Declaration Speech by Professor Pat Utomi, Aspirant for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made at the Yaradua Centre, Abuja on Monday December 4, 2006.
Enabled by God’s Grace, hope from a life long commitment to the Advancement of the Common Good, and the Goodwill of so many who care, I stand before you, anxious about the failings of yesterday and the challenges of this moment, yet much hopeful for rebirth and renewal for our country. I come firm in my conviction that we can reclaim the promise of our country for which our Nation’s founding fathers gave their youth. It is with this hope that I welcome you most warmly to this unveiling of a dream.
The promise of a new nation shaped by the integrity of the men who led the independence struggle; the selfless giving of the Sarduana of Sokoto, the focus and rigor of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the intellectual sagacity of Zik of Africa and the people centered commitment of Aminu Kano has in 40 wilderness years since 1966 given way to self doubt. To many, self doubt has given way to despair.
The time has come to reject self pity and helplessness and hopelessness that defines the Nigerian condition. In the last six months I have traversed this blessed land adorned by the pain of its children. I have spoken to the market women in Mushin whose growth is stymied by the paradox of declining purchasing power in time of windfall revenue flows.
As the only Aspirant to the Presidency who has toured Nigeria meeting the people, as different from arriving state capitals in chartered flights to shake hands with Governors and receive Chieftaincy titles, I have come to a true discovery of the Nigerian condition, beyond cold statistics. I have felt the pain of market women in Dugbe in Ibadan, listened to the cry of the unemployed in Kano, felt the pain of the Aba teacher, dealt with the anguish of the Birnin Kebbi family that lost a breadwinner in yet another air disaster. The cry of my beloved country rises to eardrum piercing decibel levels inside of me.
The Nigerian Condition
Human material progress has been in steady ascent all over the world in this post-colonial epoch, everywhere, but in Africa. In few places in Africa is this sad trend more palpable, more real, more painful than in one of the truly potentially high performing economies of the continent, Nigeria. Just about every statistic of note points to Nigeria as a laggard, even in Africa, but an elite, content with sharing that which comes from a natural resource prospected and managed in an enclave, by foreign enterprises, repeatedly wallow in self congratulations of being a great and prosperous country. All because the people, some 150 million of or so of us do not seem to matter. If we counted, the statistics showing that 71% of us live in poverty as the Economist reminded us just the week before a minister told us that of the 130,000 graduates our universities will turn out just 10% are likely to find jobs, these would be reason for a state of emergency rather than the erring of a Governor who probably was never elected by the people.
Erstwhile National Planning Minister, Ayo Ogunlade at a conference here in Abuja reviewed unemployment figures and thought a national crisis was imminent. Today the situation is much worse. With so many unemployed our angry and idle youth are a ticking time bomb. Tackling this monster must be job 1 if Nigeria is to be renewed.
Security of Life and Property
I was at a friend’s burial a week ago. He was an entrepreneur and outstanding executive who found a major company a decade ago. This high powered human capital did not live to be 50. The reason; he dared to go to church on Sunday morning and some robbers accosted him for his cell phone.
If my late friend made it to the hospital his chance of survival would have been remote. Our hospitals have been described in coup day broadcast as mere consulting clinics. Evidence is they have declined further. We now invest much money to buy aircraft to ostensibly fly out a few privileged people for the price of two world class hospitals. Last year, I heard a most apt description of our health care system by a Professor of Medicine, Fola Tayo. He called it a “man-made disaster”. Part of the challenge of healthcare which we must raise here is the lack of portable drinking water. Some of my friends joke that Nigerian doctors prescribe for typhoid fever before they examine a patient because of this reality.
The collapse of infrastructure is one of the great spectacles of the Nigerian condition. From the streets of Aba and Port-Harcourt to the unbelievable state of the Lagos-Benin Highway and the manoeuvring art of driving on the Gusau-Sokoto road, I came, as I travelled around Nigeria, to appreciate the Canadian diplomat who, speaking to human rights advocates described the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway as an assault on the fundamental human rights of all those who ply the road. With epileptic power supply not only making social life so frustrating, but also triggering off the current de-industrialization mode of an economy that was only beginning its nascent stages of manufacturing capacity development, our work to join civilized society is clearly cut out for us.
At a time in human history when human capital is the essential ingredient of human material progress, Nigeria has consistently fallen below UNESCO ratios for investment in education. From the early 1960s when the Ashby Commission found the quality of tertiary education in Nigeria comparable to the best in the world to these times when foreign universities doubt the acceptability of our graduates for graduate study, education in Nigeria has lost its shine. Some of my friends have to send their children to go to school in Ghana, in this age of the knowledge worker.
Crises of Values
Little else from Agriculture, to the rule of law and the essence of civilized living like clean water can be said to be okay in Nigeria. If the truth must be told culture is in decay, there is a crises of values in our land, and value shapes human progress. Culture matters. Values shape the policy choices we make, the way our institutions evolve, how we grow human capital and develop a spirit of enterprise. It is these factors that determine progress. Given the crises of values that envelopes Nigeria there is little wonder we live in a prolonged no growth era. But hope is not lost.
A New Beginning
From the ashes of the rot of Nigeria’s years in the wilderness a new Nigeria must arise, like the Phoenix. It must spread its wings over all of its children; poor or rich; old and young; Nupe and Efik; Animist or Buddhist. Surely dry bones can rise and walk again.
I have a vision that I must pursue with passion. It is of a Nigeria with a people of industry and integrity who are prosperous, and live in harmony, one with the other as mostly middle class people, inspiring an African Renaissance in which the dignity of the human person is at the centre of all public choice.
Our mission in public life is therefore to affect those factors in the politics and governance of our country that cripple the Nigerian condition. These have been summed up in our trinity of purpose: To build a viable political opposition through consolidation and organizing, achieve a democratization of political party processes, and transform Nigeria’s inchoate economy into a globally competitive one that raises the quality of life of the citizens.
Job Creation as Job 1:
Our top priority is job creation. Poverty alleviation is meaningless unless you can create quality jobs in a sustainable manner. Our strategy for creating these jobs will, remarkably also help deal with the infrastructure, food security and manufacturing challenges we confront. To increase purchasing power, and the scope of citizens entering the consumer economy, we propose creating jobs through massive infrastructure projects involving networks of super highways, and Standard Gauge Railways across the country. This will not only open up the country and facilitate commerce it will immediately put millions of Nigerians to work, providing incomes that will increase demands for basic need products and household consumables. The chain of circular income flows will stimulate further investments in the economy and renewed growth in other sectors.
We expect to drive this ambitious initiative through a variety of Build Operate and Transfer agreements that will initially rely on collaterising part of our foreign reserves, forward deals; and citizen stakeholder group monitored direct construction contracts. Most of the infrastructure will come from private foreign capital.
Jobs in Agriculture:
Jobs will also come with programme designed to renew agriculture. Back in 1960 Agriculture accounted for 73 % of the labour force and 64% of output. It is noteworthy that the Nigerian of that time had a higher quality of life than today’s Nigerian. Our challenge is to make agriculture profitable and, therefore, attractive to young gifted and educated people. A lesson from extant experience in Pakistan where agricultural infrastructure like irrigation have benefited from private investment as well as that of countries challenged by the environment like Israel should be solutory for our new Nigeria.
Jobs through Manufacturing:
The decline in manufacturing contribution to GDP from 1980, is so steep that alarm bells should have gone off long ago. From double digit rates to less than 4% means a huge loss of jobs and an upswing in the misery index. A major reason for this is the power supply situation. Our Bring Your Own Infrastructure (BYOI) economy has been unkind to manufacturing and to jobs. The short term solution is to concentrate manufacturing within enclaves in which all infrastructure are provided at world class level. It is as such that our vision includes providing an industrial park in each of six zones of economic development into which we have partitioned Nigeria. Using Private/Public sector partnership we hope to spare these enclaves the damage of bureaucratic meddling and the transaction cost of corruption. Our contract with the Diaspora also aims to mobilize world class labour force competences to make these six industrial parks competitive growth modes around which international standard housing with appropriate mortgage finance complements could make nuclei of new cities of world class.
The Spirit of Enterprise:
We hope to move from job creation to wealth creation by stimulating the spirit of enterprise and growth of SMEs through an entrepreneurship extension service initiative. The NYSC could be a platform for this initiative which we believe will do for business development what agricultural extension service did for agriculture in the 1960s.
If Chief Obafemi Awolowo was a visionary, his approach to education as a universal good for all citizens made him a true sage. We know today that education is key to the future.
Our vision of a new Nigeria is one in which investment in education not only meets and surpasses UNESCO ratios but is so creatively implemented that between the tiers of government, education of quality will be collaboratively delivered as citizen right at certain levels and one to which options for access is expanded and available at tertiary levels using student loan schemes, scholarships, etc. All parts of Nigeria that have lower levels of educational attainment will receive agreed special interventions. Emphasis will be on functional education and a values component that drives a work, creativity and entrepreneurial ethic.
Institution Building, Rule of Law and Security of Life and Property:
There are many aspirants who mount platitudes to continuing the reforms of the present administration. Most of them are clueless about why, in spite of those reforms, Nigerians are poorer and less secure today than they were eight years ago. One reason is that our institutions are weak and produce the phenomenon of a recursive economy with two steps forward, with policy reform, and four steps backward, shortly after because institutions fail to set boundaries to conduct. Our team will work assiduously with civil society and a more vibrant and committed bureaucracy to ensure institution-building.
The rule of law is fundamental to building institutions. You can not have institutions that ensure economic prosperity, like stock markets, working effectively in the same environment where arbitrariness reigns when it comes to impeachment of Governors. We are persuaded that our vision of a prosperous Nigeria is hinged on fastidious observance of the rule of law, property rights and ensuring effective policing.
We propose police reforms including multi-tier policing (federal, state and local) and significant increase in the number of and quality of men in uniform. Equipping the force to be mobile and effective in communication is key to reforming it.
Our commitment to re-build the man-made disaster called the health sector though steeped in private health care and the wisdom in prevention being better than cure, aims ultimately, in the area of managing disease at the elimination of the need to fly Nigerians abroad for medical care.
As a private citizen, some 15 years ago, I began a programme of bringing in Nigerian Trauma Surgeons abroad to help upgrade the skills available. That programme which ran for a few years followed an automobile mishap in which I almost died, on July 12, 1991. It made me sensitive to the urgent need for quality trauma care. I am therefore committed to some world class hospitals being built as centres of excellence in various areas of specialized medical care. These would be in public/private sector partnerships, the same basis for pursuing state of the art research into tropical health challenges like malaria which have both been so attractive to multinational pharmaceutical firms because African are considered too poor to pay for the outcomes of such research effort. I have publicly committed to WHO’s STOP TB CAMPAIGN. I will give it more teeth and ensure that instead of countries like Kenya being used as example for us to emulate Nigeria will be the poster child of healthcare delivery in this area.
My conscience is assaulted daily by statistics which show that life expectancy in Nigeria has dropped from 53 years in 1991 to 46 years in 2003 and lower today; that malaria still claims 25% of our infants, something so preventable; and that 55,000 mothers die at child birth every year in this land. I am even more disturbed by the fact that even those who live can have greater material prospects if human capital, the ultimate economic tool of the age of the knowledge workers is enhanced. And human capital is essentially about education and health care. To fail to commit most of government resources in these two social sectors is unbelievable lack of wisdom. We must change that.
One has to acknowledge that the legacy of the current administration is founded on thoughtful ideas of macro economic policy choice. Our goal will be to continue the move from inefficient statistic approaches to more market driven choices with the insistence on the people being the central determinant of final choice. In following current public choice orientation for macroeconomic policy we will be introducing higher level of transparency; citizen-stakeholder monitoring of the budget and policy implementation and strict adherence to the Fiscal Responsibility Act when law results from the bill which I consider one of the biggest accomplishment of the current regime.
In addition I would seek constitutional amendments that would allow for a future fund and a stabilization fund in place of the current excess crude management system.
Youth and Women Affairs:
We cannot pursue all that is attractive to change for the good of Nigeria. We must focus on a few. Job creation, education and law and order top our priorities. Special attention to those who bear the brunt of our inchoate economy, the youth and women as well as the socially challenged will be an integral part of our effort.
I have said without equivocation that I will have a cabinet that will be up to 50 percent female because there is evidence that they perform and may tend to be less corrupt. My commitment to the youth is too well known to need elaboration. We will certainly embrace the ideas of the Centre for Values in Leadership which I founded to develop young people into leadership roles by making their voices count in decision making. As I have said repeatedly we should not engage in the deceit of calling them leaders of tomorrow. The youths are leaders of the moment. It is indeed their energy, passion, and risk orientation that will liberate Nigeria from descent into anarchy and set it on course to being a strong economic player in the comity of Nations.
Martin Luther King had a dream. I too dream. I see visions of a society written off for yesterday’s failings but whose youth embrace new ideas and say never again, become a land of integrity, of industry of harmonious co-existence, respected by the world and cherished by its neighbours as it lives the rule of law and upholds the dignity of the human person. I share today with passion my vision of a nation where family values are held dear and progress enjoyed in humble acknowledgement of the creator’s gifting. I do indeed have a dream of a glorious new dawn that is inclusive of all, no matter the tongue they speak nor the faith they profess, for non is the child of a lesser God. I give you the new Nigeria which will be built not because I am a superman or know better than others, but because we work as a team each bringing some of those great gifts God randomly distributed to his children. I give you a new Nigeria. Close your eyes for one second and imagine the possibilities.
Reclaim your country.
God bless you all.