By DAUD OLATUNJI
ABEOKUTA—Former President of United States of America, Bill Clinton, said yesterday in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital, that the inability to manage the nation’s natural resources well was one of the three major challenges Nigeria was facing as a nation.
The former US president, who was speaking at the 18th Annual Awards of Thisday newspaper, organised to celebrate Nigeria’s best teachers, further tasked Nigerian leaders to tackle unemployment, brain-drain and to maximise the potential of the citizens.
The 42nd American President, who spoke in the presence of former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun, his counterpart in Delta, Emmanuel Uduaghan and other notable Nigerians, said Nigerian leaders mismanaged the proceeds from oil, under-utilised technology and failed to retain its best brains.
Clinton said: “When I became President, my Secretary of Commerce did a lot of work in Africa before he was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1995.
“I said he should make a list of 10 most important countries in the world for the 21st century. Nigeria was in the list.
“Imagine the future of the entire continent if Nigeria fails or South Africa fails. So, you are a country of potential. I will say you have about three big challenges.
Oil money, economic distribution, brain-drain
“First of all, like 90 percent of the countries, which have one big resource, you haven’t done well with your oil money. You should have reinvested it in different ways. Now you are at least not wasting the natural gas. You are developing it in pipelines but you don’t do a better job of managing natural resources.
“Secondly, you have to somehow bring economic opportunity to the people who don’t have. This is not a problem specific to Nigeria. Almost in every place in the world, prosperity is heavily concentrated in and around urban areas.
“So you have all these political problems: violence, religious differences, and all the rhetoric of Boko Haram.
“But the truth is the poverty rate in the north is three times greater than what it is in the Lagos area. To deal with that, you have to have both powerful stake in the local governments and a national policy that work together.
“As you keep trying to divide the power, you have to figure out a way to have a strategy that will help in sharing prosperity.
“The third thing is there has to be a way to take the staggering intellectual and organisational ability that Nigerians exhibit in every country in the world in which they are immigrant and bring it to bear here, so that the country as a whole can rise.
“One of the people on my trip with me today, who unfortunately could not come up here because he had to go and visit his family, is a young Nigerian-American named Nnamdi. He is an all pro-quarter back footballer for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He’s a wonderful man; he does great work in America for poor kids in Arkansas City and he became a friend of mine.
“Both his parents have PhDs. His sister has a PhD. He often says ‘I’m the failure in my family and I only have a university degree and I play football.’
“My point is: there are Nigerians who are like this all over the world. What you have to figure out is how to keep those people in Nigeria and how to ensure their success encourages others in the country.
“So, I think solving the economic divide that is in your country will help the political divide; making better use of your resources.
“Nigeria is trying to set up an investment fund where the Federal Government will set it up and the governors are being consulted so that they can concentrate the capital. That is the problem in India.
“They have unbelievable entrepreneurs but they are not very good at collecting capital and investing it in infrastructure so that they can unite the poor part of the country with the rich part. That’s what you have to do. And then, you have to empower people with education so they can succeed at home as well as around the world.”
Speaking on the essence of education, Clinton said: “I have to explain that education is more important in dealing with the challenges facing Nigeria. On the continent and the entire world, we are living a revolutionary time, full of positive and negative forces.
“The information technology is good for people who can take advantage of it. I see this all over the world. Cell phones give farmers the access to information about crop prices and fish prices in Africa and Asia.
“It increases their income by reducing their ignorance. It is empowerment. People are using cell phones to have banking services for the first time.
“I see it even in the United States where people who thought they have no money to help others donate a billion dollars to Haiti during the earthquake because ordinary citizens use their cell phones to make transfer to an account and they had a billion dollars.
“It is an age where if we are sufficiently educated we can be empowered but with enormous challenges. First of all, with all of these new opportunities which technology had given us, we have not yet succeeded in automatically reducing poverty and inequality of opportunity in accessing education and health care.
“It is a global phenomenon. If we really want to take advantage of education, empowerment and information technology, we have to tackle this problem. The second problem we have in the world is instability as we all know.
“We have to stop this problem. One major problem of unemployment is this instability all over the world. We have not yet solved the problem of how to embrace our potential and common humanity.
“And until we do this, the globalisation of the economy, the globalisation of the society for information technology will continue to face serious trouble. We have to deal with how to maximise the capacity of all the people through education.
“We have to find a way through education, through the information technology revolution to change the way we produce and consume energy and to change the way we use local resources in a way that sustains them.
“We have to know how to do this and do it right. And in every case, education will play a major role whether in developed or developing countries. We need intelligent people to take a new way to challenge themselves.
“There is a lot of work to be done but we cannot ever neglect the role of education. So I want to end my remarks by saying two things. Every year at the opening of the United Nations, I sponsor a meeting where we invite the global leaders to come.
“We actually ask people to make a commitment to do something and we are all making progress.”
Speaking earlier, Editor-in-Chief and Chairman, Thisday, Nduka Obaigbena explained that the choice of Abeokuta as the venue for the 18th edition of the award was made by Clinton due to the presence of Presidential Library.
According to him, Delta, Port Harcourt and Abeokuta were the options presented to Clinton as the venue before Abeokuta was chosen by the ex-American President.
He eulogised eminent media personalities present, including former governor of the state, Chief Olusegun Osoba, the Chairman and Publisher of Vanguard newspapers, Mr. Sam Amuka, among others.
Obaighena disclosed that 15 best teachers were selected by a panel headed by Vice President World Bank (Africa) and former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, from 700 nominees.
Those who bagged the Builder of Modern Nigeria awards were Oba Otudeko; professor of musicology, Laz Ekwueme; deposed Sultan, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki; Osile of Oke-Ona, Oba Adedapo Tejuoso, and Chief Rasak Okoya.
The 15 best teachers, who received N2 million each, were Mrs Victoria Jolayemi, Mrs Dorothy Ugwu and Mrs Christie Ade-Ajayi, for primary school category.
For secondary category, Rev. Father Angus Frazer, Chief D.B.E. Ossai, Mrs Yakubu Dimka, Chief Reuben Majekodunmi, Chief Dotun Oyewole, Mrs. John O. B. Adeaga, Mr. Bawa Mohammed Faskari and Hadiza Thani Muhammed were honoured as best teachers.
In the universities category, Prof. Iya Abubakar, Prof. Frank Ugiomoh, Prof. Michael Obadan and Prof. Eunice Nkiruka Uzodike, were given award.