I welcome old and new participants to our 6th edition of the Gabfest. There are many other things you could be all doing instead of being here. So, I am grateful for your participation and I do not take it for granted.
An unquantifiable amount of gratitude must go to all those who expend their valuable time and resources to put this together.
As the years and number of participants have increased, so too I believe have the number of persons involved in planning.
It would be invidious of me therefore to attempt to thank them all individually except to do so by expressing gratitude to the Temple and B-Direct groups and those affiliated with them for the Gabfest.
This year, the GABFEST is modelled around our electoral choices and by extension, our lives over the next few years and the theme is “What am I voting for”?
We have listened to the illuminating contributions of our panelists and I think they deserve commendation for the perspectives they have shared.
What I propose to do is to attempt to tie our votes to what happens to us.
First, I will like to speak about democracy and urge all of us to interrogate our knowledge and understanding of this concept after this gathering has ended.
This is because it is democracy or the idea of it that allows us to talk about voting or better still having a say or making a choice on how our lives are ordered.
A good starting point is to remind ourselves that democracy is a man-made idea that is not timeless. It is not a divine concept and therefore, it is limited in what it can achieve.
The next thing to say, is to remind ourselves why democracy was created.
The simple answer is that democracy was created to end tyranny, minority rule and dictatorship.
It replaced the rule of one person with the rule of many people, now called the majority.
It was not concerned about the price of food, access to water or the good life in that sense even though this was a sublime end. The more manifest purpose can be put this way: “You alone as the leader cannot decide for us. We are more than you numerically. We all want a say and we will decide by votes, and agree with the majority.”
Is the majority always right? I leave you to decide.
Before this becomes a treatise on democracy, let me go to the issue of the day. There is an increasing awareness and mobilisation for registration to get permanent voter’s cards (PVC).
Before I go on, let me disclose that I belong to a political party, that I am aware that the campaign season has not started and that this programme and what I say are not intended to advance or limit the cause of any political party or their candidate. And I will do my best to keep it that way.
When the time for campaigns come upon us, I intend to be involved. For now, the question is why are we getting our PVCs and why do we want to vote?
I have heard some people who should know better, say on national TV that: “People are angry, so they must go and get your PVCs and vote.”
Anger is the only reason they offer.
If voting is about a choice about my life and that of my children, will I decide things in my life in anger? Who does that?
Rational and sensible people don’t make choices by anger or in anger. Anger is not a strategy. At best, it is an emotion.
Will you build a house in anger? Take a loan in anger? Marry a spouse in anger? Start a family in anger? Or set up a business in anger? I presume not. So please don’t listen to those closet party supporters or pseudo nationalists. They are more ignorant than you.
Although section 24 of the constitution which sets out duties as citizens of Nigeria does not make voting one of our duties and I think this is a big omission, I think one good reason for which we should vote is that it is a civic responsibility (not duty).
Which takes me to the heart of the matter. Now that I know why I got my PVC and I think it is responsible citizenship to vote: “What am I voting for?”
This question is still pertinent because it seems to lie at the heart of the disconnect between the elected and the electorate. I will try to illustrate with a few examples.
Let us start with the most important government – The Local Government.
It may surprise many people when I say it is the most important government because when we talk about human capital development we are talking about the development of the most important resource of any country. This starts from conception and goes on through birth, early education and health care.
I don’t know how many participants at today’s meeting have ever read our constitution and how many who have read it, have read the fourth schedule of the constitution.
If you do, you are likely to agree with me about the importance of the local government, because you will find that it is the local government that is responsible for primary education and primary health.
The Federal Government and by extension the Presidency to whom we often look for the solutions to our problems do not own one primary school or one primary healthcare facility.
It is in these facilities that the foundations of literacy, early education, antenatal care, immunisation for the first five years of a child’s life are undertaken. This is where the odds of a child’s life, whether he or she will survive early childhood diseases and become skilled and productive in future, are determined.
When you add to this, the responsibility of the local government for sanitation, which is the heart of public health, that determines whether your child will be exposed to diseases and fall sick or not, please ask yourself the question posed by the theme of this GABFEST: “What am I voting for?” if you vote at all during local government elections.
Let me quickly conclude this part by letting you know that out of the over 200,000 Km of roads in Nigeria, the Federal government owns 35,000 KM (17.5%); the state government own 31,000 km (17.5%), while the local governments combined own 132,000km (65%).
Therefore, you will see how critical Local Governments are to our mobility, our ability to trade, our ease of doing business and getting things done efficiently.
Put differently, what percentage of people need to move from one state to another daily to earn their livelihood as against the number that need to move from their ward to another to go to school, work and their places of business.
When you factor the number of people in Nigeria who are traders, you should be interested in the Local Government because the Constitution makes them responsible for markets.
Let me quickly deal with legislators at state and federal level. Their primary job is to make laws through which policies that will improve our lives are affected.
If you look at the second schedule of the constitution, you will see two parts. Part one contains matters over which federal legislators (House of Representatives and Senate) can make laws. These are the responsibilities of the federal government. This is the Exclusive legislative list.
Part two contains matters of which both states and the federal government can make laws.
In this part, states are at liberty to go on their own. So, we have state roads, state schools (secondary and tertiary), state hospitals (General and Tertiary).
These are matters over which legislators can make laws at state and federal level. Their other job is to represent us. By this, they bring our problems to the attention of the Executive, at State or Federal level for Executive action to bring about a solution.
Thirdly, they help to check on the Executive to ensure that they do not oppress us, that they use public funds to deliver public goods in the exercise of their oversight responsibility.
It is not their responsibility to build roads, schools, primary healthcare centres, boreholes or supply street lights which we ask them to do in our constituencies.
It is also not their constitutional responsibility to attend our children’s weddings, birthdays or naming ceremonies or provide money for these things. Neither is it their responsibility to provide sewing machines, keke marwa, motorcycles or korope which we demand of them. “So what am I voting for?”
At a recent event at the Yoruba Tennis Club where I delivered a lecture titled “What can the president do for me?”, not a few who expected me to announce a presidential bid seemed disappointed that I did not speak to that matter of their expectation.
I do not know how many recall the contents of my speech about how I tried to show how more important the Governor of my state is to my development than the president of Nigeria.
For example, I pointed out that there is nowhere in the constitution that security is listed as the responsibility of the Federal Government or President alone.
In the second schedule of the constitution where the responsibility of the Federal Government is set only, you will see responsibility for the police, the armed forces etc, which are law enforcement agencies; but you will not see the word SECURITY.
If you take a narrow view of what security entails, you might be tempted to conclude that this is only a federal affair.
But if you understand that these, agencies except for the deterrence that they may offer, usually arrive when there is a breach of security. You will see the point that I make that Security is an all-government affair. This is supported by section 14 2(b) of the constitution where the word “Security” is used.
It provides that:
“(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government;”
It does not say which government and my view is that it is every government; local, state and federal.
Security therefore involves more than the deployment of armed personnel. It is the effective deployment of socio-economic resources to create a state of harmony. Breaches of security have evolved from conflicts over land, for which the federal government has no responsibility or control, to conflict over natural resources over which the federal government has responsibility and control.
Governors have as much a responsibility to keep us safe. It starts in my view with how they oversee the development of the human capital. This is less of a federal responsibility and more a state one, because people live in states. Where are you voting for?
I have always held the view that in a diverse country where we have elected local government and state leaders, our prosperity will be built from bottom-up and not the other way round.
So in relating this to the choices we make at local, state and federal level, I have often ask people to list five things they want a president to do for them, bearing in mind that since 1999, the honeymoon with our elected presidents have never lasted long.
Some of the five (5) things in no order of preference that often come up are:
I have already spoken about this as a shared responsibility. I believe families who raise their children well, around a sound moral and educational compass can contribute to our collective safety. After all, no child was born a criminal or deviant.
Our collective understanding of this utility as a government-only responsibility must change and this in part explains why privatisation of federal government electricity assets took place in 2013. From a staff strength of over 50,000 people, before 2013, the Ministry of Power had only 700 staff when I became minister of power in 2015. The reality we must deal with is that the assets to generate and distribute power has been sold to private businesses. Federal government now only controls the transmission, which is the transport-like side of a supply chain.
Production and distribution are now private businesses. Admittedly FGN is still the regulator and has powers to sanction non-performers.
These are the questions you should be asking any person who wants to be your next president:
A. What are you going to do to make sure that the power transport vehicle does not break down?
B. What are you going to do about the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to make it more efficient?
But please note that responsibility for electricity is not only the federal government alone. By the third alteration to the constitution in 2010, item 14 a, b and c have been added to the concurrent list of the 1999 constitution empowering state governments to generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas not covered by the national grid. Please ask your governorship candidate what they want to do.
By the mini grid policy which I initiated, you can now generate your own embedded power under license. Please go to the NERC website for details.
SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS
I think we need to understand that the majority of schools and hospitals do not belong to the local, State and federal governments. They belong to us, private individuals, companies, religious organisations etc, although the government has regulatory oversight of all of them.
Let me share some duties.
In Lagos in 2010 or thereabouts there were 10,001 schools. 1001 were primary schools belonging to the Local Government. 660 were secondary schools belonging to the state government, with Kings College, Queens College and FG College Ijanikin 3 (THREE) Secondary schools belonging to FGN; and University of Lagos and Yaba College of Technology along with Federal College of Education.
The remaining over 8300 schools were privately owned.
This situation was not too different with the health institutions with about 1000 under our state health facility management register at the time. Federal government owned Igbobi orthopaedic, Federal medical centre Ebute-Metta, LUTH, Idi-Araba and Psychiatric Hospital Yaba, in addition to Military Hospital, Awolowo Road, and a few by other military and paramilitary agencies.
Local government had 245 primary facilities and the state government owned 25 General hospitals and LASUTH Ikeja. Meaning over 700 facilities were privately owned.
It’s true that the Federal Government has a Ministry of Water Resources. But its role is supervisory. To ensure that there is no over-abstraction of water resources from rivers and lakes I wanted to the detriment of others.
How that water is pumped to the waterworks, owned by the state, treated to world health standards for consumption and piped to offices and homes, is a state responsibility and not a federal one.
If we understand how critical water is to sanitation hygiene and our lives, we should not only be concerned about what we are voting for but who we are voting for.
If you run a business that needs water, this is not the job of a president.
BUSINESS AND JOBS
If your business deals with ports (air and sea), customs and tariffs, these are Federal responsibilities for the president, senators and House of Representatives.
So too matters relating to VAT, company tax, interest rates, exchange rate and inflation. They fall under what are categorised as fiscal and monetary policies.
The latter, monetary policy, such as exchange, interest and inflation rates are carried out by the central bank on behalf of the government, because the central bank of Nigeria is owned by the government.
Let me be clear that while the Central Bank of Nigeria can do a lot about how foreign exchanges bought and sold, she can do very little about how much FX is available. This is the function of our productivity export and import. If we earn more, the Central Bank of Nigeria sells more, otherwise the factors of economic exchange such as demand and supply and scarcity take control and determine price. And this takes me to the larger issue of economy and productivity.
The global powerhouse for these are MSMEs in every country of the world. They contribute 50% at least and upwards to employment and growth worldwide. Nigeria has 40 million of these MSMEs ranging from traders, transporters, law firms, accounting firms, dental clinics, estate surveying firms, small factories producing Agro products, water, paint, doors etc.
They generally employ between 10 and 200 people at the most and this is where most of us belong. They need land, water, building approvals, have to pay three years rent all at local levels in their states.
What will they be voting for? What will their state legislators and governors offer to make them prosper? How long does it take to get a C of O on a permit to build an office? Can they connect to public water supply and will the state government produce power for them?
So we might wonder how to get candidates to address these issues. One way is to look at what their manifestos present and what their political parties profess. The other way is to attend rallies they organise, but I tell you this is often a one-way conversation because we cannot ask questions at those rallies.
Debates and town hall meetings provide perhaps the best way to put their feet to fire and we as political employers of these public servants can organise these debates and town halls along our economic and social groupings.
In doing so, we must be sensitive, because the candidates cannot attend all debates and Town hall meetings. In some cases we must be willing to accept their accredited spokesperson but this must be an exception and not the rule.
After all they are the ones looking for our votes and we are the ones who seek to employ them.
Now let me go back to the person who said you are angry and should get your PVC in order to vote.
What I did not tell you at the beginning was that he said you must be angry because you don’t have electricity. What he also conveniently did not say was that he participated in the government exercise of selling the Discos and Gencos as an adviser of the Government in 2013. Because of the nature of his job, he was in a position to know, if he did his job well, that some of the people the Discos and some Gencos were sold to were AMCON debtors.
What you must know is that AMCON is the acronym for Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, by which private citizens and companies (about 300 of them) who owed large sums of money running into over Trillions of Naira to our banks, were bailed out with public funds to prevent the banks from collapsing.
Where were these people expected to get the capital to inject into the Discos and Gencos? Deliberately and inadvertently, this person has some responsibility to carry for your lack of power. If it is true that you are angry, he is not fit to advise you how to vote.
I urge you to vote by holding debates and town halls where you put questions to the candidates to test their abilities. I urge you to vote by looking at what the candidates have done before, this is like asking for the referees during an interview or talking to a previous employer. This is how to recruit an employee. Not by anger.
Thank you for listening.
. Being the Keynote Lecture delivered by the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola, at the Annual BRF GABFEST on June 28, 2022, with the theme: “What am I voting For?”