President Obasanjo makes his case on Nigerian Security, Politics, and Development
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, in a speech given in Abuja on November 26, 2014, once again reasserts his firm grasp of matters that face Nigerians. We find his incisive presentation compelling and persuasive enough to make a vast portion of it available to our audience. Here is an excerpt of his speech entitled “The Story of My Two Worlds: Challenges, Experiences and Achievements.”
“Let me start with the issue of security. Boko Haram is not simply a menace based on religion or one directed to frustrate anybody’s political ambition. It is essentially a socio-economic problem that is tainted with religion. It is a gargantuan danger to the nation and to all Nigerians. Initially, President Jonathan’s understanding of Boko Haram phenomenon suffered from wrong reading and wrong imputation. That is what led us to where we are today. It took even the President more than three years to appreciate and understand that it is a terrible mix of poor education or lack of education, misinterpretation of what Islam and the Quran teach and stand for, poverty, unemployment, injustice, drug, gun trafficking, human trafficking, fallout from Libya, revenge, frustration, struggle against inequality, imitation of international terrorism leading to training and part absorption by international terrorist group or groups and general poor governance including corruption. I have always maintained that solution to Boko Haram or any organisation like it lies in application of stick and carrot. We must remember that there is nexus between security and development. Without security, you cannot have development and without development, your security is seriously impaired. Prolonged lack of development is a fertile breeding ground for insecurity.
At this juncture, let me give some telling statistics to underpin part of what I have just said:
- Literary level of males is:
South East: 66.1%
North East: 18.1%
- Literary level of females is:
- Infant Mortality Rate per 1000 live births is:
North-East: 109 (Highest in the country)
- About 78% of children born in North-East are from mothers without formal education while the South-West, it is 20.9%
- Percentage delivered by a skilled provider is:
- Percentage delivered in a health facility is:
- Maternal mortality as per 100,000 is:
North-East: 1549 (The highest maternal mortality rate in the country)
- Distribution of health personnel among the zones is:
North-East: 9.5% (Least number of health personnel across the country)
- Incidences of poverty are:
North-East: 76.3% (Highest rate of poverty in the country and only region above the national average of 69.0%)
It is glaring from these figures that there is marked disparity or gaps between the situations in the South-West or South-East and North-East. Those who say that Boko Haram is a menace waiting to happen are evidently correct. Some people have blamed the governments of the zone at the State and Local Government levels for the unacceptable socio-economic situation in the North-East. Of course, they must accept part of the responsibility. But, I would rather say it is a collective responsibility and, collectively, the situation must be addressed and redressed.
The beginning of redressing the situation is education. I appreciated the importance of education in human development, state- and nation-building, national development, employment generation, wealth creation, national unity, security and stability. When I had the opportunity as both military Head of State and elected President, I paid particular attention to education nationally through Universal Primary Education (UPE) as military Head of State, and Universal Basic Education (UBE) as President. In the first case, it was abandoned by the successor regime and in the second case, some States went to the Supreme Court to secure order for the Federal Government not to participate in basic education. It was claimed that constitutionally, it is the preserve of States and Local Governments and some of them did not live up to their responsibility. If we do not collectively invest in primary education, how can we address the situation? The counterpart funding instituted as a legitimate means of intervening by the Federal Government in basic education turned out not to be adequately supervised by the successor regime and became a veritable source of corruption at the State level and between the Federal and the State officials. And yet, the cost of primary education to the States has gone up with the policy of Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) as minimum qualification for teachers in primary schools. With that policy and closure of Teacher Training Colleges not certified for NCE, there is great shortage of primary school teachers in many parts of the country but particularly in the North. This is a situation that cannot be rectified by States and Local Governments alone.
I have never been against application of force in dealing with insecurity situation, but we must understand the genesis, the content and the context of each situation to determine when, where, how and what quantum of force to apply and what amount and type of carrot to feed in. Let me make bold to say that if we continue to apply force alone, since Boko Haram has become an industry within the government circle and within the Boko Haram itself, it may be suppressed for a while but it will not be eliminated. To deal with the menace root, stem and branches requires effective development programme for the zone of incubation and existence of the menace. If not, that zone or any other zone like it will be a fertile breeding ground for a similar menace in future or a rich harvesting ground for recruiting candidates for mischief and perpetration of insecurity internally and externally. Carrot must involve not excluding negotiation at the appropriate time for ceasefire, laying down of arms and peace-making terms and intervention with positive socio-economic measures to deal with apparent root-causes of the conflict and violence. It would appear that this understanding is beginning to be appreciated within the right circles. Better late than never! We must bear in mind that prolonged effect of Boko Haram activities will have a bearing on agricultural and food production in the North-East zone in particular and in the country in general.
Let me conclude this section of my address by repudiating what we are defined as and which we are not. Religion is a very serious issue in this country but we are not eating ourselves on religious ground and nobody should push us to do so. There are socio-economic tensions and fault lines but they are not necessarily meant to erupt like volcanos. Just as no country is guaranteed to be permanently at peace, no country is destined to be permanently in conflict, chaos and violence because of its societal divisions. It is all a matter of how it is managed by governments and the institutions put in place to reduce, placate, address and redress tensions and divisions and the flows from them. Timely intervention in addition to early warning is both cost-effective and life-saving. We must not define ourselves in simple stereotype of Western media and so-called experts, who see us only through religious prisms. Those who do so, whether they are politicians or religious leaders, are the enemies of this country. Boko Haram is a menace and a dangerous one at that, but why must it be emphasized as an Islamic jihadist? Both words are unhelpful in the context of our own situation which requires bi-partisan and collective national understanding of the issues at stake and action to be taken. When they are described in such a way, it heightens the division and tension within our own society. A menace is a menace, a thief is a thief, a terrorist is a terrorist; not a Christian thief or an Islamic thief. Within our society, what is wrong is wrong. Boko Haram is dangerously wrong and we should all stand firmly against it while doing what is right to deal with it. Where there is need for advice, let us offer it; if the need is for correction, let us make it, where there is need for socio-economic intervention, let it be applied; if it is sanction, let it be given unstintingly. My learned Moslem friends tell me that jihad means “struggle, inner struggle”. And I say if that is the true meaning, who then is not a jihadist? I don’t know about you but I am perpetually struggling to achieve one thing or the other. I always have inner struggle to make choices and take decisions. Let us define ourselves as committed Nigerians who have challenges to overcome in our common interest and in the interest of our country. Let us all understand and appreciate the religions we practise and their tenets, roles and place in our lives and relationships. Those who emphasise and politicise religious division cannot be right. God does not create religion to destroy but to build nor to divide but to unite. Anything contrary to the desire of God in religious practice will amount to sin.
Let me deal with another issue that has adverse effect on development and it is what some people in some circles neither want to hear about nor talk about and will take or do anything to defend shamelessly because it is their bread and butter. Here, I am talking of corruption. Whether you call it stealing, dishonesty, fraud, pilfering or corruption, we all know it when we see it no matter whether we are honest enough to admit it and courageous and sincere enough to attempt to prevent and fight it or utterly dishonest and disingenuous to play the ostrich. We all know that corruption is committed when you use public office or official position for private gain. And this is very rife and pervasive in Nigeria today.
Like prostitution, corruption is almost as old as man on the surface of the earth. But in this day and age, where petty corruption is mixed with grand corruption, it can be said that there is no country absolutely devoid of corruption. But there are many countries where corruption is not condoned and it is not a way of life. To successfully fight corruption, it must start from the top. The old saying goes that fish starts to rot from the head. If the head is rotten, there is nothing left of the body.
In our traditional life, there is hospitality and appreciation. These are distinguished, distinct and different from corruption in three significant ways. One, they are neither solicited for nor demanded. Two, they are not covert, they are open and transparent. Three, they are token items and not in terms of huge amount of money or obscenely in kind. With advent of colonial administration, petty corruption set in among low level officials such as native court officials who were employed on full-time and were poorly remunerated. There were such low level officials in all sectors of the administration. But even then, these were exceptions rather than the rule. There were reports of intensely honest, dutiful, non-corruptible officials. For me, then and now, what was bad and still very bad is the connivance of the public, if not encouragement. The Yorubas justify it with the saying that he who works at the altar must eat at the altar.
Grand corruption set in with the advent of politics. The politicians justified it in terms of looking for money to run their political parties. But gradually, it went beyond looking after the interest of the party to looking after personal interest, family interest, clan interest, etc. But even then, it was essentially limited to the executive cadre of governments not the legislature, not the judiciary and not the civil service. I wonder what Justice Akanbi will say about the judiciary today with Salamigate and other sordid revelations in the judiciary in recent years.
The coup that swept aside the politicians brought about the rule of military men with senior civil servants. Corruption must have the giver and the taker. If the takers have changed, the givers have not, and it was not long before the givers polluted the new executives to become takers. No matter what is done to the takers, if the givers remain unchanged, unreformed and unpunished, it is a losing battle.
This realization led to my being one of the initiators of Transparency International (TI) with Peter Eigen, a German former World Bank official, inviting me to join hand with him. We went to places in Africa, Latin America, Europe and the US soliciting for understanding and support of the new organisation. I was appointed the Chairperson of the Advisory Council of the organisation. Some people believed that we were idealistic and non-realists as they took the position that the corruption we stood to fight was the oil of international trade and economic transaction. But we were undaunted and relentless. That was one of the international assignments I had before I was arrested and sent to jail by Abacha.
When I came out of prison and I was persuaded to run as President of Nigeria, corruption was one of the priority items I chose to confront. I got advice and help from TI and the first draft of the first bill to be put before the National Assembly within the first fortnight of my assumption of office as President of Nigeria was prepared. Kanu Agabi, an incorruptible lawyer, who later became a member of my Cabinet, worked on the first draft and the process of seeing the bill through the National Assembly. It took almost eighteen months for the bill to be passed into law. And it came out watered down from what I proposed to the National Assembly. Some members of the National Assembly commented that if they passed the bill as I forwarded it to the Assembly, most of them would end up in jail. If I sent the bill back to straighten its cutting edge, it would be killed completely. I decided to work with what I had. It was no use to have the law without the fearless and scrupulous implementation and application of it. I started to shop round for the right person to help me to head the new organisation called for short ICPC (Independent Commission against Public Corruption). Out of ten people I consulted, seven advised me to go for nobody for the job except retired Justice Mustapha Akanbi. With such clear and overwhelming recommendation, I thought that the way was clear. It was only left for me to invite Justice Akanbi and give the job to him. Then, I met a fresh obstacle. Justice Akanbi would not want to take the job. Not out of fear but because of the plan he had made for himself on retiring from the bench. I used all the power of persuasion at my disposal but the man was adamant. However, I learned a lesson early in my life that good things don’t come to you easily. You have to persist to break the resistance. I put my lesson to work and Justice Akanbi then gave me two conditions which I immediately accepted. One, he would not go beyond one term of five years and two, I would have to grant him time to go to Mecca for prayer and back before taking up the assignment.
It is needless to say that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the combined and complementary efforts of ICPC and EFCC made Nigerians and non-Nigerians to know that corruption can be put in check and put to flight. But because of the deeply entrenched interest of perpetrators in terms of givers and takers, the fight must be pursued relentlessly and sustainably beyond the life of one regime or one administration. If you relent, it comes back with vengeance and like a plague. And the perpetrators will look for anything to discredit the efforts of the fight against corruption. At the height of the fight during my administration, they designed and decided to discredit the efforts by claiming that the exercise was focused against my enemies. But I have no enemies, rather we have people who did wrong and who must be stopped from doing wrong and be punished for wrong-doing. Such was an Inspector-General of Police, a Minister who was my senior in school and other Ministers including a Minister of Education, Governors within my party including other officials like heads of parastatals and Permanent Secretaries. It even included a Senate President who was a member of my party. I completely disregarded the campaign of calumny and fought on with my supporting field generals like Justice Akanbi, followed by Justice Ayoola in the ICPC and Nuhu Ribadu in the EFCC. It is worth being mentioned here that suggesting that I used these supporting generals to witch-hunt my enemies of which I have none, is to insult them and cast aspersion on their character and integrity. Of course, those who did so are men without character. Our efforts and achievements have gone into history and people can see that the difference is clear. Let me, once again, at this juncture thank you, Justice Akanbi, for being consistent and for being one of the foot-soldiers who raised the hope of Nigerians that this country can get to where and be what God has created it to be if the leadership is right and the will with commitment is there. I pray that God may give us leaders at all levels that time like this demands. I believe in prayer and work or work and prayer if you like, and I will appeal that we should never stop praying and working earnestly, diligently and honestly for Nigeria. We have shown that corruption can be successfully fought, if, therefore, it is not, it is the fault and responsibility of those who should have led the fight and who, consciously or unconsciously, wittingly or unwittingly, become accomplices in the act and consequently promoters of corruption. Today, every aspect of our national life is riven and riddled with corruption – the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the military, the civil service, the media and the private sector. I must hasten to say that there are a few exceptions who stand out and would not succumb. They are unsung heroes. The legislature which shrouded its corruption in the opaque nature of its budget has been encouraged through direct payment of money to the legislature to cover up wrongs done by the executive thereby making the legislature fail in its oversight responsibility. Apart from shrouding the remunerations of the National Assembly in opaqueness and without transparency, they indulge in extorting money from departments, contractors and ministries in two ways, on the so-called oversight responsibility. They do so on visits to their projects and programmes and in the process of budget approval when they build up budgets for departments and ministries for those who agree to give it back to them in contracts that they do not execute. They do similar things in their so-called inquiries. But the executive make it worse when they pay members of the National Assembly hush money not to investigate or to cover up misdeeds of corruption and misconduct. It would appear that for the executive, stealing and corruption don’t really matter. Truth must be told, though it hurts at times but it eventually edifies and uplifts unlike lie and deceit which is dishonest and which eventually brings down and destroys.
Corruption in the National Assembly also includes what they call constituency projects which they give to their agents to execute but invariably, full payment is made with little or no job done. In all these, if the executive is not absolutely above board, the offending members of the National Assembly resort to subtle or open threat, intimidation and blackmail of the executive. When the executive pay the hush money, normally in millions of dollars, all is quiet in form of white-washed report and reports that fail to deal effectively with the issue. All these years, the National Assembly has never singled out offending member except where the executive led such as in the case of Buhari, the first Speaker, and Wabara, the then Senate President. Most of the members of the National Assembly live above the law in their misconduct and corruption. They cannot, in true conscience, oversight anybody or any section of government in these areas. I must say again that there are still honourable and distinguished men and women in the National Assembly who will do nothing to soil their hands.
When the guard is the thief, only God can keep the house safe and secure. But I am optimistic that sooner than later, we will overcome. God will give us guards of integrity and honesty with the fear of God and genuine love of their people and their country. Today, there is no institution of government that is not riven with corruption, not even the military. As people cry out, where then is the salvation?
Let me now touch on a third point which has been of great concern to me in recent years. It is unemployment particularly youth unemployment. People have talked of youth bulge as if it is a problem. Youth bulge, by itself, is not the problem. The problem is what we do or fail to do for and with the youth that is the problem. In Africa, as far as I know of our culture, the prayer and hope of every family is to be blessed with the fruit of the womb. Why should what we pray and hope for be a problem? It is the way we handle it that can turn it to a problem or even worse than a problem, a disaster.
Let us consider some figures that point at the impending danger of the youth hulge for Nigeria and, indeed, for Africa. Out of total Nigerian population of 178.5million, 70% are below the age of 30 with 54% of the total population accounting for unemployed youth. Of 1.099 billion of African population with 70% below the age of 30, 60% of the youth are unemployed.
I have no doubt in my mind that youth unemployment, youth dissatisfaction and youth frustration were part of the causes of the so-called Arab Spring from which Libya and Egypt have not yet fully come out and which had caused insecurity and instability in the whole of the Arab world. We must learn the right lessons and put in place programmes that will address youth empowerment and youth employment, youth discontent and youth dissatisfaction, and youth frustration to avoid youth anger and explosion generated therefrom. There is insecurity, impunity and growing inequality that can fuel youth anger and frustration in their state of joblessness and poverty in the midst of apparent plenty.
Is there a way out? I believe there is. Job creation with wealth generation is the way out. I believe that employment has become a human right issue. Everybody is entitled to employment as a means of livelihood. Denial of it or lack of provision may be treated as human right violation. It then becomes imperative that government must consciously embark on policy of massive encouragement of job creation, turning youth bulge to a formidable asset for innovation and creativity with good prospects of reaping a demographic dividend.
It is imperative to take action to provide our young men and women with competence-based, skill-relevant and scientific knowledge education to make them hotly demanded in the job market at home and abroad and to be employment creators thereby taking advantage of opportunities created by globalization, regional integration and national economic transformation. With this achieved, there will be closer partnership between Education and Industry and fill some gap between the products of Education and the requirements of Industry.
Government itself cannot create jobs. If you put two clerks in a government office where you need only one, one will be redundant. What government must do is to provide conducive and favourable environment for massive local and foreign investment in the economy. The capital is there but it will only go to where it is wanted in terms of very favourable conditions including rule of law. For instance, a situation where we ask investors wanting to visit Nigeria to deposit repatriation fees before they are issued visas in our embassies abroad cannot be seen as encouraging foreign investors. And yet, an investor has a choice and if one country does not encourage him, he will go to another that offers more conducive and favourable environment and conditions.
As a matter of policy, all government capital expenditure other than recurrent expenditure on salaries and allowances must give indication of jobs that will be created. The budget must declare the number of jobs to be created by the expenditure and review must indicate clearly and in ways that can be verified in term of how much was achieved. The private sector must be requested, as a policy, to do the same. If the government sincerely and honestly gives the lead, the private sector will follow. Attention must be paid to those sectors that can create jobs fast and in large numbers such as tourism and hospitality, agribusiness, textile, retail and manufacturing especially household goods and domestic appliances.
There are many graduates that are not easily employable. There may be established six to nine month skill-acquisition schools that will be manned by different sectors of the economy to equip such graduates with relevant skills particular to the sector for employability capacity or capability for employability. They will have skills that the market desires and wants.
Our universities and colleges must reexamine their curricula to ensure that more emphasis will be paid to job creators rather than job seekers. Entrepreneurship training must be part of basic and compulsory course in all universities and colleges. There is need to train more teachers to meet the new standard of NCE qualification in primary schools. University graduates can be put through a nine-month concentrated teachers’ training to make them qualified as teachers which will be higher qualification than NCE and basic graduate and they can begin on Level 9 salary scale.
If the issue of youth empowerment and employment is not adequately addressed and redressed, it may come to hunt and consume us. I believe that it is yet not too late to act.
The fourth issue I will briefly like to comment on is the economy. What the public know or see of the economy is not what the economy truly is. For quite some time, the covered and the hushed up corruption has had its toll on the economy. The non-investment and disinvestment in the oil and gas sector by the major international oil companies has added its own deleterious impact. Our continued heavy dependence on one commodity had not adequately prepared us against any shock in that one commodity on the international plane. With the figure of $78 per barrel as benchmark, we will be in a bind if oil price falls to $75 per barrel. I am made to understand that Saudi Arabia used $68 as benchmark for its 2015 budget. Our inadequate protection of almost all local industries with heavy cost of energy has dealt a hard blow on most indigenous industries. The economy is in the doldrums if not in reverse. The often-quoted GDP growth neither reflects on the living condition of most of our people nor on most of the indigenous industries and services where capacity utilization is about 50%. We had not adequately prepared for the rainy days in the management of proceeds from oil and gas resources. And with crude oil purchase by the US from Nigeria going down by some 30% in the last three years as a result of shale revolution, things are not looking up in the oil and gas sector and hence, in the economy. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that the price of oil has not bottomed yet and that the price will continue to go down through the first half of 2015 if not for the whole year. With shale revolution and America’s self-sufficiency in energy and possibly becoming a net exporter as well as with the prediction of IEA, we must re-strategise.
The position may be that, in future, we will have a budget that cannot be funded. We may have to borrow to pay salaries and allowances. Revenue allocation to States and Local Governments has already drastically reduced. Capital projects at all levels of government may have to be drastically cut or stopped. Sooner or later, the naira will have to be drastically devalued without any advantage to our one commodity economy but with horrendous disadvantage to already impoverished Nigerians. We will all sink deeper in poverty except for those who have corruptly stashed money abroad and who will start to bring such illegal and illegitimate funds back home to harvest more naira. All the economic gains of recent years and the rebuild of the middle class may be lost.
The political will, the discipline, the ability to take the hard measures to reverse the trend will appear not to be there at the leadership level, if the understanding is not there. In the end, more businesses will close down, business men and women, entrepreneurs and investors will incur more debts. Foreign investors may temporarily stop investing in a downturn economy. Because of the naira depreciation, workers, particularly in the public sector, will ask for pay increase which may be justified but will sink us deeper in the swamp. The scenario which may sound alarmist is hard to imagine but the signs are there and it would appear that those who should act are dancing slow foxtrot while their trousers are catching fire.
I have taken up four and only four of the pressing issues of our times. They are not by any means exhaustive. For an occasion like this, these four will suffice. But there are two factors that tie these four and others not mentioned here together for solution – Leadership and Management. Without these two factors, not much can be achieved. Leadership and management deficit are the greatest bane of performance by any human institution or organisation. I will put the major qualities of leadership into three concise compartments. They are character, value and the fear of God. Most of the qualities of leadership will be subsumed in character and value. Qualities like being trustworthy, disciplined, a person of his or her word, courageous, honest and full of confidence, integrity and truth are embedded in character. If you are a person of character, you will have all these and more. If we have all these attributes, success will follow. I focus on integrity and Nigerianness and it is for me black and white; my standard does not admit of any shade of grey. How many people are VIPs and yet without character? And qualities of honour, morality, self-respect, human dignity, patriotism, knowledge and transparency are essentially matters of value. Without a sense of value and enduring value for that matter, leadership wallows in valuelessness, inability to impact for good and, indeed, in hopelessness.
The nation is on a moral abyss. It is the responsibility of all, especially the leadership in government by their words and actions, to put the country on a high pedestal of integrity, truth, dignity, and on a high ground of honour and morality. I have always seen success in the service of the nation to involve burning passion for positive, indeed aggressive action at the expense of self. It is then that government can engender trust, confidence and obedience. If truth is sacrificed, trust, integrity, honour and morality become victims and hope gives way to despair. I have been watching with some concern the verbal violence that has been emanating from both sides of the political aisle. Verbal violence may not physically hurt but it has a way of degenerating into, and encouraging, physical violence. Let me reiterate for emphasis. I believe that we cannot continue to indulge in disdain of truth, elevation of corruption and incompetence, reinforcement of failure, condonation of heinous crimes and celebration of mediocrity, tribal bigotry, fomenting violence and anti-democratic practices in States and National Assembly, poor leadership and characterlessness and expect the grace to continue to abound. Democracy, without peace, development and equity is at best a cripple if not a dying phenomenon. Democracy, therefore, must be like love to be regularly massaged, otherwise it would go stale, tasteless and unappealing. On no account should democracy be allowed to degenerate to self-serving, destabilising and destructive conflict and violence within the nation or, as being rumoured in some circles, to degenerate to working for substitution of non-democracy for democracy. The greatest indictment against any administration is to be the destroyer of our fledgling democracy. To try to crush opposition, even within the same party let alone within the national political system, is to destroy democracy. For democracy to endure, it needs certain dexterity and subtlety to handle differences of opinions and views including those that are hostile. Management of democracy, without resorting to brute force, dictatorial, violent and unilateral tendencies, must be cultivated.
Above all, there must be the fear of God. If you fear God, you will not, as a person let alone as a leader, deliberately do evil, condone evil or excuse evil. You will be a person of sterling character and espouse great values. You will realize that you have to give account, not only here on earth which, of course, you can attempt to cover up, deny, purchase people to bury it or keep them silent but before God, there is no hiding place or cover-up in any way and everything will be brought to judgement. Justice may or may not begin here but it ends in the great beyond. And nobody can evade or avoid the day of judgement.”
 . Nigeria Education Data Survey 2010
 . National Demographic and Health Survey (2008)
 . SOGON Report on Status of Emergency Obstetrics Services in Nigeria 2004
 . Central Bank of Nigeria and National Bureau of Statistics 2010
 . http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/mar/28/middle‑class‑africa‑avoid‑pitfalls
 . http://www.vanguardngr.com/2013/12/54‑nigerian‑youths‑unemployed‑2012/
 . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African_countries_by_population
 . http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/mar/28/middle‑class‑africa‑avoid‑pitfalls