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ISGPP INAUGURAL CONFERENCE: OPENING REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OLUSEGUN OBASANJO, GCFR


I am happy to be here to participate at this inauguration conference of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy. It is delightful that this initiative is coming at this moment when the country is in search of new ways of doing things given the crisis of governance that now manifests in vigorous ways. The drastic fall in the price of oil in the international market has unravelled the weakness of governance in Nigeria. The Minister of Finance has recently announced that the 2016 Budget deficit may be increased from the current N2.2 trillion in the draft document before the National Assembly, to N3 trillion due to decline in the price of crude oil. If the current fiscal challenge is not creatively addressed Nigeria may be on its way to another episode of debt overhang which may not be good for the country. It will be recalled that a few years ago we rescued Nigeria from its creditors with the deal in which the Paris Club of sovereign creditors wrote off USD 18 billion of debt, Africa’s largest debt cancellation. Nigeria then used windfall earnings from oil export to pay off another USD 12 billion in debts and arrears.

On the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa continent the hope that followed the initiative of the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) and African renaissance initiatives are being threatened by developments in the global economy and governance. Falling commodity prices have put pressures on local currencies, and if caution is not taking, may lead to mounting debts.

It is indeed proper for us in Nigeria to ask the question is the government working? Is government positioned to deal with challenges arising from these new developments?

These question are made apposite by the massive scale of poverty and unemployment, the decay in infrastructural facilities, the impoverished living standards of citizens with regard to food, housing, water supply, education and healthcare which have deepened in recent years. This is complicated by the protracted experience of violence and brutality, the flow of internally displaced persons arising from the Boko Haram insurgency in large parts of north-eastern Nigeria where many citizens have become distressed, live in fear and insecurity.

Recent developments in governance show the failure of systems, the disregard for institutional processes and the general decline of institutions that used to function to guarantee reasonable service delivery to citizens.

When I assumed office in 1999, though I had some sense that the bureaucracy of government that I left in 1979 had experienced significantly declined, I only appreciated the extent of this decline after the Dr Christopher Kolade Panel that I setup submitted its report. I implemented remedial measures and a reorientation programme coordinated by Professor Adebayo Adedeji. I got the Management Service office to undertake and evolve a National Strategy for Public Service Reform. The reform process commenced in 2003 and by 2007 significant progress had been made. Unfortunately, the evidence available today show that those gains have been reversed. The problem today is that it is doubtful if the current administrative system is imbued with right mix of skills and values to successfully implement a well-articulated programme of change.

Furthermore, many years ago I identified corruption as the greatest single bane of our society. Identifying it as one of the worst legacies of misrule and bad governance, we set up the ICPC and the EFCC to tackle it head on. Today, corruption drains billions of dollars from our economy that cannot afford to lose even a million dollars. It seems we are just beginning the fight against corruption afresh. Until recently, it seems corruption had returned with a vengeance, taking seat at the very heart of government. I reiterate my statement in October last year during the 55th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence that “corruption must not have resting place within our society; we must kick corruption out because it destroys almost everything and I am not talking about corruption of money; corruption of attitude, nepotism, favouritism, they are corruption in different forms and all aspects of corruption must be kicked out of our society”.

Now, given these governance challenges and our experience with reform, it is clear that change don’t just happen, there must be a basis for change. Leadership has to be committed to change. Beginning with the reality of the budget, there is need for sober reflection. Rebuilding the foundations of governance involved paying attention to values, principles and practices that promote hard work, innovation and sacrifice. Leaders who call for sacrifice from the citizenry cannot be living in obscene opulence. We must address these foundational issues to make the economy work, to strengthen our institutions, build public confidence in government and deal with our peace and security challenges. We must address the issue of employment for our teeming population particularly for our youths. Leadership must mentor the young, and provide them with hope about their future as part of a process of intergenerational conversation.

I acknowledge the expertise, skills and experience represented by the people gathered here. This conference must be harnessed as resource for the Ibadan School of government and Public Policy. Indeed, I make bold to say the school has great promise. Unlike similar institutions in the country the school is neither essentially government focused or solely focused on private sector organisations. Rather it seeks to interface across the sectors, including civil society. Unlike the university its research and teaching are not going to be removed from the day-to-day operations of government because of the emphasis on ‘science’ and dependence on huge data sets for research work. It seeks to engage with the people that public policy affects. There is clearly a need for schools like the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy that focus research and teaching on implementing policy and making the government work well in Africa.

I hope it will generate ideas that will lead us from thinking to doing. It must not only generate ideas, it must foster a willingness to use those ideas within government and non-government sectors. The ultimate goal should be to create a learning society which is suitable for the knowledge economy of the 21st century.

We at the Obasanjo foundation welcome the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy. I am aware that there is an ongoing dialogue between the school and the Centre for Human Security of the Obasanjo Foundation to organise a conference on Public Service Reform later in the year.

I charge the conference to redefine the issues and catalyse a process of sustained dialogue to address them. I appreciate the choice of Professor Richard Joseph as the Guest Speaker, which I think is appropriate for the occasion given his contribution to efforts to explain the dilemma of governance in Nigeria in his famous theory of “Prebendalism”. I hope that the outcome of this conference would provide a template for more systematic engagement by the school in further research, training and other activities.

I wish you a rewarding time here in Ibadan.

I thank you for listening.

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