Ogbeni Rauf Aregebsola - Governor of the State of Osun
Ogbeni Rauf Aregebsola - Governor of the State of Osun
SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF OSUN, OGBENI RAUF AREGBESOLA, AT THE MONTHLY SEMINAR OF WEATHERHEAD CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, HARVARD UNIVERSITY, CAMBRIDGE MASSACHUSETTS, ON WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 20, 2013
I am most pleased to be in this world-renowned institution, Harvard University, and to stand before these highly esteemed academics. I am particularly grateful to the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and Prof Jacob Olupona for the privilege of this invitation. Every modern society is a reflection of the modernity of its intellectual institutions. With its endless production of world-class scholars who have brought their sterling expertise to bear on governance and policy formulation, this great university has been at the frontier and cutting edge of the political, economic and technological modernisation of American society. The gown is truly in tandem with the town.
I am conscious of the wisdom shared with you by my illustrious compatriots who preceded me on this same podium, particularly His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, Niger State Governor, Aliyu Babangida, Ambassador Walter Carrington and John Campbell, Prof Adefuye and others.
As political leaders and politicians, our own task is to seek to govern; therefore my task is fairly simple because I am here to address you on the challenge of development in my country, Nigeria. Happily, this happens to be an area within our purview, as the task of engendering development in a society falls squarely on the shoulders of its leaders.
Development is one subject that has engaged the attention of scholars, statesmen, international organisations and political leaders. I do not wish to detain this august gathering on the proper definition of this subject. I will however take it as given that Nigeria is a developing country in so far as the extant parameters of income per capita, life expectancy, the rate of literacy and so on are low, compared to countries designated as developed.
According to the 2010 World Bank data on Nigeria, the GNI per capita is $1,280 while life expectancy is 52 years. And only 43 per cent of the population has access to safe water.
United States, in contrast, as a developed country, has a GNI per capita of $48,650, life expectancy of 78 years and 94 per cent access to water.
These figures however are tools of analysis by economists. The real fruits of development are the strength of state institutions for law enforcement, transportation, economic production, defence, knowledge production, arts and entertainment and cultural (and national power) projection.
I think the term ‘developing’ as applied to some countries, is a euphemism because the appropriate term should have been ‘underdeveloped’. Developing suggests that a nation is in transition, in a kind of metamorphosis, with visible and undisputable signs. However, on the contrary, some of these countries are in reverse development and the only visible growth about them is the human population. Developing then should translate to at least visible signs that certain measures are in place that are making parameters like GNI and life expectancy to be rising.
The challenge of development therefore is how a nation strengthens its institutions and mobilises its human resources to produce the fruits, not necessarily on the scale of United States, but on that which will guarantee the good life for its citizens.
The challenge of development in Nigeria has varied dimensions, which have been copiously written and widely talked about. Hence, I will only be adding my voice to an already large body of materials, but with a perspective that derives from my own experience as a public policy maker in Nigeria’s State of Osun.
For us to be able to get out of our present predicament we must understand where we came from and how we got here. In order to do this we must begin from the beginning. Hence, it is well worth repeating the ‘over-emphasised’ point that the foundation for Nigeria’s underdevelopment was laid in its colonial history. Nigeria was a cultural, linguistic and religious congery of diverse peoples. It was amalgamated, ruled and administered for the convenience and in the interest of the colonial overlords, with little consideration for the good of the peoples therein.
It was therefore the case that, at independence, what was handed over as a country was such a political and administrative liability that its consequences soon began to hunt and hurt its human constituents. These consequences were such that they operated to hamper the country’s capacity to leverage it’s widely acclaimed ‘huge potential’ for development. The numerous dimensions of our development challenge have been amply articulated. But for my purpose here, I will identify the following.
Nigeria from the start has been a heterogeneous mix in terms of its cultural, linguistic and ethnic makeup; a reality that necessitated the need to create unity out of the diversity. However, the cruel realities of colonial rule fostered the politicisation of ethnicity. The internal disarticulations engendered by colonial rule among the country’s inheritance elite, and the manner of granting independence, ensured a preference for the political mobilisation of ethnicity to secure political power.
It was, for instance, never in doubt that the British favoured a section of the country and its elite as successor and did everything possible to ensure that the reins of power were handed to this group at independence. This served to entrench antagonism and suspicion among the different ethnic groups in the country, and created an atmosphere where the spectre of ethnic domination became a national obsession. This has worked to focus governance efforts, not on development, but on how to achieve or preserve advantageous power positions for the ethnic groups. This has been the case to date.
The attendant issues and inherent problems of a multi-ethnic society are supposed to be settled or at least mitigated through the institutional mechanism of federalism. However, the ways and manner in which our federal practice has played out has compounded the problems of our diversity, rather than resolve them. The unwieldy federal structure handed over by the British and retained by our inheritance elite, made for an unbearable political burden under which the First Republic eventually collapsed. As Rotimi Suberu and Larry Diamond pointed out: ‘The First Republic labored under immense structural strains largely induced by the British colonial legacy’. Instead of having ‘coordinate’ units working together, Nigeria has been run as a federation of unequal units with inbuilt potential for instability.
In the days of regionalism, one of the regions – the North – was configured to swallow the two others put together, thereby making Nigeria a morbid federalism from the start. According to the law of federal stability advanced by J. S. Mill in his ‘Considerations of a Representative Government’, one part of the federating units must not be so powerful as to be able to vie in strength with the others combined. And when the regions were broken up into states, the latter were little more than appendages of the centre. They still are.
In essence, Nigeria’s federalism has moved from what was described as ‘the regional dogs wagging the federal tail’ to a situation where the federal dog has been wagging the states’ tails. The problematic imbalances in the country’s federalism have made a federalism scholar, John Ayoade, to ponder whether ‘the Nigerian federation was a design error or … an error by design’. The peculiar type of federal system we run continue to pose serious challenges to our capacity as a country to make meaningful development impact in the lives of our people through the other federating units that are closer to the people than the centre.
When the military first came to power, it raised a false hope that it would serve as a bridging force and a force for stability for society, given its imperative of centralised command and control, organisational discipline and internal cohesion. But it soon became clear that the Nigerian military was much less united than assumed. The military in fact came to reflect and reproduce the ethnic cracks and fissures within the society such that, among its personnel, in the words of A.R. Luckham, ‘[i]nterpersonal trust was lacking and the situation became increasingly defined in primordial categories of interaction, like tribe and region’. The eventual breakdown of the army along ethno-regional lines culminated in the Civil War of 1967-1970. It is still in doubt whether that institution has recovered from that affliction.
The military supposedly intervened in the nation’s politics in order to correct the problems confronting the polity which the civilian rulers could not manage. However, the military proved to be more of a compounding factor in the country’s development woes. Indeed, it was the military that effectively changed our federal practice into de facto unitarism. They progressively strengthened the Federal Government, starting with the breakup of the fairly strong regions into weakling states that have little more than the capacity to pay the salaries of their workers.
Worst still, military rule in Nigeria has enthroned and embodied everything that was antithetical to the development of the country. Destructive dictatorship; repression of opposing but qualitative inputs into the political process; institutionalisation of pervasive corruption; devastation of the economy; spread of mass poverty; alienation of the population; militarisation of the polity; and perpetuation of divisions in society, are some of the damages inflicted by military rule on the country. In his ‘A Radical View of Nigeria’s Political Development’, Julius Ihonvbere came up with this damning verdict. For him,
‘military rule closes existing democratic spaces, promotes sycophancy and mediocrity, encourages waste and corruption, and more importantly, encourages political arrogance, intolerance and general undemocratic attitudes. The advent of the military in Nigerian politics has done a major disservice to the nation’s political development’.
It is this sort of performance record that made Chief Obafemi Awolowo to conclude that the worst civilian regime was better than the best military government.
Apart from language, culture, history and geography, faith is an inherent feature of our diversity as a nation. The three major religions in the country are Christianity, Islam and traditional religion. As a very strong element of our diversity, faith permeates the archetypes of our people and exerts a powerful influence on their existence and outlook on life. However, faith on its own is not so problematic; but when it is mixed with politics, it can be a very lethal combination.
The report of the murderous activities of a religious group in the North, Boko Haram, has been disturbing, fuelling pessimism on the fate of the country. What has been projected about the group is its religious face. This regrettably is a misreading of the situation. It is essentially the manipulation of religion to achieve certain political ends.
Unfortunately, the politicisation of religion has been a persistent characteristic of our national existence, with its attendant challenge to our development effort. Years of misrule has made religion a handy tool for the manipulation of the people by the ruling elite. I should like to dwell a bit on the effect of this on the Northern part of the country where it has been most potent. The orgy of mindless violence that we have been witnessing in recent times in the North is a culmination of this sort of manipulation and it has far less to do with Islam, and far more to do with the deplorable material condition of existence of the people. It is therefore no accident that those parts of the North where the raging campaign of terror has originated, and festered, have also been the worst hit by chronic unemployment, gruelling poverty and hideous lack of education. And these are the incendiary materials for the kind of explosion that has been happening.
Available statistics clearly show these parts of the country to be the ‘lowest of the lows’ in terms of human development indices. For far too long the northern ruling elite has employed religion to enthrone and foster a regime of privation, penury and destitution among the masses of the people. When you subject a people to a combined assault of poverty and unemployment, and deny them the mitigating factor of education (in the sense of carefully nurtured and cultivated intellect that can be rationally applied to deal and cope with existential challenges), what you are doing is to systematically breed monsters that will constitute menace to society.
Religion without education is a very potent way to disempower people. It is to deprive them of hope and aspiration to make something meaningful out of their lives. Used only as an instrument of subjection and subjugation, without helping to address the material needs and aspirations of the people, religion will ultimately lose its relevance. The prevailing economic disempowerment of women in this part of the country in the name of religion can only lead to unpleasant social consequences. For, to deprive a society of half of its productive forces is to economically cripple that society and stymie its prospects for development.
It is absolutely inconceivable that a society will make its female constituents unproductive and be economically viable for the long haul. If, as history furnishes us, women were allowed to participate in the wars to expand the frontiers of the Islamic faith, it is only logical that women be allowed to partake in the drive to expand the frontiers of economic production. To do otherwise as it presently obtains in the North is unarguably un-Islamic. The survival of the faith – no less so the survival of the society and the country at large – is tied to its capacity to generate wealth.
The Leadership Question
For me, by far the most challenging dimension of our development problem is that of leadership. Our inability to overcome other identified obstacles to development in the country, including the historical tragedies of colonialism and the Slave Trade, are a function of leadership failure. As formidable a challenge to development as the colonial heritage is, its persistence and resilience can only be put down to a conscious choice on the part of the country’s leaders not to change it. At any rate, there has been the intervention of time and we can no longer blame colonialism for our woes after 53 years of independence. Yes, colonialism determined the trajectory of our development in 1960, but we could have changed that since then.
Again, the pervasive underdevelopment of nigeria can be used to illustrate the crisis of leadership in the country. The Nigerian ruling elite, due to its own perverse socialisation and reinforced by the dysfunction of the colonial state, has tended to be smugly accustomed to maintaining a lifestyle that is disconnected from economic productivity. Aided by its long hold on political power at the centre, this has in turn furthered the view of the state and public office as means of wealth acquisition. Thus, the situation is typical of Claude Ake’s insightful observation about the country that ‘wealth is tendentially dissociated from effort, from productive capitalist enterprise. [With the effect that it] has deprived Nigerian capitalism of its competitive and developmental impetus’.
Any development effort that tends to take away their privileges is sure to have a ‘shock and awe’ impact on a culture of indolent wealth acquisition.
The point being made here is that leadership crisis is the basis of the violent eruptions in the North and similar occurrences in other parts of the country. This is not peculiar to the North. Other parts of the country are embroiled in varying degrees of violence and will soon catch up with the North, except effective leadership emerges at the national and local levels.
Hence, what Nigeria requires above all else is leadership. This is visionary leadership that is conscious of its mission; leaders whose convergence of interest and internal solidarity and cohesion would crosscut societal cleavages. Leaders who would be able to establish effective hegemony over the society and break the nation out of the vicious circle of misery and underdevelopment to the virtuous circle of development and progress.
The need for leadership in our country is so stark that there is little disagreement about it. Dr Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, the Governor of Niger State, affirms this unassailable fact in his speech to the Chatham House last year. He contended:
‘Indeed, surmounting the challenges of today’s world requires leadership with a moral compass — character, vision, integrity and courage to take difficult decisions to enhance socio-economic development, irrespective of whose interest is at stake’.
The difficult decisions required to enhance socio-economic development in Nigeria must necessarily include addressing the structural imbalances in our polity, particularly with regards to our federalism. This will liberate the states from centrally imposed encumbrances and enable the people to enjoy the full benefits of good leadership.
A major challenge of leadership in Nigeria is the institutionalisation of a fair and legitimate process of political contestation through which genuine leadership emerges. Notwithstanding that there has been four cycles of elections of a four-year term since Nigeria’s return to civil democratic rule, it is still very difficult to have free and fair elections in which choices are freely made and the people’s votes count. This is the biggest problem of post military Nigeria from which every other problem derives. Leaders that do not derive their legitimacy from the electorate will not be subject to their control and will not likely take policy options that are acceptable to them.
Secondly, in the process of manipulating elections to impose a particular, usually an unpopular leader, certain institutions would have been compromised or emasculated with consequences that would reverberate long after the dust of election has settled. For instance, a judge that was compromised at the election petition tribunal can also be compromised in civil and criminal suits after the election. Law enforcement agencies that were used to rig elections would be handy to silence protests emanating from politically robbed citizens. The possibilities are endless.
I am one of the few fortunate ones that were able to assume their mandate after winning election, but this was after almost four years of exertions and legal fireworks. I was persecuted and unjustly incarcerated. Our state was under virtual siege while our supporters were killed, hounded into exile and jailed on spurious charges. We were not deterred. We confronted the terror of the Nigerian state and against all odds, we triumphed. I believe the international system can help better by taking more than passing interest in Nigerian elections. If international observers, foreign governments and organisations can help to enthrone a regime of free and fair elections, they will have fewer interventions to make in Nigeria’s affairs. Politics is the father and mother of development; we have the lesson of history that no nation can climb the ladder of development without getting its politics right.
I cannot end this piece without mentioning the impact of globalisation and global capitalism on the development effort in Nigeria. One visible impact of Western popular culture as expressed in entertainment and lifestyles is the swamping of indigenous cultures and erosion of values. In the West, the values that drive innovation, enterprise and production are separate from the popular culture. However, when this popular culture hits a developing country, it took over the youths and disconnects them from their own culture and its values that promote innovation, enterprise and production. Large swaths of young people have been disconnected from the values in their own cultures that predispose them to development and have been left disoriented. We discovered this after my inauguration and one of our first acts in office was to start a campaign of mental reawakening by reminding them of whom they were and of their past greatness. Our people were virtuous and these virtues manifest in codes of chivalry, hard-work and ability to triumph over vicissitudes and challenges. We have to provide this mental infrastructure as a foundation before we can begin to build the superstructure of development on it.
However, global capitalism, with free movement of goods and services, is killing the local industrial capacity, taking jobs from people and creating an army of malcontents. Agriculture (for food and industrial raw materials) has been under siege. It has become far more profitable to trade in goods manufactured in Asia and other parts of the world than to engage in industrial production. Other consequences of unbridled capital like debt peonage and capital squeeze by the West have indeed arrested development and helped to foster large scale poverty. We have the lesson of history on this that we cannot really be rich when we are surrounded by poverty.
I must enter a caveat here that outsiders are not responsible for our condition, even if they have played some roles in it. We must take responsibility for our underdeveloped state and work out our own salvation. Nigerians have to create the right leadership for themselves who will mobilise them for development.
Leadership in Osun
Permit me here to share with you how we have surmounted some of the leadership challenges we faced when our administration was inaugurated on November 27, 2010.
We discovered that the greatest challenge facing our people is jobs and within 100 days, we created 20,000 public sector jobs in what looks Keynesian. This should not sound strange. I am abreast of the literature that put job creation largely in the public sector purview. However, for developing countries at this critical stage, critical state intervention of this nature is necessary. But I digress. I must let you know that this intervention reinflated the economy of the state with immediate impact in every sector. The policy was so successful that the World Bank commended us, asked to understudy it and immediately recommended it as a model of youth engagement and mass employment for other states.
As part of our education reform, starting from next month, we are introducing Opon-Imo, an IPad-like computer tablet, which is a smart electronic teaching aid, to our secondary school students. This tablet is pre-loaded with 17 subjects that students offer during West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) in the form of lesson notes and textbooks. It also contains six extra-curricular subjects in sex education, civic education, Yoruba history, Yoruba traditional religion, computer education and entrepreneurship education.
Also to be included in it is 10 years past questions and answers to be provided by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
The tablet has bridged the gap of carrying books in sacks, their wear and tear and subsequent replacement and also provides ready learning tools. Opon Imo neither has internet connectivity nor does it interface with other devices in order not to distract the students. Knowing that power is still a problem, especially in rural areas where there is no electricity, a solar charger will be supplied with it.
Through this initiative, the state government seeks to expose pupils of its senior secondary schools to information technology at an early age.
Our investment in computer for secondary school pupils was born out of our conviction that the future belongs to the digital age and it will be disastrous if our youth are not prepared for this. The computer has become the centre of the universe whether it is mainframe, desktop, laptop, handheld (as telephone) or palmtop.
In addition, we have commenced the construction of 100 elementary schools, 50 middle schools and 21 high schools. We are the only state providing free meals for elementary 1-3 pupils and free uniforms to all pupils in public schools.
Our agriculture development programme is ambitious. We established Osun Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Programme (OREAP), a multi-ministerial programme that straddles the Ministries of Agriculture, Local Government, Youth Development, Works and Finance. This programme has provided at the last count about 15,000 direct jobs in crop farming, fishing, apiary, poultry, beef chain and related industries. Our target is to capture five per cent of the huge daily food market in Lagos and the South West.
In our drive to change the lot of our people we are propelled by the singular idea that effective leadership is the surest and quickest path to development. Overcoming our development challenge is not as impossible as it has seemed over the years; what has been missing is leadership, and this is what we are determined to provide for our people. We are convinced that by giving good leadership to the people, we will inspire them to rise to the challenge of developing themselves and their society. We subscribe to the wisdom of late President Ronald Reagan that ‘the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things’.
I thank you for giving me your valuable time.