Remarks by National Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at the 9th annual Ramadan Lecture, organised under the aegis of the Lai Mohammed Ramadan Lecture Series, at Oro, Kwara State, on Thursday July 2, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very critical time in the life of our nation.
While Nigerians have made history by voting for the opposition to take over the reins of power from a ruling party that held sway for all of 16 years, they must now follow up by ensuring that the process of change – which they brought about – comes into fruition.
And the best way to do it is for Nigerians to remain politically-aware and engaged as they were in the run-up to the elections.
That simply means they must be willing to defend the change they voted for by continuing to support the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, while preventing the reactionary forces, who never wanted or voted for change anyway, from sabotaging his party’s change mantra. Whatever is worth fighting for is worth defending.
I say this with all sense of responsibility, and against the stark realities that we face daunting challenges in all sectors. Never before has our nation been put in a situation where it virtually had to start rebuilding from the scratch, after almost all sectors have become nearly comatose. This is why it is necessary for the new government at the centre to make haste slowly, and get it right once and for all.
Whereas we face huge problems in the economic and security sectors, as well as in the area of infrastructural renewal, just to mention a few, let us restrict ourselves to the social issues alone for the purpose of these remarks.
Our health sector is in serious distress, for want of a stronger description. Nigeria’s health statistics are worse than the average for African countries, even though we are the giant of Africa.
Let’s look at the statistics: For instance, 128 children die in every 1000 live births as at 2013 while mortality from malaria is estimated at 1,157 malaria deaths per 100,000 population, tuberculosis is estimated at 5 deaths per 100,000 population in 2013. About 900,000 children and mothers die each year in Nigeria, accounting for 14% of all maternal and 13% of all under-5 deaths globally, and second only to India.
At 576 deaths per 100,000 live births, the maternal mortality ratio has remained static since 2008 and although child mortality is falling, progress is insufficient to reach the MDG targets. An increasing proportion of child deaths, that is 37%, occur during the first month of life from largely preventable causes — complications during birth, infection and complications of premature births. Under-nutrition remains a significant challenge, contributing to 35% of deaths in children under-5 years.
The proportion of underweight – children who have low weight for their age- increased by 21% between 2003 and 2013, and the proportion of children with wasting, that is low weight for height, increased by 64% during the same period.
Overall, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, socio-economic and geographical inequalities in health outcomes and access to healthcare are stark and increasing, with the poor and rural having worst outcomes overall.
In the area of immunization, Nigeria is still one of the three remaining polio-endemic countries, together with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In addition, Nigeria has the world’s largest burden of HIV-positive newborns, with more than 50,000 children born with positive status each
In the Education sector, ordinarily, Nigeria’s education system should prepare the children for the responsibilities of citizenship and prepare our youth to contribute to the development of our country.
Unfortunately the current system is failing to equip Nigeria’s children with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in today’s rapidly changing society and economy.
The current situation of education in Nigeria depicts large numbers of children, that is 10.5 million, remain out of school.Children who are from poorer households, rural areas and are female are more likely not to be in school.
Primary school attendance is 44% in the northeast compared to 81% in the southeast. Even when children are in school, a large proportion are not learning. To buttress this fact, nearly half of all children who have completed primary school cannot read a complete sentence.
A large proportion of our country’s population live very close to the poverty line and are highly vulnerable to small variations of income.
Since 2003, Nigeria has recorded strong economic growth, with real GDP growth averaging 7%. However, in the same period, poverty rate has only declined slightly from about 48.4% in 2003 to 46% in 2010.
We do not have the figures of those who live in extreme poverty, which the UN defined as those who live on less than 1 US dollar a day. But from what we can see around us, it will not be wrong to say many of our countrymen and women fall into that grim category
Even a large percentage of those who earn an income are exposed to series of risks that affect their pay, including economic shocks, e.g. financial crises; Food price inflation, Natural disasters (drought, floods, lean season), Communal Crisis, as well as violence and Insurgents
Women, who constitute about half of the Nigerian population, are particularly worst hit, hence we need to focus the the effort to eradicate poverty on women.
Finally, unemployment, especially concerning our youths. This has been described as a ticking time bomb, and that is not an exaggeration.
Unemployment is one of the most critical challenges that Nigeria faces at this point in time. From 8% in 1999, Nigeria’s unemployment rate increased to an annual average of 13.3% in 2000 to 2008, and then increased again after the global crisis to an annual average of 21.66% in 2009, to peak at 23.9% by 2011.
Experts have said that unemployment is escalating in the face of high economic growth due to three reasons: (a) The growth character is ‘jobless’; (b) Existing jobs are being destroyed in the face of growth; and (c) Escalation in other “non-economic” variables associated with unemployment.
Elected officials have been unable to translate growth to increased employment, largely because they have left the task of budgeting, fiscal and monetary policy management in the hands of appointees who have inadvertently made policy choices that have weakened growth, constrained domestic demand, and worsened unemployment rate.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I have deliberately taken us through the grim statistics in the very key areas of Health, Education, Poverty and Unemployment to drive home the point that we are in trouble, as a nation, if we don’t act in a deliberate, concerted and determined way to turn things around for the better
This is not a problem of ‘this government is slow or this government is fast’, it is a challenge of understanding the enormity of the problems we face, and finding a lasting solution once and for all, so we won’t be going around in circles.
The Buhari Administration has the blueprint to tackle the problems that have held down our country over the years, including those in the critical areas that I just spoke about. The government has worked out immediate, intermediate and long-term measures to ameliorate the challenges in all critical sectors, even in the face of paucity of funds – caused not only by the fall in the price of crude oil, on which we depend for most of our foreign exchange earnings, but also by unbridled and maddening corruption that has seen public officers ferreting away public funds.
As the Buhari Administration tackles these challenges, let all citizens continue to play their own part by making their voices heard loud and clear, insisting on nothing but good governance, resisting all the reactionary forces who favour the status quo because it favours them and, above all, giving an unflinching support to President Muhammadu Buhari who, more than any other leader in the history of our dear nation, is again being saddled with unprecedented challenges at a time of little resources.
I thank you all for listening
Alhaji Lai Mohammed
Lai Mohammed Ramadan Lecture Series
Oro, Kwara State
July 2, 2015.