Delta State Economic Summit

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Let me begin by saying how honoured l am today as a guest of the Government and the people of Delta State on this occasion of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the state. I bring very warm greetings and congratulations from the President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari.

I must thank my very dear friend and brother, His Excellency, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for the very kind act of personally delivering the invitation to me to attend this event and to have chosen to anchor this anniversary of the state on the auspicious economic and investment summit. It’s a clear demonstration of your understanding of the gravity of the times we are in and the need for rigorous thinking and action to solve the problem. I also commend your steady and even-handed leadership in the state in the past few months, very well done.

As l reflected over what I have seen this morning, I considered that the summit such as this given the very high quality of resource persons will invariably deal with the substantive economic ideas and investment possibilities. We have just heard the intriguing innovative ideas of the Chairman, Jim Ovia and the great deeds and innovation that has just been laid out by his Excellency, the Governor.

What I like to discuss is the Governance Infrastructure, the fundamental, attitudinal and character imperatives that must undergird development. We are confronted today possibly with the most challenging economic times in the history of our country, and what we need to do in this time is the sort of leadership and the character of the leadership. Obviously, we must take our time to reflect on the type and character of leadership, the types of values and exactly what this time calls for.

Let me say categorically that governments in Nigeria have never been short of ideas, good intentions or even good plans.

But one of the key difficulties that we always seem to have is that ability to stick to the plan through day-by-day and just that ability to get things done. We have innovative ideas but somehow we start, we are not able to finish and sometimes we don’t even get started at all. I think that the times we are in call for building that capacity to perform, insisting that plans must have some performance indicators and that public officers must be held to account for their performance.

But state capacity itself, the capacity of the state to do things, requires the government to hire well-qualified people and constant relevant training. Time and resources are saved when the best quality people are hired when people are well trained for what they do, (the benefits are endless). Just take an example of the National Communication Commission. The Commission was established in 2001 (via an Act repealing Decree 75 of 1992) to  regulate the telecoms industry, and of course it’s completely peopled  by Nigerians, staffed by Nigerians, if you look at the excellent  work done by the people, it’s an excellent  regulator, its done so well in regulating the  telecoms industry over the  years.

There will be hiccups sometimes but because of the quality of the individuals who have served in that commission, we have seen that it is possible to be an excellent regulator. We’ve seen the same kind of performance at various times also in the Central Bank of Nigeria and I think that it is very important that we bear in mind that the quality of state capacity or the ability of the state’s agencies and institutions to deliver services fully depends on the quality of those that were hired and its always critical to economic development.

Some have said that what we need is strong institutions and I agreed completely that we need very strong institutions because, with all the great plans that we have, without strong institutions, institutions that know what to do and that are able to deliver, we are always going to have difficulties and l will just take one example of how weak institutions can affect economic development.

I served in Lagos as the Attorney General for eight years, one of the key things discovered in our first term in Office was that all of a sudden, the stock of houses, the middle-level type houses, was just dropping and we discovered that actually, fewer and fewer poor people were building middle-level houses for rent. People were investing in other things but they were’nt investing in housing. In the past, people build houses to be able to rely on those houses in their retirement but that was changing.

But we discovered that a major reason why that was happening was because, it was possible for you to rent a house and after one or two years of renting, thereafter you don’t pay anymore, you wait for the landlord to take you to the Magistrate court and while in the Magistrate court you don’t pay anything and you can hold the landlord up in the Magistrate court for years and when the court manages and forces you out of the place, you still don’t pay anything.

I discovered that an average person got discouraged in building houses but resorted to buying shares and stocks. So because of the slow pace of delivery of justice in the  Magistrate court, it affected the stock of houses, so people were simply not building houses especially for rent because of the slow pace in that particular institution. And so we had to go through a whole reform, not just of the Magistrate sector, but also in the Justice sector.

The truth of the matter is that without very strong institutions, the economic delivery would just not get done. And that’s the same for law and order, there is a huge dividend when you are able to maintain law and order in the society.

In the area of safety, (if) people can rely on the police, the law enforcement agencies, there’s a huge dividend for the economy. But where that is not the case, then you are going to pay that dividend, things simply don’t run, people who want to invest don’t want to invest or they spend so much money on security that will push up the cost of whatever it is that they are producing.

So we need to strengthen our institutions, (but) the times we are in also call for character in the leadership that we have.

Prof. Soludo said yesterday at the Governor’s forum in Kaduna State that there is a huge deficit of trust between leaders and the led especially after years of betrayal of trust. And the truth of the matter is that we cannot truly lead people especially in difficult economic times where we are projecting an economic future purely based on trust.

If the people cannot trust the leadership, trust deficit creates a problem and we have seen that the trust deficit has increased because by and large, the politicians in government have enabled people to believe that whenever a politician speaks, or someone in government, they must be telling a lie.

If you look at some of the things that happened in the past few years, you will understand exactly what we are saying, people simply don’t believe that those in authority and power have their interest at heart.

At the moment, looking at what went on at the military procurement for Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, when we came into office we found that funds voted for the upkeep of soldiers were embezzled by their higher superiors and senior members of the government of the day (then). Many men of the armed forces died due to fake Armoured Personnel Carriers, & fake bullet-proof vests.

When you create those kinds of troops that cannot rely on the integrity of their leadership, there is something wrong with that and there is no excuse whatsoever for that kind of conduct.

No one should be able to give any form of excuse for the kind of things that were done in that military procurement at the time. It led to an insurgency that could have ended sooner. More lives were lost. When you create those kinds of trust deficits, it’s extremely difficult to galvanize people behind the ideas of the vision of governments and I think that it is truly important that our leadership at the federal, and at the state levels should understand that we must build the trust of the people. And we can only build the trust by ensuring that we are trustworthy ourselves.

Francis Fukuyama, the well-respected social scientist, explored the idea that even the economic prosperity of states and sub-national communities and even business success depends a lot on trust. Business moves faster when parties can trust each other. Credit is priced and given to countries and businesses even on trust.

I was speaking to a large entrepreneur in our country, who’s between a number of very massive projects in various parts of the country, and the projects were over 2 billion dollars and one of the questions I asked was ‘how he was able to source the finances? He was able to get a loan from some of the financial institutions on four percent interest!

Even the Federal Government cannot get a 4 percent loan. He was able to get that loan obviously because bankers believed that he was trustworthy enough and that he will deliver on the projects that he said that he will deliver on. So, trust plays a critical role but the trust is built over time. Where there is trust, government policies, even tough ones will be accepted by the people, because they trust their leaders.

It is that value that drives national development, it takes such strong values to drive commerce and business. Government must stand for something, some high values, there must be a moral platform. Western liberal democracy upheld the ideas of merit, hard-work and sometimes that would be described as a puritanical work ethic and it’s my view that our own elite, the political elite, religious elite and business elite must have some consensus on the importance of values in our society.

Let’s just take an example of those values, let’s just take merit as an example, whether it’s in commerce, community or national development or even sports or entertainment, the choice of who runs the show is usually based on merit, or it should be.

If our choice is based on merit, it ensures it can guarantee the best performance. However, it appears that in matters concerning government and governance and the matters of even allocation of public resources, we prioritize ethnicity or even religion and political affiliation over merit. The order of priority (our society seems to follow) is which local government, which zone. Merit always comes last in our considerations, this is why we underperform, and why we cannot perform well in matters of government and in the allocation of public resources.

The reason why we do better in football, for instance than in running of public resources and institutions, is because, in football, you don’t tell the coach that this geopolitical zone is represented. You can’t say unless you have someone from the South-South, South-West, North-West or from the North-East must constitute a football team. But when it comes to government, and the government is what determines how well our lives are run, we insist that unless every zone is represented, you can’t run it properly. But the truth is that you and l know that, that has nothing to do with merit.

The right thing to do is that even in personal matters, l won’t ask you if you attend the Redeemed Christian Church, whether he is a Muslim or even an atheist and even if l was looking for the best doctor and I can afford it, the best doctor is the one l will go for. I will not insist on where he comes from because I want the best and that’s how it should be.

So if we want to run our country right, our first priority must be merit and afterwards as in other countries of the world that have multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies we then introduce quotas, so the quota comes after merit. But not for quotas to take priority, chose merit first and then you deal with the quotas and the few political things, religion if you like and other matters but you must start with merit.

Relevant education is probably the most important catalyst for growth, not natural resources. But knowledge is the key to prosperity. Simeon Kolawole wrote a beautiful article on the difference between the farmer and those who process what the farmer has produced and how much they make. So it’s not the farmer who makes the most money from the produce, but (the one who can tap) the technology processes and add value to it, is the one who makes more money. The man who sells the finished product online even makes more money.

The competitions for development among the people and individuals of the world today will depend on education. Especially digital literacy and innovation, every aspect of our lives, business, vocational, every discipline will be profoundly affected by technology. There is no aspect of our lives that will not be affected by technology. So the kind of education in our public education system today must reflect that reality. Digital education is absolutely important, we must not spare any expense to ensure that our public education system takes into account the pervasive importance of digital education and digital literacy.

Briefly, on private enterprise, the Governor spoke about PPPs and different collaborations with the private sector. There is actually no way that we can create prosperity without the private sector, as a matter of fact, the private sector is the engine of growth, it cannot be the public sector since the public sector does not have the resources.

If you look at all of the investments, the major investments that have been made in this country, most of those major investments especially in commerce have come especially in the past decade, have come from the private sector. Look at the investments in the banking sector, in infrastructure, investment in cement, in Petro-chemicals, all of those investments are huge private sector investments.

We simply have to create the environment for the private sector to thrive. But l think that the private sector too must recognise the huge responsibility to the people because as the engine of growth, it’s simply your historic role to ensure that you recognise that national development must also be a key priority for you as an entrepreneur, it must be your priority. Great leaders of the world are the entrepreneurs of the world because they were also patriotic. The private sector must also be a responsible partner with services of every kind for charity and all of those kinds of things and contributing to education, civic education and all manner of civic causes to make society truly great.

Today all of us recognise that we are in the worst economic crisis in the history of our nation. We are aware of the facts and figures of the fall in oil prices, oil production which stood at about 2.2 million barrels per day dropped to under 1.2 million barrels per day. A drop of almost a million barrels for every single day means that the country is earning 60 percent less than it was earning even less than one year ago.

Vandalisation of pipelines and gas in Forcados in Warri has led to a 60 percent even more drop in gas production-(used to power plants).

AS of February 2016 for the first time in the history of Nigeria, we were producing 5000 Mega Watts. About a month ago we were even about half of that, 2,500 for an economy this size, one hundred and seventy million people. 2000 MW of power don’t even begin to make any sense.

But we must accept that a lot of problems we are experiencing that has led to difficulty in Foreign Exchange. We need enough Foreign Exchange to be able to service that (forex) market. Inflation has also affected manufacturing, our GDP has affected practically everything. But I want to say that the good part of the problem lies in our hands to solve.

I know that with the continuous engagement with the militants am sure we will be able to move along. But everything else that we are confronted with are problems that we can solve.

I believe very strongly that with the kind of focus we have and the kind of dedication that we have, there will be a turnaround and this country will prosper.

I believe very strongly that one of the critical things for us is that we must have faith in our abilities to make this country truly great and I can tell you there is a dedication and honesty in the leadership of this nation today.

It is possible for us to do things that can make this country truly, a great nation if the leaders are not concerned about making money for themselves but their concern is to turn this country around and to do well. I believe that we have the best opportunity to ensure that this country is a great one.

Thank you very much!



We simply have to create the environment for the private sector to thrive. But l think that the private sector too must recognise the huge responsibility to the people because as the engine of growth, it’s simply your historic role to ensure that you recognise that national development must also be a key priority for you as an entrepreneur, it must be your priority.