by Babatunde Fashola
They say lightning does not strike in the same place twice.
For the sake of all of us, I sincerely hope that this saying holds true for Nigerians.
Whilst thanking my hosts, the Leadership newspaper, for inviting me to speak at this event to celebrate General Yakubu Gowon, a patriot and public servant of no mean repute, I apologize that I must open with such words of what I may call frugally measured hope.
This is because the circumstances which thrust a young General Gowon upon our Nation as a leader in the 1960s are not too different from what appears on Nigeria’s political and social landscape from what any honest Nigerian can see.
Indeed the dark clouds that gather are this time prefaced by an ominous prediction about the continuity of our union from a place far away.
If anybody has any doubt about what I say, I will recall history and go back to a speech delivered on Sunday 5th February 1970 in which it was partly said as follows:-
“Before and since the end of the civil war, we have heard a good deal about physical reconstruction, with particular and almost exclusive reference to the reconstruction of roads, bridges, airports, buildings, market-places and other such-like material and concrete objects which were damaged during the war.
I know, and I want to assure you, that all the Governments of the Federation are already busy making gargantuan preparations to the end that every trace, however slight, of the extensive physical damage done during the war shall be totally erased within the next year or two. But, if the rebuilding of roads, bridges, etc. were all that needed to be done, then the task of reconstruction would be an exceedingly easy proposition.
For Nigeria has the requisite material and financial, as well as the human resources to tackle these jobs effectively and expeditiously. In addition, it has a large circle of friendly countries which are prepared to come to its aid as and when required.
But before we have travelled far on the road of material reconstruction, we must realise, and do so vividly and truthfully, that the most crucial areas of reconstruction are the minds of Nigerian citizens on both sides of the fighting line.
In other words, in addition to material reconstruction, there is an urgent and massive need for moral and spiritual reconstruction as well: the kind of reconstruction which will help to demolish morbid desire for naked power and domination; abuse and misuse of power and office; greed, selfishness, and intolerance; nepotism, favouritism, jobbery, bribery, and other forms of corruption; and erect, in their places, probity, tolerance, altruism, and devotion; equality of treatment, justice, equity, and fair play to all.”
This speech was given by Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
For those who still need to be persuaded, I ask further, why would we gather to celebrate the 80th birthday anniversary of General Gowon, who led us through a bitter civil war, inaugurated a rebuilding process built on 3Rs of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation and 44 years after that process we will gather to discuss a topic such as “Rebuilding the Nation: Lessons from other Lands” if all was well with Nigeria.
Why are we not at this occasion celebrating our arrival on the moon?
I do not know how General Gowon feels inwardly as he continues to lead prayers for Nigeria, but I would not be happy that today’s Nigeria is what lives were sacrificed to keep together, if I were him.
Nevertheless, I personally know that all is not lost. I am an optimist. I am convinced that the problems are man-made, and therefore men and women can and will solve them.
I have believed as a child and continue to believe as an adult in the great promise of Nigeria.
Whether we like it or not, the promise of Nigeria will be fulfilled. What I do not know is when. Whether it will happen in my lifetime or after.
It would be nice to experience it. I can visualize it.
The world’s largest collection of black people, blessed in many more ways than one, diverse in human and material resources, and if only it can unite in its purpose and mission.
I would love to live that dream. And it is possible. But it must start with us.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Nigeria has not changed. It is us Nigerians who have changed. As one commentator put it, we have lost our innocence.
The assets of Nigeria, in men and material resources, have continued to grow or at least remain undiminished.
What has diminished in many vast quantities are our values.
We have refused to look in the mirror because we know what we will see and we are not ready to confront it.
What we will see is a people who appear unsure again how to define good and bad.
In order to avoid the confrontation that we must have with ourselves, amongst ourselves and within ourselves, we have thrown up false reasons.
The constitution is bad. It is our diversity. It is our religion or it is our ethnicity.
So, in order to avoid the truth, we have lived in our own bubble, amending constitution after constitution as if that was the problem.
Instead of the many Constitutional Conferences that we have had, what we really need is a conference of values.
Nigerians have not experienced the promise of this country because our values and moral codes have gone in different directions.
Ever so often, when the Nigerian people have asked the leadership for a better life, we seem to miss the question or we avoid it; we give them a new law or a new document, or we set up one Committee.
The ordinary Nigerian will not be as interested in what is written in the Constitution, as he will be interested in safety, food, shelter, prosperity, education and work.
But when we finally agree to look in the mirror, we will see that these things have been denied by our values.
From the shortage of electric power, to the deficit of roads, insecurity and crime, sub-optimal economy, high interest rate, poor exchange rates, the poor value issues and misuse of power, greed, selfishness, intolerance, nepotism, favouritism, bribery and other forms of corruption identified since 1970, lie at the heart and as root-cause.
Therefore on discussing my topic, as chosen by my hosts, which is: Rebuilding the Nation, lessons from other lands, my approach today will be to share some of the problems that we are all too familiar with as examples of what must change.
Then I will proceed to look at other places and make possible comparisons, in order to show what they have experienced, and what they did, as lessons that we may consider; if we must re-build our nation.
Let me start with some of the problems.
And I will not say anything that comes from me. I will only repeat what some ordinary Nigerians have said and what some of you may have read.
I will start with Alade Fawole who writes on the back page of Tribune Newspapers and what he said in the Tuesday edition of 7th October 2014, which he titled “The Mo Ibrahim index exposed the ugliness of Nigeria’s underdevelopment.”
He said in part as follows:
“A few months ago, after the Nigerian economy was officially rebased, a mere statistical abracadabra that placed Nigeria as having the largest economy in Africa ahead of South Africa which had rightly occupied that position for decades, our national officials were giddy with celebration, effusively touted the wielding of that magic wand called rebasing as another evidence of the success of President Jonathan’s transformation agenda.
And they did their level best to persuade us of the ‘benefits’ of this newly minted status. Many perceptive analysts advised cautious jubilation at the time, stating that the mere statistical manipulation or creative accounting exercise neither reflected the actual economic realities on the ground in the country nor would it make any meaningful impact on the lives and living standards of the 70 percent ordinary Nigerians who survive on less than two dollars a day.
Fancy economic statistics that fail to translate into positive improvement in the living conditions of the mass of the people is at best useless.
Every commentator with a contrary view was at the time regarded in official circles in Abuja as either working for the opposition party, (the accusation routinely leveled at anybody who disagrees with government), or he/she was downright unappreciative if not also unpatriotic.
But the reality is that this rebasing did not, and has not, addressed chronic poverty, infrastructure decay, creeping authoritarianism, mass youth unemployment, adult underemployment, burgeoning insecurity and overall bad governance, and other challenges that confront the country.
The 2014 Ibrahim Index on African Governance (IIAG), an annual review on governance in Africa of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, released on Monday, September 29, ranks Nigeria among the worst governed countries in Africa. It has revealed the stark ugliness of Nigeria’s underdeveloped status in the world.
Of the 52 countries profiled, Nigeria is placed number 37, far below its principal competitor and continental rival, South Africa, which ranks number 4, after Mauritius, Cape Verde and Botswana in that order. Nigeria scoring 45.8 not only ranks below the West African average of 52.2, it ranks scandalously lower than the overall African average of 51.5!
What makes this highly atrocious and humiliating, in my humble view, is that Nigeria is the undisputed sub-regional ‘superpower’ by several statistical considerations. It all shows that the rebasing was just another statistical hocus pocus contrived to hoodwink the people that they are actually more prosperous than previously imagined.
Let’s return to the 2014 Ibrahim Index. Eleven West African countries, among them post-conflict states like Liberia and Sierra Leone still coping with the devastating consequences of civil wars, rank ahead of Nigeria!
How much more scandalous can things get’ All the 52 African countries were judged on four basic premises, namely: Safety and Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development, and Nigeria ranked poorly in virtually all of them.
It is customary during major national celebrations for our governments to reel out their wonderful achievements. This year’s nationwide independence anniversary broadcast by President Goodluck Jonathan on 1st October did not disappoint —– as usual it was full of self-praise and effusive celebration of the government’s fantastic achievements.
Among the things that caught my attention is the President’s claim that ‘we have been able to sustain a big, strong and influential country with a robust economy. We are currently in our sixteenth year of uninterrupted democratic rule, daily improving on the consolidation of our democratic process.’
Add to that sundry claims of the power sector reforms that will bring us electricity, ‘giant strides in the agricultural sector’ and sundry policies meant to fast-track job creation, inclusive growth and industrialisation, upgrade existing infrastructure, and all that. Coming just two days after the release of the Ibrahim Index, the speech and all the fancy claims rang rather hollow and unconvincing.
While a little self-congratulation may not be completely out of place, it’s high time the government came down from its high horse to acknowledge the ugly realities of Nigeria’s underdevelopment, and begin to come up with innovative ways of solving them so that Nigeria can in the next few years emerge from this sorry state.
Not much will be achieved by wallowing in self-congratulations instead of facing the facts. I don’t know about our government, but I consider it shameful, scandalous and unacceptable that a big country endowed with abundant natural and human resources like Nigeria would place thirty-seventh in Africa and tenth out of sixteen in the West Africa sub-region. The only appropriate appellation for it is ‘big for nothing country’.”
I will also quickly refer you to the views expressed by Abimbola Adelakun who writes on the back page of Punch Newspapers and this is part of what she had to say in the Tuesday October 9th 2014 edition about security (on which we have received a poor rating) in a piece she titled “The battle the Army needs to win.”
“How, one wonders, does a fundamentalist sect without any training in modern warfare defeat Army officers? Boko Haram, ab initio, is a copycat organisation; no original thought.
They are as vicious as any psychopath armed with high-octane weapons can be. Their videos portray them as a disorganised band whose major strength is the worthlessness of their lives which they never hesitate to throw away.
On this page some weeks back, I noted that now that ISIS beheads people on video, Boko Haram too will soon follow suit – and they did! Boko Haram is asymptotic of the spectacularisation of violence elsewhere. Even their triumph is barely original.
How can such a group endlessly confound the Nigerian Army if not for the politics of war?
For now, the evidence that Shekau had truly been killed is weak yet cuts at the heart of the credibility of the Army. The Army has been caught in several blatant lies that believing they actually killed Shekau sounds like ‘tales by the moonlight’. Worse, the evidence they presented works hard at saying nothing but destroying their claims.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, I did not say this. Two Nigerian citizens said so. I have resolved for a long time not to speak badly about my country.
But that resolve also comes with another resolve not to pretend about its problems, because I believe they can be solved.
So I cannot pretend that the problems highlighted in these words by two Nigerians indicate that they exist.
Many words summarize these comments. Inefficiency of Government, mistrust between the Governed and those Governing at the national level. And nothing typifies this more than the Transformation agenda and the Transformation Ambassadors, who seem to see what all of us and perhaps the rest of the world do not see in our country.
Yes I agree that Nigerians need to unite around an idea or a vision, but for that to happen, the idea or vision must be SHARED and our efforts must be united towards realizing it, while our actions must be consistent with that idea. This is the kernel of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s speech that I referred to.
Has this happened? I cannot answer this question alone. Indeed the answer lies in a joint examination of Nigeria’s current realities and expressed vision; in a Transformation Agenda.
Is this a shared idea, vision or agenda? Was it discussed with you? Do you know what it means?
Let us start from the definition. The word derives from the verb “Transform” which means:
“to completely change the character or appearance of something,…so that it is better.”
So if we paraphrase, to transform means ‘to change for the better.’
In the last four years, has Nigeria changed for the better?
I do not know about you. But the signs that there was not going to be any transformation were obvious to me since 2011 or thereabouts.
As a mere slogan perhaps yes. As a call to purposeful action, the deception is obvious if you look at the budgets we have presented as a nation, and more critically at how much of it, we have been able to implement.
For any serious public officer, nation or Government the budget is the article of faith.
It is the easiest place from which the seriousness or lack of seriousness of the people in that country or region are valued.
It determines what investors locally and internationally will do.
In a nation where we need to increase the supply of good road networks, where power needs to be produced in multiples of thousands of megawatts, where specialist health care facilities are needed, one would expect a massive investment in financing public infrastructure at a time when oil has been selling for around $100 per barrel.
But details of the Federal Budget pieced together between 2010 and 2013 show that every year in those four years we have budgeted at least 62% and at most 74% on recurrent spending, while the maximum budget for capital expenditure, from which roads, rail, power, hospitals, bridges, etc can be executed have received at most 38% in 2010 before this administration started, and as little as 26% in 2011.
If truly there was a desire to make a change for the better which is what transformation means, it should be obvious as a statement of intent from the budget.
But contrary to what we profess, our budgets spend more on recurrent; payment of salaries, travel, importing kerosene, petrol, rice and every other imaginable thing.
What is transformational about that?
For the record, since around 2011, I have made a conscious effort not to use that word, and whenever I have succumbed to the unconscious use of it, it has been with very deep regret.
The truth is that we are not “transforming” for the better. Our own definition of the word seems to be different from the one in the dictionary.
It is obvious in all spheres of our national life, the evidence stares us in the face. No patrol vehicles for Policemen, arms are being rushed in purchase because none was budgeted for until we hit a crisis.
So we have heard of wives of soldiers protesting deployment of their husbands, soldiers making tactical withdrawals, small nations that are not as big as some local Governments in Nigeria embarrassing us.
Yet some Nigerians, who claim they are more patriotic than us, say that they are Ambassadors of this transformation and that we are wrong because all is well.
Really is all well? When last did Sudan, a nation that has been caught in civil strife, go to the Nations Cup, not to talk of defeating Nigeria?
I know that they won the Nations Cup in 1970 when they hosted it. But I cannot remember when last Nigeria lost a match to Sudan. But it happened on Saturday.
In our group with Congo and South Africa, we are the only nation that has not defeated Sudan. They lost by 3-0 to South Africa, and by 2-0 to Congo. FIFA has threatened to ban us, given us ultimata more times in a year.
This is happening when we are defending champions.
But how did we consolidate our success as African champions? We removed a young minister who was rebuilding our sports and connecting with his generation. His offence? He did not attend a political rally.
How consistent is this action with the transformational agenda to empower the young people of this country?
Again you will see inconsistency; words leading in the opposite direction of action.
How can we transform if we spent over N2 Trillion on importing fuel. This is approximately $12.5 Billion.
For those who are curious enough, please simply Google the cost of building the Burj Khalifa. It was the tallest building in the world when it was completed about four years ago and quickly became a foremost global tourism destination. It cost $1.5 Billion and an oil producing Emirate like our country used the same income source to send a strong statement of development and Excellence to the whole world.
According to our own Government, our transformation is evident in the handful of billionaires and the number of their private jets.
In order to understand our transformation, you might wonder what kind of ideology this transformation is, which makes it difficult to buy arms to pursue and diminish criminals.
Every person who cares to ask will easily find out that conflicts around the world are pursued with small arms which are in proliferation in the hands of criminals.
Yet we have been unable to get legally or illegally, what criminals get readily.
If this is the case, what does it say of our ability to apprehend them, if they can do illegally, what we cannot do illegally or legally? Some transformation.
My heart bleeds when I recount how we move from one avoidable embarrassment to another and so I will say no more.
What I have said is only necessary to contextualize what I think we should do.
In order to preface my solution, I will make a final reference to the arms purchase scandal and the Evangelical thread that trails it.
I know that all the scriptures abhor violence and killing, so I will focus on the ethical and moral message of that thread.
The last time I checked, arms and ammunition were not being used for making peace, giving life, treating sick people or providing spiritual renewal.
Arms are used to perpetrate violence or repel it. Usually they cause death. They are the anti-thesis of the spiritual injunction that, thou shall not kill.
The inconsistent purpose of arms and ammunition with this injunction is, for me, the most important reason why there should never have been that Evangelical thread.
It threatens the foundations of morality and values; and this is my message for all of us.
What we need most in order to rebuild our nation is to reclaim our lost values, re-define our moral codes, agree on a common definition of what is good and what is bad, pursue the development of our nation along these codes and refuse to accommodate any ethnic, kinship, tribal, religious or other coloration whenever these moral codes and ethical values are violated.
We have done it before. An example which I readily cite is a story told to me by my friend and I will repeat it:
About 40 years ago, when my friend was Ten-Years-Old, he recalls that his father had a close friend who was also a neighbour. For many years, his father and that friend constantly exchanged visits and after work drinks in each other’s homes.
My friend’s paternal grandmother lived with them. One evening, it was reported in the news that the neighbour, his father’s friend, was suspected of some impropriety in his office.
His grandmother had heard the news. When the friend walked over for the usual evening drink with his father, his grandmother refused to open the door.
In the exchange between son and mother (my friend’s father and his grandmother) as to why the well-known friend and neighbour could not enter, my friend’s grandmother replied that he must go and clear his name.
This was in Lagos, Nigeria. This was forty years ago.
So how many of us can and will be ready to be like Mama?
If Nigeria needs any type of conference or dialogue at all, it is a conference about our National values and ethical codes.
If we agree on this, it seems to me that many other things will fall into place.
All those things that Chief Obafemi Awolowo referred to in his 1970 speech which undermine a nation, will reduce or disappear because history has shown that they cannot withstand the compelling purpose of a people united around high ethical and moral values.
In order to complete my task, I will only now refer to extracts from other lands.
“From 1948 to 1994, apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party and Broederbond organisations. Under the system, the rights, associations, and movements of the black residents of the country were curtailed.
Under the apartheid system, residents of the country were divided into four racial groups—”black”, “white”, “coloured”, and “Indian”, and a person’s classification determined where they could live, work or even walk, and what kinds of public services they were legally eligible to receive. A system of racial discrimination is a very vile and morally deficient system. Its ethical underpinnings offend the Laws of God.
When W. de Klerk became president in 1989, he opened the door wider to change and, in the same year, a still imprisoned Nelson Mandela contacted anti-apartheid leaders and put forward proposals for negotiations.
After the official abolition of apartheid, former President de Klerk apologised in his capacity as leader of the NP to the millions who suffered over the decades of racial discrimination.
Adriaan Vlok, on his part, washed the feet of apartheid victim Frank Chikane in an act of apology for the wrongs of the Apartheid regime, and Leon Wessels released a public apology stating that he was convinced that apartheid was a terrible mistake that blighted ‘our land’.
A number of formal platforms were set up to ensure this. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a court-like restorative justice body, was set up in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid.
People who had been victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
The TRC marked a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa. It laid emphasis on reconciliation.
So we can see that South Africa rebuilt by pursuing Truth and Reconciliation.
An important way in which South Africa is being rebuilt is through the deliberate inclusion of blacks in employment. Also, slums such as Soweto were rebuilt and the general standard of living of the people has increased with blacks being able to get quality education which they were previously denied. This has led to the growth of the black middle-class
Racially motivated land tenure policies were also repealed in 1994, and as white-only areas have opened to other races, the biggest post-apartheid population shift has been the movement of black middle-class residents from townships to formerly all-white suburbs.
Townships have also become the locations of museums and malls and are thus tourist attractions, a move which brings more income to the people of the areas who own local businesses.”
“Unlike racial conflict in South Africa, what was at the heart of the Rwandan experience was ethnic distrust between the Hutus and Tutsis leading to discrimination.
What sparked off the horror that that the world witnessed for about 100 days in 1994 was an act suspected to be the murder of the Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana who was of Hutu extraction.
The genocide was indescribable.
In situations where some people survived the violence and could recognize the perpetrators and their assailants, public reconciliation processes between the warring factions, Hutus and Tutsis, were conducted and encouraged.
The new government did not dwell on repairing something that was broken apart but rather sought to build a new nation devoid of ethnic identities, conflicts or prejudices. One of the first step was to abolish the system of ethnic identity cards. Then the establishment of leadership across ethnic lines.
Stringent efforts have been made to ensure access to education and improve the quality. Today, 97% of its children attend primary school, one of the highest rates in Africa. UNESCO acknowledged this feat by listing it as one of the top three countries invested in the improvement of and access to education, globally.
With two-thirds of Rwanda’s population under 25 and life expectancy at just 55, many have placed their hopes in the country’s youth. Children are discouraged from using labels that may bring about division such as identifying with one tribe alone. Rather they are encouraged and taught to focus on a common Rwanda.
After the genocide, the country struggled to reduce the number of deaths. Today, Rwanda is often praised for its success on key health indicators. Deaths of under-fives have fallen from 230 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 55 per 1000 live births in 2012.
Infant mortality has also plummeted – from 120 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1998 to fewer than 40 in 2012. According to World Bank statistics, the country spends a good part of its national budget on health and education. In 2011, almost 24% of total government expenditure went to health and 17% to education.”
Again we can see forgiveness, public reconciliation and social and economic justice for all, especially women and children as what worked for Rwanda.
These are high ideals around which to build our nation. We must not wait for a genocide before we start.
“Georgia has been a part of Soviet Russia since 1921 and remained so until 1991.
In 1991, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who was elected as the first President of independent Georgia stoked Georgian nationalism and vowed to assert Tbilisi’s authority over regions such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia that had been classified as autonomous oblasts under the Soviet Union.
He was deposed by a bloody coup d’état in December 1991, after which Georgia became entangled in a civil war which lasted until 1995. The inter-ethnic violence and wars led to Abkhazia, and South Ossetia achieving de facto independence from Georgia, with Georgia retaining control only in small areas of the disputed territories. About 250,000 Georgians were massacred or expelled from Abkhazia by separatists.
The three-year civil war led to a decade of political instability, and financial, economic and social crises. These events resulted in a severe deterioration of relations with Russia, fuelled also by Russia’s open assistance and support to the two secessionist areas.
In May 2005 Georgia and Russia reached a bilateral agreement and under it Russian military bases (dating back to the Soviet era) in its territory were withdrawn. In 2008, tension with Russia began escalating. In five days of fighting, the Russian forces captured Tskhinvali, pushed back Georgian troops, and largely destroyed Georgia’s military infrastructure using airstrikes deep inside the Georgia proper. The war displaced 192,000 people but it ended in August of the same year.”
“Reforms started as far back as November 2003, when the liberal-minded Mikheil Saakashvili took over from Eduard Shevardnadze as the president of Georgia. He embarked on a program of reform that led to improved quality of life for the people of the country. As the relics of the Soviet system were being flushed away, his government privatised state enterprises, invested in education, health, and infrastructure, and reformed the police force to get rid of corruption in it. One of the ways in which the police was reformed was by increasing the officers’ salaries as an incentive.
Also, and importantly, the country began work to make the economy one which could be invested in. The process has been so consistent, despite rough patches in civil stability, that the country is currently ranked the 8th easiest place to do business in the world by the World Bank.
Today, bribery is almost non-existent in Georgia, and according to polls only one percent of Georgians respond that they’ve been asked for a bribe by police.”
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I started by telling you about my belief in the promise of Nigeria, I still do.
South Africa waited from 1948-1994 (46 years); Rwanda recovered in 18 years, Georgia was not free from 1921 – 1991 (70 years) and after 4 years of post-independent conflict and civil war, has rebounded in less than two decades.
What is instructive is that all these lessons and reforms came from within those countries. Their people, especially some outstanding leaders, led a moral and ethical renaissance, which delivered social and economic justice and results.
The question we must then ask is whether we are sufficiently dissatisfied with what we have.
If we are not, no leader, no matter how well intentioned, can lead us anywhere.
We must want change more than our leaders want it.
Our actions must demonstrate our unflinching desire for it like Mama.
If we want change, the elections in 2015 are a good place to start. No amount of ‘stomach infrastructure’ should be sufficient to influence our vote.
For me, the next elections is not so much about what the opposition brings as some people have argued.
I know that what the opposition does might or might not be helpful.
But I think there is another view that has not been interrogated.
If you and I are happy with what we have now, and some ambassadors say that they are, then nothing that the opposition does should change how we feel or how we choose.
Conversely therefore, if we are unhappy with what we have, the logical thing is to attempt to change it with our votes; and to change the next one if we do not find what we want until we find what works.
That is when the people will have truly claimed power.
Japan has changed Prime Ministers 9 times in 15 years. England has changed 3 in 10 years and who knows what will happen in May 2015?
Let me begin my conclusion by sharing with you some material I dug up about Detroit in Michigan State as typical of what can happen if we make good or bad choices.
“In February 1802, Detroit became a chartered city, and four years later it was incorporated as a city in the Michigan territory. However, it was unincorporated in 1809, then reincorporated in 1815, at which time it had a population of 850.
When, in 1827, Detroit adopted its motto: Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus (We hope for better days; it shall rise from the ashes), no one knew just how good the years ahead would be, or that the city would once more experience bad times.
The mid-80s witnessed the rise of Detroit’s fortune as a city, as Bernhard Stroh opened up Stroh Brewery Company and acquired several brands over the years. In 1896, history was made when Henry Ford took his first automobile on a test drive on the streets of Detroit.
He went on to establish the Detroit Automobile Co. Although that company failed, several other automobile companies would be birthed in Detroit. Ransom E. Olds opened Detroit’s first auto manufacturing plant, Ford established his second car company, Henry Ford Co. Ford, which went on to become Cadillac Motor Co. Detroit.
Detroit went on to become the automobile capital of the United States of America, with companies like General Motors, Chrysler Corp, Packard Motor Car Co. and others also being headquartered there in the 1900s.
By 1950, with a population of 1.85 million, Detroit was responsible for 296,000 manufacturing jobs. And it was more than automobile. The famous Motown Records was founded in the city, and had great artists like the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5 signed onto it.
Detroit was the modern day equivalent of Silicon Valley in the United States of America at the time. It was the place for innovation and for bringing ideas to life. It had a population of 1.8 million people and it had the highest per capita income in the United States.”
Trouble in Detroit
“The first sign of big trouble came in the mid-90s as blacks moved into Detroit to work and live. Between 1945 and 1965, there were more than 200 violent racial incidents of whites attacking blacks in Detroit and almost all stemmed from the first or second black families moving into an all-white neighbourhood.
In July 1967 when The Twelfth Street riot occurred, during which black residents were pitted against the police. In five days of rioting, 43 people were killed, 467 injured, and more than 7,200 arrested while 2,000 buildings were destroyed.
As the years go by, such riots and the often near-state of anarchy in the city causes companies to begin relocating their factories and headquarters. It becomes cheaper for them to operate their manufacturing arm in other continents like Asia and this resulted in the downsizing and outsourcing of the auto industry.
Because Detroit’s economy was heavily reliant on the auto industry, and it had a history of racial battles, things went downhill. Thomas Sugrue, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said of Detroit: “It’s been 60-plus years of steady disinvestment, depopulation and an intensive hostility between the city, the suburbs and the rest of the state.”
Although the influx of blacks into Detroit helped it to achieve economic rise, it led to a mass exodus of white residents. Those who could moved out of the city, especially the white population.
The population of the city also began to fall and in 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Detroit’s population has fallen to 713,777, a 25 percent plummet from 2000 and the lowest level in 100 years. At the moment, about 83% of the city’s population is black.
Because Detroit’s finances are premised on a minimum tax base of 750,000 people, the decline in population had economic repercussions. A new law, Public Act 4, that allows the state to intervene in financially troubled local governments takes effect.
Another factor that contributed to the city’s downfall was its corrupt local government. Things got so bad that in 2013 one of its former mayors’ was sentenced to 28 years in prison for corrupt acts done while in office.
A review board describes Detroit as being in “operational dysfunction” and “unable or unwilling to restructure its finances”.
By July 2013, while other cities and states were crawling their way out of the economic recession, Detroit had hit rock bottom. The city had as much as $20 billion debt and so it filed a bankruptcy petition, becoming the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in history.
Time Magazine, in 2009, posited that the fiscal disaster was inevitable “because the politicians in Detroit were always knocking the can forward, not confronting the issues, buying off public employees by increasing their pensions. They were always kind of confronting the impending crisis by trying to make it the next guy’s crisis.”
Today, there are less than 27,000 jobs in Detroit. It also has about 78,000 homes abandoned by people who fled because of the high incidence of violence. The crime rate in the city is 5 times higher than the average in the United States.”
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we must turn around from the road to Detroit.
We cannot kick this can further down the road for another four years.
The consequences will be grave, it will be global, and reverberating.
Without any more doubt in my mind, the singular recommendation that I can make for ‘Rebuilding the Nation and using lessons from other lands’ is that we must renew our values.
We must act now to rebuild our nation by choosing morality, high ethics and a value system that inspires.
These are the lessons from other lands, as we seek to rebuild our nation.
Another instructive lesson from other lands that we compared, is that the change has come from within.
Happy Birthday General Gowon, I hope that you and I and all of us will see the Nigeria of our dream. I also hope that we will start from today to rebuild the values that will take us to that dream.
I thank you for listening.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN is governor of Lagos State. He delivered this speech at the Leadership Annual Conference and 2013 Awards Presentation on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at the ThisDay Dome, Abuja
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.