8th Convocation Lecture Of Osun State University
SIX DECADES OF CHEQUERED NATIONHOOD: NIGERIA STILL HOLDS THE KEY TO AFRICA’S DEVELOPMENT
8TH CONVOCATION LECTURE DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, AT OSUN STATE UNIVERSITY ON THE 21ST OF SEPTEMBER, 2019
I am pleased and honoured to be here at the 8th convocation ceremony of this illustrious institution. An institution that has year after year, turned out some of the best young talents in our nation. Despite the lean resources available, the institution has worked hard to maintain high academic standards.
Your resilience and productivity are challenges to all tertiary institutions in the country. Let me also congratulate the graduands today, the graduating class of 2019, well done.
To the parents, guardians, friends and family of the graduands, congratulations! The joy of today will always multiple in the success of these graduands in the coming years.
A convocation ceremony is perhaps the most significant ritual in the life of a university because it is when it releases its products into the world. The young men and women gathered here today, have been mentored and tutored for years; they have honed their skills, sharpened their thinking and attained clarity on their vocations and their missions in the world.
If I were a military man, I would have said that these graduates are soldiers about to be deployed in the frontline and I am here to give you your marching orders. But since I am not a military man, please permit me, for now, to settle for less militaristic metaphors.
The graduates gathered here are like arrows being released at long last, from the quiver of academia and fired into their targets and they will leave indelible marks in the annals of history.
As these exquisite arrows are released, I am honoured to have been invited to share a few thoughts on the world into which they are flying. Hopefully, in the course of our conversation, you will find ideas that will help you determine the trajectory and the coordinates and should guide your flight.
I have been asked to speak on the subject: Decades of chequered nationhood: Nigeria still holds the key to Africa’s development.”
For many Nigerians of my generation, the narrative of Nigeria is one of great expectations consumed by epic failure. We saw the euphoria of independence give way to disillusionment. It is almost impossible to capture the high hopes that heralded the departure of the colonialists and our attainment of self-government in terms that would be intelligible to a contemporary audience. There is perhaps no better place to start our inquest than at the very beginning by attempting to capture the hopes that drove our pivotal political figures at the dawn of our republic.
A unique bequest of Nigerian history is that whereas many African nations had a single dominant political figure to lead them at Independence, Nigeria had three remarkable men, and of course, several others. Thus, where Ghana had a Kwame Nkrumah, Algeria had an Ahmed Ben Bella, Kenya had a Jomo Kenyatta and Senegal had a Leopold Senghor.
Nigeria had Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo. These three influential leaders came from diverse backgrounds, possessed strong wills and naturally, had diverse and conflicting views on what direction they believed the new nation should take. But interestingly, all three of them were in agreement on Nigeria’s world-historic significance.
In July 1960, Ahmadu Bello predicted that with independence, Nigeria would rise to become “first among equals in Africa.”
Describing Nigeria fifteen months before she attained independence, our first president then, Nnamdi Azikiwe, said, “It will be no vassal state depending for its existence on the sufferance of other powers. It will formulate its foreign policy in its national interest, but it will not be neutral on any issue which affects either the destiny of peoples of African descent anywhere on this planet or the peace of the world. Sustained by its connection with the democratic world, and powerful through the number of its inhabitants and the extent of its resources, Nigeria will be a country of consequence and, I am convinced, a force in world affairs.”
Speaking in a similar vein, Obafemi Awolowo declared, “Nigeria is naturally good and great. It only remains for us her sons and daughters to strive, for all we are worth, to match her goodness and greatness, for the welfare and happiness of every one of us.”
For the younger generation of Nigerians, especially the Millennials, the perspective is different. Many have no memory of a country that once worked and no recollection of that era of euphoric great expectations.
Their experience of Nigeria is framed not by a narrative of dashed expectations, but of no expectations at all. Having grown up in a country that they have been told does not work, many of our young people have succumbed to what some have described as existential hopelessness.
And there may be good cause for that scepticism; unemployment, the inadequacy of access to opportunities, poverty and its various manifestations.
But my message to you today is that there is hope! This country is bound to succeed and we will get there.
Our founding fathers were all right even though they had not even then seen Nigeria’s true potential. And indeed, as Nigeria goes, so does Africa which addresses our theme today. Whatever happens in Africa will largely be determined by what happens in Nigeria.
Let us consider some of the facts:
Nigeria is the largest economy by GDP in Africa.10 Nigerian States have larger GDPs than Rwanda. Each one of the 10 has a larger GDP than the entire country of Rwanda. The GDP of Lagos is $90billion, which means that Lagos alone is the 7th largest economy in Africa, bigger than Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya and 10 times the size of Rwanda.
In agriculture, Nigeria has the 9th largest stock of arable land in the world, and we are number one producer of cassava, yams, sorghum and millet in Africa, and soon, we will be number one producer of paddy rice.
In the telecoms market, we have 174 million GSM phones and we are one of the top ten telephone users in the world, and we have the highest percentage of people who use internet on their phones in the world, we are also number 2 in mobile internet banking in the world, 17million Nigerians are on Facebook, almost one third of the population of Kenya. When I told the President of Liberia that we feed 9.5million children daily under our Home Feeding Programme, he said they were are only 5million people living in Liberia.
When a diplomat who came to see me once, asked why we did not simply deploy enough troops to cover the Northeast to ensure that insurgents are unable to return to any village once they have been dislodged. Obviously, he didn’t understand the extent of the Northeast region of Nigeria. I told him that it was a good idea, but impracticable since the size of the Northeast is roughly equivalent to the whole of the UK, plus Switzerland or Denmark, whichever you prefer. That explained to him clearly, the dimensions of the issues and problems we are dealing with.
But these outstanding endowments, attainments, and opportunities are matched by enormous challenges. How and how quickly we surmount them will decide our success. The challenges include a rapid population growth that will make us the third-largest population in the world in three decades, we have a large number of people living in extreme poverty.
The Federal Government believes that the solution is in creating wealth by creating opportunities for young people to work, innovate and produce, ensuring that they have the right skills for employment, that there is access to cheap credit for startups and MSMEs generally.
There are at least four key areas that we are focusing on to create jobs and opportunities. The first is infrastructure. We have embarked on the building and rehabilitation of rail, roads and power. Building infrastructure itself creates several jobs, but it is the multiplier effect on industry and productivity that is critical.
As of today, in two budget cycles, we have invested over N2.7trillion on capital, the highest in the country. We have recently commissioned the Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan end of the new standard gauge Lagos-Kano Rail.
The rail originates from the Apapa port which means that cargo will be moved by rail from the Apapa port, this will significantly ameliorate the congestion of that port. We expect that by the end of this year, the Apapa port rail should open.
To expand port facilities generally, we are currently dredging the Warri Port. In Lagos, work is going on in the private sector-led Lekki Port and the Badagry Port has also attracted significant foreign capital and interest. In Abuja, light rail project starting from the airport to the City Centre has now been commissioned.
Similarly, completed and commissioned is the Abuja Kaduna Railway. The Itakpe-Warri Railway has also been completed, linking the iron ore deposits to the Warri Port.
Here in the Southwest of Nigeria, work is ongoing on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Lagos-Otta-Abeokuta Expressway, the Ikorodu-Sagamu Road, and the Ogbomosho-Ilorin Road. The contract for the Lagos-Badagry Expressway has been awarded and work has already begun.
The Second Niger Bridge is going on apace. It is a six-lane, 1.6 km long bridge with access roads of about 11 kilometers. It has tolling plazas of eight lanes at both the Asaba and the Onitsha ends of the bridge.
On power, nobody needs to repeat the fact that if we do not fix the power problem, we won’t have cleared the way for massive economic growth. Everybody needs power, whether a large industry or a small industry, or in our homes. For a largely entrepreneurial society like Nigeria, power is just an absolute necessity. So, we have developed a plan to radically improve power supply.
So far, generation has increased from 4000 to 8100 MW, but the effect of this increase in generation has not translated significantly to better service to the consumer. This is mainly due to distribution challenges.
Over 2000 MW of power is not taken up by the DisCos for distribution to consumers, largely because of problems they experience is first off, in the distribution itself. Although the DisCos invested significantly by borrowing a lot of money, they have not done so in metering. The result is that many of the areas covered by the DisCos is not metered.
We have now embarked on a major metering Initiative, the Metering Assets Programme which involves private metering assets providers. We hope to meter as many Nigerians as possible to widen the scope of those who will pay legitimate sums and not estimated bills which are sent round today.
In addition, the Federal Government has in the past 18 months, taken on the deficiencies in transmission head on through the Transmission Company of Nigeria and the Niger Delta Power Holding Company.
They have completed several transmission projects all around the country, but the recent one was the Siemens Project which is also to rehabilitate our transmission and distribution assets all over the country.
The more important strategy is to decentralize power production. So, we have adopted an off-grid programme, which means that we are encouraging private investors to collaborate with government to build IPPs and supply power to willing buyers.
By this collaboration, we have been providing power, especially Solar Power to economic clusters such as markets across the country, including, Ariaria market in Aba, 31,993 shops, Sabon Gari market in Kano, 13,598 shops, Sura market in Lagos, 1047, Isikan in Ondo 493, NEPA 256, Gbagi 8778, UMBC 2178, a total of 81, 691 shops servicing 320,000 SMEs. The interesting thing is that people do not mind paying more for power, what people want is regular power.
In Lagos, we recently commissioned the Sura market solar project, the businesses there now have 24-hour power supply. From printers, commercial tailors to small chop businesses, everyone is employing more and making more profit. Under our energizing education project, we are providing solar hybrid power plants in 37 Federal Universities and 7 teaching hospitals. In the last one month, I commissioned the solar plant at the Alex Ekwueme University in Ebonyi State and the largest single solar hybrid plant in Africa at the Bayero University Kano, with 7.1MW of power. I hope someday, we would be doing the same in Osun State University as well.
Manufacturing is a major component of our efforts at creating jobs and creating wealth. Project MINE, Made In Nigeria for Export is the major plank of our industrial policy. The idea is to build Special Economic Zones which accommodate industries for local manufacture of goods for which Nigeria has a comparative advantage. These include cotton, garments, leatherware, etc.
The Nigerian EZ Investment Company, a public-private partnership company is the delivery vehicle for the project. The objectives are to boost the manufacturing share of GDP to 20% and make Nigeria the leading regional manufacturing hub for Sub-Saharan Africa. Create 1.5 million new jobs in manufacturing, generate $30billion in non-oil export earnings annually, improve the utilization of Nigeria’s resources and comparative advantage and whilst creating strong domestic value chains.
The whole idea is to create local models of global best practice in industrial infrastructure and enabling business environment. Already work has begun in three locations. The Enyimba Economic City in Aba, covering over 9500 hectares outside Aba in Abia State, master planning, feasibility studies and detailed design have been completed for phase 1.
Three international anchor tenants have been secured for phase 1, the city will be served by an existing Independent Power Plant for power and will create 625,000 jobs when fully built. There is also the Lekki Model Industrial Park in partnership with the Lagos State Government. It is set on 1,000 hectares in the Northeast cluster of the Lekki Free Zone.
It has already attracted world-class anchor tenants for textile and garments, agri-processing and light industrial manufacturing, including the number 1 Chinese and number 9 global textile and garment group. The third project in its early stages is the Funtua Cotton Cluster in Katsina State. Funtua has the largest aggregation of cotton ginneries in Nigeria. The cluster will aggregate cotton from 800,000 farmers in Northern Nigeria and become the largest integrated cotton ginning, spinning and weaving complex in Sub-Saharan Africa. We expect that when the Special Economic Zones are fully operational, the number of jobs expected to be created in manufacturing will be created. What is happening in the world today is that it is becoming more for Chinese companies, for example, they have to pay higher wages, so many of these countries are moving into countries such as ours. We want to be ready to take in as much of these companies as possible who are ready to partner with us. The SEZs are the vehicle for doing so.
Technology, innovation and the creative industries are also important components of our plan to create jobs and opportunities for millions of young Nigerians. Some of the areas that we believe will drive growth over the next 10 years include:
- i) Automation; the payment systems and the general FinTech space and how it can reach the unbanked. Already, young people are doing incredible things in FinTech and payment systems. All of the work we have done with our Social Investment Programmes, hiring over 500,000 graduates and paying that number of people every month, and all of the technology deployed is by young people and entrepreneurs, many of them are under 30 years. There is a lot going on in that space and there is opportunity for a lot more.
- ii) Brokerage: Where technology mediates between buyers and sellers, sometimes replacing multiple brokers with a single platform. Some of the e-markets already in existence and improving on it. So many young Nigerians today are trading on electronic platforms and putting their good there, buying and selling internationally. We intend to improve the facilities for that.
iii) Management: Where technology aids the recruitment, monitoring and organisation of workers (e.g the N-Power platform that helped recruit 500,000 graduates, done by indigenous firms owned by young Nigerians).
- iv) Digitisation: Where technology turns physical goods and knowledge into data that can be captured, shared and replicated at low cost (e.g Netflix and Microsoft Office).
- v) Content Production: 3D/ 2D animation, Virtual effects and special effects as well as augmented reality and virtual reality. This would be used to radically disrupt basic education, entertainment and media generally. Today, all of these things are already in place, so many people are taking advantage of animation, 3D animation and I will mention what we have been doing training many Nigerians.
President Buhari’s administration is tackling the constraints that might exist to growing that landscape to harness these opportunities. The first is skill. Currently, we’ve held a trial year of training over 10,000 young Nigerians under our N-Power Knowledge Scheme in Edo State in software development, 3D animation, 2D animation, illustration and other content production skills.
There is a lot going on in the world today in the film industry, in advertising, teaching and training. A lot that is being done requires animation skills, people who will create characters for learning and entertainment. Already, India has identified itself as a major market for animation and we believe that we can compete with India because we have the smart young men and women as they have.
The goal is to train 2million young Nigerians over the next four years and 10 million over a decade. It is not enough to have trained and skilled hands, there must be a marketplace that provides opportunities for entrepreneurship and work.
Today, there are specific funds promoted by the Central Bank of Nigeria and Bank of Industry and the AFDB that address capital constraints for small and medium businesses in the technology and creative industries. The issue is that we are not able to do enough yet to service the number of young men and women coming forward every day seeking credit. The major challenge is on how to mobilize more funds so that these young men and women can have access to credit.
In agriculture, we have created appreciable value with the anchor borrower programme by adding new jobs and acreage in paddy rice, sorghum, millet, cassava and yams. But we recognize that it is in the agro-allied value chain that the greatest value lies for jobs and improved productivity.
So, a crucial component of that is our mechanization of agriculture programme with the Brazilian government where we intend to build service centers in every local government to render extension services, leasing of farm equipment and provision of improved inputs.
In addition to that, there will be six assembly plants for tractors and other equipment. The enhancing of commerce in agriculture by the building of rural roads for access to markets and commodity exchanges are also priority items.
It is the plan of the Federal Government, working in collaboration with State governments, to create millions of jobs in agriculture. It is important that this collaboration happens and it is implemented. I chair the National Economic Council and one of the critical issues we are working on asides from human capital development, is how to work together to provide employment and to generate jobs in the agro-allied value chain.
Ogun State has started a major cassava farming enterprise in collaboration with the CBN and a private sector off-taker based in the State. The scheme has employed 5,000 young people who will have their own hectares of farmland.
Already, young people are getting actively involved in the technology-enabled end of agriculture. For example, we have Farmcrowdy, Thrive Agric and Psaltery, these are companies I have interacted with personally. The first two use their electronic platforms to host investors in farms all over the country. They organize the farmers, give them improved inputs and management. They also help with the farming value chain. All their investors are paid dividends from the profits periodically. The space for entrepreneurship in agriculture is huge. I believe many of our young people in the coming years will take advantage of it.
While it is the free market and high productivity that will create millions of jobs, we cannot create a just and equitable society without State interventions. The Federal and State Governments must intervene especially through social investment programmes. This is absolutely necessary to meet the challenges of extreme poverty, and unemployment. So, we cannot grow jobs quickly enough through the private sector and free markets to meet the needs of all Nigerians.
We have a Home-Grown School Feeding Programme which got its inspiration from Osun State led by former Governor Rauf Aregbesola while he was governor. The programme was tried and tested in Osun State and then the Federal Government decided to adopt it as one of its major programmes.
Today, we feed 9.5million children in 32 States every day. We engage 95,422 cooks and over 100,000 smallholder farmers linked to the programme, supplying locally sourced ingredient. This means, every week, we have 594 cows, 138,000 chickens, 6.8 million eggs, 83 metric tons of fish that are procured, prepared, and distributed each week. That is the extent and scope of the impact of the programme on our country.
There are many other smaller countries that would not even need any other enterprise but the social investment programmes for many of their people to succeed.
Our N-Power programme today employs 520,000 young men and women each armed with a device which contains training materials to learn better skills in various things like entrepreneurship and computer programming. Many of them are teaching in local governments across Nigeria. Our GEEP Programme gives credit to petty traders and smallholder farmers. It is a very important programme for us in particular because the majority of our people are informal traders. Many of them can’t get credit from banks or micro-finance banks without government backing. That is why we devised MarketMoni and TraderMoni.
I have been all over the country commissioning this project, which is run by the Bank of Industry, they give the funds which are transmitted through mobile phones to the petty traders. Last week I was in Kebbi State commission TraderMoni. I spoke to an elderly woman selling small vegetable and I asked how much her total inventory was and she said it was N500. This is amazing because, how do you survive on N500? There are some people who are more affluent than these petty traders, who ask the ridiculous question, “what is N10,000?” You appreciate what N10,000 is when you find people whose entire inventory is N500. When they pay back, we give them N15,000, then when that has been paid, we give them N20,000 and it goes up to N100,000.
Also, in Abuja, I asked a woman who sold ponmo in a bucket how much her inventory was, and she said N3,500. Then I asked how does she make a profit from N3,500 and she didn’t answer but rather pointed to another woman who had her own ponmo inside a smaller bowl. What that suggested was that I should ask the woman who had smaller portion but she (who had her ponmo inside the bucket) is a big player. That is the nature of what many of our people experience every day. It is the duty of government such as ours that comes on strong recommendations of our people that we will be concerned with the welfare of our people in a proper, realistic and transparent way.
Your Excellencies, Pro-chancellor, the assertion that despite her ample missteps, Nigeria still holds the key to Africa’s development is often derided by naysayers as delusional. Many critics scoff at the notion that “Nigeria is the giant of Africa” as a delusion of grandeur. Such defeatism and negativism are indications of how demoralized many of us are.
However, it is important to note that some of our greatest voices, while not shrinking away from calling attention to our numerous afflictions, also did not refrain from invoking our higher responsibilities to Africa and the world.
Many of you must be familiar with The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe, a searing and brutally candid appraisal of the Nigerian condition written in 1983. Although more than thirty-five years have passed since that volume was published, most of its critiques would be very familiar to contemporary Nigerians. Yet in that book, Achebe wrote (and I quote), “I believe that Nigeria is a nation favoured by providence. I believe that there are individuals as well as nations, who on account of peculiar gifts and circumstances, are commandeered by history to facilitate mankind’s advancement. Nigeria is such a nation. The vast human and material wealth with which she is endowed bestows on her, a role in Africa and the world, which no one else can assume or fulfill.”
If we are to be honest, then we must admit that the depth of our disappointment with ourselves and the pace of our progress stems from our intuition of Nigeria’s higher calling. We sense the moral burden imposed on us by history and providence, to pave a highway to the new Africa. We feel this way because we implicitly understand the truth in the principle that to whom much is given, much is expected.
But even when we have not been at our best internally, a sense of mission and responsibility has informed our activities in the international space.
Our commitment in human and material resources to freedom of dignity for our brothers and sisters under apartheid in South Africa and white minority rule in Zimbabwe and many other parts of Southern Africa generally. Our Armed Forces have led and participated with distinction in peacekeeping missions in the Congo, Sudan, Mali, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Their contributions in Liberia and Sierra Leone in particular, were instrumental to the cessation of conflict in those nations and their democratization.
Young Nigerians are serving in the Technical Aid Corps programme initiated and paid for by Nigeria. They are doing great things all across Africa, bringing critical development assistance in education and healthcare where they go. Nigeria remains a champion of regional and continental cooperation and integration all over the world. That is our international performance and we will even continue to do even better.
But what are the lessons learned from Six Decades of Chequered Nationhood?
The question therefore is, what lessons have we learned from the past sixty years? In what ways can we collectively improve our nation’s odyssey?
Among the many ways in which history has instructed us, I believe there are six lessons that are crucial to our national evolution.
The first is that Nigeria must follow the rules that others have followed and become great. There is no exceptionalism for us, there is nothing new about the problems we are facing. There is nothing new about the solutions too. We must simply follow the rules. Good governance, the rule of law and an unwavering commitment to anti-corruption, especially in public service. The public service of Nigeria today is one where we are fighting a monumental war against corruption and it is fighting back, pointing accusing fingers at those fighting corruption. That is the nature of corruption. But we will not allow them, we will be unwavering; transparency must be the key to governance. There is no country that has survived where its public servants have made a rule of stealing the resources of the State.
The second is that our most important resource is our people and not oil. In any event, most of the countries that have succeeded all over the world do not even have any resources at all. It is the people they depend on and so for us, we see that the in the next few years, it should be what we invest in substantially, human capital development especially education and healthcare. Many of us are familiar with the President’s declaration on the 20th of June when he met with the governors at the inauguration of the National Economic Council. He declared that there would be enforcement of the 9-year free and compulsory education for children by both Federal and State governments.
The third is that merit, not quotas must be the first consideration in preference for public positions. We have enough excellent Nigerians from every State, so even if we are going to depend on every State to produce their best, it must be based on merit. Everywhere in the world where people have succeeded, the rule is first merit and then quotas to make up.
The fourth significant lesson that history has imparted to us is that we are better together than apart. In other words, promoting unity in diversity is in our best interest. It is often said that African nation-states are fundamentally illegitimate because they were colonial contraptions that forced many disparate ethnic communities together against their will. Indeed, some scholars have problematized diversity itself as the main impediment to cohesive nationhood in Africa. That I must say with respect is wrong. Great nations are those able to bring together disparate ethnicities and religions, working together to build one forceful and social-economic entity. It is a challenge and these are human problems. If we were to say all of us should go our different ways, we will start another war and battle. That cannot be the way to go. We must be unapologetic about our country being together.
The reason why we are the giant of Africa and control the destiny of the rest of Africa is because of our size as a people and the size of our talent.
When I commenced my remarks, I said that I would not describe the graduating scholars in militaristic terms as soldiers about to be deployed in the frontline. Let me clarify; In a figurative sense, those leaving the universities are indeed soldiers and you are being deployed in the frontline of ideas in the battle to shape the soul and future of our country.
We recognize that development and the fulfilment of national aspirations will not be brought about by wishful thinking. The present moment calls for creative optimism and a commitment to the hard and necessary work of transforming our fabled potential at long last into performance.
What will this performance look like? In simple terms, it would be a Nigeria that works for all of us and serves as an inspiration for the rest of the continent. A Nigeria based on justice, fairness, equity and on equitable sharing of resources.
A Nigeria that depends first on talent wherever that talent may come from. It would be a Nigeria whose prosperity and growth becomes a rising tide that lifts the rest of Africa. That is the manifest destiny of Nigeria. Our manifest destiny is to lead Africa and lead the world. We have only just started. This country Nigeria is the trigger that will move Africa in the trajectory that will commit Africa to the destiny that God has purposed for it. Africa is not just the origin of life, it is also the acme of life and we must prove that point to the rest of the world.
No one is better suited or prepared to play that role than the Osun State University graduating class of 2019.
For every young person here, your potential is incredible! You are living at the best time in history. I said to a group of young people that this is the best most developed moment in the history of mankind. Fareed Zakaria said at a graduating class that the phones they hold in their hands have more computing power than the spacecraft that took men to the moon the first time. When I met him at the Tony Elumelu event, I reminded him of his comment and he said it has gone beyond that. He said that the smartphones we use today have even 100x more computer power than the spacecraft who took men to the moon. Anybody who says to young people that there is something called the “good old days”, either has problems with loss of memory or is simply confused.
These are the best days and you young people have the potential, the equipment and everything it takes to take our country and continent to where it truly belongs.
Thank you for listening.