As the dates for the 2023 Nigeria general elections draw ever closer — the presidential and National Assembly poll is set for February 25 and governorship and other subnational elections are scheduled for March 11 — there is a palpable hint of excitement and anxiety in the air as the citizens prepare to cast their vote in what will be the seventh consecutive elections since the return to democracy in 1999. Not surprisingly, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar have emerged as the presidential candidates from Nigeria’s main political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) respectively. But unlike the last two presidential elections, the third force — led by Peter Obi under the Labour Party — are back in the fray with enough momentum to potentially reach (and perhaps even surpass) all expectations. While these are not the only aspirants in the upcoming elections, they do appear to be the most popular and talked about.
With an ever-growing population that is made up of predominantly youth (a whopping 70% of the population are under the age of 30), it becomes imperative to analyze and understand what exactly these presidential aspirants have to offer Nigeria, particularly in areas that affect and pertain to the youth. Here is what each of the three major aspirants has had to say so far:
The former governor of Lagos State and presidential aspirant under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, has listed his agenda for the country if voted into power, saying that improving the economic prospects of young Nigerians must be prioritised to reclaim the glorious past, adding that the government must support strategically important industries to employ large numbers of young people for them to unleash their productive capacity and boundless energy.
On his 7-point agenda, titled ‘My Vision for Nigeria’, education comes sixth, with Tinubu aiming to deploy initiatives targeted at promoting knowledge and equipping learners of all age groups with the skills and values needed to address modern-day challenges globally. It is also to propagate and activate strategies that also promote a sense of pride and awakening amongst all Nigerian citizens, promising a 25 per cent annual budget for education.
Verdict: While it cannot be disputed that Tinubu’s agenda is filled with promising double digit figures, many have argued that much of what it contains is ambitious at best and far fetched at worst. Still, a double-digit annual budget for education sounds more than promising, and if truly implemented, may go a long way in improving that sector.
For the former vice president, who has remained a core capitalist and believes in the power of capital and entrepreneurship to transform Nigeria, he promises to spearhead education reform so that it is driven by innovation, science, and technology. In a statement, the aspirant was quoted as saying that Nigeria is a sinking ship and must be rescued urgently, adding: “I would like to work more with young people. Young people are more agile, creative and conversant with contemporary opportunities and challenges. Our administration is going to be a transition of power from the senior generation to a younger generation.”
In his released policy document tagged,“My covenant with Nigerians,’’ Atiku explains that the public education system remains ill-equipped and has consistently underperformed, keeping millions of children out of school and producing graduates with skills and competencies which are not aligned to the needs of the communities and industries — a fact he hopes to change.
Interestingly, earlier in July, the aspirant did not attend and was not represented at a graduation ceremony of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge, United Kingdom, where he had recently completed his Master’s degree programme. This was apparently done in solidarity with Nigerian students (and their parents) who have been at home for months with no end in sight due to incessant industrial action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other unions of educational institutions — something the aspirant has spoken about quite often, claiming that education remains a top priority for him.
So I found this video of @atiku on Education..
If there is one thing the man is so damn passionate about..it is Education..
Watch the way he comes alive and speaks with so much passion..
"No No No, don't cut me off".. pic.twitter.com/EpuLkvL8Ss
— Anthony Ehilebo (@AnthonyEhilebo) September 12, 2022
Verdict: Atiku seems to have taken the empathetic route, putting himself in the shoes of the younger generation, and while much of what he has said about the sorry state of the education sector is not news to any of us, his focus on innovation, science, and technology are commendable. Furthermore, as the founder of American University of Nigeria in Yola, one would not be blamed for thinking that Atiku is at least committed to providing improved education like he says he is. At the recent Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference, it can be recalled that the candidate made some interesting comments about Federal-owned universities, saying that the Federal Government lacks resources for effective management of federal universities in the country, and as such, more power should be decentralized and given to state governments to run institutions. Although this stance has raised more than a few eyebrows, Abubakar has maintained that education would remain in the concurrent list under his administration if elected. As his plans for improving the quality of education look good on paper, it will be interesting to see how they take shape in real life if he wins the election.
A former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi has assured Nigerians that he “will not play with education” if elected the next president in 2023, adding that the more educated a country is, the better its development. Boasting a commendable educational background himself, and known for being a “cost-cutter”, the aspirant has faulted Nigeria’s fuel subsidy policy, claiming that he will channel the copious amounts of money it gulps toward critical sectors like education, if he wins.
Peter Obi’s unique selling point besides “Economy,” is Education. He applied this simple but effective formula in Anambra State, & his state rose from the No 26 in Education, to No 1. Only Peter Obi will end ASUU Strikes, for good. VOTE WISELY. pic.twitter.com/aUaaJqBCfM
— NEFERTITI (@firstladyship) September 11, 2022
The presidential hopeful also revealed his plans to apply the knowledge gathered from his trips to other countries that have restructured their nations (which includes his most recent voyage to Egypt) and provide fresh ways to invest in education, as we are hemorrhaging human capital by leaving 15 million children out of school and on the streets.
On the issue of consistent industrial actions and strikes, Obi has said that the current Head of State (Buhari) should sit with ASUU and engage directly to resolve the matter, adding that if the President can sit with party leaders over presidential primaries and get a result, he should sit with ASUU and ensure that this strike comes to an end.
Our position is that ASUU strike has lingered for far too long. It is unconscionable, worrisome and unacceptable that FGN would allow such an industrial action to become almost intractable to the detriment of our students.
— Peter Obi (@PeterObi) August 31, 2022
Going further, he also said in the past that his team cannot imagine being on the seat for three months, having an issue of this magnitude but not engaging the Unions personally, reminding citizens that he had handled similar issues in Anambra as governor. “If you have an agreement with somebody, even if it cannot be achieved 100 percent, 100 percent effort is still required.” He also maintained his stance that “you cannot talk about physical infrastructure unless you’ve dealt with human infrastructure and education is key.”
Verdict: Peter Obi appears to be exploring his options even beyond the shores of Nigeria to bring about new ways of approaching and refreshing the education sector, all of which is very timely, albeit a little vague. If we are to believe his words, Obi is offering Nigerians a ‘new’ and more straightforward type of governance, as his plans for education seem clear-cut and attainable if implemented as promised.