I feel greatly honoured to lead the discussion under the auspices of the HLF Re-union on such an important and timely subject: Retrospective and Prospective Interrogation of the Nigerian State and the way forward.

In my view, self-introspection is normal in any nation. What has however, made our case quite important is the various secessionist agitations and civil strife that have held development down in some parts of the country. Hate and inciteful speeches attain new height by the day and unless something is done to stem this ugly situation, we might find one day that we have no country. In all my years of service at home and abroad it is obvious to me that what precipitates the fall of a nation begins with these internal wrangling and mindless provocations. And I believe the time has come for us to chart a way forward out of this and I am pleased to note that this assembly of noble men and women are prepared to find lasting solutions to our national malice.

  1. Ladies and gentlemen, you have asked me to interrogate the Nigerian nation both in retrospect and prospect. I will like to begin by saying that interrogation itself is healthy. There must be an entrenched system of how to continue to dialogue in finding ways and means of building a nation. But this time around, we must begin to talk to each other rather than talking at each other. I can tell you that my Centre, the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development has been working hard to provide a platform for such dialogue.


3. In a paper I presented in Washington DC some years ago, which has turned out to be prescient, I talked about The Nigerian State and its Enemies…The inspiration for this came from the famous book by the Australian-British Philosopher, late Professor Karl Popper, titled The Open Society and Its Enemies. Ladies and Gentlemen, these enemies are the ones we have to reclaim Nigeria from for us to move forward as a nation. Who are they?

4. The enemies of the Nigerian State are not necessarily individuals. I use the term to encompass those groups characterized by certain negative tendencies, phenomena and traits, which, taken together, constitute serious impediments to the growth, development, corporate existence and efficient functioning of the Nigerian State which serves the interest of the many rather than the few. In other words, they critically undermine the emergence of a strong, united, vibrant, prosperous and just nation. While the enemies of the Nigerian state, which are identified and discussed here, are by no means exhaustive, they constitute, in my view, severally and collectively, some of the most vicious agents at work to either tear Nigeria apart or at least blunt the full realization of the great potentials, which our nation possesses. It is for these reasons that I now proceed to discuss some of these “enemies” of the Nigerian state.

5. Of all the vices, which have reared their ugly heads in enmity against the Nigerian state, it seems to me, that ethnicity or rather the wrong use of ethnicity, ranks as one of the most dangerous. In my view, no measure can blunt ethnic jingoism and advance the cause of national unity more than a determined, honest and manifestly fair effort to treat all Nigerians, irrespective of their ethnic origin, equally before the law as well as the promotion of, and respect for, the human rights of all Nigerians. Writing two centuries ago, Uthman Dan Fodio, a great reformer and leader, had this message for us: “One of the swiftest ways of destroying a kingdom (or State) is to give preference to one particularly tribe over another, or to show favour to one group of people rather than another”. As Abraham Lincoln puts it succinctly, “a house divided against itself cannot stand. Justice and respect for the diversity of our nation are the prerequisites for a Republic that is at peace with itself and consolidates its unity and its democracy.

6. Any meaningful analysis of the enemies of the Nigerian state is bound to identify national indiscipline and elite greed as factors at work against our society. Indiscipline manifests itself in a general unwillingness to abide by laws and regulations designed to achieve a smooth functioning of society as well as the failure to observe the minimum requirements of etiquette and ethics in official and unofficial interaction. It is said jokingly, but with some justification, that one of the distinguishing features of Nigerians is that we readily devise at least ten ways of circumventing every new law or regulation that is passed. National indiscipline prevents the orderly achievement of national goals as an inordinate amount of time is spent on trying to get people to display the minimum orderly behavior, without which civil society can only degenerate into an animal kingdom, with only the strongest surviving.

7. Elite greed is a phenomenon, which manifests itself in the inordinate ambition to illegally amass wealth in breach of public trust, abuse of public office, bribery and corruption and the lack of a capacity to distinguish public from private wealth. Greed among the elite has tended to transform competition for public office into a “do or die” affair, in which the winner must take all. Public office is increasingly seen, not as a call to service and public trust, but as an opportunity to despoil the “Commonwealth”. The phenomenon of elite greed is, however, not confined to the public domain, as the elite in the private sector have also developed an insatiable taste to acquire wealth far in excess of their legitimate capacity. The Nigerian state is the worse for it, and the Nigerian people the worst hit, as scarce resources that should otherwise have been used for development are expropriated by a greedy few.

8. The menace of Boko Haram, which represents one of the greatest threats to the Nigerian state and National security. This is because it represents the ill use of religion and uses sectarian violence to undermine the unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity of our country.


(a). Socio-Economic Inequalities

9.    In bringing about change, building of a common citizenship and common commitment to Nigeria has been an important aspect of our nation-building exertions. But how can we have a common citizenship when the person in Ilorin has a radically different quality of life from the person in Yenagoa?  Or when the woman in Daura is more likely to die in childbirth than the woman in Ibadan? Through the development of the economy and equal opportunities for all, or through the development of social welfare safety nets, mature nations try to establish a base-line of social and economic rights which all members of the national community must enjoy. Not to enjoy these socio-economic rights means that the people involved are marginalized from national life. That is why in many West – European countries, contemporary nation-building in about preventing ‘social exclusion’ or the exclusion of significant segments of the population from enjoying basic social and economic rights. In Nigeria, however, not only are many of our citizens denied basic rights such as the right to education and health, there is also serious variation in the enjoyment of these rights across the country. As a consequence, the citizen is not motivated to support the state and society, because he or she does not feel that the society is adequately concerned about their welfare. Secondly, socio-economic inequalities across the country fuel fears and suspicions which keep our people divided.

10.  Let me draw your attention to some of these socio-economic inequalities. If we take the level of immunization of children against dangerous childhood diseases, we note that while the South-East has 44.6% immunization coverage, the North-West has 3.7% and North-East 3.6%. If you take the education of the girl-child as indicator, you see a similar pattern of inequality with the South-East having an enrolment rate of 85%, South-West 89%, South-South 75%, North-East 20%, and North-West 25%. Only 25% of pregnant women in the North-West use maternity clinics, while 85% of the women in the South-East do.3  It is not surprising that 39% more women die in child-birth in the North-East, compared to the South-West. Education and poverty levels are also important dimensions of inequalities across Nigeria.  If we take admissions into Nigerian universities in the academic year 2000/1, we see that the North-West had only 5% of the admissions, while the South-East had 39%. As for poverty, a onetime Governor of the Central Bank, Charles Soludo, recently pointed out that while 95% of the population of Jigawa State is classified as poor, only 20% of Bayelsa State is so classified.  While 85% of Kwara State is classified as poor, only 32% of Osun State is in the same boat.

11.   These inequalities pose two related challenges. Firstly, high levels of socio-economic inequalities mean that different Nigerians live different lives in different parts of the country. Your chances of surviving child-birth, of surviving childhood, of receiving education and skills, all vary across the country.  If different parts of Nigeria were separate countries, some parts will be middle income countries, while others will be poorer than the poorest countries in the world!  A common nationhood cannot be achieved while citizens are living such parallel lives. Inequalities are a threat to a common citizenship.  Secondly, even in those parts of the country that are relatively better off, the level of social provision and protection is still low by world standards. The 20% that are poor and unemployed in Bayelsa State are still excluded from common citizenship benefits.  We therefore need a Social Contract between the people on the one hand, and the state and nation on the other.  The state and nation must put meeting the needs of the disadvantaged as a key objective of public policy.  Such an approach can make possible a common experience of life by Nigerians living in different parts of the country and elicit their commitment to the nation.  Instead of resorting to the divisive politics of indigene against settler as a means of accessing resources, a generalized commitment to social citizenship will create a civic structure of rights that will unite people around shared rights and goals.

12.   Poverty and nation-building are strange bedfellows, whether the poor are 20% or 85% of the population. A largely marginalized citizenry, increasingly crippled by poverty and the lack of basic needs, can hardly be expected to play its proper role in the development of the nation.  Nations are built by healthy and skilled citizens. On grounds of both equity and efficiency, we need to promote the access of the bulk of the Nigerian population to basic education, health, and housing.  Nigeria needs a social contract with its citizens as a basis for demanding their loyalty and support. It is impossible to deliver equitable social services to Nigerians without plugging the leakages in the nation’s financial resources and fighting a merciless war against corruption. December 2015 report from Global Financial Integrity, “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2004-2013,” finds that developing and emerging economies lost US$7.8 trillion in illicit financial flows from 2004 through 2013, with illicit outflows increasing at an average rate of 6.5 percent per year—nearly twice as fast as global GDP. This study is GFI’s 2015 annual global update on illicit financial flows from developing economies, and it is the sixth annual update of GFI’s groundbreaking 2008 report, “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries 2002-2006.” This is the first report to include estimates of illicit financial flows from developing countries in 2013—which the study pegs at US$1.1 trillion. NIGERIA RANKS 10th as indicated below. China leads the world over the 10-year period with US$1.39 trillion in illicit outflows, followed by Russia, Mexico, India, and Malaysia. China also had the largest illicit outflows of any country in 2013, amounting to a staggering US$258.64 billion in just that one year.

(b). Building Strong National Institutions

13.  Furthermore, the imperative of building strong National Institutions for our Democracy and Development cannot be over-emphasized. One of the greatest challenges of nation-building is that of lack of strong national institution building.  Whether nations are able to manage their political and social disputes peacefully, without lapsing into conflict, or sustain economic growth without creating huge inequalities, critically depend on the quality of the relevant national institutions. In this regard, there are three important components to institution building:  setting the rules; hiring persons with the technical expertise and moral competence to interpret the rules or implement the goals of the organizations; and ensuring that the institutions inspire public confidence by being accountable, transparent, fair and consistent. These are also the standards by which the performance of any organization, in particular, public sector organizations should be measured. This shows that the act of creating the organization itself is not as important as its proper functioning and overall effectiveness. In this regard, Nigeria needs to create or strengthen institutions that would help achieve the national goals of holistic security, democratic governance and sustainable socio-economic development.

(c). Elections and Democracy in Nigeria

14. This presentation would be incomplete without a word or two on the past 2015 Elections and, in essence, the “rebirth” of democracy in our nation. Nigeria now has a new opportunity to deepen its democracy and deliver its dividends such as quality social services, including especially education and health, prosperity and security of life and property. Undoubtedly, the government is faced with very high expectations but these are accompanied by enormous goodwill within and outside Nigeria. One thing is clear however, change must not remain a slogan; the governments that have been elected on that platform must deliver on campaign promises and resist being highjacked or diverted by forces that do not believe in change and what change should bring to the masses of the people.

15. The government can succeed by carrying everybody along through inclusive government. We must give that support while insisting on a permanent end to impunity and zero-tolerance for official corruption. Again, political parties in Nigeria must abandon “the current political normadism where the sole purpose is for acquisition of power in order to satisfy parochial interest of the political class (and not of the people). To attain this, it is important that parties are based on issues, group interests and ideology”.

16. Whilst it is good to have successful elections, periodic elections in themselves, do not ensure good governance. Elections are not an end in themselves rather a process leading to the real business of governance. Elections 2015 in Nigeria and the emergency of President Muhammadu Buhari as the President Federal Republic of Nigeria represent a watershed with the potential to cross a threshold into a new era in global governance and human experience. Nigerians successfully went to the polls and achieved an uncommon feat even when there was palpable tension in the country.

17. Nigerians want to see the intensification of the anti-corruption battle on all fronts with thorough investigations and convictions which serves as credible deterrence. They want to celebrate the decimation of the Boko Haram and an end to insurgency; they want to see an improved economy where there is job creation and wealth creation; they want to see a fiscal regime that firms up the naira against the other currencies through effective control of the oil economy and a well diversified economic culture; they want to see and live in a society where kidnapping is effectively checked; and above all, Nigerians want to see a restructured country where the peoples’ energies are efficiently tapped and run for over-all national wealth creation.

18. The government must ensure that true change is delivered, as there is no value added to change without substance. There should be change in all facets of our existence as a country. I believe the notion of change and harnessing the multi-faceted expectations of many Nigerians regarding what it means, are the biggest challenges Governments at all levels now need to focus and how to address the burden of huge expectations from the populace. Think big but start small. The need to manage our collective expectations in the face of change is predicated on the fact that Nigeria needs to get back on track with the business of developing and improving the lives of her citizens. A task that requires more urgent attention now in the face of damning evidence of how badly the nation and its institutions have failed in delivering efficient public goods and services in the past 18 years of democracy. A look at the manifesto of different political parties reveals a shopping list of broad policy statements which require more clarity as to how the expectations of Nigerians will be met and managed in key public policy areas. Education, health, the economy, job creation and youth employment all have broad policy statements that should depart from same stories of previous administrations. Therefore, I call for strategic approach to meeting citizen expectations and where challenges exist appropriate explanations should be given.

(d). Service Delivery

19. An unbundling of service delivery bottlenecks within the complex layers of our peculiar federal state will be key to successful change in all the sectors of our national life begging for change. This should inform a restructuring of the civil service in a way that aligns national priorities with specific agency mandates. Parallel and duplicating functions that abound in our current public service agencies and remain avenues for inefficiency of production must be tackled with the same zeal as corruption and insecurity. In reality, the changes desired by the Nigerian populace can only be delivered when services delivered within the public sector (both civil and public services) reflect a harmonisation of the yearnings and expectations of citizens from government at all levels. How effectively the new governing party achieves this marriage of expectations and bridges the gaps will determine its success as change agents.

20. Putting service delivery at the heart of governance reflects an understanding that the perception of government/governance effectiveness is directly related to the experience of citizens when they access or are unable to access public goods and services. Unfortunately in Nigeria, this connection has in recent times been reduced to “stomach infrastructure” — made available only during electioneering seasons. This is where the real change must happen for governance to be meaningful, in spite of high sounding numbers about economic growth and perceived national prosperity that leaves the poor feeling poorer. Effective and efficient service delivery is the magic glue that closes the expectation gap between government and the governed. Therefore, if the APC-led government is to succeed in its change agenda, and thus actualize their defined objective of instituting a set of progressive social welfare programmes need to engender a more robust public accountability framework under which each layer of government can be held accountable for failure of service delivery. It is only by setting clear performance standards in policy implementation; standards derived from wide consultations with citizens as critical stakeholders, that the new administration will set a new bar for meeting citizen expectations which currently range from the most simple, to sometimes unrealistic demands

IV. Concluding Remarks

21. It is to the credit of Nigerians that in the face of years of broken promises and dashed hopes, they have remained resilient, enduring the worst adversity where others might have buckled. Yet, as experience through history has shown, a resilient people cannot be taken for granted indefinitely lest they rise in revolutionary fervour and take matters into their own hands. It is one of the reasons why the change agenda of President Buhari cannot be allowed to go the way of previous promises of change. There are, of course, other cogent reasons why the change agenda of the government will deserve to be supported, not least among them the fact that the misrule, mismanagement, and wanton theft by high office holders almost nearly precipitated a situation of wholesale institutional collapse in the country. Also, on a scale and range not seen since the civil war, armed hostilities in the northeast of Nigeria and persistent low-intensity violence in the Niger Delta threatened the territorial integrity of the country.
22. If the promise of change promised by President Buhari was credible enough before the generality of Nigerians as to contribute to the defeat of the erstwhile ruling party and propel him to power, it is in part because of his personal credentials as a person of personal integrity.
23. However, it needs to be restated again and again, that the sustainability of an agenda of change, cannot, depend on one person and must involve a collective endeavour to open a new Chapter in national life that would represent both a clean break with the past and the opening of a new gateway into the future. We must act collectively so that we can take our country back from the enemies of the Nigerian state- the looters and destroyers of our national resources. To this end, a wholesale attitudinal change combined with new codes of leadership and followership need to be embraced across different segments of society. Institutions of governance, many of them playing dual but complementary roles in nation- and state-building, will need to be reinvigorated so as to serve as the bedrocks they were meant to be in the administration of public affairs. A new compact will need to be established between rulers and citizens that will serve as a basis for our collective audit of the performance of those to whom we entrust our national destiny.

24. In the 18 years since the emergence of the Fourth Republic, Nigerians have strived to build their country into Africa’s and one of the world’s biggest democracies. However, there has been a deficit of delivery which, in popular parlance, is referred to as the absence of democratic dividends. In the pursuit of the contemporary agenda of change, close attention will need to be paid to the measures and steps that would need to be taken to overcome grinding poverty and want among Nigerians, narrow the growing inequality that is increasingly defining the national landscape, invest in the public provisioning of accessible and quality educational and health services, build an integrated social policy that feeds back into economic development, grow the national economy to generate jobs for a teeming population of young Nigerians, revive and expand the real sectors of the economy with particular attention to manufacturing and agriculture, and renew the national infrastructure across the board.

25. Notwithstanding the challenges of our immediate past and our present exciting possibilities still exist. We must continue to build the enabling environment for the requisite transformation which we must undergo in order to entrench sustainable development and reposition Nigeria for competitiveness. The CHANGE mantra has awakened in the Nigerian a new consciousness of the imperative for a girding of the loins for the enormous challenges – economic, political, security, that confront us.

26. What is key at this point is a clear definition of the content and the context of the CHANGE we seek. Equally critical is the identification and assignment of roles with respect to the respective agents of this CHANGE which we so sorely need for national rejuvenation. Perhaps most important, is the necessity for the requisite political will on the part of government to make the inevitable difficult choices and hard decisions in a structured, well thought-out, equitable and fair manner. Believing that if we can find the will to offer such a leadership, and support it by strong and dependable political and economic institutions, we will find a way to our national greatness and sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy.

27. No doubt, where citizens are able to establish a link between democratic governance and improvements in their living conditions, they are able to renew their faith in the inclusivity and representativeness of that system of government. Where citizens feel included and come to understand that their voices count on an everyday basis, standards of governance are improved and the political culture benefits through improvements that ensue in the conduct of politicians. Inclusivity also contributes to the processes of nation and state-building which remain unfinished parts of the national agenda. It is within our grasp as a nation and a people to turn the corner. We must find the will to call a stop to all the factors that have hampered our progress to date. And we must set only the highest targets and most rigorous standards for ourselves as a mark of self-respect and in the firm understanding that in the end, the change that will matter will be the one that brings about transformation in all spheres of our national life.

28. I thank you for listening and happy Democracy Day.

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