Being continuation of address by former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu at Kings College, Lagos on Saturday, September 23, 2017, first published yesterday.
Here, I want to plainly state my position. I am a firm believer in Nigeria. I believe this land will become a great nation and a leader among other African nations. We can resolve our dysfunctions in a manner that will make this nation rise as a standard of decency, justice and prosperity for all Nigerians.
So many excellent people have devoted themselves, even given their very lives, to give life to this nation. I dare not cast aside their hardy and brave work as if it were nothing. Many things we now enjoy and see as good are due to these people. We have benefited from their labour and sacrifice.
Being more pragmatic, separating the nation into small pieces resolves nothing and creates additional problems. The world marches toward integration. Europe, America, Asia seek trade and commercial pacts that will make them more integrated markets. Notwithstanding Brexit, the EU grows more integrated in the functions of governance by the day. Thus, while nations more powerful and developed than us seek to pool their wealth and might, some of us seek to whittle this nation into smaller pieces. Such a thing would make us more vulnerable to outside influences. We would forfeit our rightful place on the world stage and as a leader of this continent.
Moreover, not every split solves a problem. The political mentality, either good or bad, that defined a group before the split will remain after the divide. If one is imbued with factionalism, that perspective will remain even when the immediate problem is surmounted. Division will manifest differently, but manifest it will.
A new factional bigotry will arise to replace the old. The cycle of tension and unrest will take its inexorable toll. Just ask the people of South Sudan if their woes ended when they left Sudan.
When your heart is geared toward division, you will seek it within a single tribe, even a single family. The gossamer of ethnic unity will be ripped apart by sub-ethnic squabble. An angry man outside his home remains angry inside it as well and a thief steals from both stranger and friend.
Driven by such a mentality, even someone you once called your brother becomes a nuisance, then a burden, and ultimately your enemy in short order.
Thus, I oppose talk of break-up and all other exotic political arrangements tantamount to it. That I am a foe of disunity does not mean I have blinded myself to the truth that our nation is in need of great repair.
We all see the nation for what it is. Some look further to see the nation for what it is not and they rush to condemn it.
I choose to see the nation for what it can be and thus seek to nurture and cultivate it so that this Nigeria may bring forth the fullest blossoming of its riches, resources and ingenuity of its diverse people.
We need a better Nigeria and we must move toward it with speed. Once an ally, time no longer is on our side. To achieve this better place means some old things must change. But it also means that we must revive some practices we have tried to forget.
I will offer you a thematic overview for laying the foundation of a better nation. I pretend not to give all the answers. What I give is my humble initial contribution to the overdue discourse on how to mould and shape our political economy.
Our current national economic model is but an old, crumbling house. Repairing this edifice is the greatest challenge confronting us.
We allowed a once vibrant, diverse economy to atrophy into something overly dependent on oil revenue and on the rent-seeking behavior such revenues encourage. Even at the best of times and with the highest of oil prices, the economy was characterised by imbalance and inefficiency. Widespread poverty, gross inequality and massive unemployment described our condition.
We survived but did not flourish but bothered not to change because we thought oil would always be able to pay for everything. Because of this, we left millions upon millions of our people in the clutch of destitution. Poverty became their abundance and joblessness their vocation, despair their faith.
The secular decline in oil prices revealed our extant economic model for the travesty it is. Should we continue along its sad path, history will write of us that we chose self-destruction over progress for no reasons other than inertia and arrogance. Future generations will utter, “there went the best chance of Nigeria.” This is not a verdict I want attached to my name and our generation. We must refuse to be bondsmen to failure.
Here are some ideas that may aid this vital economic repair
We are among the world’s most populous nations. We must realise that no populous nation has ever attained broadly- shared prosperity without first creating an industrial capacity that employs large numbers of people and manufactures a significant quantity of goods for domestic consumption or export.
In one form or another, England, America and China implemented policies to protect key industries, promote employment and encourage exports. These three nations represent the past, present and immediate future of national economic achievement. A strong common thread is their policies of buffering strategic industries in ways that allows for the expansion and growth of the overall economy.
We must press forward with a national industrial policy, fostering development of strategic industries that create jobs as well as spur further economic growth. Whether we decide to focus attention on steel, textiles, cars, machinery components, or other items, we must focus on manufacturing things that Nigerians and the rest of the world value and want to buy.
We must partially reshape the market place to accomplish this. The Federal Government should institute a policy of tax credits, subsidies and insulate critical sectors from the negative impact of imports.
We need a national infrastructure plan. Roads, ports, bridges and railways need enhancing and new ones need to be built, the goal must be coherently planned and integrated infrastructural grid. A national economy cannot grow beyond the capacity of the infrastructure that serves it. Good infrastructure yields a prospering economy. Weak infrastructure relegates the economy to the poorhouse. Government must take the lead.
The focus on infrastructure has important corollary benefit. Federal expenditure for needed infrastructural spending has empirically proven in every place and in every era to boost recessionary economies and provide employment when sorely needed. Deficit spending in our own currency to advance this mission is neither a luxury nor a mistake. It is a fulcrum of and balanced and shared prosperity.
We must overcome the economic, political and bureaucratic bottlenecks preventing us from achieving reliable electrical power.
This is, perhaps, the single greatest impediment to economic advancement. The lack of power inflates costs, undercuts productivity, causing havoc to overall economic activity and job creation. Our economic situation is literally and figuratively in the dark.
The hurdles we face are not technical in nature.
We must convince those political and economic factors currently impeding our quest for reliable power to step aside that we may obtain this critical ingredient to economic vitality. Modern economies are based on credit. However, credit for business investment is too costly in Nigeria. The long-term economic strength of the nation is dependent on how we deploy now idle men, material and machines into productive endeavour. And this is highly dependent on the interest rate.
The CBN must cure its affection for high interest rates. Lower rates are required so our industrialists may borrow without fear that excessive costs of borrowing will consign them to irredeemable debt. The normal profit rates in most business sectors cannot support the burden imposed by current interest rates. If our industrialists do not invest in more plant, equipment and jobs, the economy will stagnate. The banking system would have achieved its goal of low interest rates at the greater costs of economic growth. This is as misguided as trying to save a branch by chopping down the tree.
Consumer credit must be more accessible to the average person. The prevailing norm is for a person to purchase high-priced items, such as a car in one lump sum. This is oppressive. It defeats the average person and constrains transactions in real estate, vehicles and appliances that could vitalise the economy.
The government-backed home mortgage system must be re-engineered. Mortgage loan agencies must be better funded, and liberalise their eligibility requirements so that more people qualify. They need to provide longer-term mortgages with manageable interest rates. Government should provide the supporting guarantees to make such financing a reality.
By sparking the effective demand for housing, the overall economy is enhanced. The construction sector and the industries allied to it will surge.
Moreover, to the extent that a man has a house he calls his own, that man is content; his contentment and innate common sense will act as brakes against instability and reckless political conduct.
Also, a workable credit system lessens corruption. The current lump-sum payment requirement tempts people toward misconduct. They see no other way to secure such large sums. Their wages will not suffice. Thus, they must either steal the money, beg for it or forego the purchase. Having an accessible credit system that provides for periodic installment payments places a purchase within the reach of a person’s wages. They no longer have to equate being honest with doing without.
Agriculture remains the backbone of the nation. We must help the common farmer by improving rural output and incomes. This is best done via ensuring minimum prices for crops strategic to food security. Here, we must revive an old practice and policy that served us well. Though effective, this policy was shunned because it conflicted with the free market totems that we were asked to erect against our own interests.
We must return to commodity exchange boards, which will allow farmers to secure good prices and hedge against loss. An agricultural mortgage loan corporation should be inaugurated to further promote these goals.
The proposals stated above are largely within the province of the Federal Government. Focusing on these and other such things will keep the Federal Government sufficiently busy. Sadly, the Federal Government is now doing things the states can perform with equal dexterity and which detract the Federal Government from the key missions only it can perform. This imbalance between the roles of the federal and state governments lies at the root of our difficulties.
To achieve better levels of overall governance, we need to re-balance the duties of the federal and state governments. The legacy of undemocratic rule has arrogated too much power and resources to the federal at the expense of state governments. The quest to correct the imbalance is the essence of federalism I have advocated for so many years.
Due to our particular political history and its military legacy, the quality of our federalism and the quality of our democracy are intertwined. The more we repair federalism, is the more we improve democracy.
To be continued