Presidential candidate for Nigeria's opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar speaks during a campaign rally in Ilorin, north-central Nigeria, on December 5, 2018 ( AFP / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI)

Nigerian presidential candidate makes misleading claims in interview

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Nigeria is bracing for a general election next year to determine leaders for key offices in the country, including President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor. Among the contenders for the top job is ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar, who made a series of claims during an interview with local broadcaster Arise Television. AFP Fact Check reviewed the interview and found some claims to be either misleading or false.

The hour-long pre-recorded interview was aired on July 22, 2022. 

Abraham Lincoln

Abubakar first ran for president in 1993, but his bid stalled when he failed to land the nomination from the Social Democratic Party, which instead went with businessman Moshood Abiola. 

His second stab at the presidency in 2007 as a candidate for the Action Congress was also unsuccessful. In 2014, he lost the nomination to represent the then opposition All Progressives Congress to Buhari. He became the flagbearer for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 election but lost to Buhari again.

Now preparing for his fifth tilt at the presidency, once more as the PDP’s candidate, Abubakar said in his interview with Arise TV that there was nothing wrong with his ambition to be Nigeria’s leader, noting that Abraham Lincoln “ran up to five, six times before becoming the president of the United States”.

But the claim is misleading. 

Although Lincoln failed to win various elections, he only ran for president twice in 1860 and 1864. Lincoln won both times. 

Labour Party without lawmakers?

Despite the popularity of another opposition candidate, Peter Obi, surging among young Nigerians, Abubakar insisted he stood a better chance of winning. Obi was Abubakar’s running mate in the 2019 presidential election and is now the Labour Party’s main pick.

Abubakar said his former ally’s popularity, especially in Nigeria’s southeast and southern regions, would do little to limit his own chances of winning.  

“This is a party that does not have a governor, does not have members of the National Assembly, does not have state assembly members,” Abubakar said of Obi’s Labour Party.

But his claim, made 12’34” into the interview, is misleading.

While the Labour Party does not have a sitting governor, it does have a senatorial seat in Nigeria’s National Assembly and a seat in the Plateau State House of Assembly, courtesy of defections.

Both lawmakers had defected from Abubakar’s party. 

Screenshots showing articles from local media about the defection of PDP lawmakers to the Labour Party, taken on July 28, 2022

Private business as a civil servant 

In the interview, when asked about the source of his wealth, Abubakar explained that he ran a private transportation business when he was employed as a customs official. “The fact that you are a public officer does not stop you from engaging in business,” he said.

He then doubled down on the claim, saying: “There is no law which says you cannot engage in a legitimate business because you are a public officer. No law.” 

However, this is misleading.

Section 2 (b), Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution says a “public officer” cannot “engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade” except if “he is not employed on full-time basis”.

Public officers are permitted to engage in farming, however. 

Oil’s GDP contribution 

When Abubakar was responding to a question about his plans to lift Nigerians out of poverty despite the country’s relatively slow economic growth, he said he would rather develop non-oil sectors.

Nigeria is Africa’s second-largest oil exporter. The commodity is a major source of foreign exchange and revenue for the government but the sector makes only a marginal contribution to the economy.

“Oil only maybe accounts for about 20 percent of our GDP, the bulk of our GDP is non-oil,” Abubakar said 44’20’’ into the interview.

But the latest data from Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed the oil sector actually contributed even less to GDP – 6.63 percent in the first three months of 2022. 

The sector’s contribution has remained below 10 percent since the last quarter of 2017.

Nigerian universities mostly private

“Recall also that today most of our universities are private sector universities. They don’t go on strike, you don’t hear them go on strike, you don’t hear anything,” Abubakar said.

“The only places where you have strikes are the public universities. And this is simply because the government does not provide enough resources. What is there to maintain a university? Just make sure you equip the universities and pay the teachers regularly.”

University education in Nigeria was controlled by the government after the abolishment and prohibition of private ownership in 1993 by the then military regime. But with Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, the first three private universities were established in the same year.

Official records from the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) confirm Abubakar’s claim that the majority of Nigerian universities are now private. 

There are 217 recognised universities across the country, including 111 private universities. The remaining 106 institutions are public, comprising 49 owned by the federal government and 57 belonging to state governments.