Vice President-Elect, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo, Representative of Former Britain Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, Mr. Lord Mandelson and Director, Policy Research and Strategy Directorate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Kayode Fayemi, during the opening ceremony of 2 day policy dialogue on the implementation of the agenda for Change, at Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan.
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA — Former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, has asked the incoming President, General Muhammadu Buhari, to overhaul the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, saying it was one sure way of tackling corruption and saving more money for infrastructural development.
Blair also asked the leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to switch from its opposition status and assume the posture of head of an organisation, stressing that the days of persuasion and agitations were over.
He further stated that Buhari and the APC must be true to their words at all times, saying the action of the incoming government within the first 100 days in office would determine the kind of goodwill it would eventually have.
Blair spoke at a two-day policy dialogue themed “Implementing Change: From Vision to Reality,” organised by the Policy, Research and Strategy Directorate of the APC Presidential Campaign Council in Abuja, yesterday.
Represented by Mr. Peter Benjamin Mandelson, a former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in Blair’s government, the former prime minister also asked Buhari to ensure that the revenue of the Federal Government was kept in a comprehensive account.
He also warned against politics of region especially against the zones seen to have not voted for the APC.
He said: “You, Mr. Vice President-elect and Mr. President-elect, Buhari, I must say you have the expectations and the ambitions of 173 million Nigerians in your hands. You have the hopes of an entire continent as well as the eyes of the entire world focused on your efforts. But I tell you, people are excited about what is about to happen in Nigeria. They really feel a sense of expectation of faith and hope.
First 100 days
“What you do in the first 100 days is important and symbolic and can also have tremendously positive repercussion for the government and throughout the country. You have a limited window of opportunity to make an impact as a government. Looking at Nigeria, I would say your vulnerability is corruption and that is not new to you, particularly around the oil sector.
“People in this country seem to be able to do things with impunity and beyond the reach of the rule of law or proper accountability and the judicial system. You can crack the NNPC nut or you can make a start on it in the first 100 days and if you do so, you would have built a very strong foundation for what you have to do in the next four years and beyond.
Keep all govt money in one account
“I think ensuring that all government revenue goes into a single government account will be a good start. Those revenues from your natural resource are so vital for the country and for your future. I think that will send a very strong message. We did the same thing when we came in in 1997 when we gave the Bank of England its independence and that gave us an instant reputation for fiscal prudence.
“It is quite courageous for a government to give power away to another entity. There were people who voted for the others, mostly in the south and the east of the country. You need to show the people who didn’t vote for you that you represent their interest as much as the people who voted for you.
Politics of ethnicity, religion
“This was what we called big tent politics during Tony Blair era. If Nigeria is to transform and evolve towards a politics of performance, it is very important to get away from the politics of ethnicity, religion, politics of patronage and cronyism.”
Blair also urged the government to stay focused on its set objectives if it must succeed, reminding Buhari that allowing pressure and external interferences to get into his way would surely take him away from the set priorities.
“The other thing I want to come back to is priority. You need priority in what you want to deliver to your country, but here is the challenge. Everyday, there is one fresh crisis, some media events, some scandals or some personnel problems to contend with. A whole sack of things will get in the way of getting the real thing done.
Focus on your priorities
“What happens to your priority if you are not careful is that the wall will close in on you and before you know where you are, you are spending the whole time dancing from one place to another, putting out one fire in different parts of the forest without pursuing what you were put in government to do which was to bring about that change and that reform.
“That is why you need to create that mechanism and remain focused on your priorities. That is why you need certain policy delivery mechanisms that you can control, that which you have people working in under your guidance and political will even though you have to deal with the oil scandal.
“One other piece of advice drawn from our experience is that you will have more good will and more authority to do the difficult things at the beginning of your term than at the end.
Be true to your mandate
He also asked Buhari not to derail from his mandate
He said: “I remember many of us ministers, including the Prime minister himself, had never been in government before, not even a junior parliamentary or Secretary of State, the lowest for ministerial life. We were all new. I was the third man. I want to share with you the first rule of government because it is irrelevant to you. Be true to your word. Be true to your mandate.
“At the beginning for us, there was nothing easy at all. We discovered some important things pretty quickly. The first thing is that the skills of leadership that take you to government is not the same skills you need to be successful in government. You have to switch from what you were campaigning when you are in office. You have to switch from a persuader where the tools of your trade are your words to being a CEO. That is the difference between being a persuader and and being a CEO. One is about words, the other is about deeds.
“Now, I am not saying you should stop communicating the moment you reach office. You have to keep explaining, educating and agitating for change and reforms to keep people behind and following you. But you have to change from being chief wordsmith to chief implementer and the truth is that many governments actually fall on that first hurdle.
“Government by definition is a team effort. In this job, whatever you fit into the leadership of government is to inspire people and to make them believe in you and in what you are doing and you judge others by the same high standards of integrity and efficiency that you must apply each and every one of you to yourselves.
You can’t do everything at once
“This is my third theme today. You cannot do everything at once just by ordering results, just by bashing the system to deliver those things is not going to achieve change. You have to be much more skillful, much more surgical than that. You have to apply a science of delivering. A science of priorities, a science of proper planning of defining goals, creating data systems that crack progress and developing the routines that make sure you keep all these going even amid the crisis that blow up. And they will.
“And above all, maintain the relationship between yourself and the centre and those in the public service on the frontline, the people who make sure that the delivery actually takes place, praising them when they do well, encouraging them when they fall behind and replacing them when you have to.
“Now, all these might sound straight forward. But it is not straight forward because a lot of the administration you are leading has gone into the habit of driving process rather than outcome.”
110 Nigerians live below poverty line —Osinbajo
Meanwhile, while declaring the event open earlier, the Vice President-elect, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who doubled as the chairman of the occasion said the priorities of the incoming government was to tackle poverty and stamp out corruption from the system.
He said: “In the course of the election campaign, we ran an issues-based campaign that identified certain areas of public policy as high priorities for propelling Nigeria forward. We addressed the challenges of the economy, insecurity, corruption and jobs creation. We spoke to the challenge of providing opportunities for self-actualisation to millions of our young people who face an uncertain future with understandable anxiety.
“We also addressed the challenge of providing for the most vulnerable segments of our population by equipping them with the tools to emerge from the crippling limitations of poverty to achieve dignified and productive citizenship.
“The figures of extreme poverty in our society, 110 million by current estimates, makes it clear that our biggest national problem is the extreme poverty of the majority. Thus, no analysis is required to conclude that dealing with poverty and its implications is a priority.
“We are concerned that our economy is currently in, perhaps, its worst moment in history. Local and international debt stands at $60 billion. Our debt servicing bill for 2015 is N953.6 billion, 21 per cent of our budget. On account of severely dwindled resources, over two-thirds of the states in Nigeria owe salaries. Federal institutions are not in much better shape.”
Today, the nation borrows to fund recurrent expenditure.
“This is also against the backdrop of a highly unequal society in which, by some reckoning, the largest chunk of the benefits of our national wealth accrues to a small percentage of our population. Our manifesto offered a vision of shared prosperity and socio-economic inclusion for all Nigerians, that leaves no one behind in the pursuit of a prosperous and fulfilling life.
“Our goal this morning is to interrogate these positions and propositions before a wider audience and to launch a robust public conversation on policy directions and priorities that will help inform our administration’s approach in the next four years. This forum exemplifies the sort of consultative and consensual approach to policy-making that our party and the new administration intend to model in office.
“This morning, on every street corner across this nation, Nigerians, as is their daily custom, will cluster around the local vendor and debate the burning national issues of the day. The fervency of these loosely structure “policy dialogues” suggests that Nigerians are fairly well acquainted with our problems and their touted solutions. The missing link has always been how to implement the identified solutions to these problems. In other words, we know the “what” and the “why” but have not been as adept at the “how.”
“Our task is broad and deep. Our sessions will explore a wide range of policy priorities including the diversification of the economy in the wake of declining oil revenues by engendering job-led growth, the revitalization of agriculture in pursuit of job creation and food security, improving the regulatory frameworks in our most strategic sphere of economic activity – the oil and gas sector, improving access to qualitative and affordable healthcare, reducing inequality, reforming our education system to close the gender gap in access to education and to enable our children become effective contestants in the global economy, expand participatory diversity and inclusion in public life and tackle inefficiency and graft in public service.”
According to him, the event must not be another talk-shop one that produced workable templates on country’s development drive for the incoming administration.
“Consequently, this forum cannot and will not be another talk shop. Our deliberations must be informed and pointed submissions that lay adequate emphasis on the “how” of implementation. I enjoin us to avoid over analysis and indeed the paralysis of analysis and focus more on specific actions, resource requirements, time lines, key performance indicators and milestones for evaluating progress, measurable parameters, goals and targets. Our presentations should also profile risks such as the key challenges that will have to be confronted in the process of policy execution.
“We have a few days to go- to enter into a new bold Nigerian enterprise. There are many hurdles to scale but we are confident that by God’s grace our Nation will serve its people well”, he said.
Also speaking, the Director of the Policy, Research and Strategy of the APC campaign, Dr. Kayode Fayemi gave insights on what motivated the Directorate to embark on the dialogue.
“Our task, as we saw it, was to undergird our campaign with an intellectual and strategic rigour that positioned our party as the pre-eminent movement of ideas in the recently concluded electoral cycle. Our desire, right from the onset, was to open a new chapter in the annals of partisan politics in Nigeria – one that departed from the personality-centered incivilities of the most banal kind that characterized the electioneering season.
“We sought to inaugurate a new model of issues-based, principle-centered campaigning. We believed that the stakes had never been higher in our nation’s history of democratic politics, and a new approach was required. This new approach was evident in our disciplined refusal to depart from a laser-keen focus on the real issues affecting the Nigerian people rather than traffic in distractive rhetoric. Our approach focused on the electorate as being worthy of serious and sincere engagement and sought to bring clarity to the issues at stake.
“I can disclose with some pride that a majority of the lead presenters in this dialogue are members of the Directorate of Policy, Research and Strategy and have all been instrumental in crafting the policy priorities and propositions that helped decisively swing the fate of Africa’s largest democracy in favour of progressive forces. Our group has been one big family that has thought deeply and broadly about Nigeria. We conducted our work not in a spirit of competition but in one of collaborative problem-solving dedicated to a higher goal of giving our nation an unprecedented opportunity for progress.
“In a sense, the phase of policy conception is over and we are entering the phase of execution, governance, of providing tangible developmental deliverables. The challenge of translating ideas into policy and praxis now looms large. Given the degree of work that has been put in by the Directorate and our well documented national problems of policy implementation, the focus should now be on evolving an institutional framework to deliver the agenda for change”, he said.
Buhari must pursue revenue generation and reduce expenditure-Participant
The conference which later dissolved into a technical sessions also featured papers from a panel of discussants.
One of the discussants and former chairperson of Fedderal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, Mrs. Ifueko Okaura who also delivered a paper on “Improving the National Economy for Shared Prosperity”, told Vanguard that for the incoming regime to deliver on its campaign promises amid a bleeding economy, it must pursue “Revenue generation and expenditure reduction.”
She also called for all hands to be on deck to enable the government succeed.
“I think we need to go beyond this “since it is Buhari or APC that won, let’s see what they can do”, attitude. It is not what they can do but what we can do. I think we need to realize that and focus on what we can we can get involved in the discussion, hold your public officers accountable because we need to get out of where we are today.
“We have been told that the incoming government may not have the money to run government the way it should be if they don’t get a loan.
“They haven’t gotten a handover note. I think it is important that engagement between the incoming and outgoing goes on because it is a continuation. It not about in out out. We are talking about one government and I think that is very critical so that the incoming government will get the data to drive what needs to be done”, she said.
Other speakers who spoke at the session included former vice chairman, Senate committee on Internal Affairs who presented a paper titled “Repositioning Agriculture for Job Creation and Economic Growth,” former minister of state for health, Dr. Ali Pate who also on the topic “Achieving Qualitative and Affordable Health”, former Board chairman, Nigeria SaoTome and Principe Joint Development Authority, Dr. Tajudeen Umar who spoke on “Achieving Sustainable Reforms in the Oil/Gas Sector” among others.
The event however continues today.
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