Atiku who stated this at a media parley in Abuja organized by the United Nigeria Group ,UNG, also bemoaned what he called the slow pace of growth of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, adding that under his watch; jobs would be created to tame the scourge of unemployment that has been ravaging the land in the past few years.
Fielding questions from a team of journalists at the Silverbird Galleria, Abuja, the Presidential hopeful noted that as chairman of the economic council while serving as Vice President (1999-2007), the nation benefited from a litany of employment opportunities made possible through innovative initiatives of government.
He said, “I want the job of the President of Nigeria because more than any other time since the time of our democracy, I think we need a leadership that has the experience, that has the capacity and the know-how.
“The most challenging issue in the country today is the issue of unemployment and creation of jobs, unity in the country and states. I believe I am more suitable to handle all these.
“As a civil servant, I worked for over 20 years in the federal bureaucracy and as a politician, I served successfully for eight years as the Vice President and in that position I chaired the economic team of that administration and I brought so many innovations to our administration that led to the creation of jobs, creation of wealth and prosperity as well as relative peace and stability.”
Away from public service, the Waziri Adamawa also added that his incursion in private business has given him an edge to tackle the nation’s challenges with an excellence chance of success, if given the mandate.
“If you go back to my private sector experience,” he continued, “I have been a farmer and I am still a farmer; I am an investor. If you put all these experiences together, that gives me the advantage over some of my contemporaries,” stressing that his co- contestants all “have something to put on the table, but some can put more on the table than others.”
That said, Atiku took a swipe at the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration for allegedly failing to make the most of the nation’s huge resource endowment to enhance the people’s living conditions.
“Our unemployment rate is the highest today. Over 12 million men and women are unemployed. Our growth is at its lowest. When this administration took over, we were growing a GDP of 6% to 7%. They took it over and crashed it and drag the nation into recession.
“We are trying to come out of recession at about 1.6 % growth, considering the growth of our population. So, any country whose economic growth is below its population growth is in a danger and that is the danger that is facing our country today.”
On why the party’s delegates should pick him ahead of others, the PDP chieftain said his hands-on experience in the handling of “these issues” and willingness to damn the consequence makes him the right man for the job.
He said: “The country is doing very bad today in terms of jobs, in terms of economic growth, in terms of prosperity, in terms of the unity of our country, in terms of security. I believe I have the experience and the capacity to deal with these issues more than any one of them because I have dealt with them before.
“I assembled the best economic team and with that, we went well and everybody attested to what we did in those 8 years. We liberalised the economy, we expanded the private sector’s participation and try to limit government to the necessary issues.
“If these policies we started were continued, today, we will have been in a better country. So I believe we need somebody who can come and continue with these policies so that we can bring back our prosperity, create more jobs for our unemployed youths. The most important thing is who can put this country back on the path of growth? I believe and I am very sure that I am that person.”
For the media professionals on ground to take Atiku to task, this night wasn’t going to be one for generic submissions only. Thus, in clear term, how would the Presidential aspirant manage the economy if elected President to which he had this to say.
“When we came in 1999, a barrel of crude oil was less than 10 dollars in the market. We met less than 5 billion dollars in our foreign reserve. With all that, we were still able to manage the economy of the country to the extent that we paid all our foreign debt and became debt free.
“In terms of managing our economy, we must embark on economic reform policies. Part of it is by opening up the country to foreign investors. It is extremely important to open up the country to foreign investors,” he stated.
He reiterated his commitment to restructuring, saying “unless we restructure the polity and give more powers and resources to the geo political zones, you are not likely to see much. If you concentrate all the powers in the federal government just like we are seeing now, then you are going to stifle growth and initiative.
“I think the best the best way to get the geo-political zones developed and prosper is to give more powers and resources to them. Definitely, we need to review our political structure to ensure diversification of the economy and growth across the country.”
He also added that his knowledge in dealing with executive and legislative relationships will help in taming the frequent clashes between the two arms of government.
“During our administration I was in charge in dealing with the National Assembly, and we did not encounter any challenge as we have it today. There were differences in political parties, and other differences were there and they will continue to be there.
“It requires me to get someone with the skills and experience to deal with National Assembly to achieve the restructuring agenda. I will work perfectly with the National Assembly to achieve those fundamental issues like restructuring, economic growth, diversification, unity, security and many more,” he pledged.
On his agenda for youths and women, Atiku promised to overhaul the education system to prepare fresh graduates for the demands of the work environment.
“We should have entrepreneurship as a fundamental issue in our syllabus. I have seen it work. In my university, whatever course you are studying, you must also do entrepreneurship course. That is why graduates from my university are the biggest job creators. As soon as they come out, they create jobs.”
He continued, “To employ about 12 million youths, there is need to bring investors into the country so that they can absorb those graduates. But we also have to train them on how to be self employed.
“Today, I see the government giving some people 10,000 naira. How can someone set up a business with that? I have one of the most successful Microfinance banks in this country and I am working with people from Bangladesh because they are best when it comes to Microfinance system. We have have moved 45, 000 families out of poverty.
“And what is the best way to move a family out of poverty? This is to empower the woman. Because of this, I directed the bank to give 80% of their loans to women. They have been implementing that policy and today we are one of the most successful microfinance banks in Nigeria, because women repay, take more, look after their families.
“I am a product of woman, because I lost my father at a very tender age and my mother was doing all kinds of businesses to look after me and I became what I am today. So in all honesty, the best policy to move a family out of poverty is to empower the women. If you do that, you will see how fast you will get out of poverty, particularly now that Nigeria has been designated the capital of poverty in the world.”
Perhaps, Atiku’s biggest submission came with his allusion to an elite conspiracy against his Presidential ambition; a development he premised on his unwillingness to be manipulated and his independent state of mind.
His words: “It is what I call the conspiracy theory of the political elite. If you are not going to be used, if you are not going to satisfy their personal aspiration, then, they will think you are not good enough.
“Part of the problem they have with me, is that they say I am independent, principled and so on. Honestly, it is the conspiracy of the political elite and unfortunately the Nigeria public is not politically sophisticated to override the conspiracy of these political elites. They rely on political elites to direct them.”
He tasked Nigerians to dismiss insinuations in some quarters that his reputation for swapping political parties should count against him saying, what matters however is the consistency of his belief and his vision for Nigeria and Nigerians.