Governors of the ruling APC highlighted solutions to the national economic problems at their meeting on Thursday in Kaduna, reports John Shiklam
It was a thought-provoking moment for the Progressives Governors Forum, an umbrella body for the 23 governor of the All Progressives Congress. The occasion was the fourth Progressive Governance Lecture series organised by the governors at the Indoor Sports Hall, Murtala Square, Kaduna, with the theme: “Building the economy of states: challenges of developing inclusively sustainable growth.” Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Charles Soludu, was the guest lecturer.
Soludo held dignitaries spell bound with his presentation on, “A fragile state with a failing economy: making progressive change work for Nigeria.” Painting an ugly picture of the Nigerian economy and the attendant social problems, he charged the APC to come up with ideas that will address the economic woes and bring about sustainable development.
The vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who was the special guest and chairman of the occasion, maintained that Nigeria had the basic requirements for becoming a great nation. He said, however, that this could not be achieved except public servants took responsibility for the transformation of the country.
Soludu did not mince words about the seeming inability of the APC to make a difference by taking steps that would address the growing rate of unemployment and increasing poverty. He noted that Nigeria was facing both local and global economic problems and the APC must come clean on how to tackle the situation.
Moment of Truth
Said Soludo, “At a time like this, unprecedented shocks to our economy, oil price shock, political shocks and the way the economy is going, I don’t think there is a better topic to focus on at this time.”
He said it took notes that he thought would be delivered to only the governors at an executive session. “But now that we have a little bit of complicated audience, I have been struggling to see how best to deal with this, whether to go full throttle. I will just be selective a little bit in what to say.
“This is a moment to say the truth and nothing but the truth. I ask, where is the APC new deal for Nigeria? For the governors, I ask whether the APC governor will become a force for change. My thesis is that for the old distribution system, you just collect from Abuja and share and the manna will come again next month.
“But if you are going to have a production-based economy, change must occur from below. States must become critical drivers of change and development.”
The former CBN governor said for this to happen, the APC governors must become the lobbying group for change.
“APC must not repeat the mistakes of the Peoples Democratic Party, where the opposition was largely from within,” Soludo said. “I ask the governors, how do we recognise APC state if we see one? How is it different from the PDP government in any state?”
He recalled, “The good old days of the UPN, NPN days. I still recall today, over 30 years after, the four cardinal programmes of the UPN – free education at all levels, free medical services, rural development and a strong national economy. Anybody you called after the elections in 1979, all the UPN states, you could see the difference.
“What can any Nigerian say that APC governors stand for? Take five leaders of APC from each state, put them all in a hall and bring them out one by one and let’s interview each of them in a live programme. Ask them what their party stands for and you will have a comic relief for the century.”
Challenging the APC to come up with an agenda for change, Soludo asked, “Where is APC agenda for job creation? What is the APC policy on population moderation? If the 23 APC states operate progressively, then the average Nigerian would be progressive.”
He recalled that during the campaigns, the APC promised three million Jobs, to grow the economy at 10 per cent, but regretted that the reverse had been the case.
On the need for strong institutions, Soludo stated, “You cannot build a productive and competitive economy with the kinds of institutions in our constitution and the laws of federal government that are designed to collect and share. The two are incongruent; a system designed for consumption cannot be efficient for production.
“So I ask the question, where is the APC agenda of competitive federalism? The federal government must loosen its hold on the states to allow them use their mineral base for the states. You have right over land but the federal government has right over what is underneath it.
“May be the first place to start in freeing up the states, to first get the constitution amended. There are 23 of you, you need one state to add, you can amend the constitution to take your mineral resources.”
He noted that the path the country was following was not a sustainable, saying the fall in oil prices is a clarion call to start afresh on a more sustainable ground.
“This topic given to me has been the topic since 1962. The focus has been how to create an inclusive and sustainable economy. Till today, it is still the same issue.”
Lamenting the dissensions in the country, Soludo said, “You cannot have sustainable development in the context of mass elite discord. You cannot have sustainable and inclusive development when you have localities and states that have been trapped…
“We must begin to think of population moderation. A poor man who has nothing to do but has 30 to 40 children with nothing to offer them and the state doesn’t have the capacity to give those people the capacity to participate; you are building an army and a time bomb that may consume everyone.”
Soludo condemned the tendency by the politicians to focus on short term benefits with an eye on the next election instead of the long term that may be required to enhance economic growth.
He challenged the APC “What will be the seven pillars or three pillars that the APC will show to Nigerians and say, we came and we put these pillars and in the next 20 years it will take you out of the woods? Where are the out of box ideas for use?
Soludo counselled the APC governors to move from a power coalition to a governing team.
He said there was an urgent need to move the country to competitive federalism, saying, “For the fight against corruption to become enduring and to achieve a purpose, we need to get to the systemic level.” He said the current strategy was bizarre. “You finish, you close here, the other place is leaking. The system as currently structured, you can only fight the symptoms or fight them after the facts.”
Soludo, however, said that Nigeria had a very bright future in spite of the current gloomy picture. He maintained that certain fundamental issues needed to be addressed first. “The key to achieving this is to have a development plan that is anchored on realising inclusive and sustainable growth. Inclusive and sustainable growth cannot be achieved without conscious efforts to deconstruct the dynasties of poverty and maximise states and Nigeria’s comparative and competitive advantage.””
He said Nigeria could not be politically sustainable under the strangulating hold of the federal government on the states. “I, therefore, recommend the restructuring of the economy from consumption-driven to production-based and consistency in micro-economic policies.”
Public Servants as Keys
On his part, Osinbajo said the attitude of public servants was a key factor in the transformation of the country. According to him, “A lot will depend on us, the public servants, whether we are elected or appointed, we are the ones that can make a difference in this country.” He stressed that if public servants saw themselves as being responsible for transforming the society, “the change is really possible. But, without us taking responsibility, very little can happen.”
Osinbajo stated, “We don’t have shortage of ideas or shortage of intentions in Nigeria, but what we lack is ability and capacity to see something through and complete it. For me, one of the greatest frustrations of government is that there are so many great ideas, great thought, but we face difficulties of completing things.
“The challenges that many states in Nigeria face today are not self-inflicted, some are historical, they are legacy challenges, but then, we are required to come to the table with fresh ideas to solve the problems. Some of the problems are not problems we can solve in few months or even years.
“We are called upon at this time to make a difference and I believe the time calls for creativity and innovation but more importantly, the time calls for depending on each other, looking up to each other for solutions. We cannot operate in silence.
“We have the next few years to transform this country and I hope we would be able to make that change. I am sure the states here are the ones to make that change.”
While welcoming his colleagues, the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, said Nigeria was facing unprecedented economic crisis arising from present and past circumstances. He said, “The worst job in Nigeria today is to be a state governor because we have to deal with the inherited problems that we did not have a hand in, but we have a duty to solve.”
The chairman of the APC governors’ forum and governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha, said regardless of the fall in global prices of crude oil, the APC was committed to bringing change to Nigeria.
“We must however accept that change is a process not an event. It is important to emphasise that President Mohammadu Buhari, APC governors, and the host of our party leaders are committed to the change process, which accounted for our landmark victory in the 2015 elections,” Okorocha said.
The APC governors’ meeting in Kaduna was the first in the state since the party came to power last year. The Progressive Governance Lecture Series had, however, begun before the 2015 general elections, with the first lecture held on February 24, 2014 in Ibadan.
The governors say the objectives of the Progressive Governance Lecture Series is to try to find common grounds on which to develop and promote global best practices on some of the major challenges in the states.
Discussions like this are important in the efforts to resolve the country’s political and economic problems. But it could take years before Nigerians would begin to feel the impact of the brainstorming concluded on Thursday by the APC governors.