National Conference, 2014: Speaking to the presidential address



Last Monday, it was my turn to respond to President Goodluck Jonathan’s address at the opening ceremony of the National Conference, 2014. As was set out by the conference leadership, every delegate was expected to say something about Jonathan’s speech. The great handicap was that each one of us was assigned just three minutes for a statement. Not enough time to open full hearts about the Nigerian condition.

While many delegates spent time praising the speech, quite a significant number of delegates have also touched on some of the issues that necessitated the conference in the first place. Nigerians are obviously hurting, for a variety of often, disparate and conflicting, even adversarial reasons. I knew that three minutes won’t be enough to state all that occurred to me, but I chose to write out my thought, while I then summarized the script. What you read here is the script that I wrote as my thought, and which I spoke to Goodluck Jonathan’s speech of March 17th, 2014.

Nigeria matters. We are the only African country with all attributes to become a great power: size and population; arable land and water; oil and solid minerals; diverse tourist potentials and very resourceful people, with incredible self-assuredness. Yet we face serious problems: a deformed political structure and an economy that has not worked, especially since the mid nineteen eighties, with the implementation of imperialist Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) and neoliberal policies. They have led to de-industrialization; and the transfer of public assets into the hands of private cronies, in controversial privatization policies.

Consequently, we have managed to create one of the most unjust societies in the world today. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says 115million Nigerians live in poverty and 64% of our urban population lives in slums. Yet those who now control Nigeria’s wealthhave spent over $6Billion purchasing private jets.  Nigeria’s rich oligarchy consumes more champagne than their Russian counterparts. CRONY CAPITALISM is ruining our country. It is at the base of ethno-regional and religious rivalries, that many of the old people here assume to be the most important contradictions facing us. Extreme wealth lives side by side with mind-boggling poverty, deprivation and hopelessness. The World Bank recently said that two thirds of the extremely poor people of the world live in China, India, NIGERIA, Bangladesh and DR Congo! Since 1999, a new phenomenon emerged in Nigeria, where those who have ruled our states, after eight years, have become richer than the states they governed!

Today, Nigeria is a country of young people: 45% is under 15; 63% of the population is under the age of 25; while 75% is under 35. Instructively, those aged 65 and above, are only 3% of our population.  The young; urban and rural working people; women; and the physically challenged, and how we treat them, will determine Nigeria’s future.  23.9% of Nigerians are unemployed, but youth unemployment was at 54% by 2012, according to the National Baseline Youth Survey Report.  In May 2012, a former minister of Youth Development announced that 67million young Nigerians were unemployed, while 80percent of that number do not have university degrees, and are almost unemployable. Alarmingly, 1.8 million graduates enter the job market annually.
The most central problems we face are ECONOMIC; how to re-industrialize to create jobs for millions of young people. We will not create those jobs if we do not critically interrogate the philosophy of governance. Nigeria’s bizarre form of capitalism is NOT working.

Rev. Fr. George Ehusani of the Catholic Secretariat, did a study of ethno-religious crises in Nigeria, between 1999 and 2007, and showed that most of them occurred between 12noon and six pm. Those are the hours people would normally be at work. And most of those involved are young people. The preponderance of membership of Boko Haram is young Nigerians! Nigerians must be put to work!  Faulty as the 1999 Constitution might be, let us make JUSTICIABLE Chapter II, the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Many of the elite groups at this National Conference have retreated into ethnic, regional and religious identities; there is scare mongering and unbridled efforts at delegitimization of our dear country, including ill-concealed secessionist agendas; but the Nigerian people don’t really hate themselves. Elite groups manipulate them into postures of hatred in their rivalries for power and privileges.

I will like to return to where I started from; Nigeria matters. Our country has responsibilities to its people and the African continent. One out of every 5 Africans is a Nigerian; 20% of Africa is Nigeria and 47% of West Africa is our dear country. But neoliberal capitalism will sink us into an abyss.  It has created a few billionaires, yes.  But the majority of our people are in despair all over Nigeria. We must build a caring and inclusive country, not the Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish and short, as we have today in Nigeria.

Finally, people have asked for “restructuring” of Nigeria. My suggestion is that we should return to the 12 states structure of General Yakubu Gowon, between 1967 and 1975. There were six states in the North and six in the South. That offers a balanced basis for real development. We should then significantly reduce the exclusive legislative list and devolve more resources and responsibilities to the states. In that setting, we can conveniently have well-organized state police forces and even local police forces too, while the Nigeria Police Force will be in charge of cross border and federal crimes. We can also remove the friction around what Southern Nigerian groups agitate for as ‘Resource Control’ by giving oil producing states 50% derivation on ON-SHORE oil while the entire country owns revenues accruing from offshore oil fields.

A corollary of these developments is to bring the state back into the development process. The ‘religion’ like devotion to privatization and market forces is doing far more damage to our country, than people have bothered to study. We must also introduce a Development Planning regime to take control of the development process. Nigeria must deliberately overthrow the Washington Consensus and bring Nigeria’s working people, patriotic intellectuals, business people dedicated to patriotic endeavours and well-trained and patriotically bureaucrats, to drive the development process. At the moment, our economic process is driven by agents of imperialism; and they owe more allegiance to the Washington Institutions than to our country. Wasn’t one of them alleged to have made 60 Billion Naira from negotiating the cancellation of Nigerian debts under Obasanjo? Surely, those are not the types that should be piloting Nigeria’s economic process.

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