Security and the economy took centre stage on Sunday as the presidential candidates of the Labour Party, Peter Obi; the New Nigerian Peoples Party, Musa Kwankwaso and Kola Abiola of Peoples Redemption Party squared up at the Arise tv Presidential Town Hall Series on Security and Economy, in Abuja.
However, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar and his All Progressives Congress counterpart, Bola Tinubu, failed to show up at the debate organised by Arise TV in collaboration with the Centre for Development and Democracy at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
Although Atiku was represented by his running mate, Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Tinubu sent no representative.
But the supporters of the LP, the NNPP and the PRP who were unhappy with Atiku’s absence heckled Okowa, stating that the event was meant for presidential candidates only.
Shouting “No representation by proxy,” the supporters prevented the programme from kicking off on time as the organizers sought to pacify them.
Speaking on his plans to tackle insecurity in the country, Atiku harped on intelligence gathering and sharing among the security agencies.
Calling for the decentralisation of the police, the PDP candidate stressed that the current policing system cannot secure the country.
He said, “We need to emphasise coordinated intelligence gathering and sharing. We need more boots on the ground to address insecurity in Nigeria. We need to evolve policing in Nigeria to ensure that people who have a better understanding of their areas, know how to secure their areas. One centralized police force is unable to meet the demands that we have.
“We need more boots on the ground. We need adequate welfare to ensure that our security agencies are better-taken care of. We also need to address unemployment, otherwise, more young people will be drawn to contribute to the insecurity. Technically, it is very important but the equipment is few. The men in boots must be well trained and paid.”
He highlighted the role of the private sector in the Nigerian project he hopes to lead if elected President of the country.
The PDP presidential running mate also spoke on how his principal would unite and lead the country on the path of development with the support of the private sector.
He added, “Atiku is a successful businessman and a person who runs very successful academic institutions. We have a document, ‘My covenant with Nigeria,’ a common document on behalf of himself, myself and the PDP.
“The private sector has a role to play. To make progress, we must talk about the unity of this country. Until we are able to unite ourselves and realize that we must think and work together, we may not be able to go through the path that will lead us to new growth.”
On debt, Okowa recalled how former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his vice president, Atiku, obtained debt relief for Nigeria while in power.
“From 1999 to 2007, we knew where President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku met the country and where they left it. Because of them, we were able to pay back a lot of our debt and we had debt forgiveness.
“In Delta State, we used to have agitations in oil-producing communities. But now, we have partnered in these communities to create jobs, create a new class of entrepreneurs and show people that we care about development,’’ the vice-presidential candidate said.
The presidential candidate of the Labour Party said he would have acted swiftly to rescue kidnap victims if he was the Commander-in-Chief, describing government response to kidnap incidents as weak.
Obi stated that he would also have a thought-out process and show empathy to the families of the victims.
He added, “There was a failure of processing and giving due attention to intelligence which I would have given due intelligence and promptly dealt with. Government action and communication were weak. And I think that shows the overall need for us to improve our intelligence processing and give an immediate response, whenever such a situation arises.”
He further stated that insecurity would have been reduced to the barest minimum if more people were taken out of poverty.
“I have said consistently that the more people you put out of poverty, the more you reduce the criminality that is in the country,’’ he argued.
Responding to a question about what he would do to address graft, he stated, “I have always argued that they are doing what they are doing in a country where those people in government are richer than entrepreneurs. I served a state for eight years and you can go to that state and see not one day did I ever borrow from any financial institution in Nigeria. I was not in any position or have never been invited by anybody for questions about their missing money since the day I left office.
“I wasn’t owing anybody; any contractor that delivered his project, I wasn’t owing any supply that was delivered. I was not owing salary, gratuity or anybody. In three banks in Nigeria, Access Bank, Fidelity Bank and Diamond Bank, I left in each $50 million and over N10 billion for the state. I am like them as angry as they are that we must be able to chase out those where they passed nobody can account of what they were given.’’
Speaking on the terrorist attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train and abduction of passengers, the NNPP candidate recalled how the Olusegun Obasanjo administration under which he served as minister and presidential adviser secured every part of Nigeria and went ahead to restore peace in other African countries.
Kwankwaso said, “As a former Minister of Defence, I can assure you that the situation should not have been allowed. I am sure you remember that recently we unveiled our blueprint, and in our blueprint, we made it very clear that the number of militaries that we have today, which is about 250,000, is grossly inadequate.
“Therefore, we have made adequate arrangements to have about one million military – Army, Air Force and Navy. With that, we believe we are going to take over every square metre of our land in this country. Police are about 230,000 at the moment; we also want to raise it to about one million; put together the SSS, Civil Defence and other security agencies. Within a very short period of time, we should be able to be in charge of our land.
“We will be very willing to dialogue with anybody; anybody with grudges in any part of the country, our government will sit down with them and dialogue. At the end of the day, anybody who decides to think otherwise, definitely, the law will take its course.”
Kwankwaso further pledged to improve national security by encouraging willing youth corps members to join the Armed Forces and other security agencies.
He said, “Some of us who are extended family members of the security in this country are very much worried and concerned, and sometimes even ashamed that today, in 2022, security agencies could not identify locations of terrorists, especially when everybody including the criminals are using telephones, and these telephones are not difficult to identify, and these are the problems.”
The former Kano State governor revealed that he was also angry with the system like every other Nigerian and “it is because of those reasons that some of us are angry to the extent of leaving the PDP and the APC because we feel there are better ways of doing things in this country.”
He added, “We believe the system has failed and that is why we have decided to go to New Nigeria Peoples Party, the unscathed party in this country.”
Responding to a question concerning the tribal bent of some candidates’ campaigns, Kwankwaso stated, “The Constitution of this country has taken care of that. Any presidential candidate that came out in defence of ethnicity, tribe, religion, region has lost the election even before the election.”
The former defence minister observed that for a candidate to win a presidential election, he or she must have won the most popular votes and win in two-thirds or 24 of the 36 states. “North cannot win elections on its own; South cannot win elections on its own,” he stressed.
Reacting to the opposition by members of the audience to Okowa, Kwankwaso noted that due to the busy schedule of some presidential candidates, there may be a need for their running mate to represent them at events, noting Atiku did well by sending his vice-presidential candidate.
He said, “No candidate can boast of saying ‘I will attend all of them.’ Whichever group that is having this sort of thing should accept it. I think the man sitting here (pointing to Okowa) is better than the person who did not come or send any representative.”
The PRP candidate, Abiola, promised Nigerians that he would not bring the baggage of past administrations and recycled politicians into governance when elected.
While describing himself as a breath of fresh air with no record of holding public office in Nigeria, Abiola stated that he is the best man for the job.
He said, “We are coming to the federal level with a clean slate because we are not carrying the baggage of any administration or any party. We want to use that to turn Nigeria around and fight for the people.
“I never run for governor, state chairman or local government council. The point I am trying to make is that the leadership has tried over the years; so many recycled and different people every time. The leaders stay in one party or they jump parties.
“But for the first time, we have a candidate here in PRP that hasn’t been there or any party at all. Let us try a fresh hand to solve Nigeria’s problem. Now, security is an issue.
“We represent what it means to be fresh, especially what it takes to ensure that the ones coming behind us have an opportunity to decide their own destinies in a united Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, the APC Presidential Campaign Council has defended Tinubu’s absence at the presidential debate, saying the event clashed with his engagements.
The Director of Media and Communications, PCC, Bayo Onanuga, told our correspondent on the phone chat that the debate clashed with Tinubu’s campaign town hall meeting with agro-farmers in Minna, Niger State capital.
Onanuga made reference to the APC presidential campaign calendar to justify his position.
He said, “We are in Minna now for engagement with farmers and agro-commodities groups ahead of tomorrow. The media cannot suddenly come up with a debate and wants us to drop everything we are doing to attend it. It is wrong. We also have our campaign schedule to attend to.”
When reminded that the presidential candidate could still have shown up at the town hall event since his engagement in Minna was slated for Monday, Onanuga disagreed.
“Are we going to use a jet to travel to Minna? As I earlier told you, we are in Minna already and cannot make it to the programme. In our own case, their proposal clashes with the campaign programme of our candidate. That’s why we didn’t turn up,” he stated.
Asked if Tinubu would have turned up at the debate if not for the Minna engagement, the campaign media director stated that there is a likelihood he may.
He said, “Maybe. But he is busy with some other things and he cannot leave that one for this. There are more important things.
“After Minna, we are returning to Abuja before the next engagement in Nasarawa State on Wednesday. After then, I think Calabar is up for Saturday. You can see that this week is a very busy one for the candidate.’’