Text of an address by former Lagos State Governor and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu at the the 9th Colloquium to mark his 65th birthday in Lagos
It is more than gratifying to mark my birthday in this good way. To all of you – many who have traveled great distances – I am honored that you joined me today. Though the event banners speak my name, this gathering is not about me. It is about that which a people united in purpose must do to improve their beloved country.
We build the nation we seek by forcing ourselves to become that nation, day by day, step by difficult step. We do so by casting aside the prejudices of yesterday to forge a more just society where no Nigerian is held down because of his place of origin, his faith or social station. But where all have the chance to rise by dint of honest labor and constructive enterprise. This is as God intended us to be. We have no choice but to achieve this destiny.
Before we go further, I give special thanks to Vice President Osinbajo.
Leading a group of fellow commissioners who worked together during my time as governor of Lagos, Yemi and this creative group have turned this event into an annual reality.
Each year, they assemble creative minds to address the issues that stand in the way of our national greatness. As a result, the colloquium gets better by the year.
In this and so much else, the VP has proven himself a true servant of the Nigerian people. While our dear President had to be away, the VP performed admirably as his loyal subordinate.
I applaud President Buhari. He meticulously followed our constitution in temporarily transferring the helm to the VP. As such, these two excellent men exemplified teamwork and the true meaning of unity of purpose.
A selfless leader, President Buhari set the stage by giving strategic policy direction. Showing himself equally selfless, our VP, as acting president, worked as the faithful arm of the President, diligently putting in action what President Buhari had directed him to do.
Two men of different backgrounds, faiths and professional experiences forged themselves into a team managing complex matters of governance in a seamless, smooth manner.
Try as critics might, they could not create any space between the President and his deputy. This is how things are when people are united in vision and purpose. As President Buhari and his VP have been, we all must become.
I have been told that I must utter some brief comments. Given that this event has rendered you a captive audience and that my birthday affords special privileges that disappear the next day, I will take undue advantage to give more than brief comments.
More than any hour in our recent history, Nigeria stands at a defining juncture. Our challenges are manifold and profound. But so are our collective abilities and talents. The balance will then tip in favor or against us as our commitment and political will to succeed dictate.
Today we must ask a most fundamental question: Is our our political economy structured for the benefit of man or have we reduced man to be subservient to the impersonal political economy?
The correct answer looms self evident. The political economy should be for the benefit of man. In reality, we do not first try to reshape the economy to realize optimal benefit for the people. Instead, we have been conditioned to demand that the people contort themselves to fit the dictates of what the economy is or what it isn’t.
I reject this harsh path. It violates the tenets of morality and of sustainable economics itself.
We must begin and end our pursuit of economic balance with the precious things this nation produces.
You see, Nigeria is actually a prolific manufacturer. It has produced 170 million of the most adaptive, industrious economic units on earth.
I talk about our people. Our task is not to lament their great numbers but to reform the political economy in a manner that puts them to productive work.
The old model upon which this economy has so long sputtered, has crashed right before our eyes. We must retool ourselves. A new outlook is needed.
Even at the best of times and with the highest of oil prices, widespread poverty, gross inequality and high unemployment of man, machinery and material described our condition.
The decline in oil prices turned our extant economic model into rubble overnight. If we do nothing to reform it, we have done nothing less than enter into an economic suicide pact with ourselves.
Fortunately, the current government has begun the sometimes painful process of salvage and reform.
I offer a few personal insights, hoping they may be of some help in this vital economic reformation.
No populous modern nation with a significant urban population has attained prosperity without creating an industrial base capable of employing great numbers of the urban population and of manufacturing goods for domestic consumption and export.
We must learn from England which barred the export of textile looms at dawn of the Industrial Revolution, from the high tariffs America imposed for over 150 years after its independence. From China which implemented a most comprehensive protectionist regime to become the world’s most prolific manufacturer.
These three nations represent the past, present and immediate future of economic achievement.
Yet we depart from what has proven effective. The manuals of mainstream economics tell us not to do as these nations did. We oddly choose to believe falsehoods written in the books at the expense of the truth on the ground.
We must press forward with a national industrial policy fostering development of strategic industries that create jobs and spur further economic growth.
As part of this plan, government should institute a policy of tax credits, subsidies and the insulation from the negative impact of imports critical for these sectors.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND POWER
Closely complementing the industrial plan, we need a national infrastructure plan. New structures need to be built and existing ones enhanced so that we enjoy a coherently planned and integrated infrastructural grid. A national economy cannot grow beyond the capacity of the infrastructure that serves it.
Of utmost importance, we must conquer the political and bureaucratic bottlenecks preventing affordable, reliable electrical power.
This impediment places us literally and figuratively in the dark regarding our economic condition.
The problems are not technical in nature as reliable electricity is a staple of economic life in nations less endowed than Nigeria.
We must persuade and convince those factors that currently impede our national quest for reliable power to move aside so that we can achieve this crucial precursor to economic vitality.
CREDIT, MORTGAGES AND INTEREST RATES
Modern economies are built on credit. However, credit for business investment and consumer spending is too costly in Nigeria to be of much help.
Consumer credit mechanisms must be more accessible to the average consumer. Prevailing custom still requires a consumer to purchase in one lump sum a house, a car, a refrigerator. This is oppressive. It defeats the average consumer and dampens economic activity.
Moreover, this systemic credit malpractice fosters corruption. Hardly any can save so much that they are able to pay for a house or car all at once. To acquire the lump sum amounts, decent people are tempted to do what they would not even consider if consumer credit was practically at hand.
We have to revamp our government-backed home mortgage system. Mortgage loan agencies need to be better funded, they must liberalize eligibility requirements so more people qualify and they should provide longer-term mortgages with manageable interest rates.
At last year’s colloquium, we discussed a commodity exchange boards and futures markets to ensure minimum farm incomes and encourage production. We now need to summon the heart and courage to implement ideas that have consistently proven themselves in other countries. If we try, these measures will ably acquit themselves here.
In conclusion, one additional thought shall suffice. Here I add a third part to this year’s theme. Not only must we use what we make and make what we use. We must make what the world values.
A nation does itself better by manufacturing a good and affordable appliance or car than in cultivating a sublime mango or perfect banana. We must not allow our present comparative disadvantage in manufacturing to keep us from pursuing a tomorrow where that disadvantage is abolished.
We stand at a moment where history will be made for better or worse. Consequently, we must use our creative insight to peer into tomorrow to see what the rest of the world may want to buy, then devote ourselves to making these products.
Neither Japan nor South Korea had significant iron ore deposits. Yet they built steel industries as the foundation for their impressive rise in car manufacturing.
Nigeria must act in similar fashion. We must remember nothing that another nation can do is beyond our grasp even if we do not currently have the thing in hand. This is the change that we can and must achieve.