Thoughts on the NN24 presidential debate

I watched the presidential debate on NN24 and decided to share my thoughts on the answers given by the candidates to some of the more relevant questions during the debate. Relevant in the sense that these were questions targeted at discovering the plans of the candidates for some key sectors of the economy. I must point out that all other questions were relevant as well but I skipped questions targeting specific issues about particular candidates. For example I skipped the questions aimed at Nuhu Ribadu on his association with Bola Tinubu, I also skipped the question about Buhari’s ability to function as a democratic president and the question aimed at Gov Shekarau on the Hisbah in Kano State. I must also state that some of the question and answers are not exactly transcribed word for word from the debate but I tried to stick to the main gist where I could.

Q: Since Nigeria started exploring Crude Oil the benefits have included poverty, environmental degradation and criminality in the region. What will be your solution to these problems?

Ribadu: Translate oil exploration to growth and economic development, current government creating agencies and patronage institutions which do not work. I will come up with a Marshall plan to address to the totality of the problems confronting the Niger Delta, will reduce bureaucracy, ensure that resources constitutionally meant for that region work towards addressing issues, environmental issues, youth employment, poverty, and making the private sector work. Will draft a Marshall plan, build houses, construct roads, fund sme’s, enforce more oil company responsibility especially in environment. Basically less bureaucracy more comprehensive plan.

Buhari: Young People armed against political opponents is the source of militancy. There is a higher pay to militancy than other more acceptable sectors in the Niger Delta which must change. He will come together and critically examine the issue. Will sit down with traditional leadership to rehabilitate these young men.

Shekarau: The issue is not about militants but about a loss of confidence in governance and a grudge against federal unit. The solution is addressing in addressing the issue of loss of confidence. Will sit down and discuss and allocate funds at all levels, not just about the militants, militants by product of the grudge, sit with community and identify the grudge.

The crux of the Niger Delta problem is one that affects lots of other poor oil-producing communities, lots of cash with high unemployment. The problem is crude oil production attracts lots of attention (because of the high returns) to the detriment of other sectors and since there is no direct channel through which this cash can go into pockets of people it finds other means to do so. Usually in terms of free scholarships, lots of cash grants to “host communities” and other mostly criminal means. Problem is all these usually serve to make “chasing the cash” more rewarding than trying to produce other things. The symptoms of this is kind of what we see in the Niger Delta. A break down of law an order. Talk about rewarding criminals with a salary (aka amnesty) and you can only expect more criminals especially when the allowances for the so-called former militants are more than what most graduates can hope to get as a starting salary. So what do I think can be done about this? Both Buhari and Ribadu seem not to have formulated a plan to deal with this yet. “We will sit down with the leaders and discuss”. Yeah. Sure. Shekarau also wants to sit down with the leaders although he mentions something about a grudge against the federal government. I don’t know what that is about. I don’t know what GEJ’s plan is since he did not show up but I’m guessing he is part of the amnesty group which is really just paying people to cool down. What do I think should be done? Changing the focus from exporting crude oil to exporting the final products of crude oil should be a good place to start. There is a whole “rest of the oil industry” that is untapped because the focus is still just on exporting crude oil. The Niger Delta has all the ingredients to be an oil hub for Africa not in exporting crude oil but in exporting crude oil products. The “rest of the oil industry” has much more potential for employment than the crude oil exporting industry can ever have. Shifting focus to that would be a good place to start. For this to happen that industry needs to be deregulated, there needs to be less centralization ( yes I’m all for resource control with some modifications) and states need to be in charge of their own security.

The second issue is environmental. The oil industry has had very serious environmental consequences for the region dealing a real blow to agriculture (big employer of people) in the region. Yes we have a Ministry of Environment and environmental watch dogs but do they really work? It seems unbelievable that we have had the equivalent of the gulf oil disaster every year over the last decade or more even though we technically have these agencies charged with protecting the environment. The thing is in the context of Nigeria as a whole these disasters are minute. The FG balances the benefits of enforcing regulations on protection versus the costs to oil income and the results always seem to be to just ignore it as long as the oil keeps flowing. Why not let a few communities suffer for the benefit of the country. My point is that regulation is always lax if the party charged with regulating does not have any real penalty for failure. In this context the FG is the “enforcer”. I think the responsibility for environmental protection should be handed back to the local communities that may be directly affected. If any group can enforce environmental laws it should be the group directly affected by the potential disasters.

None of the three candidates seem to have thought seriously about this and one of the candidates was absent. Ok and 16? other candidates were not invited.

Q. What would you do to if you are elected as president to provide adequate and sufficient power supply so that the Nigerian economy can be kick-started

Shekarau: Power supply is the back bone for development. The federal government has been attempting without achieving. Need to address issue seriously, supports decentralization and privatization. Also encourage various segments of society to come together and create an environment to enable investors join in. Much has been said but not practicalized, PHCN still owns transmission and distribution network, this sector needs to be totally decentralized. It is one thing to plan, another thing to sincerely execute the plan.

Buhari: not satisfied, have to try to see where we were in 1999, how much have we spent, what is on the ground now. We still revolve around 4000MW which is where we were in 1999. Big question mark for ruling party to account for it. Whats up with kainji and old infrastructure, why not bring them up to scratch before going to build another seven thermal plants which are still not functioning, and  we are now not even sure where the money is, big question mark on how the infrastructure has collapsed, [Q: we understand the problems, how will you solve them?] The solution as far as the cpc is concerned is the thermal stations plus others which are in place should be refurbished and put to optimum utilization which the government can afford, and build some new ones? [ are you prepared to give Nigerians an amount you will produce and within which period if you are elected as president? ] when we are elected we have to see the problem on the ground, how much is spent, what is the capacity of production at the time we are sworn in and what happen to all the resources put into power between 1999 and now. [Q: when you say you have to see what has happened to the resources that have been put into power, are you suggesting you will be investigating past governments?] well we have to find out what happened to the resources. The statement I am making to my understanding is very clear, we know where we were in 1999 when pdp came, we will find out how much we spent up till today and how much we have now, we don’t have more MW than what we had in 1999.

Ribadu: Frankly speaking, it is not time of blame, Blame game is over… Nigerians want to see light and that’s what we are going to do. I have four things we are going to do, first we need to remove the confusion that is on going? Who is in charge of power sector, six seven agencies competing for who to control power sector, make one direction so Nigerians can see who is in charge of electricity. 2: We are going to work on corruption part, the process, make sure resources going in there are spent on power. 3: On the issue of production, transmission and distribution, we have put too much emphasis on the production without paying attention to the others, others must be improved, 4: security is central, one of the fundamental problems is sabotage in the sector, 5: Diversify, we cannot rely on one single sector, need to look at other areas, need to look at other areas other than thermal, look at coal, hydro and solar energy.

Power power power. Where do I start? Bottom line is there has not been enough investment in NEW generating capacity of any kind since the 70’s. Why? The electricity sector has been run with a tight fist by the government which in turn means there has been little or no private investment. This implies that all the investment in NEW capacity required will have had to be done by the government alone. That hasn’t happened for a bunch of reasons which I won’t go into. So what is the plan? Buhari’s plan seems to be centered around finding out what has happened to all the money spent on power since 1999 and then taking it from there. I guess we can expect to have no plan for power until the never-ending committees are done with their thousand page reports. Sounds eerily familiar. He also thinks we should focus on revitalizing the old power plants first. Hmmmm. Shekarau seems to support the current PDP plan for power but says it is all about implementation which he doesn’t feel the current government is serious about. He also talks about creating an enabling environment for private investors to participate although he didn’t say how. I hope he doesn’t plan to do that by just asking them. Ribadu wants to streamline the electricity industry. Get rid of all the multiplicity. Focus. He also wants to diversify and place emphasis on alternative energy sources. He mentions a generator mafia blocking progress ( No I’m not buying that) and also says something about Japan ( what was that about?). GEJ was absent. All the candidates dodge the main issue on new private investment in power: PRICING. The real reason there has been almost NO new private investment in power over the last 20 years is because the government sets the price with a fancy name (Multi-year tariff order). A price which is usually not attractive to private investors because the government can never really sanction a hike in prices of anything without being heckled by the masses. Can the government afford to go it alone? According to some reports Nigeria needs about $10bn of NEW investment in power per year until 2020 to have any hope. To put this in perspective $10bn comes to just over 30% of the entire 2011 budget (not the capital expenditure budget, the ENTIRE budget) and that does not factor corruption into the equation. Bottom line is the government cannot afford it. Private Investment is needed and private investment won’t show up until the pricing of electricity is fixed. All the talk of government sitting up and fixing and doing is all bogus. But what about the monopoly problem? Um…. yes what about that?Q: Tell Nigerians what you would do to correct the anomaly that we see in the Nigerian budget, recurrent expenditure takes disproportionate amounts as opposed to capital expenditure

Buhari: We need to go back to the 1st republic and start a 5 year development plan, our seat of development and infrastructural requirements to create employment and wealth cannot be done on ad hoc basis, the poverty and disease that are so prevalent in Nigeria are so disappointing, we have to put infrastructure in place, power is central to getting the industries working once more and getting people employed. [Q: issues of recurrent expenditure, what about this?] I will persuade Nigerian legislators to accept much less. I will persuade them. It is immoral where they earn more than the president of the United States.

Ribadu: I will change it, I will make sure because I make the budget, it is my govt and it is my responsibility. I will insist that the resources must go to growth and development not to continue to service govt. How? Today we have over 500 agencies and parastatals. We do not need them. Concessioning, redirect more of the economy to the private sector, get the private sector to participate.

Shekarau: The number one issue is that of leakages along the line, fraud going on, multiplication of agencies. The agency he headed is one of the agencies we need not have because I have held the view that federal government has been creating agencies for selfish interests. EFCC and ICPC are glorified police stations, if the police had been properly funded the would have performed, lots of wastage, creating agencies we do not require.

I’ll give this one to Ribadu. The problem is not really the national assembly but the federal government itself. I’m not implying that the National assembly is not over paid and are doing their jobs but cutting the budget of the national assembly will not fix the budget problem. The share of the budget going to the national assembly is just N232.7 billion. Even if you cut that to zero and assuming all that would have been spent on recurrent expenditure we still end up with a recurrent expenditure of about N2.2tn and capital expenditure of about N1.8tn which is still a problem. Cutting the budget of the National assembly however noble it sounds doesn’t fix the problem of ever-increasing govt budgets in general and recurrent expenditure in particular. Fact is there are lots and lots of things the government does which they really have no business doing. Lots of government “activities” need to be sold off or shut down. A lot of those parastatals which really just serve as a way to employ people and pay salaries will have to go. Shekarau also seems to see things that way too although he doesn’t really state it clearly. On a lighter note am I the only one that got the feeling that Buhari had no idea what recurrent expenditure meant?

Q: We have a system of public education that produces graduates that are barely literate, what are your plans to give young people the sort of education that you all received?

Buhari: There is nothing wrong with our educational system but we need improvement in the sense that the tertiary institutions, the UBE, the three tiers of government must finance the UBE effectively and then we try to introduce professional training The federal government must effectively supervise the financing of the UBE, more  trade schools. Children can be given some amount of money that can be arranged with banks so people can start businesses after school [ Q: you seem to be suggesting that you don’t see anything wrong with our educational system and yet your children were educated privately] any person who can afford to educate his child should be allowed to do so. Part of democratic institutions.

Ribadu: there is a problem with our education sector, I went to school and I did not pay a penny, today I am paying dearly for my six children and they are not getting what they deserve. Education is in tatters because 75% of our students failed in the last 5 years. Go to the university and see the infrastructure there. There is a problem. We need to invest more in education. At least 26% of the budget. [ Q: where will this money come from, there are so many competing needs] Education is the foundation, without education there is no hope for any other thing, if you put in money we will insist we get value for money. Our schools must be run professionally. Schools must be run as businesses.

Shekarau: I think there are two fundamental issues, one the teacher provision, the provision of instructional materials. Unfortunately since the days of the UBE we have been expanding but the provision of teachers and instructional materials have not been commensurate with the expansion. What we end up with today in our schools are more like refugee camps. Teacher provision and instructional materials need to be addressed. …gave example in Kano and expansion of teachers and instructional materials…. infrastructure is important but it is one thing at a time. Solution is to commence teacher provision and teacher training and facilities.

First of all someone needs to wake Buhari up, this is 2011 not 1980. “There is nothing wrong with our education system”? Really? His and Ribadu’s plan seems to be centered around the government spending more on education. Sounds good unless you look at the facts. Since the return of democracy in 1999 state governments (especially in the south south) have spent a lot more on education yet failure rates have actually risen to levels never seen before. 98%. So clearly it is not all about government spending. Two things that matter the most for education; competition between schools, teachers and students, and spending by SOCIETY! Not just by government. A big chunk of the spending on education since 1999 has come in the form of “free” education. The thing is free education in terms of the society is simply replacing what private individuals would have spent on education and in most cases the net result is society as a whole spends less on education. If society spends less society gets worse. Another consequence of a government push into education is the loss of competition. Competition for the best students, competition for the best teachers and competition for the best schools. The focus is to get students in, get students out and make sure the government passes the budget. The result: worse students. Shekarau talks about the falling standard of schools and the need to improve the teacher to student ratio. It’s a good idea but is curing the symptom rather than the disease. GEJ was not available to share his ideas. Bottom line: Society needs to spend a lot more on education and free government-run education does not really improve that. Competition also needs to be brought back into education. A lot less of indigen quota schemes and centralized admissions and a lot more of post school standardized tests. The challenge for education is giving poor people the same opportunities as every one else. Free government-run education does not do that.

Q:  …our public health care is in a dismal state, I want to hear what you r plans are for reforming health care.

Shekarau: 3 quick actions, number one is the need for public general enlightenment, up till today in rural areas there is need for public enlightenment, secondly we must go back to the primary health care level, major teaching hospitals have been reduced to primary health care centres because of the absence of primary health care provision, go back to the roots and work with local and state governments to pump in more resources for primary health care.

Buhari: I think we have to start by improving the infrastructure itself, water supply…water-borne disease are a big issue, invest much more in health. Training people, equipping the hospitals, cleaning up fake drugs, and education about health care. [on child-birth] we have to work with foreign NGO’s, they have programmes of helping our people. Nigeria is not poor, we have resources, we have to get help from foreign countries in terms of advisers, experienced medical personnel, and drug companies. About children, all tiers of govt must make sufficient allocation to take care of children, women and the aged. Social services not looked after by the budget. Services and supervision missing.

Ribadu: [ Lagos state doctors, nurses on strike because they are not happy with conditions of service. Is this and indication of how can will handle fed issues or is at an anomaly?] Well it is an indication of democracy in working, Lagos is a bad example to give because it is the best performing state today…,…. on health, his government will rehabilitate the hospitals and entire health care sector, will set up six specialist hospitals in six geo political zones. Nigerians are out there working for others, we need to bring them back, meet facilities on ground here where thet can serve their own people. Private sector can play a role in helping the people. Strenghten health care insurance. Will find drug manufacturers to manufacture drugs in Nigeria. Those are some specific things

All the candidates make good points on healthcare (or maybe I think that because I know very little about healthcare). However I did some research and apparently the biggest healthcare issue in the developing world in general is access to clean water. If there were points I would give them to Buhari for talking about that. Investing in preventive measure like access to clean water, sewer facilities and the like should be the focus. I don’t know what he was saying about needing NGO’s and help from foreign countries but I’ll let that slide.

There were a few other questions which were either not about the issues or didn’t show up on recorded version I watched. I do remember a good question about the Jos crises and I had a lot to say about it but I cannot find the answers given by the candidates so I’ll table that for now.
The point of this is to keep the discussion going on how we can actually solve some of the problems we have. Yes we all want power, yes we all want security and all the other stuff but how are we actually going to fix those. More ideas are always welcome. Let’s keep the discussion going.


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