New landlords, ambitious health budget, local policing | Here are five talking points from Donald Duke’s policy document

Donald Duke

The Social Democratic Party has chosen Donald Duke to be its candidate in the 2019 presidential elections. The former two-term Governor of Cross River state under the PDP is widely perceived as one of the more likeable characters in Nigerian politics. Back to contesting elective office since leaving the Calabar government house more than a decade ago, he will now pit his wits and political capital against President Buhari and his other challengers.

The Duke campaign has published a 14-page policy document outlining what could be seen as the foundations on which his administration will operate if elected next February. It is a generic early-stage political campaign document, threading between not giving much specifics and featuring compulsory themes like the need to create the enabling environment for every Nigerian to maximize their productivity and “strategic equal opportunities programs”. We can expect more to come from them in the coming weeks by way of expatiation but from the document presented, here are the main talking points:

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Agriculture for Manufacturing

The campaign’s plan for the sector is captured in this: “agriculture thrives when tied to manufacturing and food processing”. Not many will disagree with that but there are challenges that have stalled meaningful progress. Will Nigerians be roused by Duke’s plan to see to structure the sector to “serve a manufacturing function” or is there too much basic hunger that makes putting food on the table the only thing to be focused on? Duke wants to review the land use system as a necessary cause of action for repositioning agriculture. Check.

Compulsory Education

New reports suggest Nigeria may have an out-of-school-children time bomb ticking. Where children are in school, the deficit in teacher availability and the dearth in quality are just as alarming. Duke “will design a compulsory system of education” that will see everyone “acquire an education and learn a skill concurrently”. He proposes new teacher ratios of 1-20 and 1-30 for primary and secondary schools respectively. They are big dreams that come with big challenges, beginning with a question of whether the government should be able to compel everybody to go to school in an age of YouTube and online courses. His new ratios will require investing in new infrastructure but there is no information on what his budgetary provision for education will be (the UNESCO recommendation is 26%; Buhari’s 2018 budget for education is between 6 and 7%). Also, tying teachers’ advancement to student performance is another proposal sure to be controversial with the union of teachers.

HealthCare in Every Ward

If specifying budgetary allocation is a sign of where priorities are, then Donald Duke’s is in the health sector where he proposes to spend 35% of his budget. He plans to have one primary healthcare centre per 5000 people in every “political ward” in the country. There are 774 local governments in the country and number of wards varies by LGA even if it seems to converge around 10 and 15. For instance, the Kano Municipal LGA has 14 wards, Ahiazu Mbaise in Imo state has 12, while in Nembe LGA, Bayelsa state, there are 13. It implies that a President Duke would be aiming at building about 7,740 primary healthcare centers in liaison with states. His plan may be helped by the fact that in some states, primary healthcare centers already exist but are not as effective as they can be.

Housing: Create Landlords

Duke’s plan as outlined in this document for housing development is vague. While noting the right figures on housing deficit, his approach for addressing it – to incentivize the purchase of lands by private sector developers before reviewing the land use act – is a rather questionable scale of preference. It seems like he intends to create a class of landlords by fiat before addressing the major issue of property rights that would lead to an organic rise of landowners. Local production of building materials is, however, an interesting proposal though the route to overcoming challenges to that is not specified.

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Localized Crime-Fighting

On Security, Duke notes that a major cause of tension across the country can be attributed to unemployment. He proposes an “egalitarian system” that will make young people able to obtain and create jobs, but it is not clear what this system will be. Perhaps of more importance is his promise to decentralize the Police to “allow for a localized approach to crime-fighting”. He does not state whether he is for the creation of State Police but, as every candidate in the race will say, reviewing remuneration is on the agenda.

Overall, Duke describes Nigeria’s problems are systemic and does not promise to turn them overnight. Why then should he be considered? He holds, per the document, “a sense of the short term fixes and long range solutions needed”. It is credible to see Nigerians turn out for novel proposals but candidates will not be able persuade them to wait too long for solutions. Hence, Duke’s team may want to present more of those short term fixes and argue they are the most appealing and realistic.

His team will want to be more careful with their descriptions of the psychological state of Nigerians going into these elections though; “you come to the election cycle with a bit of delusion”? Surely that should be “disorientation”?

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