Former British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, Wednesday, said the election of General Muhammadu Buhari in the March 28th presidential election and his inauguration as the country’s President billed for May 29th has rubbished predictions by a section of the international community that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015, following its inability to effect a successful transition of power as well as other factors.
Blair stated this while delivering a keynote address at the opening of the 2-day Policy Dialogue on the implementation of the Agenda for Change organised by the Policy, Research and Strategy Directorate of the APC Presidential Campaign Council in Abuja.
Represented by Peter Benjamin Mandelson, who was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in his administration, Blair said the successful conduct of the Presidential election, the transition of power to another political party in an atmosphere of peace devoid of any ethnic or religious upheavals called for celebration, the same way it has placed enormous responsibility on the shoulders of the new government.
“Those who felt Nigeria will never see the successful transfer of power, who felt the election would divide Nigeria, have been proved wrong by Buhari’s election.
“I am glad to be here at this time for this reason: there were many in the international community who doubted you, who said that Nigeria would never see truly free and fair elections or a peaceful transition of power. There were others who said that the differences in your country, between Christian and Muslim, North and South, haves and have-nots were too great to be overcome, that an election would only divide Nigeria and make her weaker. And you have proved those people wrong.
“You deserve to be congratulated and to celebrate your success. But at the same time I am sure you all know that the hard work is just beginning, both in respect of the economy, especially given the fall in oil price, and security”. He added
The former British Prime Minister urged the new government to dare to ride on the wings of its popularity at the poll to effect tangible changes in the lives of the country and its people and earn their confidence, adding that the hope of the African continent is in the hand of the government.
Blair who traced the genesis of the rise of the rebranded Labour Party of Britain to political prominence in 1997 and its loss of power in 2010, said there are some similarities in the circumstances that led to that popularity of the new labour and the APC-led government.
He however warned the incoming administration against losing focus in its delivery. This, according to him, was the misfortune of the Labour Party who rode to political prominence in 1997, started well and became very popular only to lose focus and direction and subsequently lost out in the 2010 elections.
The major lessons to be learnt from the Labour Party’s experience, according to Blair, is that the skills that take a party to government are not the same skills that make you successful in government.
“You have to move from being a persuader to being a CEO-One is about words and the other is about deed”, said Blair who also canvassed effective communication of government policies and decisions to the citizen as one of the sure path to success.
“You have to apply a simple science of delivery: A science of priorities, of proper planning, of defining goals, creating data systems that track progress – if you can’t measure it, how do you know it’s working? – and developing the routines that make sure you keep all these things going even amid the crises that blow up.”, Blair added.
Earlier in his opening address, Vice President-elect, Prof Yemi Osinbajo who chaired the event has identified poverty and how to eradicate it as a major challenge of the incoming administration.
Prof Osinbajo who pointed out that an estimated 110 million of the country’s population are living in poverty, said the staggering figure has made it clear that the biggest national problem is extreme poverty.
He added that of big concern to the government is the economy, which according to him is currently at its worst moment in history. He said the need to effectively tackle these challenges necessitated the need to interrogate various positions and propositions before a wider audience and launch a robust public conversation on policy directions and priorities that will help inform the administration’s approach in the next four years.
He said the policy dialogue organised by the Policy, Research and Strategy directorate of the APC Campaign Council exemplified the sort of consultative and consensual approach to policy making that the APC and the new administration intend to model in office.
Osinbajo said: “The figures of extreme poverty in our society- 110 million by current estimates- makes it clear that our biggest national problem is the extreme poverty of the majority. Thus, no analysis is required to conclude that dealing with poverty and its implications is a priority. We are concerned that our economy is currently in perhaps its worst moment in history. Local and international debt stands at US$60 billion. Our Debt servicing bill for 2015 is N953.6 billion, 21% of our Budget. On account of severely dwindled resources, over two-thirds of the States in Nigeria owe salaries. Federal institutions are not in much better shape. Today, the nation borrows to fund recurrent expenditure.
“This is also against the backdrop of a highly unequal society in which, by some reckoning, the largest chunk of the benefits of our national wealth accrues to a small percentage of our population. Our manifesto offered a vision of shared prosperity and socio-economic inclusion for all Nigerians, that leaves no one behind in the pursuit of a prosperous and fulfilling life.
Osinbajo also revealed that the incoming administration would pay particular attention to education, especially teaching methods by teachers. To achieve this, he said the administration would make the training of teachers a priority even as it also review school curricular and partner the civil society in the quest for qualitative education for students.
Head of the Policy, Research and Strategy directorate, Dr Kayode Fayemi, while setting the tone for the two-day dialogue said one of the things the APC government owe Nigerians- majority of whom voted it in- is to demonstrate commitment to seriously tackling the issues that affect the lives of our people hence the convocation of the policy dialogue.
Fayemi noted that the APC ran a unique campaign that was issues-based and principle-centred, adding that the party believed that the stakes had never been higher in the country’s history of democratic politics and that a new approach was required. This new approach, according to him “was evident in our disciplined refusal to depart from a laser-keen focus on the real issues affecting the Nigerian people rather than traffic in distractive rhetoric. Our approach focused on the electorate as being worthy of serious and sincere engagement and sought to bring clarity to the issues at stake”
“The outcome of the historic polls attests to the fact that not only did the right candidate and party triumph, the right ideas and the right approach also prevailed. The majority of Nigerians demonstrated their readiness to be taken seriously as voters, and duly rewarded the party that sincerely addressed their pressing issues. This commitment to seriously tackling the themes that affect the lives of our people remains a cardinal principle of our pact with Nigerians and informs the convening of this policy dialogue”, Fayemi added.
Like Blair, Fayemi also reiterated the need to evolve new strategies that would guide the new government in its delivery of democratic dividends so that the government could take off on a positive note and positioned in a way to sustain its pre-election popularity.
The opening session was graced by Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi; Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari; former Minister of Steel Development, Audu Ogbeh, former Governor of Ekiti, Otunba Niyi Adebayo; former Minister of Youth and Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdulahi;.
Others are: Lagos State Governor-elect, Akinwunmi Ambode; former Presidential Adviser, Prof Pat Utomi; former Chairperson of FIRS, Mrs Mrs Ifueko Omogui-Okauru; former Minister of Power, Dr Rilwan Babalola; former Country Chair, Nigeria –Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Authority, Dr Tajudeen Umar; and Major General Ishola Williams (rtd).