and six generation companies have been successfully privatised and handed over to private-sector owners.
They should, of course, draw attention to the boosting of electricity output to an average of over 4,000 megawatts per day.
They should point to the palpable reduction in power cuts and top it with the revelation that government, working hard on gas supply issues through the Gas Master Plan, is on track to increase power supply to over 16,000 megawatts on the average next year.
If the APC raised the lazy objection of increases in tariffs, the president’s campaign team would be well to retort with the economic necessity to permit market forces — the PDP manifesto’s underlying theme.
But they would go further to explain carefully that the poor currently pay more than N80 per kilowatt hour (‘kWh’) in burning candles and kerosene, while those who can afford generators spend N50-N70/kWh.
By contrast, even with tariff increases, grid power still costs only N18-N23/kWh.
While the opposition struggles to work out kilowatt hours, the president’s team would have made the leap to agriculture where they would once again reiterate the nearly 50 per cent reduction in the food-import bill during the Jonathan years.
They should beat their chests that domestic food output has risen by over 21 million metric tons in the last three years with more than $5.6 billion of additional investment having been attracted into the sector by president’s policies.
They should use rice, that pan-Nigerian staple, to illustrate: annual rice production has gone up from 2.3 million metric tons at the inception of the Jonathan regime to 3.1 million and the private sector has responded by developing 14 new industrial-scale rice mills.
Continuing on agriculture, they can point to the elimination of 40 years of monumental corruption, in just 90 days, by removing government from the procurement and distribution of fertilizer.
The administration has instead constituted government merely the regulator that makes policies for efficient private-sector delivery and a provider of subsidies. Wastage that amounted to N776 billion was ended summarily in this way.
The PDP government of Jonathan instituted a farmer registration scheme, a first in Africa, under which the biometric data of over 11 million farmers has been recorded.
The government pioneered an e-wallet scheme (now sought to be copied by countries like China and Brazil) through which all the farmers on the database receive farm-subsidy coupons, which they redeem at the point of purchase of inputs from the private sector.
While fertilizer reached less than 11 per cent of farmer end-users under the previous distribution regime, more than 92 per cent of the farmers in the government’s database now receive fertilizer, seeds and other essential inputs.
In an item already overflowing with achievement, the president’s campaign would tack on the Youth Employment in Agriculture Programme (YEAP) established by the PDP government.
The scheme is designed to encourage youthful entrepreneurship in commercial agriculture, with the government targeting the emergence of up to a million such ‘nagropreneurs’ by the end of 2015.
Agro-processing is also a key feature of the president’s National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP), while the National Sugar Master Plan, launched in 2013, provides a roadmap for 100 per cent local production of sugar within a decade.
Already, concessions granted domestic sugar refineries under the plan have seen an increase in capacity utilisation from 60 to 75 per cent and the price of sugar reduced from about N10,000 per 50kg bag to about N6,000, the lowest price seen in over four years.
By 2018, local production should be up to 700,000 metric tons with over 60,000 new jobs created.
On health, the president’s team would once again be able to reel out significant improvements in key indices under the PDP government.
By the devices of the Maternal and Child Health Scheme, funded by SURE-P, maternal mortality rates have been reduced from 545 to less than 350 per 100,000, while infant mortality rates have gone from 157 to 94 per 1,000 live births.
The percentage of births carried out under skilled attendants has increased by 33 per cent.
Under the Saving One Million Lives Initiative, over 430,000 lives were saved in the six months to June 2013 alone by the scaling up of cost-effective interventions, including immunizations and malaria control.
National immunization coverage has increased from less than 40 per cent prior to the Jonathan government to over 80 per cent today.
In that time, the type-3 wild poliovirus has virtually been eradicated. Guinea-worm infestations, which stood at nearly a million a year, have now been reduced to infinitesimal levels.
The Jonathan government established the National Centre for Disease Control (NDCD), which proved instrumental in the effective control of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria.
The PDP can then task the APC to show a comparable plan for health and while the opposition is still groping for answers, go on to education.
It is amazing that an opposition party that tries to claim a lineage from the late great Chief Obafemi Awolowo would have elaborated nothing on education.
The Jonathan years have seen budgetary allocations to education double in comparison to hitherto with basic school enrollment rising from less than 20 million to over 30 million.
Nine new federal universities have been established since Jonathan took power and over N300 billion in funding applied to tertiary education.
The number of National Certificate of Education (NCE) awarding institutions has gone up from less than 90 to 124, while student enrolment in federal colleges of education is up 50 per cent to 750,000.
Scientific learning has also been a priority, with laboratories rehabilitated and provided with modern equipment in the 51 federal polytechnics.
In 2013 alone, the Federal Government rehabilitated 352 laboratories and constructed 72 new libraries in unity schools across the country.
Over 100 innovation enterprise institutions have been licensed to provide alternative access to higher education through technical and vocational training.
The Jonathan government has also pioneered the Almajiri school system, a key initiative in enhancing literacy levels and reducing poverty in the North, with over 125 Tsangaya schools built in 13 states and 275 more in the pipeline.
In all this, the president’s people would emphasise the clearly documented plans, programmes and schemes under which the PDP’s initiatives have been implemented.
They would seek to establish thereby a comprehensiveness of action — a clear-sighted plan for Nigeria — that they will challenge the APC to match.
They would emphasise the message through all the means at their disposal, including but not limited to campaign rallies and the media.
They would take key numbers and make them a mantra that even school children can recite. In doing so, they would not only have elevated a presidential campaign to 21st Century standards but would have set up a quality of debate that would befuddle a clearly ill-prepared opposition.
They would then leave the opposition in a quagmire of increasingly impotent and irrelevant personality attacking, and go on to comfortably win a re-based presidential election that they would have fought on issues — real issues — that matter to a currently bemused electorate.
• Dr. Ntephe is CEO of Houston-based oil explorer, ERHC Energy Inc.