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Bola Tinubu: Work for the people, that the people may work for themselves

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I want to thank President Buhari for sharing this special day with me. The pressure of affairs facing the leader of a nation is such that you could have easily found reasons why you could not participate. Instead you chose to be here and to even give me the compound honor of accepting to be the Chairman of this occasion. Mr. President, you have gone far these past few years in laying a good foundation for the economic recovery of the country. We shall go farther still so that Nigeria truly reaches the next level with you leading the way.

Here I must also thank our dear First Lady Aisha Buhari for her zeal, support and commitment to the betterment of this nation. You are a true role model for women in Africa.

I commend the Vice President, my dear friend, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and his team for organizing another excellent Colloquium. VP Osinbajo and his team have done a fine job bringing us together again this day. You have enhanced our democratic and economic discourse at a moment when such public discussion is greatly needed.

I thank our party chairman and members of the national working committee and congratulate them once again for working as a dedicated team to re-elect our president and also ensure that we achieved a majority in the National Assembly. I thank all the governors and governors-elect present. I thank all National Assembly members and members-elect present. I thank the Ministers here present. I thank all the state assembly members, local government chairmen and other officials for being here.

I especially thank our traditional rulers and religious leaders. Your words of wisdom and calls for peaceful co-existence and tolerance have always been a source of inspiration and a soothing balm for our people.

I thank my darling wife, my family and all my friends who put aside their own personal business to join us today.

Looking unto this cordial and supportive gathering and feeling the enthusiasm that has animated this moment, I cannot help but feel that we are on the right track.

You see, Next Level is not just a trendy campaign phrase to be quickly discarded once victory has been achieved.

It has a much deeper and more profound meaning, perhaps even more than its authors contemplated. This is because we are a nation still in the process of defining itself politically and economically.

In this process, it is tempting and easy to borrow indiscriminately from those nations that seem to have mastered the art of democratic governance and to have achieved economic prosperity.

However, to achieve durable progress, we can’t afford to work hard but in mindless devotion to the ways of other nations.

This truth is particularly acute when these very nations now face fundamental political and economic questions that cast doubt on the social utility and viability of the economic model under which they have travelled for the past 50 years.

The global economy faces stiff headwinds. Factors not of our making now cast the world economy towards low growth.

Consumer spending is slipping. Aggregate private debt has attained historic levels. America and China are in a trade tug-of-war. Brexit looms imminent. Whatever form Brexit takes, economic dislocation will emerge from the political confusion now underway.

Even without Brexit, the EU itself has entered a rough patch. The Eurozone may already be in recession. Stock markets experience wild swings that speak to an underlying weakness and pessimism about the immediate future.

Forecasters are predicting a global recession within the next 12-18 months.

I render these observations not to frighten anyone but because they ring true. Wisdom requires that we accept reality instead of obscuring it under the cloak of wishful thinking. We must build policies that interact with the world as it is, and not with the world as it should be.

We must recognize these harsh economic tidings as advance warnings to the wise. Hence we must think deeper and work harder for our people in Nigeria.

I would be a most wicked friend if I knew a storm was approaching yet convinced you to ready your family for an outdoor picnic under the tallest tree. The truth is always a more valuable guardian than fantasy.

Mr. President, you have warned several times that the storm that approaches is not inevitable. It is born of a human folly and reckless greed. This means that it can be rectified by human wisdom and prudential action.

At this point we must recognize a fundamental truth of our time. The economic model upon which the world is built is unraveling. The coming downturn is just a symptom of this great upheaval.

The global economy faces either genuine reform or gathering ruin.

Because of this, the economic cohesion of Western nations is weakening. Income inequality has reached levels unseen in a century. The middle class in most countries is shrinking.

Wages stagnate while prices are on a ceaseless march upward.

In America, progressives champion a Green New Deal – a massive government program to modernize that nation’s aging energy infrastructure and to create job programs to keep the middle class from becoming an endangered economic species.

In France, the yellow vests protest the austere policies of the Macron government. The vests have the sympathy of the people.

Brexit, no matter how misguided, was in large part a primal scream by people who feared the EU was responsible for their diminished economic conditions. The frustrated British would have been more accurate had they pointed the finger at a culprit closer to home – the austerity policies of two consecutive Tory governments.

People the world over are questioning the centre-right conservative model that has, with few exceptions, governed the world for the last half century. In one form or another, people are protesting the way things are, and progressive politicians are trying to help the people change things for the better.

The Next Level must be seen as part of this global and historic dynamic.

Our pursuit of the Next Level cannot be achieved by blindly following the economic path of other nations. That would be tantamount to racing to live in a building just as its long-term occupants were frantically rushing out, screaming that the edifice was mean and crumbling.  If we are smart, we dare not enter.

Instead, we must construct our Next Level on a progressive ideology and vision that will take our people out of penury, diversify our economy more aggressively, and empower and retrain our youth.

To be the great nation we purport to be, we must reform and retool our economy according to our definition of what is best for our own people. We cannot assign that duty to anyone else.

Here, I must ask for a little liberty to amend the fine title of this colloquium: “Work for the people.” We must do more than simply work for the people.

Government must “work for the people in a way that enables them to better work for themselves.”

We must amend our basic ideas about the economy.  We must divorce ourselves from our fixation with GDP rates and similar statistics. These things were initially intended to be indicators, suggestive measurements. However, we have misinterpreted these road maps by treating them as if they were the destination itself.

This has caused us to distort the organic relationship between the people and the economy.

This dominant train of thought has made the people servants to the dictates of abstract economic theories. In a more effective system, the economy would be fashioned to serve the concrete needs and legitimate aspirations of the people.

Our economy must be redefined to be an efficient yet moral social construct with the primary goal of optimizing the long-term welfare of the people through the sustained, productive and full employment of labour, land, capital and natural resources.

In the current global context, the best translation of laissez faire economics is “let’s stay poor” economics.

To believe that we are at our best when everyone focuses solely on maximizing their own position is to believe that one hundred hands can clutch at the same naira note but no one will get scratched.

To pull the nation from poverty, government must play a decisive role. It must at times direct and even develop markets and opportunities. This is nothing novel. I am only restating what the established economies did when they were young and assumed their trajectories toward growth.

Yet, how do we organize ourselves to meet this task?

Like no Nigerian government before, I believe the second administration of President Buhari shall dedicate itself to changing the very structure of our economy for the better.

The single most important sector for the government’s focus is infrastructure. The most important of our infrastructural demands is power. This has been the greatest discovery of humanity in the last thousand years.

  1. POWER:

Affordable and reliable power will drive the industrialization that shall provide jobs in our cities and produce needed goods for all our people. In a more poetic rendering, it will take our people out of the dark ages and bring the nation into the light of a better day.

I believe the second Buhari administration will work to increase electricity generation, transmission and distribution by more than 50 percent within the next 4 years.

We require serious and bold reforms to achieve this. What is happening to our gas pipelines? Whatever we have to invest now for our future is a task that must be done boldly. The PDP administration shared out generation, distribution and transmission to their friends and cronies without very deep and thoughtful research and evaluation. It has now become pork chops. This privatisation must be revisited. Put experts together for a more constructive reform to improve generation, transmission and distribution by any means necessary. We cannot afford to be too legalistic about this.

Also, we should push to end the practice of billing people for electricity they never received. This practice is a vestige of the past that should not accompany us into the future.  A person should be charged accurately and only for the power that they use.

  1. Infrastructure:

Government should continue to aggressively implement its national infrastructure plan. We must commit ourselves to a national highway system linking our major cities and towns, our centres of commerce, with each other. This will save lives, spur commerce, cut costs and bring Nigerians closer together.

Water catchment and retention systems in strategic locations should also be introduced to end the destructive cycles of flood and drought affecting many areas.

In working to transform the face of our economy, government must also enact policies that encourage industrialization and modern agricultural practices. We must applaud President Buhari for the historic innovations made in the agricultural sector. We must further encourage him to do even more. Government funded social security for the aged and government backed affordable housing and mortgage facilities are things we must continue to explore in an aggressive manner.

In the end, our future is uncertain until we enter it and make of it what we will. We can either let the future happen to us or summon the courage to make the future belong to us as other nations have done.

I don’t think we really have a choice in the matter. We must take the people to the next level. It is a promise made and thus a promise that must be kept.

Our goal is nothing less than enabling people to enjoy lives free of penury and lack. We seek to constitute a nation where all have basic sustenance and sufficient food on their tables, a sturdy and sheltering roof over their heads and the fair chance and means to sustain and further enrich their lives as they see fit.  Let it be that all may live in social contentment and tranquillity with his neighbour as well as with himself. This is what we mean by the Next Level.

Thank you for this wonderful birthday present you have given me. I have been enriched and energized by the intellectual exchange. I hope that you have too. Now, let’s move on to the Next Level.

Asiwaju Tinubu delivered this paper at the colloquium to celebrate his 67th birthday