Enugu New Political Leadership: Spotlight on Health, Education

Peter Mbah

I would like to begin by stating how deeply honoured I am to be invited to give this lecture. It is not often that one gets the opportunity to speak before a robust and richly diverse audience such as this, and indeed, at an institution with a remarkable history as the London School of Economics. So, I express my profound gratitude to the organizers of this event.

While preparing for this lecture, I took time to look up the motto of this great institution. I found the statement “To know the causes of things” – compelling. This motto, according to the LSE website, was chosen to reflect the institution’s founding purpose: “For the betterment of society”.

The betterment of society fittingly inspires us and sums up the broad purpose of this lecture and, to a large extent, the essential goal of every single pursuit of humanity.

During our campaign, we adopted a motto that makes the bold declaration: “Tomorrow is Here”! What do we mean by that?

“Tomorrow Is Here” holds us to the fact that every decision we make now affects our future and our children’s future. Of course, this begs the question: What future do we want? How do we want to prepare the soil for generations to come? What will be the cost of short-term thinking, complacency or hesitation and doubt?

We need to take a visionary view of the future that awaits and take bold steps to lead our lives towards an enduring, regenerative legacy.

My speech is titled, “Enugu State, Nigeria: New Political Leadership; Bold Economic Vision”, and will highlight, mostly, the people-centric philosophy, specifically in regard to the health and education strategies we have deployed in birthing a new narrative for Enugu State, over which I currently preside as governor.

Boldness is a word that best defines the vision we are implementing in Enugu State. The single boldest projection that encapsulates what we intend to accomplish is our target to grow the economy of Enugu State seven-fold. Simply put, our vision is to grow the state’s GDP from $4.4bn – that we met – to at least $30bn in the next four to eight years. Another bold plan is the commitment to attain a zero percent poverty headcount index in Enugu State.

Just a quick fact about Enugu and Nigeria: Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with a population of over 200 million and, indeed, the continent’s biggest economy. It has a landmass of 923,768sq km.

Located in Nigeria’s south-east, Enugu’s population is approximately seven million. The history of Enugu is indeed a history of Nigeria’s evolution from pre-amalgamation, pre-independence and post-independence. Enugu attained preeminence in 1907 after the discovery of vast swathes of coal deposits by a team of British geologists. By 1909, a rail line had been built to haul the extracted coal from Enugu to Port Harcourt. That development made Enugu a fledgling economic hub and was the catalyst for the sustained migration into the town recorded in the early 20th Century. This emerging economic clout also made Enugu an inevitable centre of administration in colonial Nigeria.

In contemplating Nigeria’s presidential federalism, I will draw an analogy using this short story. Imagine, if you will, a farmer and his wife who both have 36 children. Yes, I know that’s a lot of kids! They are all of working age, but he sends only 6 to the fields. Over time, these 6 grow tired, some get sick and the other 30 begin to suffer and starve. Even before the onset of age, such scenario could breed resentment, as the active 6 may perceive the fact that the rest do not work as a sense of entitlement – nursed at their own expense. A likely outcome would be general indolence.

Our federal system evokes an imagery akin to this story, not least in the sense that it dulls creativity and induces a near-perpetual dependency syndrome, which ultimately leaves everyone in a state of want.

Is it then surprising that the family has fallen into hard times? Shouldn’t that have been an opportunity for the family to overhaul its production strategy given the opportunities that could be borne out of crises sometimes?

Distinguished guests, as governor of Enugu State, you could say I represent one of those children.

This anecdote roughly encapsulates the Nigerian dilemma. Of course, the monthly subventions to states from the federal purse are still being disbursed. But they are only sufficient to the extent that a state’s priorities and projections remain on a modest trajectory, the sort that is capable of yielding only fairly predictable incremental change but can hardly inspire any bold vision that can result in a rapid social and economic development. Such socio-economic pattern is evidently not sustainable any longer.

While our choice of Presidential federalism system might have been well-informed, shaped by the inherent benefits of federalism in other countries with populations as vast and diverse as ours, it has however bred a system where revenue is excessively domiciled at the centre, rather than in the states – or regions. This puts intense pressure on the source and almost cuts off supply.

We are gradually seeing concrete moves towards a truly devolved polity, facilitated in large part by the political outlook of Nigeria’s president, who as Governor of Lagos State championed the push for fiscal federalism. As a matter of fact, we have witnessed some constitutional amendments resulting in sectors like electricity and railways – once the exclusive preserve of the federal government – becoming a shared responsibility between the states and the federal government. There are, at present, ongoing discussions to enthrone additional devolution of power.

Despite these promising developments, these challenges yet speak eloquently to the need for a socio-economic rebirth that repositions federating units like states as potent agents of development. This is an important thread of my governance philosophy.

I’ve always believed that an enduring and impactful change is never a chance happening; they are typically products of a painstaking process and radical thinking that reflect the understanding that the exigencies of our time require an unusual solution.

Among these challenging situations are rising cost of living crises and insecurity. There’s no doubt that this period is a life or death moment for us. Given Nigeria’s youth bulge, the bleak reality that confronts us if we do not take appropriate remedial steps is terrible to contemplate.

The question then is what do we do?

At the heart of our socio-economic challenge is the issue of leadership deficit. This has always been the bane of our development. Despite widespread clamour and yearning for leaders with transcendental values, leadership failure remains a recurring decimal. But true leadership is about the people, an unwavering willingness to be accountable to them, and to be transparent. A good leader should not merely peddle empty hope and platitudes but must demonstrate a capacity to translate dreams into reality. This briefly summarizes our turnaround tale in Enugu State in roughly nine months.

For us, the most important first step lay in realizing that any set of solutions that failed to upend the status quo across the sectors will not suffice. That basic understanding helped us to boldly set forth at dawn and imbued us with the requisite clarity of purpose as well as resolve. We started out with three things: A bold Vision; clear Direction; and then we assembled the right People.

Before I delve in more depth into the radical strategies we adopted in Health and Education, let me highlight three areas we had to tackle in order to properly entrench our plans and prepare for meaningful change:


We demonstrated a firm commitment when we set an audacious 180-day timeline to solve the perennial problem of water scarcity in Enugu. For context, this was a challenge that had proved intractable for decades. We delivered on that promise within the timeframe. It wasn’t because it was an easy task; and neither was it because we were eager to bask in the afterglow of public acclaim. The motivation was simple: we wanted to enthrone a situation where the provision of basic amenities was taken for granted. Our objective was that portable water flows in every home once the tap is turned on. From a mere two million-litre daily water supply to Enugu residents, we grew the daily water supply to 120 million litres!

We were, in addition, driven by the enormous social toll that water scarcity exerted on children. This was always an unbearable thought. I’m aware that the time children spend in search of water is very much the time they would have spent studying. The enormous amount that businesses spend to purchase water from vendors was an unnecessary addition to their operating costs, with adverse effects on their bottom line.

Such bold commitment was no less obvious in our promise to build up to 1,250 kilometres of roads over the next 12 months, which was a radical departure from the trend that typically saw just 100 kilometres built each year. We are simultaneously building dual carriage ways, alongside numerous urban and rural roads, running into hundreds of kilometers.

One of the most daunting challenges that confronted us was insecurity, fueled by bands of criminals, who had more or less conferred on themselves the status of a parallel state. We tackled it head-on, and literally recaptured our streets and communities from the grip of this gang-like social order that had almost become normalized. It was imperative that we did this. It was obvious to us that to attract the investment necessary for our economic growth, security had to be a priority and could not be treated as an afterthought.

In one of their most audacious moves, these non-state actors had enforced an illegal sit-at home campaign in the Region every Monday. How could we, for instance, convince would-be investors that our state was secure, and that they need not worry about the safety of their personnel if people were prevented from going to work on certain days?

 It may sound bizarre, because it truly was a bizarre situation. Imagine a situation where a band of outlaws impose their will on citizens, unleashing mayhem and dictating what days they were permitted to work, go to school, or trade. That was the unfortunate situation we were beset with. Businesses shut down and relocated in droves, students could not write their exams, and people could not, in fact, go to hospitals.

But it wasn’t simply about the possible effect that their so-called sit-at-home order could have on inflow of foreign capital.

The Nigerian constitution expressly notes that the primary responsibility of government is the security and welfare of its citizens. So, a government, implicitly, loses its reason for being if such absurd state of affair is allowed to persist. We didn’t have to think twice to stop that illegality.

We set out with a strong determination to bequeath enduring legacies and some of the results are already coming in. On a regular basis, we glimpse reports – including from independent bodies – that validate our reforms and investments across the sectors. And what we see is quite reassuring, an indication that it certainly has not been a false dawn.

This brings us to healthcare and education, the main areas of focus for this lecture.

Investing in improving our capacity to deliver quality healthcare was a major priority for us, as the wellness of the state’s workforce could either make or mar all the objectives, we had set for ourselves. The saying that “a healthy workforce is a motivated workforce’ is by no means an empty cliché for us. That explains the numerous projects and innovations we have launched across Enugu State. Our philosophy with regard to our investment is simple: Our objective is to ensure that every child in the state has access to quality healthcare.

We are seeing decline, albeit marginal, in infant and maternal mortality rate in our state. We are constantly eliminating factors that ordinarily cause maternal and under-5 deaths, such as the absence of skilled birth attendants – including doctors, nurses and midwives – at health facilities. From a pre-election statistic of 39%, we have grown the number of births attended to by skilled health personnel at our facilities to 42%. Our target is to achieve a hundred percent threshold by the end of 2025. In addition, we do not compromise on the issue of training for our medical professionals, as their competence and capacity will be central in driving the achievement of the ambitious objectives, we have set for ourselves.

In addition, we have significantly expanded immunization coverage for all childhood vaccine-preventable diseases for children in their first birthday. We have also increased the number of those attending Ante-Natal Care for the first time.

These encouraging performance indicators are a direct result of measures we’re taking to raise our healthcare delivery to optimal levels. We’re also building new Level 2 healthcare facilities across the 260 electoral wards in our state.

Each centre has the necessary equipment, sanitation and hygiene facilities, water, living quarters for doctors and nurses, and alternative power supply.

Where there is a shortfall, especially with regard to doctors and nurses who have been emigrating to the West in large numbers, we carry out regular recruitment drives to narrow the deficit. The goal is to bring the number of doctors in our state to the WHO recommended doctor-to-patient ratio of one doctor to 600 patients. The prevailing statistics for Enugu State when I was sworn in was one doctor to 1,867 patients.

Interestingly, given that the average ratio in Nigeria is one doctor to 3,500 patients, the figure for Enugu State might have been deemed a pass mark. But we would rather not find solace in such dismal statistics. We are quite intentional with our goal in this regard: To progressively bring that number even below the WHO recommended ratio.

 Another significant achievement of our health sector reform is how we have successfully digitised patients’ records in our hospitals. So, even when patients visit other facilities, their records could still be accessed digitally because of the seamless connection we have introduced by migrating patients’ details to the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) platform.

 The deployment of ICT is visible in our entire governance structure. Besides promoting efficiency, it has strengthened due process as we transit from a manual regime to a digital experience. Our goal is to have a paperless system. It is gratifying that this has begun to take a firm root in our Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Education is another sector where we have taken some radical steps consistent with our pledge to enthrone a system that bequeaths to the child a body of knowledge comparable to the best global standards.

Our government’s allocation for education in this year’s budget illustrates this resolve. Our state’s budget of N158.78 billion for education is the highest per capita in the country. With regard to the percentage of total budget assigned to education, it is as well the highest budgeted for education by any state in Nigeria, at 33 per cent of the entire budget sum. It is also substantially higher than UNESCO’s recommended benchmark of 15 – 20 per cent of total annual budget. I dare say it’s perhaps highest in the world.

Think about it: This implies that for every N100 spent, N33 goes to the education budget.

Our investment in education is carefully conceived and implemented with the knowledge that the envisioned turnaround of the state’s fortune is contingent on the existence of a robust education sector. No nation has ever risen above the inherent capacity of its public education. It is this philosophy that underpins our Smart Schools project, which we are setting up in each of the state’s 260 electoral wards.

So, we’re not just changing the narrative; it’s truly the dawn of a new era. From age three, we ensure a child is enrolled in a system that imbues them with the requisite skills to compete in tomorrow’s world today. That is because pedagogy has largely evolved from an era when the goal was apparently to ensure the child is able to memorize what has been taught. Today, however, children should be able to practicalise what they have learnt. This is a core philosophy of our Smart Schools initiative. I consider this quite profound. Given that such experience is already commonplace in the West, this might not sound like a big deal. But it would help if we contextualised our past and present experience.

The prevailing situation in our public schools before now, was anything but impressive: Many pupils sat on the floor to listen to teachers who scribbled on blackboards with barely any modern teaching aids; schools had no libraries, restrooms, nor any of those facilities that confer on them the expected dignity as centres of learning.

In fact, a baseline study we conducted revealed that 50 per cent of our children could not read after four years in primary school. Those who managed to read could barely comprehend. A similar deficiency was seen in numeracy skill, with 50 per cent of children unable to apply simple skills of subtraction after 6 years of primary school education. Of course, this situation isn’t peculiar to our state. It remains a problem across the entire country.

Another grim data that confronted us was in regard to the number of Out-Of-School-Children (aged 6 – 11 years). The 82,051 figure for Enugu State is alarming. We found the number totally inexcusable and knew that it was imperative we took some radical steps.

As I earlier emphasised about the importance of “knowing the causes of things”, we sought to know what could possibly be the reasons for such unacceptable state of things. Poverty was a major factor. It wasn’t thus a surprise that a Poverty and Inequality Index survey conducted by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics had put the poverty situation in Enugu State at 58.13 per cent.  

So, our Smart Green Schools initiative is a bold and creative response to the learning crisis that confronted us on assuming office. That is because we have created sufficient incentives for parents to send their children to school, not least of which is our Free School Meal Plus programme for pupils. The Free School Meal Plus incorporates a medical programme, through which vital health statistics of students such as growth profile, sundry deficiencies and vaccine status are monitored. This helps us to ascertain pupils that may require further medical intervention.

Each Smart School features an interactive digital whiteboard, an internet system, robotics and artificial intelligence centre, modern ICT centre, two science laboratories, hybrid multimedia library, creative production studio, 25 inclusive classrooms and 700 Android tablets. Through these, we expect to impart experiential knowledge and bridge the skills gap that leaves our students with grim prospects in a globalised world. The emphasis is three-fold: Access, Relevance and Quality.

The motivation is to see that what our students are taught is relevant to modern day realities. This is crucial, because we see our teeming youth as a latent, powerful engine for innovation, economic growth, and sustainable development.

It wasn’t just sufficient to have the learning tools and the environment conducive to learning; equally crucial was having the necessary manpower. Our recruitment of teachers was painstaking. This reflected in the fact that only less than one hundred teachers – out of about one thousand seven hundred who took the practical tests eventually made the cut. So, to scale our Experiential Learning reform, we are establishing a Centre for Experiential Learning and Innovation (CELI). This will develop, introduce, and incentivize collaborative engagement in Innovative Challenges by students, teachers, as well as industry and business partners throughout our education system, from Basic to Tertiary levels.

The CELI Challenges will introduce breakthrough technologies and design solutions that connect with our strategic priorities for growth and development, including Agriculture, Energy and Mineral Resources Development, Commerce and Business, Urban and Rural Infrastructures, Creative Industries and Tourism, and Information and Communication Technology.

Through Experiential Learning Innovation, our educational institutions will catalyse priority innovation and technology, incentivise the development of 21st Century skills and competencies, and support human capital and workforce development to fuel our economic growth.

As we develop the Centre for Experiential Learning and Innovation to drive strategic development priorities, and ensure quality and transformative education, we are inviting select international universities to collaborate with Enugu State’s academic and research institutions to co-create technologies, digital solutions, and generate Digital Badges, Micro-Credentials, and Degree Certificates, to provide academic and vocational training, to support start-ups and incubate businesses, and to enable our youth to not only overcome poverty, but also contribute to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 For sure, no one can actually tell what the future holds. But we can largely discern a society’s future prospects from how it treats the wellbeing of its young ones. In taking ample steps to grow our students’ capacity through a transformative learning process, we can truly speak in a very reassuring tone regarding the future of Enugu State.

Our trajectory is yet proof that progress does not just happen – nor is it simply wished into existence. Efficiency is attained through scrupulous planning, and moral courage to discard the inefficient ways of old, even if people have grown accustomed to them.

For long, our quest for development was blighted by an abject failure by politicians to match rhetoric with commensurate action. It seemed, to all intents, that the people were perpetually obliged to endure the dismal cycle of politics characterised by what the late Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, had described as an unabashed tendency to “campaign in poetry and govern in prose”.

 Beyond the fact that they seldom wrought any significant change on the human development index, perfunctory government policies only serve to reinforce public cynicism. From the outset, we resolved that there would be no room for platitudes.

You might be wondering how we are able to achieve all these, and also where all the money is coming from. I assure you this is not pie in the sky. We have focused on three areas and our success in those areas has been crucial: Plugging leakages through automated systems; enhancing the quality of our services – Deliver more, earn more, and deploy resources wisely, and expanding the tax net.

Are we borrowing excessively? Certainly not! Only 10 per cent of the funds have been borrowed. Our internally-generated funds account for the rest 90 per cent. In addition, we are harnessing our dormant assets and resources that were as yet unexplored previously.

This has certainly not been a walk in the park.  Ours have been a tale of boldness and amazing courage. Distinguished guests, the quest for a better society may sometimes seem far off. But the truth is that every new discovery or hallmark achieved is yet a fresh chapter to new beginnings. Confronting that new beginning is a task for which education, such as that offered by the London School of Economics and similar illustrious institutions, have equipped their students.

The scale of technological advancements in our world today might sometimes lull us into complacency and create the erroneous notion that there is barely any frontier left to conquer. Such mindset would be a great disservice to the learning you have acquired. Those whose inventions have changed the world seldom grasped the level of impact their ideas would have on humanity at the outset. So, you are certainly not a blip on the radar.

 As you step out into the world, your education should be a constant reminder that there is always room to do things better, to shake the fabrics of the status quo and not to be content with the usual. History shows that humanity’s progress has always been attained through an interrogation of the status quo. You may have heard this countless times, but it’s often worth reiterating: Fortune does not only favour the bold, but it also favours the prepared mind! There is no doubt that imbibing the ethos as espoused by your institution actually prepares you for fortune’s favours.

·         Being a public lecture delivered by Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah, at the London School of Economics

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