Whatever becomes of what is said this day, let it be noted that we gathered under this roof in the spirit of democratic discourse and enlightenment. In the fateful procession of time and events, Justice, Progress and Compassion shall eventually overcome the awful strength of their opposites. In one way or another, we all have felt the sting of man’s capacity to wrong his fellow man. But we are also endowed with the God-given spirit to overcome adversity and to make of old enemies, new allies and even brothers.
I stand before you as a faithful believer in sentiments such as these. Before I go further, I thank the Kings College Old Boys Association for the honour you do by inviting me to this fine occasion. Collectively and individually, you have contributed mightily to this nation. If there were more people imbued with the values of King’s College, Nigeria would be a better place.
At the risk of being somewhat nonconformist, I have modified the topic to reflect something that requires a bit more reflection. While we are here enjoying a splendid dinner, let us give ourselves some food for thought as well. We must clearly articulate our objectives. That which we cannot think clearly, will not be attained despite the magnitude of our exertions and expenditure to achieve it. One cannot be assured that an architect’s fine design will result in a fine building. Much can go awry during the process of transforming idea into brick and mortar. However, we can be certain that a masterful building is never the result of flawed design.
In this vein, I dabble not so much in the search for a new Nigeria. I am equally not enthused about the flaws of old Nigeria. What I seek is a better Nigeria. I care not whether something is old or new but whether it shall make us better. Not all change is good. Not every new thing shall be kind to us. Yes, Nigeria must change but some of the changes we need cannot be bought at the store of the new. Many things we need are shelved in the warehouse of the old. Just as we must learn new things on one hand, we must remember vital old wisdom on the other. This is where associations such as this are so valuable. You represent an inventory of vast knowledge. This should be used not to stifle change but to guide it toward its best purpose.
The trend today is to believe progress and improvement are basically functions of technology and science. That politics and governance matter little and change almost nothing. That talk of political reform spills out of the leaking chalice of dreamers. Or is but an intoxicant used by cynical political operators to delude the public. Skepticism abounds. The only strong belief is to disbelief. Not enough people seek to improve society. They are told that only the foolish looks out for his neighbour and respects his adversary. They are taught the only thing to do is to look out for one’s self. If thy neighbour stumbles, reach down not to pick him up but to take those things he dropped while falling. Self-profit is the only commandment. All else is make-believe, things heard in the church and mosque but to be left there and not pursued in the course of everyday life.
The very dynamics of the current political economy is to separate people from each other. Such mean isolation was never part of us but it has crept into our culture. Of this brand of newness, I want no part. The world has entered a period where progressive, humane reform are not fashionable. We are told to be practical, to accept the way things are. There is no struggle over competing ideals; we are told the current political economy is immutable. The only thing that matters is whether you master its dynamics to succeed or you sink and fail.
To attempt to change things is as futile as trying to change the sky and clouds themselves. This is a blatant lie. Change is possible and change we must. There is no such thing as having no ideology. Every political and economic institutions are founded on one thought system or another. To accept the false premise that there is no alternative to how things are is to acquiesce in the unfair ideology that has brought us to our current predicament.
In the hard sciences such as physics, chemistry or mathematics, one can speak of immutable principles and objective formula. In the affairs of men, most things are subjective. Virtue and vice, good and bad, what is optimal and what is not have no fixed meaning. Definitions change with the ideological and moral perspective of each person. In the face of recession, one man fires most of his employees in order to maintain his own income level. Another man accepts to receive less income so that he may retain his workers. Two men faced with the same circumstance. Each made a decision of equal soundness with regard to the rational or intellectual quality of the thinking processes that led to the decisions.
However, the decisions call forth two divergent value systems that suggest two vastly different visions of how the political economy should function whether in or out of crisis. As in almost all social interactions, there are few acts devoid of subjective ideological coloration. The decisions we make are determined by how we would like the world to be – our very actions are determined by what we value so as to keep and what we are willing to discard when the ship of state is tossed either by storm or errant navigation. Since there is no one objective optimal standard by which to construct a political economy, it would seem prudent for a nation to dedicate a healthy amount of time discussing this fundamental matter.
For such is the surest path to reaching consensus on what economic development and good governance mean in our particular context. Sadly, the obverse is true. We talk little about this core issue. Instead, we spend inordinate time bickering over the symptoms of our failure to discuss the core issue. We are like the bewildered couple who has gotten their marriage license after a lavish wedding; yet neither of them really understands the meaning of marriage or their roles as husband and wife in it.
Legally, they are married but functionally, their union is a crippled one. This couple will be at loggerheads until somehow, someway they forge an agreement on what type of home they want and what are their respective duties in making that home come into existence. It is a rather curious lapse that a nation with such diversity as ours has not taken the time to give our legal marriage its proper functional underpinning. In other words, we all lined up to call ourselves Nigerian without gathering to discuss what it meant. Thus, we inhabit a nation that has not sufficiently defined its governance. We may be defined by political borders and boundaries but we have not glued ourselves to collective purpose and vision.
Too many of us are born in Nigeria but not of it. Thus, our society is not a collective enterprise as important to each of us as our own personal endeavor. It is but a platform, an arena, to claim whatever one can by whatever means available. In too many ways we resemble a wrestling match instead of the nation we were meant to become. Thus, we argue over matters that long ago should have been settled. The longer such fundamental questions fester, the more extreme become the proposed answers. Thus, we have people clamoring for secession in one part of the country and the murmur of such a course grows stronger in other sections. These other areas resent that some have advocated secession. Blame and recrimination become the political currency.
Statesmanship falls in short supply. The dominant urge is to confront instead of reconcile. It would be wrong to mistake this for a tempest in a teapot. If not careful, we may be tossed about like a teapot in a tempest. We must listen to what is being said so that we can determine what is really meant. Let us be frank. Many who cry separation do so because their personal ambitions will be better served by such a thing. They believe they will have greater chance at political power under a different arrangement. Yet the cry for separation has gained traction among average people; this is due to the chronic failure of government to meet basic aspirations. If over the years, government had delivered on the promise of growth, prosperity, and justice, those calling for such extreme remedies would be but a small fringe of little consequence.
Our task is not to condemn but to listen and understand. I care not at all for this proposed solution. But I dare not discount the concerns and problems that have led many people into advocating such a thing. 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. Many of you have likewise sacrificed because selfless values and working for something noble and larger than your own advancement are the precious lessons King’s College taught you.
Morality and my understanding of our history will not allow me to discard such contributions to our humanity and common welfare. 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 characterized 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 realize 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 a 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 endeavor. 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 vitalize the economy. The government-backed home mortgage system must be re-engineered. Mortgage loan agencies must be better funded, and liberalize 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 either must 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.
In my mind, federalism denotes a division of labour between the federal and state governments that functions to maximize the benefits of governance to the people. True federalism is that brand which provides that the federal government should focus on those few but essential things only it can provide such as foreign policy, defense, and national economic policy.
Additionally, in those matters where uniform standards and requirements are appropriate, the federal government must take the lead. All other matters should be left to the states. If there is doubt over a particular issue, the presumption should be that the states, not the federal government, should take the lead.
Here, I say to those so eager to dispense with federalism in favour of more rash and impractical remedies, let us first truly practice federalism before we deem it a failure. If given but a fair chance, we just might perfect federalism by making it work for the benefit of all of us.
Constitutionally, we are a federation of 36 states. However, the vestiges of past military rule continue to haunt the democratic road we hew. We function like a unitary state in many ways. We cannot become a better Nigeria with an undue concentration of power at the federal level. Competition for federal office will be too intense, akin to a winner-take-all duel. Those who lose, will bristle at the lack of power in the periphery they occupy. They will scheme to pester and undermine the strong executive because that is where they want to be. The executive will become so engaged in deflecting their antics, that it will not devote its great powers to the issues of progressive governance for which such powers were bestowed. Things will be in a constant state of disequilibrium and irritation. Such a situation augurs toward the maintenance of an unsatisfactory status quo in the political economy. It augurs against reform. It would be better to restructure things to attain the correct balance between our collective purpose on one hand and our separate grassroots realities on the other.
Many of the 68 items on the Exclusive Federal List should be transferred to the Residual List. This would be in harmony with the 1963 Constitution, again an instance of reaching back to revive something old yet more likely to give us a better Nigeria. That prior constitution granted vast powers to the regions enabling them to carry out their immense responsibilities as they saw fit. By virtue of the clear fact that regional governments were closer to the people, they had a better feel for the material and intangible priorities of their populations. We must return to this ideal. Some items which should left for the states to handle such as police, prisons, stamp duties, regulation of tourist traffic, registration of business names, incorporation of companies, traffic on federal truck roads passing through states, trade, commerce and census are now on the Exclusive List for the federal government.
Regarding the all important electrical power, while the federal government takes the lead, there is no logical reason to limit states to generate, transmit and distribute electricity only to areas not covered by the national grid. The states should be allowed to augment power generation so long as they do not undermine federal operations. For instance, a state may wish to develop an industrial park or housing estate either of which will require a boost in power generation. However, if the national government does not agree, the state will be foreclosed from projects that provide jobs and better living conditions to its people. This is not in keeping with the spirit of federalism. It is consonant with an undemocratic tradition that keeps us from approaching a better Nigeria.
As an adjunct, we should also seek to re-calibrate the revenue sharing formula in order to bring more funds to the state and local levels so they can answer their enlarged responsibilities. In this regard, the residual effect of the old unitary system has made hash of the Paris Club refunds owed the various state governments. Money that is owed the states, belongs to the states. We all support propriety of expenditure. The sentiment behind the withholding is understandable if not laudable. But the federal government has no right to withhold funds that constitutionally belong to the states. The fear of possible misuse of funds is no reason to violate the constitution. Provide the funds to the states as legally required. Committed and fine governors will use the funds wisely. And the people will be better off. As to those who squander the money, there are appropriate ways to expose and sanction them. This is where the federal government can appropriately step in.
However, to withhold the funds, no matter how well intended, is to undermine federalism and the rule of law. It will have adverse long-time consequences; as such, it is too high a price to pay.
When we unite and not untie, we build on an existing maxim of ONE NIGERIA by describing that ONENESS as the fabric of a larger society S.E.W.N. (South East West North) together. In closing, Kingsmen and distinguished guests, as we continue our collective journey to a better Nigeria, permit me to borrow and slightly modify, for tonight, the chorus of your timeless School Anthem “Sound Nigeria’s praises, trumpet forth her fame, Though of many nationalities we are all still the same, Brothers with a common debt, Resolved to forgive and forget; Let us pray that from what we have been given. We will render service to the living, And honour to the dead.”
The ideals for which Kings College is known speak neither to the old or new Nigeria. They speak to the integration of the best of both into a better, more progressive Nigeria. We exist in an era where progressive reform and compassion in governance are not oft spoken. It is a dark period the world has entered, where the lesson is the powerful do as they will and the weak suffer as they must. Ye, we resist this trend; it holds nothing good for Nigeria. We must adhere to the values and policies that suggest tomorrow can be made a better place than today.
I refuse to believe we have become such an untoward lot that the longer we live together, the more estranged we become. Just as we have gathered here today, we must gather about the national table to repair our political discourse. In this way, we begin the process leading to policies that bring – civic kindness, generosity of spirit, sustainable growth, equality and peace to every Nigerian who seeks these good things.
These are the pillars of a better Nigeria. By the grace and mercy of our common Creator, we shall build such pillars so that we and succeeding generations may come to build even greater things upon them.
May the College of Kingsmen always flourish.
Thank you for listening and good evening to you all.
*Being an address delivered by Asiwaju Tinubu as Principal Guest of Honour/Keynote Speaker at the 2017 Annual Dinner of the King’s College Old Boys’ Association (KCOBA) on Saturday, September 23rd, 2017 at King’s College, Lagos.