The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, has said he did not understand the Boko Haram phenomenon, lamenting that despite the efforts of the Nigerian Army, the insurgency had not been eliminated.
The former vice president stated this on Sunday during the People’s Town Hall 2023 series aired on Channels TV which was monitored by The PUNCH.
Atiku, who featured with his running mate, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, responded to questions on insecurity and was asked about his position on Boko Haram.
He said, “I still cannot understand why we should have Boko Haram. You see, I served in Borno State when it was in the North-East, and as a Customs officer and I was patrolling the entire North-East, so I am very conversant with the vegetation and with the border areas. I still cannot find a place in the Borno areas where anybody can hide and cannot be seen. I cannot understand honestly, the Boko Haram phenomenon.
“Sometimes when returning from Europe, 30 feet above, I could see a man walking in Borno State, so where is the place to hide? To the extent that they say there is a place called Sambisa forest. I have been there. I didn’t see a forest. It is just shrubs here and there.
“So we have deployed the Nigerian military which used to be one of the best in the world. They have fought, you know, a number of the international arena and they have excelled and here we have deployed them with their might and everything and we just could not eliminate Boko Haram. So I am puzzled. So maybe when I get there, I will understand, but honestly, I cannot understand the Boko Haram phenomenon.
“Everything is there. Politics is there, business is there, security, everything. Of course, the solution is leadership, strong leadership to deal with all these interest groups within the military and outside the military.”
When asked about his position on militancy if it arose again in the PDP administration, Okowa said with appropriate leadership, there would not be a recurrence of such in the South-South.
He said, “I believe that once you provide the needed governance, it is unlikely that militancy will return. You first need to ask what led to that. People felt ignored. People felt excluded from governors, they were not seeing the infrastructure. Their children didn’t find the space to get properly educated, to get access to justice.”
Atiku also disclosed his plan to remove subsidy and negotiate with relevant stakeholders to provide palliatives for citizens.
He said, “I have already announced that we are going to remove subsidy and then of course negotiate with all stakeholders on how we can establish palliatives for removing subsidies.
“Whether we decide to remove subsidy or not, based on the Petroleum Industry Act, by June next year, subsidy will have to stop and that is the law that has been passed by the National Assembly. But as far back as last election season, I announced that I was going to remove subsidy.
“When I was the Vice President, we were to remove subsidy in four stages. As the Chairman of the Economic Council, I supervised and implemented Phase One and Phase Two. By the time we got to Phase Three, it was suspended. If we had gone with that programme, by the time we left office, there wouldn’t have been any more subsidies for any government to inherit.”
On his part, Okowa said subsidy removal would provide funds for the education and health sectors.
“Education is suffering, health service is suffering. These two areas are very critical to the larger majority of Nigerians who are in the poverty area.
“And it is important that we begin to free funds to address issues of education and to address issues of health so that we can provide help to a large majority of our people and provide education for our children and ensure that we’re able to develop every Nigerian to such an extent that they can freely compete for themselves and be able to take care of themselves,” he said.
In his response to the question on how he would tackle the shortage of foreign exchange, Atiku said, “I would direct the Central Bank to stop multiple exchanges so that we close the gap.
“And then of course, secondly, how do we also encourage foreign investors to bring in forex from abroad? I think is very key as far as that challenge is concerned. So basically if you can do that, you will then make it available for as much as possible.
“For most of the industries or factories first of all we will ensure that there is only one exchange rate, not multiple exchange rates as we currently have because the multiple exchange rate regime is corrupted and the people who desire the foreign exchange so I think this is a very serious issue. It is not a question of what role I can bring it but it is a mechanism by the central bank.”
Regarding the moribund refineries in the country, Atiku explained that they should be privatised.
He said, “For the four refineries that don’t work, please, let’s give them to the private sector. I mean, in every great nation in this country, you find that the private sector is the driver of the economy. They provide the jobs, they provide the prosperity, and they do everything. Why should we be different?”
On the country’s healthcare system, Okowa called for the support of the private sector in the development of tertiary health institutions while the government focus on primary healthcare.
He said, “We are encouraging the private sector to develop tertiary health institutions, while we encourage the sub-national governments to ensure that the primary healthcare development service is at its best. Because when you can ensure that you provide basic health services through the primary healthcare centres across the nation, you find that your people are going to progress.