The topic “How To Make Nigeria Work – Lessons From Akwa Ibom State” is a bit like asking one to speak on “How to Make the Elephant Dance.” Elephants have locked cartilages which allow them movement in one direction and do not ease up pressure enough in their joints for the fluid exercise of dancing. But in circuses, animal trainers usually find a way to teach the elephants to hop in jerky movements which resemble a dance. It is a herculean task but it gets done. And if elephants can be taught to dance, Nigeria can be made to work.
Every Nigerian has an idea of what is wrong with Nigeria, depending, of course, on his or her experiences, perspective, learning, training and calling. To the respected literary icon, Professor Albert Chinua Achebe in his book "The Trouble with Nigeria", “The problem with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”
To the renowned Nobel laureate, Professor Akinwande Wole Soyinka, the problem is that Nigeria is “like a quilt-work of allegiances, alliances.” To the eminent former Secretary to the Federal Government, Alhaji Shehu Musa, the problem is that “We need to improve on our resource management to be able to achieve eradication or even reduction of poverty level.”
Alhaji Musa is right. We have survived coups, upheavals, unspeakable tyranny, corruption, state-sponsored murders, election annulments, religious and ethnic riots, emergencies etc. We have gone through so many perils that we can say with new meaning that “tough times never last, tough people do.” Nigeria is apparently working, but we believe it could work better.
History of the problem:
When Lord Lugard amalgamated the disparate ethnic nationalities which now make up Nigeria into one political entity in 1914, it was basically in the British colonial interest. The British did not think of forming a country out of this union, neither did the prospect sound plausible.
The North made it plain that it did not intend to surrender its identity or enter into a political union with a people who did not conquer them in war or had any trade affinity with them. The West and the East also had misgivings about the union and virtually none of the component units welcomed the idea of amalgamation.
The British Government signified interest in granting independence to Nigeria in 1951. On April 1, 1952, the inimitable Chief Anthony Enahoro moved a motion for independence in the Legislative Council. The Northern caucus rebuffed the idea. The North claimed that it was not ready as then.
Independence would wait till October 1, 1960. At independence, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) became Prime Minister and Minister of External Affairs, while Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the National Congress of Nigeria and Cameroun (later National Council for Nigerian Citizens) became Governor General and later (1963) ceremonial president.
The Guardian (October 10, 2004) wrote in an article "The Problem with Nigeria that" “because of the manner in which they took political control, members of the government could not lead... They served as a drainpipe for Britain to continue to suck the country economically; second, at home they were controlling central power only to grab as much of the national wealth as possible for the tribes they represented and to build private estates for themselves.”
Added to this is the fact that the election was rigged by the British to protect its interest. Harold Smith, the British Colonial Officer in Lagos in the 1950s, confessed to a BBC journalist, Mike Thompson, about a year ago. He claimed that he was ordered to rig the election in favour of the NPC and NCNC and to ensure that both struck a partnership to form a government.
Smith described Sir James Robertson, the governor-general then, as “a thug (who) had a terrible reputation....We loved Africans, but these people who came to do this job were a different breed, these were the ex-SOE (British Secret Service outfit set up during the Second World War) and MI6 (Military Intelligence Branch 6).”
Dissatisfied with this order, Smith said he requested to see Robertson and register his displeasure with this attempt to circumvent the democratic will. He relived the experience to Thompson, “Robertson said, ‘I want you to know that everything you have alleged about the elections is correct.... You know too much and I want you to know how much trouble you are in.
The Colonial Service is just like the army, you know what happens if you disobey orders on active service and that is what is going to happen to you.’” He claimed that Robertson was so mad that he flirted with the idea that he might gun him down with his pistol.
The morale of this story is that our independence election did not exactly get laid on a foundation of truth. The British initiated and exacerbated the problem by placing its national interest above our collective good. We, therefore, missed a step off the starting blocks.
Sprinters know that when you miss a step off the starting blocks you have to lurch forward and would need time to stabilize. We never had time to stabilize before Major Kaduna Nzeogu and company struck in 1966.
The intricate ethnic balance was tipped when it turned out that most of the coup plotters were of Eastern extraction, while most of those killed were of Northern extraction. Some historians believe that the killing of the northern leaders was due to the dominance of the North in the political leadership of the country – and not because of their tribe.
But the rumbles of that coup shook the foundations of our nationhood and led to a civil war in 1967. The war ended in 1970 but it is still debatable whether we have learnt lessons from the war and whether we have eliminated the factors which led to it.
Instructively, the pain of that war was assuaged by an oil boom in the early 70’s. With it came the Udoji salary increase of 1974 which upped the minimum wage from 312 Naira per annum to 720 Naira per annum. Notable is the fact that the Naira was then more powerful than the dollar and 720 Naira was the equivalent of 1200 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, this had more purchasing power than the current national minimum wage.
In the early 80’s the economic boom turned to an economic doom. Attempts to find solutions to it have been hampered by several factors, and central to these are the twin evils of corruption and graft.
The challenges facing Nigeria are enormous. Some are internal and some are external, some are within our control and some are outside our control. But there is nothing wrong with Nigeria that what is right in Nigeria cannot correct.
What is the world oil glut? Global recession has caused the price of crude oil to fall by more than fifty per cent and this, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has robbed its members of over $700 billion.
This has already set alarm ringing in some OPEC countries and led to belt_tightening measures as well as affected budgetary plans for fiscal 2009. It means less money for OPEC countries including Nigeria and portends a scale down of government activities. Already United States and Europe are in recession and it is spreading to OPEC countries, OPEC President and Algeria’s Minister of Oil, Chakib Khelil, said recently.
OPEC response to this global recession and falling oil price has been to do the only sensible thing – cut production to 1.5 million bpd, (about 5 percent), from Nov. 1. But this is yet to stop oil prices from its free fall. OPEC had hoped that the by cutting production (fine_tuning supply) the laws of demand and supply would adjust the price. But instead crude has slumped to below $54 per barrel from a record $147.27 four months ago.
The implication of this is that we are in a recession. Remember that 99 percent of export revenues and 85 percent of government revenues come from crude oil and you would understand challenge we are facing as a nation. The entire spectrum of our economic life (salaries, wages, contracts, projects) may be affected by the economic glitch. What do we do?
The world is discovering new ways of powering system which hitherto were gasoline-powered. Electric cars and solar cars are seen as the next generation of cars. One day oil may lose its allure and we should be ready for that economic apocalypse.
In line with the third point in President Umaru Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda which is wealth creation, we should curtail our dependence on oil and focus on industrial development and wealth creation through diversified production especially in the agricultural and solid mineral sector.
In Akwa Ibom State we have pursued the ideals of the third point in the agenda vigorously. To stop the dependence of oil and restore our pride as an agricultural haven, we have purchased of 22 tractors at the cost of N76m for use and hire by individual farmers and groups, procured and distributed agricultural equipment to farmers in the State and procured and distributed truck loads of assorted brands of fertilizer to farmers in the state at subsidized rates.
We have also subsidized the cost of tractors to farmers by sixty per cent, directly procured 5000 metric tons of fertilizer at the cost of N200 million, not to mention the provision of outboard engines and fishing boats for fishermen.
As a poverty alleviation measure to undo the effect of the global recession, we have devised a micro-credit scheme for small and medium scale businesses. And we also routinely award non-skill demanding contracts to the poor in the state in order to empower them and redistribute wealth.
Our strategies which are designed to meet the aims of the millennium development goals and the President’s Seven point agenda, are spread in such ways that they effectively address the human development and economic needs of our State and its people.
Because of poverty, many women patronize traditional birth attendants. This leads to prenatal complications and infant mortality. In cognizance f this we have introduced free medical care for all indigenes of our state who are seventy years and above. We have also introduced free medical treatment for all prenatal and post_natal cases and for children from five years down.
The impact has been tremendous and pregnant women are no more going to traditional birth attendants in our state. We hope to reverse the infant mortality rate situation in our state and raise strong and healthy children born in the right atmosphere and benefitting from the proper health care at birth. It is a huge investment but it’s worth every kobo of it.
Other things done in the health sector include the renovation of over 100 Primary Health Care facilities, and the award of contract for 4 cottage hospitals complete with staff quarters. We have also recruited more medical personnel, improved packages for healthcare workers and upgraded three primary health care centres into cottage hospitals.
If Nigeria is going to work, the Universities which churn out the manpower we need must work. At the Akwa Ibom State University, we are committed to the establishment of a world-class conventional, truly multi_disciplinary institution with a multi_campus structure.
It will offer degrees in engineering and technology, science, agriculture and in professional specializations in the humanities, notably management sciences, law, education and the social sciences.
As a major coastal state in Nigeria, rich in offshore oil and gas resources, we hope to lead the nation in capacity_building in ocean science and technology. To this end, the university will offer ship_building, marine engineering and marine environmental sciences. All these courses have already been approved for the university by the National Universities Commission, this implies that this university would be the first in the country to mount comprehensive offshore technology training degree courses.
To support the smooth take-off of these rare and highly specialized degree programmes, we have established linkages and are about to sign memoranda of understanding with overseas institutions like Drexel University of Technology in Philadelphia, USA, the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at the University of Michigan, USA, and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) Bangkok, Thailand.
Furthermore, we have sent staff on training programmes abroad to orient them with the specialized training and skills needed for these programmes.
This key area is the First Point in the President’s Seven Point Agenda. It underscores its importance. Businesses, which run on generators, have high overheads costs and may not be able compete in the global marketing place.
Several attempts at reforming the power sector in the past have not yielded the desired results. Interestingly, though power supply has become more epileptic, revenue generation went up by 133 percent between 2003 and 2005, according to PHCN officials. his prompted Joseph Makoju, managing director of PHCN to say that “Nigerians should judge PHCN on the basis of the revenue index, rather than performance or service delivery.”
According to figures released by the organisation, monthly revenue generation grew from an average of about 25 million dollars in 2003 to the current 58 million dollars in October 2005. One can only hope that this money would be deployed to making the sector more functional in service delivery not only in revenue.
Instead of toying with new ways to make the Kainji Dam work, let us explore ways of supporting the dam by having other power plants. The need to address the deficiencies in the National Power Output and to provide for rapid industrialization, led us to embark on Independent Power Project. Located near the Aluminium Smelting Plant at Ikot Abasi, it is 95% completed.
The plant would lead to uninterrupted power supply in the state. With a capacity of 191 megawatts and given the fact that Akwa Ibom State needs just 65 megawatts, we have 136 megawatts to share with other states. We have already obtained a license for the plant and we are counting days before we shout “uhuru!”
The Niger Delta
The militancy in the Niger Delta and in other parts of the nation should be handled with care. Thankfully, it is included in the Seven Point Agenda where dialogue is prioritized over military action. The President is right because instead of hastily rolling in armoured cars, we should roll in bulldozers.
I commend the president for setting up the Niger Delta Ministry and believe this is a step in the right direction. It is regrettable that the just demand of the Niger Delta people for greater accommodation in the Nigerian polity has been hi_jacked by miscreants who have taken it to embarrassing heights of brigandage and banditry.
We urge the Government to use the technique that the US war hero, Collin Powell, prescribed to be used in driving the Iraqis out of Kuwait. He said “First cut it off, and then kill it.” Let us cut off the support base of these militants with the development of the region and improvement of the welfare of the people, and then we will “kill” the militancy and militants.
Nigeria and Akwa Ibom State
As I said earlier, this was a little bit like teaching the elephant to dance. And as you all know you cannot teach the elephant to dance in one day. Nigeria needs a lot more than physical infrastructures to work; it needs our love and faith. When we all work for Nigeria, Nigeria will work. We must believe in it and sing the magic words, “Arise O Compatriots Nigeria calls obey...” with new meaning every day.
Let us all answer Nigeria’s call and not our tribal or ethnic calls. In football we have proved it time and again. When our players respond to the national call with their hearts and their heads, with passion and love, no team can defeat us. But you have wrangles in camp about money we fall like Humpty Dumpty.
You may not fully understand why you invited me to speak to you on such a sensitive matter as this, but I understand. It was God’s will for you to invite me. Akwa Ibom is the land of Promise and we hold aloft the promise of a new Nigeria where peace and prosperity will roll like a stream and righteousness like a waterfall.