UPDATE 1-Nigeria candidate vows to stop waste, revive reform

* Ex-VP Abubakar is main challenger to Nigerian president

* Wants liberalisation of oil, power, banking sectors

* Says public money has “vanished”, would restore discipline

(Adds background in paragraph 2, link to TV interview, factbox)

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON, Dec 1 (BestGrowthStock) – Nigerian presidential candidate
Atiku Abubakar said on Wednesday he would revive free-market
reforms and fiscal discipline in Africa’s top oil exporter after
what he described as “four wasted years”.

Abubakar, who was vice-president from 1999 to 2007, is
challenging President Goodluck Jonathan for the ruling party
ticket ahead of a presidential election in April. Whichever man
wins the party primaries is expected to be the next president.

“I will expand the scope of the reforms to make sure that we
have a more friendly environment for foreign direct investment,”
Abubakar told Reuters in an interview during a brief visit to
London, in answer to a question on the banking sector.

Presenting himself as a champion of pro-market reforms
during his time in office, Abubakar said progress had slowed
under the outgoing government and he would create new momentum.

He said he wanted swifter liberalisation of the oil
industry, a break-up of the dysfunctional power sector into
smaller entities that could more easily be privatised, and
greater freedom for the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Abubakar tried to run for president in 2007 under the banner
of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but he and then
President Olusegun Obasanjo fell out and Abubakar was forced out
of the PDP. He ran as an opposition candidate and lost.

The PDP candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua, was elected but he died
in May this year and the vice president, Jonathan, took over.

Abubakar said Yar’Adua’s ill health had stopped him from
achieving much, while the transition to Jonathan had been messy.

“I would say, four wasted years,” Abubakar said.

“WHERE HAS THIS MONEY GONE?”

Nigeria’s foreign reserves have fallen by 20 percent in the
past 12 months, while a savings account for windfall oil
revenues has dwindled from $20 billion in 2007 to less than $1
billion now, alarming economists. [ID:nLDE6AT1FI]

“With this administration all of it has vanished and that’s
why we keep asking ‘where has this money gone?’ And we still
have high exchange rate, high inflation, high interest rates …
and we don’t see anything on the ground,” Abubakar said.

“My approach would be to return to fiscal discipline,
accumulation of comfortable foreign reserves and keeping the
excess crude (windfall oil savings account) to actually invest
in infrastructure and education,” he pledged.

Under an unwritten but powerful rule within the PDP, the
presidency is supposed to rotate from northerners to southerners
at regular intervals. Obasanjo, a southerner, had two terms
while Yar’Adua, a northerner, died before completing his first.

In the eyes of many northerners, the next president should
be one of them so that the north gets its full eight years.
Abubakar is from the north, while Jonathan is a southerner.

Abubakar said that he would honour the agreement, meaning
that he would stay for only one term before handing over to a
southerner in 2015. He also pledged that if Jonathan won the PDP
primaries, he would accept the result and drop out of the race.

Asked why the rotation agreement should still hold more than
a decade after the 1999 transition from military to civilian
rule, Abubakar said it was for the good of the nation.

“We haven’t developed politically to the extent that you
could throw the presidency … to anyone who can grab it because
what will emerge after that is that the major ethnic groups will
always continue to dominate the political power,” he said.

However, he rejected the argument that ethnic sentiment was
politically significant when asked about the Niger Delta, the
violent and impoverished oil-producing region in the far south.

Jonathan, an ethnic Ijaw from the Niger Delta, is the first
person from that region to become president in Nigeria’s 50-year
history as an independent nation, and some analysts fear that if
he loses the job after such a short term, it will cause unrest.

“The Niger Delta is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural and his
(Jonathan’s) ethnic group is just one of several … I don’t see
a risk of instability, certainly not,” Abubakar said.

Kidnappings and attacks are rife in the Niger Delta, where a
multi-billion-dollar oil industry sits alongside deprived and
polluted towns and villages. Abubakar advocated creating a Niger
Delta ministry to address the region’s problems, and a
coastguard force that would absorb some of the militants.

— For a Reuters Insider television interview with Abubakar,
please go to http://link.reuters.com/pef97q

— For a factbox on Abubakar, please click on
[ID:nLDE6AL1X4]

— For further highlights from his interview, please click
on [ID:nLDE6B01I2]
(Editing by Giles Elgood)

UPDATE 1-Nigeria candidate vows to stop waste, revive reform