ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, SENATOR, DR IFEANYI OKOWA, GOVERNOR OF DELTA STATE, AT THE 4TH ANNUAL NATIONAL INTEGRATION SUMMIT, ON SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2016, AT THE AUTOGRAGPH, SANI ABACHA ROAD, PORTHARCOURT, RIVERS STATE.
I thank the organisers of this Summit for the courtesy extended me to address this unique gathering. Indeed, I consider it an honour to contribute my quota to the library of thought and information on the subject of national integration.
- After 56 years of existence as an independent country, not many will deny that national integration has so far eluded us. While several attempts have been made by successive administrations to weld the different ethnic nationalities into a cohesive, indivisible entity, it is a fact that the average Nigerian sees himself first as a Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani or Ijaw before considering themselves as Nigerians.
- The ethnic differences have been accentuated with the emergence of terrorism, militancy and insurgency on the
Nigerian political landscape. Against this backdrop, organisers of this Summit deserve plaudits for consistently providing a platform to champion the cause of national integration. History will be kind to you for putting Nigeria first and I pray that you will live to see the fruition of your dream of a united, prosperous Nigeria where all ethnic nationalities are free to pursue their dreams of success and happiness.
- Let me begin my presentation with a definition of the two key terms in this topic, “Economic Prosperity as a Tool for National Integration.” According to Wikipedia, the free online dictionary, “prosperity is the state of flourishing, thriving, good fortune or successful social status. Prosperity often encompasses wealth but also includes other factors which can be independent of wealth to varying degrees, such as happiness and health.”
- Before now, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is “the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period”, has been used to measure
the prosperity of a country and its citizens. But this measure has been challenged by Development Economists who argue that the GDP is an inadequate estimate of a country’s prosperity.
- Current development literature posits that true prosperity must take into account not just the GDP but poverty reduction and income distribution as well as other indicators of national wellbeing such as health care delivery, access to clean drinking water, functional public infrastructure, efficient electricity supply, literate and enlightened populace, decent and secure jobs, material well-being, gender equality, political freedom, political stability and national security.
- In other words, prosperity is all encompassing; in the absence of these conditions in a country what we would have is economic growth that does not translate to the general well-being of the people as we have seen in the recent history of Nigeria and other third world countries.
- National integration refers to the process of forging a common identity and fostering harmonious relationship among the citizens of a country regardless of their ethnic, language and religious differences. It means that NIGERIA FIRST becomes the basis of our association and relating with one another. National integration is rooted in the national consciousness that although we come from different geo political sections of the country, we speak different languages and practice separate religions, our loyalty is to Nigeria, our collective dream and identity.
- Nigeria is enormously blessed with vast natural and human resources. If we get united, this country will be a world beater. Unfortunately, disunity has stood in the way of our greatness for decades. Indeed, some social scientists postulate that Nigeria is not yet a nation; but simply a country of disparate ethnic nationalities living together in a geographical entity called Nigeria, and locked in a fierce battle for supremacy and control of the nation’s resources.
- A little bit of history would suffice at this point. The argument can be made that there was a semblance of national unity under British colonial rule, which sought to create a nation through the famous amalgamation of the North and South in 1914. The introduction of English Language as the Lingua Franca by the British was meant to break the linguistic barriers, and bring about a sense of oneness and nationhood. It is not clear how much this policy succeeded in this regard beyond the fact that we were able to communicate with one another easily.
- What is clear is that the fervour of nationalism was stirred up as the leaders from the different regions came together to resist the oppression of the British and agitate for national independence. But soon after independence, it became apparent that that unity was superficial. It was politically expedient at the time as it was simply a case of ‘your enemy is my enemy’. We were not bound by a national vision and common purpose. Subsequently, primordial loyalties trumped patriotism as every region turned to itself and began to look after its own interests. The result was mutual suspicion and distrust, unhealthy rivalry and internecine political wrangling that have remained with us till this day.
- It is a fact that Nigeria’s march to economic prosperity and greatness has been hampered by political instability, corruption, and poor macroeconomic management, leading to widespread poverty. In 2011, the National Bureau of Statistics observed that poverty in Nigeria was rising with more than 100 million people living on less than one dollar a day despite strong GDP growth. The NBS report showed that the percentage of Nigerians living in absolute poverty — those who can afford only the bare essentials of food, shelter, and clothing — rose to 60.9 per cent in 2010, compared with 54.7 per cent in 2004.
- Applying the United Nations’ definition of a poor person in dollar terms, Dr Yemi Kale, the Statistician-General, disclosed that 51.6 per cent of Nigerians were living below one dollar per day in 2004 but this increased to 61.2 per cent in 2010. In real terms, this meant over one hundred and twelve million Nigerians live in absolute poverty. According to Dr. Kale, “it remains a paradox that despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is growing, the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty is increasing every year.”
POVERTY Vs NATIONAL INTEGRATION
- Within the context of national integration this high rate of poverty has deleterious consequences.
A. Low self-esteem and social exclusion – Poor people are plagued with feelings of worthlessness, dejection and deprivation. They become angry and resentful about the fairness of socio-political arrangements in the society. As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man. When people feel deprived and disadvantaged, they would not think twice of engaging in acts capable of disrupting peaceful coexistence in the society.
- Ethnic and religious bigotry – The ignorance of the poor and their desperate need for survival makes them vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation along Nigeria’s religious and ethnic fault lines.
C. Undermining national security – Social inequality and political marginalisation breed political volatility. Within the last few years, the drumbeats of terrorism, insurgency and kidnapping have become so loud across
the country that Nigeria seems to be hanging precariously on the precipice of social disorder. Militant and insurgent groups readily find the army of the poor a good recruiting ground for their violent agitations. When a man is acutely poor and he has nothing to live for, he will join any group that offers him some form of protection and security to fight against his country, which he now considers an enemy of his progress.
- Successive governments in Nigeria have embarked on several interventionist programmes to address the underlying causes of poverty in Nigeria such as unemployment, ignorance, and lack of family planning. Notable among these interventions were the establishment of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Peoples Bank of Nigeria, Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP) and Family Support Trust Fund (FSTF). Others included the National Centre for Women Development (NCWD), National Commission for Nomadic Education (NCNE) and National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education. More recently, we have had YOU-WIN, an economic empowerment initiative targeted at aspiring graduate entrepreneurs.
PROSPERITY and NATIONAL INTEGRATION
- The prevailing high rate of poverty in the country is clear attestation to the fact that the various policies and programmes, as well intentioned as they were, have not yielded the desired results. It is, therefore, imperative for a thorough review and analysis of why they failed, and the compelling need to come up with new ideas that will not be mere palliatives but give the people the tools they need to migrate from poverty to prosperity in a sustainable manner.
- I am convinced that the first step we need to take as a nation is to cast a vision of economic prosperity for the country, an ideology that is aspirational in nature and that will be the rallying point for all Nigerians no matter their ethnic roots, language and religion.
- The Americans have The American Dream which gives every American, regardless of colour, creed and religion, equal opportunity to achieve their dreams of prosperity and success. The pursuit of that dream enables any individual to rise to any height he/she desires in politics, professional sports and business. It is that ideology that enabled a Hollywood actor to become President of the United States, and an African-American to attain the same height.
- The English practice a system of government called Welfarism, which emphasises equality of opportunity and equitable distribution of wealth. That is why they pay particular attention to their tax system, which enables the country to fund a social welfare system that is regarded as one of the best in the world.
- I believe Nigeria needs to establish its own economic ideology that is clear, distinct and understood by all. This is important because such an ideology will drive all government policies and actions, and how we as citizens relate to one another.
- Delta State, which I am privileged to lead as the fourth Civilian Governor, is a microcosm of Nigeria. It is made up of different ethnic nationalities and has been plagued with the twin evils of inter-ethnic rivalry and widespread poverty. Previous administrations have invested great efforts and enormous resources to combat these hydra herded monsters. We have consolidated on the progress they made by launching an economic prosperity agenda, with the acronym, S.M.A.R.T., which stands for:
- Strategic wealth creation and provision of jobs
- Meaningful Peace building platforms for political/social stability
- Agricultural reforms and accelerated industrialisation
- Relevant Health and education policies
- Transformed Environment through urban renewal
- The dominant theme crisscrossing the five pillars of the agenda is job and wealth creation, consistent with our promise of prosperity for all. In 2015, under our flagship Job Creation Scheme, we trained and established a total of one thousand and twenty seven (1,027) youths under the Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and two hundred and fifty six (256) under the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP). The target for 2016 is 1,000 unemployed youths.
- Our economic agenda is predicated on the belief that every citizen should be given the opportunity to enhance their economic wellbeing through the provision of an enabling environment that empowers them to engage in productive enterprises and maximise their God-given talents. We believe that as people begin to prosper and are able to envision a brighter and more rewarding future for themselves and their families, they are less likely to make decisions and engage in actions that threaten our collective existence.
REFORMING OUR EDUCATION
- It was Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who said that “the foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” And in the words of Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” One of the major causes of poverty in Nigeria is unemployment, which in itself is the offshoot of an educational system whose products are largely unemployable because they do not possess the skill set relevant to the 21st century marketplace. The lack of knowledge capital and innovation are some of the reasons Nigeria is still languishing at the bottom rung of the world’s poverty index.
- The focus of our education has to change from certificate acquisition to skills acquisition. The rise of the Asian Tigers has been fuelled by a robust education system that spawned boundless creativity and innovation among the citizens. It has been said that at least 65% of a country’s development is a function of the human capital therein.
- The teaching and learning experience in our schools must equip the students with the critical thinking skills and creative abilities they require to succeed in a fast paced, high tech world. Using Delta State as an example once again, we have begun the rehabilitation and resuscitation of our technical colleges and polytechnics to give our people the requisite technical and vocational skills to prosper in trade, commerce and business.
- Good governance is required to translate economic prosperity to national integration. It is rooted in the consciousness that leadership is service. When this understanding is in place, leaders implement people-oriented programmes and formulate policies that promote transparency, accountability and responsibility in government. Good governance breeds democratic participation, strong and responsive institutions and respect for the rule of law.
- I will also like to stress on the importance of policy continuity in government. This has been a major setback in our efforts to combat poverty and achieve national integration. In most cases, every new administration is quick to dispense of previous policies and projects started by their predecessors. If succeeding governments at both the Federal and State levels had continued with some of the poverty eradication programmes that they met on ground, perhaps we would have been singing a different tune today.
- As leaders we must resist the temptation to personalise public office and accept the fact that governance is a continuum. As each succeeding government builds upon the legacy of their predecessors, the wheel of prosperity will turn faster and the prospects of that leading to national integration become more feasible.
- I conclude this presentation by noting that economic prosperity is a human aspiration that supersedes every ethnic and sectional loyalty. However, for it to have the prospect of furthering national integration, two conditions must be met.
- First, the prosperity must be shared and broad based. This requires that governments implement policies that foster economic inclusion and promote social harmony. Every effort should be made to ensure that the youth, women, poor and vulnerable in the society are integrated in government policies and programmes. It goes without saying that the ability to provide for the poor and needy through the social welfare system is what has helped the western world to achieve a great deal of national integration.
- Secondly, while widespread poverty is inimical to national integration, I wish to stress that prosperity alone does not guarantee national integration. The socio-political environment must be conducive for it to happen. In a democracy such as ours, the opposition political parties must be allowed to operate unhindered because their suppression, which leads to political marginalisation and disenchantment within the polity, is a sure recipe for chaos and social disorder.
- There must also be the entrenchment of law and order in the society. We must have in place strong and independent state institutions such as the security agencies, a robust and functional legislature, and an independent judiciary. When these institutions are devoid of political control and manipulation, it becomes easier for people to accept their actions and decisions. A sense of belonging to the Nigerian project is engendered and patriotism is ignited.
- It is on this note, ladies and gentlemen, that I want to thank you, once again, for this opportunity to give my insights on this very important discourse.
- Thank you for your time and attention.
- God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- God bless us all.
Office of the Governor