Being with you at this special event today, I am visited by two competing emotions. I continue to feel a profound sense of loss at the premature, unfortunate departure of this great son of Oyo and Nigeria, Abiola Ajimobi.
Yet, I also feel such pride and honor in having known this fine man and in knowing that our land can produce such excellent people.
Part of me is looking around the room, still expecting somehow to see my brother, longtime friend, and faithful political ally Abiola come through the door and bring even more light to this gathering with his ebullient smile and welcoming personality. That is my heart at work.
Yet, my mind forces me to accept that he has gone and will no longer be with us in the physical sense. Then my heart and mind merge that I may find comfort and inspiration even in the reality that we must accept. Yes, Abiola Ajimobi is no longer here physically. But the spirit that guided his public and private life is undeniable, vibrant, and shining forth in this very space where we assemble today. This humane and compassionate spirit compels us to live according to the principles and ideals that animated this son of the soil that we may be our better selves. And, in the process, fashion for ourselves and our progeny a better society and a more just and improved nation.
Abiola was propelled by a progressive vision and exhibited a democratic temperament that served him well. He believed Nigeria could be transformed into a great nation that would serve as a guiding light to the rest of Africa. That our best contributions to our national project and to the progress of humankind lie before and not behind us. That out of the tumult of our complicated past, we can lay the groundwork for a proud, prosperous future.
Thus, he worked passionately as governor of Oyo to change and modernize the face of this state. The roads and other infrastructural projects he designed and implemented demonstrate what a committed leader can do to spur economic development, jobs and to engender the wholesome optimism that comes when a people see government and its leader working on their behalf.
Because of his efforts, the people of Oyo bestowed an honor on him not given his predecessors. They reelected him to a second term during which he continued to do as much beneficial work as he did in his first term.
He stands as one of the best performing governors Nigeria has witnessed. Consequently, it is both fitting and proper that this 3rd annual roundtable treat the topic “States and the Burden of National Development in Nigeria.”
Permit me to say as well that it is more than fitting, in fact, it is essential, that we continue to hold these roundtables in the name of Abiola. We must do all we can to keep his flame burning because the light of his lamp was constructive and excellent. For holding this event, I duly commend the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies of the University of Ibadan and of the Senator Abiola Ajimobi Foundation.
Despite the fiscal and budgetary constraints, been countered, Governor Ajimobi performed adroitly, bringing an unprecedented level of civic pride and public works to Oyo. But the truth that he himself recognized was that he could have done more if our political system was truly built on the fiscal federalism we progressives have long espoused.
Our system remains too centralized with too much power and money remaining within the federal might. This imbalance leads to relative state weakness.
We need to overhaul how revenues are allocated between the states and the federal government. Here I must state what for many of us may seem a novel idea. But this concept is one that has directed the fiscal policies of other nations for several decades. If we are to catch these other nations in development, it is a prerequisite that we match them in the efficiency of governmental fiscal roles and operations regarding the national government and our subnational political units.
Given its unique currency-issuing power, the federal government can never be starved of the naira required to fulfill its core functions. Due to this currency power, the federal government does not necessarily need naira revenue to survive. The federal government can never be short of naira unless it creates myopic laws and regulations to so hamstrung the federal government.
We have been taught that such confining measures are necessary to contain inflation. However, they have not been successful in containing inflation and in the long term probably add to inflation. What they have been being terribly efficient at is reducing growth, jobs, and development and bringing recurrent recession.
Because the federal government is not revenue constrained, it is just that the federal government not retain so much naira revenue to the detriment of the states. States on the other hand are naira constrained. They can only spend what they take in as revenue. Thus, it is imperative that states are given more revenue that they can do more things.
I do not advocate a blank check for states. The more revenue they get, the more they must do and the more they assume the responsibility to use that revenue wisely because the very fate of their people is at stake.
First, the current relationship between the police and the people needs such reform so that the police may help better answer the security challenges we now face.
Abiola had been a proponent for the state police for many years. The time for state police has come. In fact, it is overdue. This important change requires more funds in state hands, less in federal.
Other items such as stamp duties for financial transactions, tourism, and the incorporation of businesses should also occur at the state level and be removed from the federal charge.
Perhaps the single most important factor in economic development is power generation. States currently are shut out from this vital sector even though the nation suffers a paucity of power.
States must be allowed to engage in power generation as long as their efforts are consistent with and do not undermine federal labors in this sector.
If we begin these fundamental changes, then our states will become stronger, more able catalysts of economic development. By instituting true federalism, we open the door not only to prosperity but to greater democracy and openness throughout Nigeria. This will help bring peace and tranquility where there is now tension and uncertainty about the pathway our nation is on.
Let me leave you with one final thought. As we call for more funds and power to devolve to the states, we must demand that state governments function appropriately. State government must meet the greater tasks given it.
For state government to do so, requires that the political party in control is united in vision and disciplined in conduct. This call is beyond the ability of a certain political party to fulfill. Thus, it is up to us.
The APC was founded to fill a void in Nigerian politics and governance. It was founded as a progressive party devoted to the welfare of the people and to the establishment of democratic good governance throughout the land.
Thus, the APC has based on the idea that the collective good is more important than individual ambition. The party was to be a platform for delivery of peace, progress, and prosperity to the people not as a wrestling mat for individual personalities to clash over whose ambitions would be realized and whose would be rejected.
As such, the party was constructed in a manner that every member should be given a due voice and that our internal processes must be transparent, politically just and accord with the rule of law as outlined by the party’s constitution.
I ask that you, the members of the APC in this state, not be distracted or discouraged but remain faithful to the progressive ways upon which this party was built.
As a politician, you must understand that not everything will go your way. You are entitled to and must demand a fair and open process where honest discussion and debate take place. However, you are not guaranteed your desired outcome. That you must work for just as those with an opposing viewpoint must work to persuade party members. This must be done through the quality of argument and position, not by imposition or naked might.
I ask you all to return to the true purpose and progressive spirit of our party. I do this because I stand firm in my adherence to the democratic principles of internal openness, transparency, justice, and the rule of law in the conduct of party affairs.
To the extent that a party deviates from such principles, the party falls in danger of losing its way, its vitality, and its very ability to perform the important tasks of governance for which the party was founded.
I stand as a committed democrat in this regard and my resolve shall not bend. I know, in the long run, democracy, true democracy will always prevail.
Thus, I ask you to do the same for I shall never ask of you what I am not willing to ask of myself.
You must put aside petty differences and unite as a party that you might once again lead this state. I ask this not for myself. I do so for the good of the people: if you all do not take on this role for the people, who will?
I ask this of you that the spirit of the man under whose name we gather today shall continue to live as he would want it. There is no greater gift that you can give our departed brother than this.
I thank you.