The 2016 Edition Of The Platform In Abuja
SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, THE VICE PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE PLATFORM ABUJA ON SATURDAY 30TH APRIL, 2016
I am extremely honoured to be here again at the platform. I must say that the Platform has through the years become possibly the foremost platform opportunity for ideas and intellectual innovation in Nigeria. Every year, it lays out through its many thought leaders of the big ideas, the aspirational heights, and the solutions that must occur in our nation’s journey to its incredibly great destiny. I would like to thank Pastor Poju and his team for their tenacity and consistency, not only in always putting together a great event but also their unwavering belief in the capacity of our nation to surmount its problems and attain greatness.
Today I want to share with you a glimpse of an aspect of the future. Permit me to begin with a story about myself. All my adult life I have always believed that our country was performing far below its potentials, in practically every aspect of life. In governance, corruption was always so outrageous that it made the majority poor and development almost impossible. Law and order was always a problem, usually no consequence for wrong-doing. Doing business and even our daily existence has always been difficult, no power, no fuel. Getting anything done in government establishments, a nightmare of delay and extortion.
So as a conscious decision, I joined various pressure groups. From human rights groups to good governance advocacy groups. In 1995, I co- founded an organization called Integrity Anticorruption organization. I joined various think tanks and professional groups including the Concerned Professionals. Under the Abacha regime, we concerned professionals one day gathered at Yaba Bus-stop and some were thoroughly beaten by Police and the Army. From that day on, people disappeared and did not show up again. Another story, I served as a two- term Attorney- General in Lagos State and pushed reforms in governance and the justice sector, I believed and continued to believe that the Nigerian people deserve better lives.
In December 2014, the unexpected happened- I was nominated as Vice Presidential candidate to then General Muhammadu Buhari.
I was 27years old when Buhari became head of State after a corrupt and somewhat disappointing civilian regime. As a young university lecturer then I was impressed by his single-minded fight against corruption and indiscipline. There was a serious war against indiscipline. For the first time, the government held corrupt officers accountable. 30 years later, providence brought us together. A retired General now and a Professor of Law. We both believed that our country needed to change. We argued about how and what needed to be done. We reached consensus on many of the major issues. Certainly, our country needs a different set of values; a new way of doing business; an economy that is able to give the opportunity to young people to work in their chosen professions and to build strong and profitable businesses. We knew that we had to provide social protection for the poorest and the most vulnerable.
We recognized that innovation and change will be key and that we must implement and not just talk about diversification of our economy. So, we led our party’s campaign on that single, simple, but profound word, CHANGE!
Nearly a year on- there are many problems and many have asked where is the change? Is this the change we voted for? Even some fifth columnists in our midst have suggested bring back corruption!
But let me just say here for the records that the government of Muhammadu Buhari is completely and irrevocably committed to change.
We believe that though it may not be easy, though the early signs may be confusing and sometimes discouraging, there has never been a better opportunity than now to turn the country in the direction of success.
Today we have the best opportunity in decades for profound change. It is an opportunity in a generation. A revolution whose time has come! Everything around us tells us that the moment is now! Can this change happen, yes indeed, it can! What do you have in your hands to make it happen? We have a country that is tired of corruption, tired of leadership without values, tired of an economy that is neither designed to accommodate enterprise nor to create opportunity and wealth for the majority.
But we have a leadership and we have a leader that is prepared to challenge the rotten status quo, one who has said that he is prepared to kill corruption rather than let it kill us.
But we must admit that the problems are many. They include a depreciating currency, falling revenues from the main source of revenue which is oil, low external reserves, foreign exchange scarcity, which has affected the importation of raw materials for industry, trade payment arrears leading to a slowing down in the overall economy, and falling GDP. Power shortages and fuel scarcity are products of one of many of the factors above.
These problems are temporary, not because they are not tough, or old and recurring problems but because today you have a leadership with the sincerity and commitment to solve them and a people that are impatient and ready for a change
What we must do is not to blink, no shaking, let us stay the course, let us keep our focus and see our country turn around.
Let us look at a few of the problems. Power for example. What is the answer to power problems? In November 2015 and twice since then; for the first time in Nigeria’s history we generated 5000MW of power. Of course, many will recall that in the early months even towards the end of December, power supply was relatively stable. But come February 14 2016, sophisticated vandals hit the Forcados export terminal which supplies over 40% of Gas going to our power plants, and we lost in total about 1500MW of power in generation.
So how do we solve the problems? First, apart from fixing the Forcados plants which will take up until May with threats of vandalisation, we need to expand the sources and volumes of our gas assets. Gas is available but pipelines are not, so we must build new pipelines to take gas from the gas plants to the power plants and that is what we are doing at the moment.
There are several gas pipeline projects all over the country awarded at various times. Very few are ever completed and a lot of money, of course, has gone to the contracts for this gas pipelines. But you cannot have gas without piping then through the pipelines. So, a lot of that has to be done today. A lot of what we are going to be spending on power is completing projects that have been abandoned or projects that have just been discontinued for one reason or the other.
Transmission is another problem. In the short to medium term, we are working to complete many of the abandoned transmission assets. We are also working on the distribution companies to meter their customers. Customers must also pay otherwise the generating and distributing companies will collapse. Telecommunication companies in Nigeria have survived and expanded because everyone is forced to pay their bills. And the only way that the power sector will survive and expand is if we all pay our bills but it is a chicken and egg situation. People say I don’t have power so why should I pay and the generation and distribution companies say if you did pay how can we produce power. But I think that the simple solution is that an efficient system which we are working on will certainly encourage payment. But pay we must. We have dropped fixed charges today. There are no more fixed charges; in other words, you do not pay necessarily because you own a facility. You don’t need to pay fix charges anymore and only the tariffs that will be paid. But of course, there are still arguments around that.
How about fuel? Almost all the petrol we use is imported. So, with the scarcity of foreign exchange, it has become difficult for independent marketers to import fuel. The NNPC has had to import and distribute almost all the fuel the country uses. So, what is the solution- we must get the independent marketers to source their foreign exchange so they can bring in fuel to complement NNPC imports. But the medium to long-term plan is the new initiative to get the private sector to build co-located refineries and new refineries so that by the end of 2018 we would be producing most of our petrol locally.
No this is a problem that we need not experience and the reason is just has been pointed out. There is no reason why a country with the amount of crude that we have to be importing refined petroleum products. But that is where we find ourselves today and so once there is a scarcity of foreign exchange you are going to have problems with importing. So, what we do and what has been done is to swap- to send your crude abroad and get it back in the form of refined petroleum. That, the government does about 50% of imports but in the past few months, the government itself has been almost importing the entire, almost 100% of refined petroleum products because of the scarcity of foreign exchange. NNPC really lacks the capacity to distribute petrol across the country so the key marketers are key, they must be involved in the distribution of petroleum products. But we will get there and we would get there quickly enough. Once we are able to change the paradigms, I know that many people today will ask; how can we have so much but then so little? Very soon, there will be a remarkable improvement.
How about the ease of doing business in Nigeria? I think it was Mrs Ibukun Awosika that said that you have to know someone to know someone in order to get any kind of approval. Nigeria somehow, we have rigged the simply and it has become extremely difficult in order to get things done especially through the public services. The mandate of our Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment is to ensure that there is a noticeable difference in the ease of doing business and that is to say that pre-investment approvals especially those coming from the Federal Government must be easy to access, must be easy to obtain and he has the mandate to work over the next 18 months to ensure that we move 30 spaces in the ease of doing business index which is an index that is compiled by the World Bank.
How will we create jobs? We will deepen the diversification of the economy. The big areas of focus are agriculture, the agro allied value chain, solid minerals, petro-chemicals, technology, and entertainment. For those of us that live in the urban areas, agriculture really doesn’t mean much but it is very important to bear in mind that today agriculture is the 2nd largest employer of labour in Nigeria and it can expand. We need to be completely self-sufficient in rice production, in wheat, in tomato and several of these products that today drain our foreign exchange. Just to take an example of rice. The demand for rice is about 7 million metric tuns. We produce only 2.7 million metric tuns locally so we import the difference. So we spend almost $4bn to $5bn every year on rice. So how do we approach that locally? We picked 11 states that will produce rice. Just take an example of Kebbi State. Kebbi State is a state that has always traditionally produce rice but in the past one year, they started a scheme of empowering the farmers with money and inputs to double their production. In this year, in the past four months, Kebbi State had an investment of N7.5bn which was given directly to farmers for inputs and for other services and now they are producing almost 1 million metric tuns of rice. For a country that needs 7 million metric tuns of rice, if one state is able to produce 1 million metric tuns of rice. That is completely dramatic. The value of their rice is about N63bn from an investment of about N7.5bn. This country can feed itself, this country can produce enough. All that we need to do is focus on those who are producing, focus on those who need to do it, remove the obstacles in the way of giving people who are producing money or resources that they need directly. That is one of the challenges.
We believe that technology, as well as entertainment, can lead the grand expansion of the economy that is needed to provide opportunities for so many young and talented Nigerians.
The key to change and our future prosperity lies in innovation. Innovation is critical to our economic prosperity. Every generation thinks it’s special. So, my children think I am a dinosaur when I try to figure my way around applications and devices, but history has grander ideas. From town criers to smartphones, from beasts of burden to driverless cars, there is and will always be new technology: reinventing the way we work, reimagining the standard of living we expect, and reshaping the future to come. If you can order food, taxi or your clothes through an app and monitor the status of these items through to delivery, or complete all of your banking through a smartphone, it’s not unreasonable to expect also that government to make its services and support to its citizens as seamless.
Already not too long ago, a Nigerian Pharmacist from the Department of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Justus Nwoga, successfully developed a solar PV panel based on the plant, Mimosa Pudica (popularly called Touch and Die plant). Despite the odds, he was able to build solar cells constructed from weed extracts which when exposed to sunlight were found to accumulate sufficient solar energy that was convertible to electrical energy.
Today, Nollywood and our music industry are acknowledged worldwide for their industry and creativity. Both were initiated and developed without any formal assistance. But think of the innovation that another young Nigerian entrepreneur has brought to Nollywood- Jason Njoku has made the Iroko brand the largest mainstream licensors and distributors of over 5,000 Nollywood films and African Music. Iroko has attracted $20 million in equity investments. The same Nigerian entrepreneurial and innovative spirit can be seen in Konga and the revolution of online shopping. Or, the story of Jobberman, which was listed in the Forbes Magazine Top 10 Tech startups in Africa. Jobberman was founded about 8 years ago by 3 young techies while they were in school at the Obafemi Awolowo University. They have grown the company into a multimillion-dollar company. The young founders have now divested their interests in the company and are investing in other young Nigerian startups. All of these have happened without formal state support. Venture Garden Group, a data automation company founded by three young Nigerians average age of 28, focuses on big data, automation and revenue assurance systems and they have taken innovation to new levels. For example, one of the subsidiaries- PowerTech provides automation for the National power grid which now allows real-time monitoring of energy flow from generation to distribution and payment to all parties, to promote transparency and sustainability of the electricity market. They have their centre right here in Abuja. Of course, there are a million others; there is BugIT, who we have just heard speak.
We have a growing animation industry in Nigeria demonstrating Nigeria’s creativity in producing educational, entertainment and other informative resources. I was told that representatives of the big Hollywood Studios who are looking to outsource their animation projects came and looked at these studios and were impressed with the quality of the work. The challenge that they have experienced was the size of the animation workforce and the infrastructure to render long duration and high-end animation work. Here, the answer is to fix the scale and enable investments in infrastructure to support this industry.
Let me say that the Government of Nigeria is paying attention we recognise the trends.
Just to share with you very quickly the Federal Government’s plan for technology and innovation. This year we are establishing technology innovation hubs across the country. Two super hubs, one in Lagos and Abuja and 6 regional technology hubs in the six geopolitical zones. In partnership with several major technology companies, the hubs will be fully resourced with infrastructure, and capacity building tools. Each hub will be designed to produce relevant innovative technology solutions to a wide range of businesses, commercial and government problems. For example, alternative energy solutions, creative technology, public services deliveries in health, education and government processes, import substitution, etc.
Several major technology companies have not only signed up to partner but are also providing infrastructure and opportunity in the hubs.
Also, starting in July of this year, we have budgeted for the training of 65,000 young Nigerians in hardware and software services, and more sophisticated software services such as animation. This will mean that we will be building more local capacity to build and assemble hardware, and to write innovative programmes. We also will be focusing on technology for media and entertainment. We intend to create a reservoir of human capacity in technology that can be exported internationally. Nigeria can lead India as a market for technology innovation and talents. Even our training of 500,000 graduates as volunteer teachers also has a technology component. Each of them in phases will be given a device which will contain a variety of technology training applications to enable them to attain varying degrees of proficiency in technology. On June 23rd 2016, we are launching a special presidential initiative on innovative technology. We will be bringing together to the villa 50 of the most innovative technology start-ups. They will be meeting with major technology and innovation companies as well as venture capital collaborating with the federal government to take their ideas to the next level.
We are also creating technology opportunities in our import substitution and diversification plan by encouraging innovative technologies to spearhead smart domestic production. For example, in Agriculture, our extension services will map and match soil data with best crop and harvest practices, ensuring farmers get relevant and tailored advice, via cloud technology. Also, we see immense possibilities for medicine and education.
The scale and dimension of our innovation aspirations clearly demonstrate that we hope to achieve a lot in a very short space of time. But we are also far-sighted. We know that at the cradle of a production-oriented society and a knowledge economy lies a focus on education in Science, in Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, otherwise referred to as STEM Education. This is why we are incentivizing fresh undergraduates in this area by paying a bursary award to 100,000 STEM undergraduates. We are also going to commence a pilot across the country that tests the conditions for infusing computer programming, robotics and animation in the primary and secondary school curricula.
The goal of the Federal Government is to use for innovation and technology to bring revolutionary change to Nigeria at a pace and on a scale that are unprecedented. But on its own, technology is not enough. Because new technology is a tool that merely enables us to transform how services operate, better to serve the citizen. It isn’t an end in itself. But it does unlock the door.
After all, Google didn’t invent hypertext, Apple didn’t invent the touchscreen. Uber didn’t invent GPS and Twitter didn’t even invent the Hashtag. In fact, in each case, the underlying programming was funded by the US government. Except for the use of the hashtag, this was invented not by Twitter but by its users. This is not an argument for government-directed investment alone. Far from it, governments do have a role, but it was the market that turned classified defense projects into consumer products enjoyed by billions.
What these modern giants did was to invent radically new ways of understanding their customers. And this is why we will continue to urge and encourage the private sector’s participation in research, development and commercialisation through funding. In this connection, we are establishing the Innovation Fund to support all downstream research, product development and commercialisation activities carried out by universities, research institutes, enterprises and the hubs that we are creating.
The Innovation Fund is a relatively new idea but we intend to use significant resources and that is in this budget to ensure that those who have innovative ideas and those whose ideas can truly transform are given an opportunity to access funds cheaply but the process of doing so is to prove by some proof of concept that the particular innovation is such that would make a real difference.
The second goal is to challenge the Nigerian youth to creativity and innovation. We want to challenge you to think up and build solutions for smart electricity, smart education, smart healthcare, smart agriculture, smart artisanal delivery services and smart manufacturing and indeed the collection of government revenues.
If you have looked at the hubs that already operate in Lagos where you have co-creation and what is happening around Yaba, it is very true that there is a lot of innovation and a lot of applications are being developed. The important thing is to identify the particular areas of need in our economy and in our country and to develop applications that can solve problems in those areas. Any application that can solve a problem is marketable. Any application that can solve a problem does not need too many arguments. The important thing is to be able to ensure that your application gets seen and get heard and that is what exactly the FG has decided to do to ensure that we create enough opportunities for people to bring forward their technology and their innovation so that government can then help to take it to the next level.
However, we also believe that the strength of a nation lies in the capacity for deep thought and introspection. Indeed, great leaders must as Faust said must be speakers of words and doers of deeds. This is why we also believe that we must promote the Humanities and the Arts. My office will be giving a little Nobel for the best piece of poetry with a local theme and the best inspirational short story on Nigeria. Both awards are to be made as part of the Independence Day celebrations.
I believe strongly that the creativity of the Nigerian goes beyond technology. That the creativity of the young Nigerians is also in writing, in poetry, in arts and various other aspects of Humanities and I believe strongly also that those who think and those who cause us to think are as important as those who create technology and we must encourage those who make us think. I am sure somebody over there is like me, Art student. However, we also accept that we must at this time encourage everyone who has a talent, who wants to render some kind of service or the other. Creating jobs as you know can’t be an easy task. All over the world, there are problems with job creation but Nigeria can do much better. We can do far better than we have done. And I believe very strongly that in the next few months to the next few years, there would see a much more deliberate effort to create opportunities and to create jobs.
Our Nation stands at the threshold of greatness. But our manifest destiny cannot be secured on a platter of gold. There is a status quo, there is an old way of doing things, where corruption was tolerated, and was even celebrated. Where a public officer who steals resources meant to build hospitals and schools can say, they are persecuting me because I am from the South West or North East or because I am a Christian or because I’m a Muslim. There is a status quo where those who have stolen more money than even the country’s external reserves now fight back through the media, and economic sabotage, and attempts to bribe law enforcement agents. There is a status quo, which promotes ethnicity and religion to advance personal causes and cover wrong-doing. It is from the shackles of this status quo that we must liberate our country. But how? We need a new tribe. A new way of thinking. We need a new tribe of Nigerians across tribes, and religion, who believe that a nation can only be built on integrity, on hard work, on selflessness and patriotism. Who believe that no nation can survive if its leaders are dishonest and selfish. It is that new tribe, of men and women, especially the youth who will form the vanguard of the new Nigeria. A youth who will hold leadership to account, who will not say anyone is a sacred cow. I believe that many in this audience belong to this new tribe. Why? Why do I believe that you belong to this new tribe? Clearly, any set of young people who will voluntarily attend a long series of lectures on charting a future for the Nation on a Saturday afternoon must be serious minded people. These are clearly not men and women who have lost hope or who have given up. I will end with a story.
A few weeks ago, an old friend of mine came by to visit me at the Villa. It was his first time anywhere near or close to Aso Rock as he told me. As he was about to leave, he looked around and said hmmm Aso Rock! So, this is where they share our money! But let me ask you today to please change that perception. It is a new day in Aso Rock. Today, I want you to have in your mind the picture of the President, a Vice President and Ministers working in that same Aso Rock day and night, keeping to high standards of integrity, sometimes very late into the night or early hours of the morning; determined to crack the difficult issues that stand in the way of prosperity and abundance for Nigeria. Have in mind a Presidency that has committed and has committed itself to uphold the highest standards of probity and accountability.
Have in mind a Presidency that will certainly, without a doubt keep it promises.
Thank you and God bless you!
We believe that though it may not be easy, though the early signs may be confusing and sometimes discouraging, there has never been a better opportunity than now to turn the country in the direction of success.