Let me begin with the conclusion. By May 2023, the present federal government of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would have spent 50% of the time People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governments did between 1999 and 2015. But on current evidence, the APC would scarcely have achieved 10% of what the PDP did, even accounting for any additional achievements by this government from now to 2023.
Consider the education sector for example. PDP governments significantly improved the state of affairs in Nigerian tertiary education, if not in the sector overall. In 1999, there were about 37 universities in Nigeria, for a population of over 150 million at the time. Just 12 of these were in the north, and only one state, Benue, had a state university throughout the region. By 2015 however, there were about 160 universities in Nigeria, and all but two northern states had universities of their own.
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This is nothing short of a phenomenal expansion of access. It means that in 16 years, the PDP achieved more than four times what all Nigerian governments did in the previous 85-year period. Obasanjo established the rules that made nearly all these changes happen; Yar’adua gave them life by increasing university workers’ salaries several times over, and by strengthening the system’s major funding body, while Jonathan established 12 federal universities, bringing equal access to every state.
By contrast, so far at least, the APC has added little value to the education sector by way of policy or program. The recently announced proposals aimed at improving the welfare of teachers would definitely count as a significant value addition. But policy announcement is not an achievement, however, legacy-defining the proposals might be. Besides, the fact that it has taken six years to even make such an announcement is itself an indication of poor performance by this government in the sector.
There is another sense in which the performance of PDP governments in higher education goes beyond the expansion of access. The expansion brought with it increased access to university for millions of Nigerian families. But equally important, it also created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the formal economy, for the new generation of lecturers, non-academic and support staff, as well as the multiplier effects of these on myriad informal sector jobs. My guess is that 70% of all jobs in the Nigerian higher education today were created between 1999 and 2015 under PDP governments.
But the more significant point is that these jobs represent a subset of the millions of formal middle-class jobs created during the same period. It is true that PDP governments did not tackle the problem of poverty, unemployment and inequality in Nigeria as substantially as they could have, given the resources available to them. Moreover, they grossly under-performed in manufacturing and agriculture. It is also true that millions of Nigerians still lived in precarity by the time they left in 2015.
Still, PDP governments grew the service sectors exponentially, and by so doing significantly expanded the middle class. Before 1999, Nigeria had one of the most constricted economies in the world, with very little room for a middle class. That picture has since changed, however. The reason is simple. The expansion in higher education also occurred in the banking and financial services, in telecommunications and the digital economy, in the entertainment industry and across all other service sectors. In short, the number of middle-class jobs created during PDP governments is unprecedented in Nigerian economic history, and on the current trends, the APC can hardly better that performance, even with 16 years of their own.
Then there is APC’s favoured sector: anti-corruption. Nearly all Nigerian leaders have touted their anti-corruption credentials when getting into the office or while in it. But none more so than President Buhari, for whom anti-corruption is a political brand. Yet, with the exception of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal, almost all existing legal and administrative structures for fighting corruption in Nigeria today were developed under various PDP governments.
For sure, PDP governments only trialed policies like the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS), and the Bank Verification Number (BVN), all of which the Buhari government has fully implemented. But previous policies were no less significant, if not more so. Nuhu Ribadu built the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from the scratch. The most promising law ever made for fighting corruption in Nigeria, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), came out of the Jonathan administration, much-maligned, with some justification, for tolerating corruption. Finally, the PDP oversaw some of the worst elections in Nigerian electoral history. But they also conducted some of the best elections we have ever had, at least so far. The general elections of 2011 and 2015 have no parallel for their credibility. The APC government can claim credit for maintaining and even improving upon the standards set by these two elections in certain areas. But the PDP will claim credit for laying the solid foundations in the first place, foundations that without which, there would have no APC federal government at all.
Not all of these things were deliberate policies of the PDP governments during their 16 years, and some of them happened in spite of them. And while I do not speak for the PDP and have no preference for any political party, candidate or official, I find APC’s persistent claims that the PDP wasted 16 years of our national life and presided over the “near destruction” of Nigeria too bogus to withstand clear-eyed scrutiny.