Text of the speech delivered by Shina Oludare at the MINERVA PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION 2015 National Public Lecture “LEADERSHIP, CHANGE AND NATIONAL CONTINUITY” Held at the Muson Centre Onikan, Lagos.
I want to welcome and thank all of you for finding the time to participate in this summit. Your attendance is an eloquent testimony of your commitment to work to make this nation get better. The major problem of our nation today is the persistence of a chronic deficit of honest and effective governance.
As Nigerians, we should all be worried about the future of this nation. I wish to acknowledge that most of you who have been invited as resource persons may not be card carrying members of any political party. In this context, your contribution in this summit is to be seen as a call to avail our nation the benefit of your wide range of experience and expertise.
The Nigerian tag of ‘Giant of Africa’ is not just a contrived notion of perceived national greatness; rather it is an assertion of the strategic importance and socio-economic relevance of our nation to the rest of this continent. Distinguished guests, the Economist magazine recently likened Nigeria to a heavyweight boxer who is punch drunk. One minute it acts like a champion by virtue of its sheer size and past victories, the next minute it could be flat on its back, groaning in anguish. Sadly this sums up the current state of the Nigerian nation.
We were once revered around the world for our prowess in peace keeping but we are now being
subdued by a ragtag army of rascals. There is an unmistakable feeling that we are being subdued on all fronts by crippling economic conditions, high unemployment rates, collapsing infrastructures, pipe-line vandalism, kidnapping and Boko-Haram insurgency. It is clear that our country is in dire need of a re-evaluation of her political and socio-economic status.
Nigeria is a one resource economy. The substantial portion of the national revenue is controlled by the Federal government. When this privilege is exercised within a complex patronage system characterized by nepotism, corruption and utter disregard for due process, the nation’s social, political and economic capital cannot be as strong as we are made to believe. Often, we are told by the economic and financial managers in this administration that the Nigerian economy is the largest in Africa, closely followed by that of South Africa.
According to the ‘good’ news released towards the end of the first quarter of this year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2013 at $503bn (£307bn), a figure that was nearly twice its previous estimates, and more than that of South Africa. It is also constantly claimed that the economy has consistently grown at a rate of between five and seven percent annually for the past five or more years.
Good news indeed! But what does the break down reveal? Regrettably, the new buoyant economic tabulation does not match the indices on the ground. One report immediately cast doubt about the impact of the new encouraging figures by stating that it “won’t change poverty and infrastructure woes” in the country. On the issue of poverty reduction by half, most Nigerians will give contrary statistics.
They would painfully tell you that poverty has not been ‘down-sized’ at all. Actually, a recent study states that more than 50 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty level. The report says that more than 33 percent of those who reside in urban areas live below the same line, and that more than 66 per cent of these city dwellers cannot meet their household needs such as food, housing and transportation.
Security of life and property of citizens is the first universally acknowledged function of any government.
Today Nigeria is in the grip of murderous insurgents who daily commit heinous crimes against innocent people in many parts of Nigeria, especially in the North Eastern part. Boko Haram has captured enclaves of land, hoisted their flags and imposed a reign of terror on citizens of this country. Bombings, abductions, kidnappings, robberies and rapes are on the increase as general insecurity pervades the land.
Could this state of anomie be attributed to poor governance? According to the highly-regarded 2014 Ibrahim Index of African Governance Report, Nigeria was ranked one of the worst governed countries in the continent.
Ladies and Gentlemen, a deductive observer will not fail to notice that the nation has been gravitating from the Presidential system of governance stipulated in our constitution to Presidentialism. This means the systematic concentration of political power in the hands of one individual or a cabal. As a result, effective accountability and representation through popular democratic participation is giving way to personal rule and single party dictatorships rooted on politics of Clientelism. In essence, what we have now in Nigeria is a form of Patrimonial Democracy. This is posing serious threats to the durability of democracy.
Not only because it erodes civil liberties of citizens, thus creating a culture of political apathy and disenchantment among them, it also severely limits the extent to which Government can be pressed to be responsive and accountable towards the citizens. Thus, for both of those who are inside and outside the network, the future is bleak. Nigerians need democracy of substance that will respond to their socio-economic demands and bring about improvements in their living conditions.
The yearn for a democracy that has dividends. I believe that change will only come if those aspiring for public office learn to listen to those who entrust them with the responsibility to lead. This summit is part of the process to concretise a contract, a new deal with Nigerians. We hope the outcome of this gathering if faithfully implemented will create a Nigeria that Nigerians desire and deserve. Have a fruitful deliberation.