Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo Thursday urged outgoing governors not to see their exit from power as an opportunity to run personal businesses or sleeping for long hours.
Instead, they should see their exit from power as another opportunity to further serve the country in various capacities, using their influence for instance, to contribute to healthcare and education.
Osinbajo said at a valedictory session of the National Economic Council (NEC) in Abuja that donor agencies would be glad to work with some of the outgoing governors, especially those with records of accomplishment of healthcare provision and other humanitarian needs.
Membership of the NEC, statutorily chaired by the vice-president, comprises governors of the 36 states of the federation and select federal government officials.
The vice-president, who thanked the governors for the encomiums showered on him by various speakers at the meeting, said of Nigeria’s population of about 200 million, only 74 persons, comprising the president, vice-president, 36 governors and their deputies, were given the responsibilities of formulating policies and executing projects to improve people’s living conditions.
He sought more commitment from the governors to better the lots of the citizenry.
According to him, having led their various states for some years, the governors do not need anyone to advise them any longer on the imperative of unity or security of lives and property just as he identified the availability of food and water as the main priorities of citizens.
However, the vice-president lamented that most people dissipate energy to stoke the embers of disunity and ethnicity, advising the governors to condemn those who engage in such acts and resist them because the country does not belong to them only.
He reiterated the need for the outgoing governors to be challenged by the enormity of problems at stake and consequently use their influence as former governors, when the time comes, to contribute to continued efforts to address such problems.
He said: “In the next few years, our population will double with the attendant challenges of jobs, education, healthcare, security and infrastructure. Every nation that has moved its people from misery to prosperity has depended heavily in fact almost completely on the political elite. Our people have nowhere else to look or to go, it is as they say, at the collective table that the bulk stops.
“I should advise that you should use your influence and reach to the advantage of Nigerian people. You have seen and heard for yourselves the enormity of our national problems. Very few people have the advantage to see closely as we do, the issues that concern our country – issues that even concern our different states. We here have that unique advantage. So, I think that we can help in one way or the other; we can do something in our states and other states in a way of advocacy or action on education and healthcare in particular, and jobs.
“I think is important for those of us who have had the benefit of all of this experience and leadership not to now settle down to a life of business or perhaps of enjoyment or sleeping for eight hours. We need this time for action.”
In his speech, the outgoing Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, commended the vice-president for his sterling leadership in the last four years.
He advised the council on the need to work hard, block leakages in the system and take proactive measures to expand the economy.
He also commended the federal government, which he said had done well in the agriculture sector with N200 billion spent since 2015.
However, he said if N2 trillion could be spent on oil development every year, much more should be spent on agriculture.
Yari warned that if Nigeria failed to plan for the future, the country would be sitting on a time bomb and the aftermath would be catastrophic in the next few years.
“Mr. Chairman, we have a very gigantic job and we have to start now. If other associations are doing nothing, we have to lay a foundation. Otherwise, in the next 10 to 15 years, if we did not plan properly, we will be faced with a serious problem,” Yari added.
Yari’s counterpart from Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, who spoke on behalf of South-West governors, recalled the challenges facing the states when NEC came into being in 2015.
He narrated how 27 states could not pay workers’ salaries, a trend he said led to the decision to seek bailout funds for states from the federal government, and which was promptly approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Describing the vice-president as tolerant, friendly, accommodating and a stickler for good governance and accountability, Ambode urged the next NEC to address the issue of power and steel, saying doing so will go a long way in reflating the economy.
“I want to say that this set of governors is the class that the subsequent council should emulate. With a set of team spirit and some set of freedom, we were able to talk freely and express ourselves without actually considering whether somebody was PDP or APC.
“The common objective was the economic issue that pervaded the whole country, considering the fact that we all came in when we had a backlog of salaries. I want to congratulate us because when we came in, almost about 27 states could not pay salaries and then, two subsequent meetings led to Mr. President giving us the intervention which also led to the clearing of the backlog,” the governor said.
Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, who spoke for his South-east colleagues, suggested the need to set target as performance benchmark.
According to him, where there is no target, most people don’t feel motivated to perform, noting that the trend among governors over the years has always been that some perform well, another over-perform while others under-perform.
Spokesman of North-west governors, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, commended the vice-president for providing the right direction to the council.
However, he expressed concern that while various decisions were taken at NEC meetings, some of them had not been implemented.
In his own submission on behalf of North-central governors, Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, said NEC in the last four years had provided economic direction for the country through an inclusive system run by the vice-president.
According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been championing moves to diversify the country’s economy to reduce its total dependence on oil.
He also called for the need to translate various NEC resolutions to action.
He said whereas security challenges had been parts of the issues addressed by the council, security still remains a challenge to the country.
But he is optimistic that the security challenge will be overcome in the end.
Also, Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shetima, while speaking on behalf of North-east governors, said the vice-president had proved himself as a man of character.
According to him, Osinbajo has exhibited the spirit of humility, robust intellectual capacity and leadership with a sense of direction.
Representative of the South-south and Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, said since the inception of the council in 2015, party affiliation had never been an issue.
According to him, the vice-president provided the platform for freedom of expression and association, saying the sense of unity in the council was unprecedented.
Emmanuel, however, advised the council on the need to invest in human capacity, saying that the problem of Nigeria is not unemployment as commonly believed, but rather human capacity development.
A former Governor of Osun State, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, who was a guest at the meeting, said the Nigerian economy was too small compared to the nation’s huge population.
He said the issue of population explosion in the country must be addressed while efforts must be made to expand the economy.
He cited the example of Cuba, which he said usually generates as much as $50 billion annually, despite a total population of 12 million, to buttress his point on the need to correct the mismatch between the nation’s population and its revenue.
Aregbesola tasked the governors to live up to their responsibilities, saying being elected as governors shows that a huge responsibility has been thrust on their shoulders to discharge.