GOOD GOVERNANCE, JOB CREATION AND ROLE OF THE MEDIA: A LECTURE DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY, DR. ORJI UZOR KALU, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ABIA STATE, AT THE PUBLIC LECTURE OF THE ABUJA COUNCIL OF THE NIGERIA UNION OF JOURNALISTS, HELD AT THE ROCKVIEW HOTEL, ABUJA, ON TUESDAY, MAY 14, 2013
First, let me thank the organisers for finding me worthy to be the Guest Speaker at this event. I don’t know exactly what informed their decision. I thought that I had been quietly minding my corporate affairs as an international business man, crisscrossing Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States of America, tending to our global concerns in manufacturing, banking, aviation, shipping, real estate and media, among others.
I have also, in recent times, been making strategic interventions in the politics of our nation and the historic quest by our people, Ndigbo, to attain the presidency through the socio-political organisation called Njiko Igbo, come 2015.
But we are not here today for the purposes of politics. I will, therefore, try to refrain from delving into the politics of 2015 and confine myself strictly to the assigned topic of this lecture.
When I got the invitation to speak at this enlightened gathering of, arguably, one of the most vocal groups in our country, the powerful Fourth Estate of the Realm, my very first reaction was: why me? I could only hazard some guesses. Firstly, I am one of Nigeria’s top private sector employers of labour, employing over 5000 citizens directly and 10,000 indirectly across the African continent. This, surely, qualifies me to speak on the subject of job creation. Since the age of 25, with all sense of modesty, I have been creating jobs and I am still creating jobs.
Secondly, I was a governor for eight years, during which period I sought to provide the enabling environment for job creation, youth empowerment and the industrialisation of Abia State. Consequently, I have a deep understanding of how good governance can provide the needed stimulus for economic growth and social welfare for the people.
Thirdly, media ownership is an integral part of my business portfolio. In the last 10 years, our media group, The Sun Publishing Limited, publishers of Daily Sun, Saturday Sun, Sunday Sun and the Soccer Star titles, has been at the apex of the newspaper industry. So I have more than a passing knowledge of the impact of the media in galvanising job creation through its role as monitors or vanguards of the governance process.
All this notwithstanding, let me say straightaway that I am very delighted to be here. I am also pleased with the topic you have assigned to me, even though the decision was unilaterally made, as you didn’t seek my opinion in deciding the topic I should speak on.
The issue of job creation, good governance and the role of the media couldn’t have come at a more auspicious time when global attention is focused on job creation. During the last presidential election in the United States of America, the subject was job creation; how to get more jobs for Americans especially its teeming youths.
So long as the unemployment scourge ravages our country, so long must we continue to talk about job creation and employment, and also critically engage the government and other stakeholders. So long as our country, which is the 6th largest oil-producing nation on earth, continues to face an intimidating youth unemployment, with over 40million of our population jobless and hopeless, so long must intellectual exchanges like what we are having today continue to be on the front burner of national discourse.
The logic is simple: if we don’t get our youths productively engaged during the daytime, they will surely keep us busy and sleepless during the night time. You know what I am talking about – the upsurge in crimes such as kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and other violent crimes are, to a very large extent, directly attributable to joblessness.
UNEMPLOYMENT AS TICKING TIME BOMB
Make no mistake about it, Ladies and Gentlemen, our nation is writhing in the throes of devastating unemployment. Even though the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts the number of unemployed Nigerians at 39million, such a figure could only have been a conservative estimate. In the last 14 years since the advent of democracy, our unemployment rate has seen a dramatic escalation. Between 1999 and 2007, our unemployment percentage jumped from 8.7% to 23.9%. In 2009, the World Bank published a report which showed that Nigeria had about 40 million jobless citizens, which was about 28.57% of the population.
Unofficial sources believe that the number of unemployed Nigerians could be over 50million. This is also a conservative figure, given our tardy and unreliable record-keeping process.
We have many Nigerians in the villages, small towns and cities who are not captured in the unemployment index. What this frightening reality tells us is that a third of our huge population, estimated at over 170 million, is roaming the streets jobless. This state of affairs portends a frightening time bomb.
We have seen the dangers inherent in untamed youth unemployment in other parts of the world. We have borne witness to how countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Greece and others, unravelled like a castle of sand dunes. Indeed, the mass uprisings that exploded in 2011 (the Arab Spring), are direct consequences of the neglect of that critical factor in good governance. The Arab Spring was unquestionably a youth uprising against unemployment, harsh economic conditions, social injustice, despotism and tyranny. It was the revolt of the youth against intolerable living conditions in the affected countries.
Are we not heading in that direction in our own country?
When you have a huge chunk of virile and robust youth rotting away without jobs or prospects, are we not laying landmines that will ultimately blow up in our faces?
In Nigeria, no one can say that we have not been sufficiently warned about the dangers of not aggressively tackling the upsurge in mass unemployment, especially among the youths. Never in the history of this country has kidnapping been as rampant as it is today. From the young to the old, to even the elderly, no one is safe from the onslaught of daredevil kidnappers. From the high and mighty to the lowly and humble, everyone is game for these marauders.
Only recently, a 92 year-old former Minister of Petroleum in the First Republic, Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno, was violently taken from his residence by kidnappers in Maiduguri, Borno State. Before Monguno’s sad story, there was the celebrated case of Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, a former journalist and chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area. After one harrowing week of being in the kidnapper’s den, Bamigbetan was freed. The elderly mother of the current Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was enjoying the quiet peace of retirement and old age after decades of distinguished public service to our country, was kidnapped and was lucky to regain her freedom after the payment of a ransom that reportedly ran into tens of millions of naira. Others, like the former Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chudi Nwike, were not so lucky. His abductors murdered him in cold blood, even after collecting the demanded ransom.
The upsurge in kidnapping in our land should worry us all. There is hardly any month you do not hear of kidnapping cases. Of course, there is a correlation between youth unemployment and kidnapping. From the stories told by kidnappers’ victims, many of those who now see kidnapping as a meal ticket are youths between 22 – 30 years old. In some instances, even 18 year-old youngsters have been recruited into the evil enterprise.
According to the kidnapped Ejigbo Local Government boss, those who kidnapped him were young men who spoke good English; unemployed graduates who confessed that they took to kidnapping as a result of joblessness. What this means is that kidnapping has become a sophisticated art.
This intractable challenge must be confronted squarely and we must prevail in that endeavour. The scourge of unemployment can only be confronted with an aggressive job creation schemes. This is an urgent priority that cannot wait for tomorrow. As the old saying goes, ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’ When we engage the minds of our youths through quality education and gainful employment, we will have less crime and criminality to deal with. We will spend less on law enforcement and security budgeting.
It is my strong view that it is better to create jobs for the army of the unemployed youths than to spend our huge resources cracking down on youths who have turned to crimes because of the harsh economic climate. I am not claiming, in absolute terms, that poverty necessarily pushes people to crime, but the resistance to the attraction of crime is low when graduates roam the streets in search of non-existent jobs; when people graduate from universities and have lost all hopes of securing decent-paying jobs. Of course, it is common knowledge that Nigeria is producing its 16th set of unemployed graduates from our universities; from different disciplines, young men and women who have left school but have never worked anywhere because there are no places to work.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE JOBS?
The question that older Nigerians often find themselves asking when confronted with the startling index of mass unemployment in the land is: how did we get to this sorry pass? A nation that is so generously gifted by God and nature, in both human and material terms, is so desperately struggling to meet its most basic obligations. A nation that was the envy of other African countries at independence in 1960, with groundnut pyramids in the North, cocoa, rubber, coal and palm kernel in the Western and Eastern parts of the country, soon plunged into the abyss, where jobs simply do not exist.
In the first and second republics, young graduates faced the challenge of choice of jobs, not the challenge of availability of jobs. They had a wide range from which to make their choice. That is not the case today.
True, there was the global economic recession of the late 80s and early 90s; there has been the global economic meltdown which ravaged Europe, America and other parts of the world including Nigeria, melting jobs and depressing economies. These are all factors that led to global job losses. However, we have had peculiar challenges in our country which have aggravated our situation. We have witnessed monumental mismanagement and the looting of our common wealth by successive administrations dating back to the First Republic. Our groundnut pyramids crumbled; the production of cocoa and palm kernel fizzled out.
The cost of total absence of vision and competent leadership has been too great to bear.
Secondly, I strongly believe that we have to do a lot more in tackling corruption if we must rise successfully to the challenge posed by unemployment. When needed resources are not judiciously put to the public cause, we will continue to harvest the monster of unemployment.
Nigerians have been witnesses to several probe panels in power, petroleum and other critical sectors, where trillions of naira has been allegedly stolen under several guises, including the historically scandalous payment of phantom subsidies. A similar scandal has been uncovered in the power sector. Think of the tens of thousands gainful employment opportunities such looted funds could have been used to create. Think of the number of unemployed youths that a judicious deployment of such funds could have helped to put in information technology (IT), transportation, construction, manufacturing, mining, agriculture and other creative endeavours.
National leaders at all levels must deal decisively with real corruption cases, not politically motivated ones, if we must resolve the unemployment challenge. When funds needed for development and empowerment are embezzled, the future of a generation of Nigerians is blighted. When government officials live as lords and masters of the people, there will be no money left to create the enabling environment for genuine businessmen and entrepreneurs to operate and create jobs for the youths.
Here in our country, we also have some super-rich Nigerians without visible means of livelihood. Their major business is politics and government. All they have done all their lives is working for government. Yet, they are counted as wealthy billionaires even though the jobs they have created can be counted in absolute zero! You can’t find industries they have built. You can’t find them in any creative sector. If our wealthy citizens would create jobs and engage young school leavers, we would not be where we are today.
WHAT WE MUST DO TO CREATE JOBS
These are what I have decided to call the five critical things we must do as a matter of urgency or, if you like, my Five Commandments on job creation.
- Tackle corruption
- Fix our electricity problem
- Massive investment in agriculture
- Train youths to be job creators rather than job seekers
- Tackle the challenge of insecurity
On the first commandment, I have let you into a snippet of the cankerworm of corruption. Corruption affects every aspect of the national life, especially the economy. We can’t create jobs if the money to do so has disappeared into private pockets or vaults. With an economic growth of less than 8% and decaying infrastructure, it is not strange that there are little or no jobs in the industrial, manufacturing or social sector. Where then will the jobs be generated if not in these sectors?
With paucity of funds, government is even unable to create the enabling environment for the private sector to come in. The cost of transacting business in Nigeria must rank as one of the highest in Africa, if not the world. You have to navigate through dangerous mines: bureaucracy, power instability, a demoralised and in some instances, incompetent work force, and of course, the security challenge. If we can eliminate or rather substantially reduce corruption from the mix, chances are that Nigeria could create more jobs for its teeming army of the jobless.
In a world driven by technology, power (electricity) is everything. Yet, we are still engaged in the politics of megawatts. Today, it is 2000mw, the next day it nosedives to less than 1200. It seems we are forever chasing the elusive 4000mw.
Before I am misread or misinterpreted, I am not saying that the present Jonathan administration is not doing anything about our electricity challenge. My contention, however, is that we are still frustratingly far from a level where we can say we have adequate or stable power supply. Businesses are groaning under frequent power outages. Others have gone out of business altogether. How might jobs be created in conditions of gross power instability? Even some multinational companies that used to operate here have relocated to neighbouring countries such as Ghana where there is a greater stability of power.
It goes without saying that if we had a more stable power supply, industries would flourish, companies would recruit rather than retrench workers in order to accommodate prohibitive cost of transacting business.
In the early 60s, even up to the civil war period, agriculture was the mainstay of the nation’s economy. And then we struck oil and struck trouble. Emphasis quickly shifted from tilling the soil to wearing suits and clutching briefcases. Many citizens found their way into the civil service and government appointments. Agriculture was relegated.
We are suffering the consequences of that unwise decision today. The blessing of oil has turned into a curse for our people. Only a few fat cats in the corridors of power are enjoying our oil wealth, while majority wallow in penury, living on less than a dollar a day.
The youths are the worst affected as we have seen, with over 23 million in the vice-grip of unemployment. With fluctuating oil prices and the threat that the precious liquid may even soon dry up in the nearest future, we have to urgently return to agriculture and promote it to the top league of our economy. The comparative advantages to be mined in doing so are too lengthy to enumerate in this speech. As a matter of urgency, the federal, state and local governments should set up government-sponsored cooperative farms to take on graduate farmers and other young school leavers. Uniforms and hostels should be provided for them with high incentives. In no time we should be able to witness the wonders of such proactive approach to job creation.
Finally, the fifth commandment is obvious. If we tackle all the other four areas and fail to resolve our security challenges, we will get nowhere. With reports on the onslaught of Boko Haram, kidnapping and other security issues, the road ahead will definitely be rough as far as job creation is concerned.
ROLE OF THE MEDIA
The role of the mass media in the job creation and good governance matrix is unambiguous and it is a fundamental one. This role is part of the fulcrum of the media’s primary role as a watchdog in a democracy. It is a role that is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Section 22 of the Constitution states that “…the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained [in Chapter II of the Constitution] and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”
Chapter II of the Constitution which deals with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy constitutes, in my considered opinion, the entire essence of our sovereignty, democracy and governance. And it is the onerous duty of the mass media to ensure that this essence is elevated and brought to reality for the Nigerian people.
The role of the media in our democracy is therefore a constitutional obligation; it is not a privilege bestowed upon you by the government or any agency of government for that matter. That is why you are famously referred to as the ‘Fourth Estate of the Realm.’ When you hold those in authority accountable, you are merely performing your constitutional duty, and not acting as either busy bodies or beneficiaries of a privilege. You are neither. You are the fourth branch of a democratic order exercising a constitutional right and performing a constitutionally mandated duty.
When you insist on exposing corruption; when you point out areas of government deficiency or expose institutional weaknesses as regards good governance, you are only doing what the constitution enjoins you to do. In a democracy the mass media has no option than to take its constitutional role as seriously as it is possible to do so.
The natural question that flows from the above is: how has the media fared since this democratic dispensation? Has it lived up to its billing of being in the vanguard of safeguarding good governance and the democratic project?
My verdict is that it has not the media’s performance has not been fairly good. This is not to say that there is no room for improvement. No. There is every need to push harder and advance further.
I must congratulate the media for its relentlessness in keeping the primary operators of our democracy on their toes. The media, I am proud to acknowledge, has been at the forefront of the crusade against corruption and corrupt practices in our country. When I read critical opinion pieces or editorials that push the frontiers of inquisition on any number of episodes of maladministration or executive excess, then I feel quietly optimistic that redemption lies in wait for this potentially great republic.
The oil subsidy scandal, the Evan Ewenrem/SalisuBuhari certificate saga, staunch opposition to the third term agenda, when we had a president who wanted to turn himself into a life president, are some of the more celebrated media interventions in enhancing good governance in our country.
But there have also been strong criticisms against the media. Many have accused it of being corrupt itself and always seeking to promote and project the highest bidder, even when such individuals especially in the corridors of power have not lived on the transparent lane.
You can not totally dismiss this claim as bogus or false. What I honestly enjoin the media to do is look inwards with a view to flushing out some bad eggs in your midst. I am convinced that the media as an institution may not be corrupt, but there is the possibility that a few bad eggs in your midst is working hard to tarnish your hard-earned reputation which you have built from colonial era through the military interregnum to the present. You should work even harder to flush them out. But overall, Nigerians owe a lot to the media for the democracy we are enjoying today. Without the media and other conscientious opposition leaders, democracy could also have been aborted if the evil third term agenda had been allowed to see the light of day.
However, I challenge the media today to take full advantage of the newly enacted Freedom of Information Act to kick harder and strike more sharply at the evils that constantly encumber good governance and threaten our democracy. Some of those evils I have enumerated above.
It goes without saying that without the media playing its critical role to enhance good governance, unemployment will continue to soar; job creation will continue to remain a mirage. And we all will be the worse for it.
May God bless you, and may God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
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