Muhammad Sabiu, who was at the 4th Progressive Governance Lecture Series organised by the Progressives Governors Forum last Thursday, highlights the main issues discussed by members of the forum and their implications for the nation.
IT was evident that they had become seriously concerned about the rising public agitations on the need to fast track government efforts at bringing succour to the citizenry. The public outcry had taken a dizzying frenzy because of the spiraling effects of globally economic downturn, sharp decline in the price of crude oil in the international market and the abysmal neglect other sectors that had hitherto been the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. Thus, a number of frontline actors in the present federal and state administrations that converged on Kaduna, the political headquarters of the North on August 25, had the singular agenda of giving fillip to the system, especially at the state level.
Indeed, the 4th Progressive Governance Lecture Series, organised by the Progressives Governors Forum was quite eventful. As the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Indoor Hall, Kaduna, venue of the epic event had previously hosted important political events, this meeting of the APC governors would not be an exception. The topic of discussion was equally apt as Nigerians eagerly waited to see how the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would tackle the mirage of economic, social and political woes facing the country. A civil servant who was at the venue of the event and pleaded for anonymity, captured the present reality of the country. He declared that the prices of food stuffs and other consumables were beyond the reach of most Nigerians. According to him, he came to the hall to hear what the guest speaker, a former Central Bank Governor, Professor Charles Soludo, would say on the topic: Building The Economy of States: Challenge of Developing Inclusively Sustainable Growth.
At exactly 12 noon, the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was ushered into the spacious hall in company of the host governor, Mallam Nasir el-rufai; chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum, Mr Rochas Okorocha, and chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum and governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari. After the usual exchange of banters and the national anthem, Governor el-rufai set the ball rolling by declaring that the country was facing an unprecedented economic crisis. The governor, who attributed to the present crisis to both the past and the present circumstances, maintained that there must be a fundamental shift from what Nigerians are doing as a country in order to progress and develop.
According to him, the worst job in the country is to become a governor. Nonetheless, he commended Osinbajo, the chairman of the National Economic Council, for his commitment in ensuring that regular meetings of the council are held to find solutions to the economic woes bedevilling the country.
Osinbajo agreed that the country was indeed facing an economic crisis but he added that the crisis was not insurmountable. According to him, the country has the capacity to be a great nation. He remarked that no country in Africa had human and material resources like Nigeria, saying “what is paramount is for us to bring our act together and make a difference.” He added: “Without us taking responsibility for our problems, little could be done. We have a few years to transform this country and I believe those seated in this hall here are the ones saddled with the task to make the difference.” He noted that though it could take months and even years to overcome some of the issues, the APC leaders must make things happen.
In his own remarks, Okorocha stated that the governance lecture series was organised to find common grounds on which to develop and promote global best practices on some of the major challenges facing the states. He disclosed: “The challenge before us today is how to reposition the economic situation of our people.” With crude oil revenue plummeting to the lowest level in recent times and with allocation to states from the Federation Account diminishing by about 60 per cent, he said it was apparent that the country was facing a serious economic recession. Okorocha stated that more than 120 million Nigerians were living below the poverty line, earning less than N400 per day. The APC leaders, he said, would therefore need to think outside the box with a view to having a better country. “I reiterate my optimism and confidence that APC leaders, as ably led by President Muhammadu Buhari, are irreversibly committed to bequeathing not only the change promise but the Nigeria of our dream.”
However, the guest speaker, Professor Soludo began by saying that when he was invited to speak on the topic he thought he would only be addressing the APC leaders, only to be confronted by a cross section of Nigerians at the hall. He said he was confused on what to do because, “this is the moment to say the truth.” And the audience responded: “Tell us the truth!”
The former CBN governor noted that, over the years, Nigerians had been living in a fool’s paradise, adding that now is the time to start rebuilding and getting things right. The professor of Economics faulted the current monetary policy of the APC government, saying that the Nigerian economy, in terms of the dollar, had collapsed by 50 per cent. He maintained that no state could develop sustainably if the overall governance and economy were in crisis. He also alluded to the point raised by Okorocha that most Nigerians were living in abject poverty. Soludo noted that 11 states in the North, with the highest population growth and affected by desertification, were the ones suffering from the worst form of poverty in Nigeria. He said: “55 million people in 11 states are under serious threat (Adamawa; Bauchi; Borno; Gombe; Katsina; Jigawa; Kano; Kebbi; Sokoto; Yobe; Zamfara) and these account for 40 per cent of Nigeria’s land.” Incidentally, he said, these states were also the poorest in Nigeria, with crop yields dropping by 20 per cent.
To this end, he maintained that “the collapse of oil price was a great opportunity and blessing for Nigeria, as it offers ample room for the states to improve on their revenue from the less than 5 per cent of GDP they currently record.” Nonetheless, he expressed the belief that the country could get out of the woods, as he noted that this would be the first time Nigeria would be expected to transform its economy without external conditionalities. He recalled that in the previous administrations, economic policies were being monitored and teleguided by the super powers and other multi-lateral organisations.
He warned that the government must have the discipline to see its programmes through, stressing that the way out of the poverty cycle for the states would be to develop the education sector so that the children of the poor would be given the same opportunity as others to participate in the economy. He contended that APC governors should move from an election winning coalition that only wanted to grab power to a governing team. “With the control of the Federal Government and 23 states in the country, the APC has no excuse to fail. The APC should go back to its manifesto and instigate frameworks that will engender the atmosphere for growth as Nigeria cannot develop with the current structure where institutions are created only to share from the federation account,” he added.
Earlier, the governors had met and resolved to fight the menace of insurgency, Niger delta Avengers, insecurity, cattle rustling as well as kidnapping in their respective states. A communiqué read by the chairman of the forum, Okorocha, remarked that the forum would no longer tolerate violence and terrorists activities in their states.