CONVOCATION LECTURE DELIVERED BY HON. KINGSLEY KUKU, SPECIAL ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT ON NIGER DELTA AND CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENTIAL AMNESTY PROGRAMME, AT THE 10TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF THE BENSON IDAHOSA UNIVERSITY, BENIN CITY, EDO STATE, ON FRIDAY, AUGUST 15, 2014
I am exceedingly grateful to the Senate and the Governing Council of Nigeria’s foremost private university, the Benson Idahosa University, Benin, for giving me the huge platform of your 10th convocation lecture to offer my humble perspectives on the crucial issues of security and transformation.
Kindly permit me to pay deserved tribute to the founder of this great Christian university, our beloved Daddy, the Archbishop Benson Idahosa, who thirty years ago established this institution with a clear mission of “raising leaders who are complete in spirit, mind and body.” Like most of us here are well aware, when Archbishop Benson Idahosa made this bold move, private universities had not even been legalized in Nigeria. But being a dogged crusader, he was neither dissuaded nor deterred in any way. Just as Papa envisioned from the outset, Benson Idahosa University has become the quintessential citadel of learning comparable to other first class universities globally. I dare say that this university has become a beacon of hope and a veritable grooming ground for future leaders even as our nation march gloriously towards greatness under the able leadership of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR.
I must also pay tribute to a great woman of valour, the Archbishop Margaret Idahosa who, against huge odds, tenaciously continued from where Papa Idahosa stopped and nurtured this great institution to maturity and ensured that its foretold greatness was achieved. We salute you, Mummy.
Our warmest felicitations must also go to Pastor Faith Emmanuel Benson-Idahosa, the young, energetic, enterprising and charismatic President of this university. Your untiring efforts are clearly paying off and this much is evidenced in the fact that you are, today, running one of the best universities in Africa.
Distinguished members of the Benson Idahosa University community, invited guests, graduating students, members of the press, ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked to speak on the topic: Challenging Current Security Issues For National Transformation: The Way Forward. I dare say that the aptness of this topic cannot be overemphasized, especially given that insecurity, particularly as posed by the dastardly activities of the terrorist organization, Boko Haram, continues to militate against the transformation agenda of our dear President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. I must quickly add, though, that most discerning Nigerians have since formed the opinion that political actors and interests generously help to fan the embers of insecurity in the country for selfish and pecuniary reasons. I shall return to this point shortly.
Between Security And Transformation
My assignment as the Special Adviser to Mr. President on Niger Delta and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme entails among other things the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of 30,000 former agitators in the Niger Delta. A core component of this mandate that the President has graciously given me is the placement of thousands of these Niger Delta youths in universities and vocational training facilities both within the country and offshore.
Relying on my experience on this job as well as my training in conflict and dispute resolution, I wish to boldly affirm that there is indeed a nexus between education, transformation and security. Security is generally defined as any mechanism deliberately fashioned to alleviate the most serious and immediate threats that prevent people from pursuing their cherished values. Several scholars and revered authorities have further redefined security to encompass not merely the security of people but more broadly to include economic and social concerns such as welfare, employment and the distribution of national wealth.
Indeed, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2003 averred that “human security in its broadest sense embraces far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses human rights, good governance, access to education and health care, and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her own potential. Every step in this direction is also a step towards reducing poverty, achieving economic growth and preventing conflict.”(UN 2003)
Talking about transformation, I crave your kind indulgence to take a cue from our dear President, who has abundantly communicated his transformation agenda to encompass a seamless process that will radically, fundamentally, structurally and massively transform the national economy, reinvent the politics of our nation, secure the polity, care for the underprivileged and provide responsible, responsive and credible leadership to Africa’s largest and most promising economy
Using the above indicators, the facts are very bare and are verifiable that even against huge odds, Nigeria under the able leadership of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is finally in the safe and capable hands of a genuine transformational leader. Our country is now being steered by a true democrat, an intellectual who operates quietly but records giant strides.
In its 2013 state-of-nations’ report, the Bill Clinton Foundation, which has a remarkable presence in Nigeria, identified Nigeria as one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world. While addressing the Annual Conservative Party Conference in June 2013, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, said: “We’ve been hearing about China and India for years but it’s hard to believe what’s happening in Brazil, in Indonesia and in Nigeria.”
In January this year, the British Under-Secretary of State for Africa, Mr. Henry Bellingham, said of Nigeria: “Nigeria has averaged growth of 8.9 per cent, which is really stunning. Nigeria is the world’s fourth fastest growing economy with solid growth in the next five years and beyond. This is truly remarkable.”
Of course in August 2012, President Barack Obama declared Nigeria the “world’s next economic success story.” In its 2013 annual report, the World Bank posited that poverty in Nigeria reduced from 48 to 46% in the last one year. The same bank and its affiliates in late 2013 announced that Nigeria’s inflation had reduced to 9%, the first time it has hit single digit in four years.
My dear compatriots, our quiet and unassuming President has achieved this much even in the face of unprecedented security challenges, which he inherited. I have said it elsewhere and I repeat it hear that it is not an exaggeration to assert that Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is Nigeria’s second wartime President after General Yakubu Gowon. Since assuming Office, Dr Jonathan has been buffeted by security challenges that were planted, watered and nurtured by the ineptitude, insensitivity and tardiness of successive past leaderships in the country both at the Federal and State levels.
It is not my intention to bore you with the history or the story of the insurgency of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram. I know you all know how that monster was created and nurtured. It smacks of crass insincerity or even a chronic case of selective amnesia for anyone to suggest that President Jonathan has not given the war on terror, as now epitomized by Boko Haram and its affiliates, his very best since assuming office. Being a true, caring and sensitive leader, President Jonathan never for once balked at the arduous task of confronting head-on this colossal problem that germinated, grew and festered under his predecessors. The very humane President we have today has adopted a scientific, sophisticated and pragmatic approach in his war against terrorism and insurgency and I can attest to you today that profound results are being achieved.
Even when I do not have the mandate to speak on the efforts being made to stem the ugly tide of terrorism in our nation, I can boldly confirm that it is to the credit of our President and our armed forces that the activities of the terrorists remain confined to only sections of the northeastern parts of the country. I am also aware that for every suicide bombing that occurs, more than 100 attempts would have been prevented by our vigilant security agents.
The truth of the matter is that the world has come to realize and understand that the Boko Haram insurgency is not just a problem for northern Nigeria or Nigeria as a whole. It is a global problem that deserves collective effort to confront and defeat. Without going into details, I can assure you that this unfortunate matter is receiving the maximum albeit sophisticated attention that it deserves. The President has repeatedly assured Nigerians that our great nation shall in a short while overcome Boko Haram and its allies operating in the country. We trust in the abilities and capabilities of the gallant officers and men of our armed forces to rein in the terrorists. It behooves us all to support this President who is transforming our great country not just for our good but also for the good of our children and generations yet unborn.
Despite the antics and wiles of political opponents who seek to reap cheap benefits by attempting to sweep under the carpet the achievements of the Jonathan administration, most Nigerians now know and say it openly that President Goodluck Jonathan deserves commendation for the achievements he has recorded thus far with our economy, the power sector, provision of critical infrastructure in transportation, electoral reforms, aviation, agriculture, the consolidation of peace, safety and security in the Niger Delta as well as the war against terror.
On the critical issues of development, transformation and security, scholars continue to engage in the chicken and egg debate. The question is, which came first: the chicken or the egg? In other words, does security precede development or is it lack of development that breeds insecurity? Again, I will dabble into this great debate drawing from my varied experiences as a Niger Delta activist, a conflict and dispute resolution scholar and of course my current assignment as the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and the Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme. I was an active participant in the struggle for economic, social and environmental justice in the Niger Delta and a signatory to the bible of the struggle, the Kaiama Declaration in 1998 wherein Ijaw youths sought full control of the resources in Ijawland. By extension we were also seeking same conditions for our fellow Niger Deltans, as did Isaac Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa before our time.
It was a difficult time as the Federal Government responded with the use of force; a continuation of the policy that led to the unfortunate loss of hundreds (if not thousands) of precious lives on all sides, including of course the “judicial murder” of acclaimed environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa in November 1995.
It was not long before a combination of factors resulted into various armed movements in the Niger Delta. At the height of violent conflict in the region, oil production went dangerously below one million barrels per day (bpd) and kidnappings of oil workers and others deemed prosperous was rampant.
The conflict in the Niger Delta had all but pushed Nigeria off the fiscal cliff. Conversely, the conflict worsened the poverty and underdevelopment index in this otherwise rich part of our great country. Even when the Niger Delta struggle was a justifiable one, it showed also that conflicts or insecurity repels development and transformation.
Luckily, however, peace offer was made by the Federal Government, which was graciously accepted by agitators in the Niger Delta, and paved the way for the amnesty proclamation. Today, the Niger Delta has become the safest and most secure zone in Nigeria.
Importantly also, the relative peace, safety and security that the amnesty proclamation and the post-amnesty programme engendered in the Niger Delta have helped to buoy our economy. As against the crude export figure of 700,000 barrels per day at the peak of the Niger Delta conflict in January of 2009, Nigeria now exports between 2.4 and 2.6 million barrels of crude per day. Given this improved earnings in the oil sector, the President is funding and pursuing the speedy revamping and transformation of several moribund but critical sectors of our economy.
President Jonathan is conscious of the fact that no nation can boast of development without an efficient and reliable transport sector. Today, under his able leadership, the aviation sector in Nigeria is enjoying a fresh lease and can now compare with the best in at least Africa. For the first time in 20 years, in 2012 alone, the Federal Government remodeled and reconstructed 12 key airports across the country with a view to ensuring that they became true centres of commercial and economic activities. Today these airports are wearing a new look with their terminals totally overhauled for the comfort and safety of air travellers. The revolution in the sector is aimed at restoring Nigeria’s aviation industry to its rightful place as a hub in Africa aviation and to contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our dear country.
Similarly, the achievements of the Presidential Amnesty Programme have helped Nigeria earn enough money to revamp the comatose railway sector after over 20 years of inactivity and criminal neglect. The rail lines are back on track, thanks to the transformation agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan. Not too long ago, the President himself led several top government officials to take a long ride in one of the new locomotives owned by the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) from Lagos to Abeokuta, Ogun State. The commissioning of the reactivated Lagos-Jebba rail lines that cost the nation N12.13 billion is without any iota of doubt a major achievement by the Jonathan administration.
I am also aware that in continuation of efforts to revitalize and modernize rail transport in the country, the Federal Government has signed a N67 billion contract for the rehabilitation of 2,119-kilometre three Eastern rail lines, comprising 463-kilometre rail line from Port Harcourt to Makurdi; 1,016 kilometres rail line from Makurdi to Kuru including spur line to Jos and Kafanchan; and 640-kilometre rail line from Kuru to Maiduguri respectively.
Compatriots, in case you are not already aware, grant me the honour of informing you that for the first time in over 20 years, petroleum products and other heavy equipment are now being transported from the southern parts of the Nigeria to the northern parts of the country by train. Even then, President Jonathan is determined to ensure that before the end of this year, the NRC would commence operating long distance express passenger train services from Port Harcourt to Kano like the Lagos to Kano route; Lagos to Jos and Maiduguri as well as Port Harcourt to Jos and Maiduguri. These services will include offer of full air conditioning to the first class “seater” or “sleeper” luxury saloons, with wagons equipped with conveniences, just like the rail services in developed countries of the world.
The peace in the Niger Delta and the successful management of the Presidential Amnesty Programme under President Goodluck Jonathan has also aided the transformation that is currently going on in the critical power sector.
All discerning Nigerians can testify to the fact that electricity supply, distribution and transmission in the country have greatly improved in the last two years. In 2010 when President Jonathan assumed office, first as acting President and later President, power generation from all the power stations across the country was less than 2,000 megawatt.
Once again, I thank the Senate and the Governing Council of the Benson Idahosa University for offering me the platform of your 10th Graduation Lecture to give my humble perspectives on the crucial issues of security and transformation. I am exceedingly grateful. I thank you.
Hon. Kingsley Kuku
Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme.