By Nuhu Ribadu
50 years ago, the founding fathers of our great nation secured independence for us and laid the foundations for a united Nigeria. They had unwavering faith in the people of this country; that when the fetters of colonization were removed they would be able to transform their lives for the better. They firmly believed that Nigerians would create the systems and enduring processes that would deliver economic growth and stability, egalitarian development, improved living conditions and quality of life for the people. They built schools and universities; they established banks and other financial institutions, farm settlements, and various industries as precursors of a vibrant economy with a small, but enterprising private sector.
They tried to nurture a fledgling democracy. Their aspirations were abruptly terminated by a military coup in January 1966. After the long years of military rule and several half-hearted attempts to return the country to democratic governance, the people’s right to freely elect their leaders and representatives was restored in May 1999. The restoration brought high expectations, the hopes and promises encapsulated in freedom. Those expectations have not been met; the promises remain unfulfilled.
Today we are on the threshold of another general election, the fourth since the restoration of democracy. I believe this is an opportunity for change, to orientate our shared values into restoring the foundations of our nation. I believe it is possible to build a united Nigeria devoid of ethnic or religious conflicts; a Nigeria
where the well-being of the people is of paramount importance; a Nigeria that inspires the highest level of patriotism in her citizens. I believe that it is possible to ensure justice for the people, to ensure the security of lives and property, and the peace and stability that would engender growth and development.
I know that you also believe that it is possible. And that is why, standing with you on this faith in our nation’s capacity to transform into a NEW NIGERIA, I declare my intention to run for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I learnt the true meaning of public service from my late father, Mallam Ahmadu Ribadu, who was a minister in the First Republic. Growing up in Yola, I watched and listened as my father and his colleagues, drawn from all parts of the country, selflessly grappled with the challenges of their time. I understood that public service meant putting the interest of the people first. It meant working with them, and consistently doing those things that would ultimately improve their lives and empower them to contribute to the development of the country.
I chose to study law at university because it had become clear to me from events in the nascent Nigeria that the rule of law was vital to national stability and progress. I started my working life in Lagos, one of our great cities, where all of our people, Muslims and Christians, poor and privileged come together in their daily struggle to earn a living. I chose Lagos because I learnt as a child, from the example of my father’s compound, that a good way to understand a nation with such diversity as ours is to leave your own comfort zone and dwell among its people where their various energies complement each other.
I chose to join the Nigeria Police Force because to be a policeman is to serve your nation, putting your very life on the line. My career as a police officer culminated in my being chosen to head the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. If you spend your entire life preparing for public service, you cannot but achieve results when you are given the opportunity to serve with the right team. The efforts of my colleagues and I, in turning this government institution into one of the most reputable crime-fighting agencies in the world, in the short space of four years, was not a fluke. Our modest achievement at the EFCC was not a miracle.
But when you fight corruption, corruption fights back. Our lives and the lives of our families were threatened. Twice I escaped the assassin’s bullets and was forced to leave this country I love so dearly; to leave my wife and young children and go into exile in 2008. My public service career was abruptly terminated. In spite of these ordeals, it never crossed my mind to give up the hope of a better Nigeria.
The time has come to turn a new page. If you, fellow Nigerians, elect me as your next president, competence will be the hallmark of policy formulation and execution. I shall bring into public service very capable individuals to ensure the Nigerian taxpayers get value for their investment in government.
Nigerians now have an opportunity to lead the quest for change in terms of political and socio-economic development. Together, we will set the stage for a NEW NIGERIA, a dynamic society that will be the vanguard of the efficient and effective utilization of the huge endowment of natural and human resources of the African continent for rapid economic growth and development.
The first port of call in this vision of restructuring our economy for growth and development is the simple challenge of returning humility to government. Last year alone, while our country earned about N86 Billion in revenue, at least half went on imports that includes some of the most exotic vanities a developing country should encourage. This is not the path to progress. Already we are running a scandalously shameful budget ratio where overheads and recurrent expenditure is a staggering 75% of annual spending; and where the 25% balance is sure to disappear through the notorious corruption chute.
The pervasive poverty in Nigeria can be attributed to the inefficient utilization of our abundant resources characterised by poor leadership, gross mismanagement, nepotism, and most insidiously, corruption. Poverty reduction, therefore, will be an underlying factor in addressing the challenges of development in the 21st century. The structures and institutions that underpin economic prosperity will be thoroughly overhauled starting with the development of human capital. Knowledgeable, healthy, creative, and hardworking people will be the pivot for the new Nigeria.
The health sector is critical to the welfare of the entire citizenry, especially our women and children who are exposed to the greatest risks. Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The mortality rates for infants and children under the age of five years are also among the highest in the world, a clear reflection of the failure of the primary health care system. It is totally unacceptable that large numbers of Nigerian children are dying of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases in the face of tremendous advances in this area of health care.
We will work assiduously to establish an effective primary health care system. We will also develop facilities that will ensure that the widest range of advanced medical care is available to all our people locally. To this end, six super specialist hospitals namely, National Heart Hospital, National Kidney Hospital, National Cancer Hospital, National Children Hospital, National Women Hospital and National Neurosurgical Hospital, will be built across the six geopolitical zones of the country.
Another issue that requires serious attention in the health sector is the dearth of skilled/qualified personnel especially in the rural areas, and this is a major contributor to high maternal and infant mortality rates. Concerted effort will be made to remedy this situation, and to also encourage greater specialisation in various fields of medicine for which personnel is highly lacking. The pharmaceutical industry will be supported to provide essential drugs; and the issue of fake and sub-standard drugs will be treated with the urgency and national attention it requires.
Functional and qualitative education is important for positive social transformation, personal empowerment and national development. Our education sector faces huge challenges in terms of funding, access, and quality assurance, among others. We shall significantly increase funding as a step towards attaining the UNESCO recommendation of 26% budgetary allocation to the education sector. To improve access at all levels namely, primary, secondary and tertiary education, the Federal, State and Local Governments will be encouraged to work together to expand facilities and train additional personnel; quality assurance at all levels will also receive appropriate attention. Adult literacy and non-formal education programmes will be put in place to enable all citizens to contribute effectively to national development.
We will invest time, effort, and resources in the economic empowerment of women and improve their participation in politics and decision-making. We will create a caring and inclusive society where vulnerable Nigerians, particularly the elderly, orphans and vulnerable children, and the physically challenged, will be covered by a social security programme. We will develop a secure and efficient identity management system as a first step towards establishing such a programme.
The key thrust of our economic policy will be to create jobs and provide employment for our people, especially the youth. We shall budget within our means, reduce over-spending, and plan for a steady and attainable economic growth rate of 7-8% per year for the next five years and 8-10% per year for the years following that.
We will invest in infrastructure, in health and education, and in creating the enabling environment for thriving investment in all key sources of growth and development, namely agriculture, the extractive industry, manufacturing, financial services, information and communication technology (ICT), arts and culture, as well as housing and construction. These sectors hold the true key towards genuine economic recovery. To give just an instance, while the current housing crisis requires investment in 16 million houses to resolve it, a smart annual investment in one million houses could yield 30 million jobs.
These measures are impossible without adequate supply of electricity. Therefore, I emphasise that the perennial problem of insufficient power will be quickly brought to an end. Various sources of producing electricity, namely water, gas, coal, wind, and nuclear will be explored. Indeed a nation with eleven idle coal sites alone cannot advance a convincing argument against investment in clean coal technology to power its economy.
Many of our roads are in deplorable conditions mainly because of the high volume of heavy traffic on them and lack of maintenance. We will partner with the private sector in building and operating a modern railway system in order to reduce the burden on the roads and make them to last longer. The crucial role of the private sector in growing our economy and creating employment cannot be over-emphasized.
We have a private sector that is capable of great enterprise and we will encourage this by streamlining the processes that tend to escalate the cost of doing business in Nigeria. We will also minimize the time required to start a small business. Our greatest asset is our large population of young people, full of energy and ideas; and it is the responsibility of both the government and the private sector to provide the opportunities that will enable our youth unleash their creative energy in the productive ways that will help to propel us into the echelons of the largest global economies.
In doing all these, we must be mindful of the fact that governance is about the people; it is about their well being. Our conduct as both public officers and captains of industry must be such as would support the well being of our people, our nation. To this end, we must fight every form of corruption and ensure that our people enjoy the full benefits of our national resources. Our processes and transactions must be transparent in order to inspire confidence and we will empower the anti-corruption agencies to effectively discharge their mandates.
In setting an effective development agenda for Nigeria, discipline, crime prevention and law enforcement as well as overall national security will be accorded the highest priority. The appropriate penalties must apply to infringements of rules and regulations; and the penalties must constitute enough deterrent to prevent future misdemeanours. Non-enforcement or partial enforcement of laws causes chaos and encourages all manner of anti-social behaviour and excesses bordering on impunity.
The importance of discipline in the development of any society cannot be over-emphasized because the effects permeate both individual and communal life and contribute towards the proper organisation and smooth running of any system. Discipline, hard work, courage, and perseverance were fundamental to the philosophy or values of our founding fathers. We also need to embrace these values in order to build a safe, peaceful, and stable Nigeria; a strong Nigeria that will lead by example in the Gulf of Guinea and the rest of Africa; and be a worthy partner on the global scene.
To complement this, we shall give premium to the welfare and competence of our security forces, and the military, and attend to decades of neglect in the military where efforts to keep the world safe through peace mission operations have created in our army perhaps the largest global community of neglected widows.
The issues I have raised are fundamental to setting Nigeria on the path to greatness. The outcome of any sound economic policy depends wholly on the ability of the people who run the system to faithfully implement it and, basically, that implies an educated, healthy, competent, and disciplined workforce. The catalyst, however, is leadership; a leadership with the commitment and political will to follow through on difficult, sometimes painful and tough decisions. A leadership that is mature enough not to jettison an idea or abandon an on-going project that would be of tremendous benefit to the nation simply because it was initiated by someone else, or another administration. I pledge, before you all today, that I will provide the required leadership. And in the spirit of transparency and accountability, I promise that our plans will be published so that Nigerians can track our progress.
Much as I would like to talk about the issues and challenges in every sector, I will conclude with the Niger Delta. Nowhere is the shame of our nation more visible than in the Niger Delta. To say this is not to claim that the other regions have been symbol of excellence, but the burden we face as a nation is the lack of gratitude to the region that produces the bulk of our wealth. There is no gainsaying that there are critical issues that must be resolved in this part of our beloved country - youth militancy, oil spills and environmental degradation, unemployment, and so on. These are challenges that we will address with empathy and resourcefulness.
I wish to reiterate that it is possible to build a united Nigeria, devoid of ethnic and religious conflicts; a peaceful and stable Nigeria where lives and property are secure; a place where law and order reign; a beautiful, happy place that we will all be proud to bequeath to our children, and to generations yet unborn. It is important for us to set the stage for growth, peace and prosperity in these early years of the 21st century. The next few years are critical and there is much work to be done. We have always had the means but not the capacity to fulfil our God-given potential as a nation. God willing, we shall remedy this and enable Nigeria to rise as a true Giant of Africa. We, Nigerians, are a people of faith; may the Almighty, Faithful God reward our faith.