At the valedictory session of the National Economic Council (NEC) at the State House, Abuja yesterday, increasing population, ‘small’ economy and so on dominated discourse, reports Augustine Ehikioya, Abuja.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and some state governors yesterday raised the alarm over the increasing population.

The population, they warned, may double in the next few years with adverse effects on available infrastructures and facilities.

They spoke during the valedictory session of the National Economic Council (NEC) at the State House, Abuja.

Osinbajo also called for condemnation of those involved in hate speeches in the country.

Nigerians, he said, should not take lightly those capable of causing the crisis in the country through their utterances.

He urged the governors whose tenures are coming to end nit to spend their lives sleeping outside power.

Osinbajo said: “The privilege of executive leadership at this level is the one only a few of us will ever have. When I say few of us, it is few of us in our nation I have said at a previous forum, 36 governors and their deputies, one President and one Vice President we will be 74 in all men and women of a nation of 200 million. It is on this elite group that the destiny and future of all our people rest.

“In the next few years, our population will double with the attendant challenges of jobs, education, health care, security and infrastructure. Every nation that has to move its people from misery to prosperity has depended heavily in fact almost completely on the political elite.

“Our people have nowhere else to look or to go, it is as they say, at the collective table that the buck stops.”

Speaking on those involved in making hate speeches in the country, Osinbajo said: “Many of us have led our states for these many years, no one needs to advise us on the importance of unity, on importance of tempering utterances with wisdom, with moderation and conserve expressing concern for those who are the usual victims of the conflicts that are caused by hate speech, the conflicts that are caused by careless and reckless statements.

“The ordinary Nigerian has no problems with his brothers and sisters of different tribes and religions, they share the same issues, they just want a decent existence, they want food on the table, they want good shelter and security of lives and livelihoods.

“Unfortunately and frequently our political elite sometimes out of advancing political agendas or simply seeking relevance recklessly stoke the fires of ethnicity and religious conflicts.

“We as leaders have a duty to keep the peace and welfare of our states, we must not only we rise above the temptation to take advantage of our country’s fault lines, we must definitely condemn and restrain those who do so. We must insist that this country truly belongs to all of us especially those who cannot defend themselves,” he said

He advised the governors to use their influence and reach to the advantage of the people.

“You have seen and heard for yourselves the enormity of our national problems very few people have the advantage to see closely as we do the issues that concern our country, the issues that even concern our different states, we here have that unique advantage.

“So, I think that we can help in one way or the other, we can do something in our states and other states in a way of advocacy or action on education and health care in particular and jobs.

“I think is important for those of us who have had the benefit of all of these experience and leadership not to now settle down to a life of business or perhaps of enjoyment or sleeping for eight hours. I need this time for action,” he added

He thanked the governors for the kind and generous comments made about the outgoing NEC team.

“I am very deeply grateful for the very sound support and cooperation that you have given me in the past four years but for that support and for that cooperation it would have been completely impossible to achieve some of the modest strides that we have been able to make.

“I think more importantly the cooperation that you have shown among yourselves his what has helped us a great deal and this, of course, has been across party lines and across geopolitical zones, across divides of every gathering.

“The legacy document is an important one not only because it chronicles sector debates and resolutions but because it ensures that the next NEC is given a chance to implement or complete implementation and NEC, of course, is an organic body and it goes on from administration to administration.

“One of the key things that we must do is to ensure that these resolutions not only survive one NEC but will ensure that we are able to do whatever we haven’t managed to do in the previous NEC,” he said

During the valedictory session, six governors spoke on behalf of the six geopolitical zones and former Osun State Governor Rauf Aragbesola and outgoing Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari.

They commended the Vice President for his humility and good leadership style in the past four years.

Yari said: “First, let me start by giving thanks to Almighty Allah who has brought us this far today and also we thank the President and Vice President for having this enabling environment. Sometimes in 2014/2015 we were off from NEC for over nine months and were not able to have a session like this but we can understand. Mr Vice President and Chairman of this council, on behalf of the 36 state governors of the federation we all come together to thank you for giving us an equal opportunity in this Chamber to discuss issues concerning Nigeria and the economy.

“And of course, your team- Finance, Budget and National Planning, and most import the Central Bank Governor who opens his door for us for not only advise and support through your leadership.

“Mr Chairman, I don’t want to repeat what my other colleagues have said on behalf of their zones but I must articulate as their chairman to look at the journey so far from 2015 where we started to where we are today. You have done so well I must acknowledge.

“When we came in in 2015, there were lots of issues ranging from the salary bailout, short to a long term loan to stretching to 20 years so that we can have the bases to develop infrastructure.

“When we were in a recession, you advised the President on the need to have some money to move the country out of recession and the idea of Paris Club Refund came on, infrastructure fund so many things you have done for interventions for the states to survive.

“I think this is why some states, over 90 per cent today, governors can move freely otherwise it would have become something else. Mr Chairman we really appreciate your leadership and we thank you for giving us the opportunity.”

He advised incoming governors to work hard, look inward, and block leakages from all angle.

He said: “And as we discussed it today in our valedictory session at the Governors’ Forum, we say proactive measures must be taken to ensure that some laws are repealed most especially the ones that have to do with the NNPC, the issue of Offshore, Royalties Payment and other issues. Also to put pressure on the revenue generating agencies and give them targets because they are just left opened to just put in the basket whatsoever they desire, most especially the FIRS.

“We must dictate to them how they are going to do in terms of their performance. But the way things are going Mr Chairman, with my experience from 2011 to date I think we are just giving them free hand. We need to give them a kind of target even the NNPC itself.

“What the NNPC is spending especially when it comes to the issue of cash call, it’s in trillions but what comes into the basket for two million people to share is very meagre. And the size of the economy itself as noted by Mr Aragbesola is very tiny and we need to expand it.

“I will say yes government has done tremendously well in terms of expanding the economy through agriculture by spending over N200 billion through the anchor borrower programme but we need to do more because we all agree that agriculture is the mainstay of this economy. It provides over 80 per cent of employment.

“So, if N2 trillion can be spent yearly oil development we need to increase our spending on agriculture too. With what we are seeing as governors especially from the zone where I come from, the rate of population growth, if nothing is done to address it, I am afraid Mr Chairman, we are sitting on a time bomb. And that’s the truth.

“Mr chairman, we have a very gigantic job and we have to start now. If other associations are doing nothing, we have to lay a foundation otherwise in the next ten to 15 years if we did not plan properly, we will be faced with a serious problem.

“I think even Niger Republic that is not up to the size of Kano State, they have their plan on the population they know the number of people they have, the dead, newborn and all. Mr Chairman, if Nigeria must move forward we must improve on.”

Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state, who spoke for the North West, said: “The last four years have been a learning experience for all us and in the process of our interaction, we have come to the conclusion that Nigeria has only one economy and that economy can only grow when the 36 states and the FCT grow.

“I commend Mr. President and Mr. Vice President for being equitable in the treatment of all the states federation without regards to party and other differences.

“We hope that this policy document will be a foundation for the future development of the implementation of some of the policies decisions we have taken.

“Permit me to make one observation on behalf of my colleagues, many of the decisions and resolutions of NEC have not been followed through to conclusion. I think one of the lessons we should learn from the last four years of experience is to have a team that will ensure closure and implementations of these resolutions.

“We have done very well in debating and articulating policies but implementation has not been as robust as the implementation of policy formulation and resolution.”

Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara state, who spoke on behalf North Central governors, said: “No doubt, the NEC is saddled with the responsibility of shaping the economic direction for the country and we are very proud to say that it has been a very wonderful experience in the last four years.

“One of the reasons is because we truly witnessed an inclusive process in developing policy direction. You will agree with me that in governance good policy direction is critical to shaping the ways that things will be carried on and we saw an inclusive policy direction.

“Most importantly we have found ourselves in a situation where it has become imperative for us diversify the Nation’s economy in the face of current challenges in the oil business globally. As it were it became necessary to look at ways to drive agriculture robustly.

“We want to commend the CBN for taking very strong initiatives in taking the bulls by the horns in setting agenda to truly move Nigeria from dependence on crude oil and creating an agro-economy that will truly change of employment, economic growth and development in Nigeria.

“Truly, we still have a lot to do in the areas of power that would have truly sent the major gains coming from the agro shift to driving a robust economy by looking at the value chain involved.

“I am happy to see that we have come with a legacy document which I will really see as a learning process for us. Most critically is how to see that this document translates into actions and impact. If we are able to create an impactful process we will begin to have measurable levels on how to grow our economy in the right direction.

“One critical area that is facing us today is the issue of security. I must commend the chairman’s efforts in seeing how robust we have worked on security. The different environment has different challenges and you have given them the same required attention.

“Even though it’s still challenging but I think the direction seems to be giving everyone a sense of comfort and confidence that we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

“I must also urge this body to see that most of the gains of the last four years are truly translated into making Nigeria’s economy much more robust and less dependent on the areas of crude oil.

“All in all as governors in the Northcentral we expressed our sincere gratitude to Mr. Chairman and we look forward to more robust transparent engagements.”

Speaking on behalf of the South West governors, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said: “From the Southwest we are coming with a heart full of gratitude we want to say a very big thank you to all our governors, for the very first time we have had a robust and purposeful NEC group because from the reflection of those that have spoken in the past about the previous NEC, this is the first time that the 36 governors have consistently sat together to pursue the same purpose and same goal and it wouldn’t have been possible if not for the strong leadership that the vice president has brought to bear on this floor.

“Early 2016 we moved into recession and we had to battle with the CBN governor, on this floor we became more or less an alternative team to the federal government and which eventually led to the stability of the foreign exchange, remember it was about N500 naira in early 2016 but due to the kind of conversation we had on this floor, somehow the chairman of council, somehow the foreign exchange came to N360, though we were not celebrated but the whole idea started from this place, so we need to congratulate ourselves for contributing to the economic agenda of this country by our own robust argument on this floor.

“The chairman came in as if he had actually been a vice president before, he hit the ground running and he is very tolerant, but for the past four years I have never seen him upset,” he stated

Rochas Okorocha of Imo State spoke for the South East governors.

He said: “I don’t understand the long hullabaloo when my name is mentioned, Mr chairman, mine is just to appreciate you and to commend you for a job well done. Some of us have watched you, your style of leadership with your humility in place and I can only summarize that you are indeed a patriotic Nigerian, whose patriotism does not lie in the fear of the law but love for your country. ”

Speaking for the Northeast, Kashim Shettima of Borno State said: “I’d like to join our other colleagues in thanking the Chairman of the council for providing leadership. Most men, according to Abraham Lincoln, can survive the extremes of adversity but it takes a man’s full character, give him power.

“The Vice President in the last four years has exhibited humility, intellectual robustness and inclusivity that has made every member of this council have a sense of belonging. Most importantly for those of us that have been here for the past eight years, meetings in the past couple of years have been held with amazing regularity. There were occasions in the last epoch were meetings were held once every three months.

“The fraternity, the sense of brotherhood that pervades this forum means a lot to the Nigerian nation. As I have always said I’d rather be a small fish in a big pond than be a big fish in a small pond. I am proudly Nigerian, and incidentally, in this forum, we have formed a sense of brotherhood such that I can confidently call Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu state my brother and my friend. I can call Dave Umahi, I can call Senator Okowa. And as controversial as he is, one of my best friends is the Governor of Benue state sitting here with me.”

Aregbesola, who was invited for the valedictory session, said: “Yes, the CBN governor has done wonderfully well, I read him in the papers today where he said that Nigeria must address unemployment. That is the big part of it, but the issue is that our economy is very small compared to the population.

“We must, therefore, address population as a nation that must radically grow the economy. I do have the solution to this but I think just as we have solved several problems from within this portal, we can equally address the issue of poverty in our nation so as to arrest some of the frightening social issues that are staring us in the face.

“I don’t need to expatiate on the size of the economy but it is worth to say that if Cuba could have a revenue of $50billion per annum, Nigeria has no business with the size of revenue it has. How many people are in Cuba? 12million people, the size of Kwara state in Nigeria.

“So, that will tell us how small our economy is. When you go to Brazil, if I mention Brazil, we may throw up our feet. But Cuba is a good example of the smallness of our economy and how inappropriate it is to address the issues staring us in the face.

“Education comes next and something must be done to address this sector. Luckily, in some of our sessions, it had been addressed but, not much was done. Something drastic must be done to education particularly at the basic level where a sense of value and redirection of even what education is all about should come about.

“Education cannot just be for you to read and write, literacy or illiteracy. People must understand that for a nation’s survival, a self-sufficiency and wealth creation must be the core objective of our people. I can go on and on.”

The NEC Secretariat disclosed that the outgoing NEC held 38 meetings between 2015-2019, 5 of which were Special Meetings.

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