COMBATING THE RESOURCE CURSE: STRATEGIS FOR ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION IN A RESOURCE RICH ECONOMY
Text of the Claude Ake Memorial Lecture Delivered by Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas at the Rivers State Assembly, in Port Harcourt, Nigeria – Friday 22 February 2013
Your Excellency, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Executive Governor of Rivers State;
Your Excellency, the Deputy Governor, Engineer Tele Ikuru;
Honourable Amachree Otelemaba, Speaker of the State House of Assembly;
Honourable Members of the Rivers State House of Assembly;
Our Royal Fathers;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is for me a great honour to be invited to deliver the Claude Ake Memorial Lecture for 2013. I congratulate Governor Rotimi Amaechi and the Government of Rivers State for launching these series commemorating the life and work of one of the greatest sons of Africa.
The topic that I have been asked to speak on is, “Combating the Resource Curse: Strategies for Economic Transformation in a Resource Rich Economy”. I am convinced it is a topic that the late Professor Claude Ake would have fully identified with, given the intellectual issues that preoccupied him throughout his career as a social scientist and public philosopher.
I am particularly delighted to be in the company of my eminent predecessor in these lecture series, in the person of his His Excellency Dr. Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana. Dr. Mogae, as many of you are probably aware, is also the 2008 laureate of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.
As it happens, the Republic of Botswana has long been regarded as a model of how a country can overcome the resource curse through good governance, public accountability and sound policies. From Sir Seretse Khama, the country’s founding President, to the current incumbent, President Ian Seretse-Khama, succeeding leaders of Botswana have been anxious that their new found wealth in diamonds should not be a curse, but, rather, a means to make more abundant for their people – to build a strong, happy and prosperous nation.
- Claude Ake’s Legacy and Example
Your Excellencies, today, we stand in the shadow of a giant. I regret that I never met the late professor Claude Ake when he walked among us on this earth. But his re
putation as a scholar spread to every corner of our continent, and indeed, throughout the intellectual world community. As a graduate student myself at Cornell University in New York, Ake’s works were major reference texts in my own studies of African politics and political economy.
Those who had the privilege of meeting him in real life and flesh described him as a deeply humane and profound thinker; a great conversationalist who could also retreat into moments of deep silence. Unfailingly courteous to all people — whether great or small– his being was always enveloped by an aura of compassion. Behind that oceanic calm was a heart that burned with an unquenchable fire of love for all people and compassion for those who suffer; a devoted teacher, much beloved by his students in universities as wide apart as Carleton, Dar es Salaam, Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and, of course, Port Harcourt.
Far from being an armchair theoretician, Ake understood social science as a vehicle for transformational change – for expanding the possibility frontiers of welfare, liberty and social justice. He shared with the great Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde the belief in ‘the weapon of theory’ as the veritable instrument for national liberation and social progress.
Ladies and gentlemen, the German-Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt made a distinction between people who live purely the life of the mind and those who live principally for action. The late Claude Ake was one of the few for whom it could be said that he lived the life of contemplation as well as action. The Italian revolutionary intellectual Antonio Gramsci deployed the term ‘organic intellectual’ in reference to thinkers who refuse to confine themselves the Academy; who, rather, embody the deepest aspirations of their people in their struggles for a better life. Claude Ake was the quintessential ‘organic intellectual’ in the true sense of that word.
The late Professor Ake was also a passionate believer in the unity of the African people. He insisted on the imperative of defining a new fraternity among the nations, based on the ideals of equality, democracy and social justice. What he wanted for the peoples of the Niger Delta, as he did for all minority groups throughout the country, is that they take their rightful place as equals with everybody else in this great federation. Like the independence leader of my own native Ghana, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah before him, Ake fervently believed that nothing but the best is good enough for our Africa.
This is why he kept the faith; writing path-breaking works that stood out by their excellence and lucidity and commitment – and why he forged far-reaching networks with progressive intellectuals throughout the world.
Claude lived in this city of Port Harcourt; a city he came to love with a passion. He took his place in the trenches, fighting for justice, for human and environmental justice not only for the people of Rivers State and the Niger Delta but also for all suffer injustice throughout the continent of Africa. He believed truth to be a sacred weapon in the hands of those who hunger for justice and thirst for righteousness. At some stage, as I am told, he did make forays into partisan politics, albeit with less success than Governor Amaechi and others here present! This indeed underlines the fact that we do not all have to be in elective office before we can positively impact the lives and times of our generation.
- Explaining the Resource Curse Syndrome
Your Excellencies, when economists and development experts talk of the ‘resource curse’ they refer to the paradoxical situation where new found wealth from natural resources leads to greater impoverishment of the populace. The large literature on resource curse makes it clear that natural resource-abundant countries tend to grow far more slowly than resource-scarce countries. A survey of OPEC countries over the last two decades, for example, shows that their rates of annual GDP growth were, on average, a good 3 percent lower than other developing and emerging economies.
Economists have identified three ‘transmission mechanisms’ or effects for the resource curse syndrome, namely, generation of ‘rents’, world prices volatility and the ‘Dutch Disease’ syndrome.
Ladies and gentlemen, the first transmission mechanism derives from the fact that natural resources generate ‘rents’. Most of these are payable by multinational firms who dominate the extractive industries sector. Such rents encourage rent-seeking behaviour on the part of governmental actors who feel no sense of accountability to their people but to multinational firms who generate the rents. This leads, among other things, to bloated bureaucracies, misplaced priorities, poor governance and corruption. What emerges is a ‘rentier economy’ that subsists largely on rents most of which is spent on conspicuous consumption, prestige projects rather than long-term investments that generate real positive returns in terms of growth as well as welfare.
The late Albert Hirschman, one of the great pioneers of modern development economics, underlined the importance of ‘linkages’ in fostering accelerated structural transformation in developing economies. Such linkages are rare in economies dominated by the extractive sector. In the case of petroleum, for example, there are fewer opportunities for ‘learning-by-doing’ and for forward and backward linkages. This is so because of the relatively sophisticated technologies that are deployed in the sector contrast sharply with the actual level of technological capability available in the economy as a whole.
The overall outcome manifests itself in poor macroeconomic growth, rising unemployment, de-industrialisation and worsening poverty and human development indices. Indeed, the ‘paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty’ is well illustrated in petroleum and mineral rich nations such as Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Equatorial Guinea whose populations remain are among the poorest in the world.
What emerges is phenomenon known as the ‘rentier state’, defined as “those stateswhich derive all or a substantial portion of their national revenues from the rentof indigenous resources to external clients”. Such economies tend to rely heavily on revenues from external rents that crowd out the domestic productive sector. They are also characterised by the fact that only a small proportion of the working population are involved in the generation of the rent. Crucially important is also the fact that power elites constitute the chief recipients and beneficiaries of the rent so collected.
Rentier states are also characterised by weak institutions and ineffectual civil society organisations. They also have a tendency towards authoritarianism. Another important element is that they tend to have bloated bureaucracies that are inefficient and corrupt. And where governance is poor and institutions are weak, revenues from natural resource exports would tend to evaporate rather than being a positive force for national development and long-term welfare.
In an atmosphere of weakened institutions and corruption, governments would tend to rely more on the instruments of violence to maintain public order. In the context of poverty and dwindling life-chances, violence and conflict become inevitable in the sense in which violence begets violence.
Indeed, economists such as Paul Collier of Oxford University and others have drawn attention to the strong correlations that exist between natural resources and violent conflict. For example, the tragedies that befell countries such as Sierra Leone, the Congo and Angola before the fall of Jonas Savimbi have much to do with diamonds. Studies have shown that a country that has no natural resources has a low probability of conflict of 0.5 percent. By contrast, a country with natural resources sector that verges around 26 percent of GDP faces a conflict probability of 23 percent.
The second transmission mechanism for the resource curse derives from the linkages between the domestic extractive sector and the volatility of world market prices. Because developing countries do not control world markets and cannot therefore dictate the prices of their exports, and given the instability inherent in the world capitalist system, revenue from natural resource exports would tend to be volatile and rather unpredictable. In such circumstances, commodity booms can easily be followed by troughs in world prices. The volatility of budgetary revenues in turn leads to heightened uncertainty which discourages savings and long-term investments.
Finally, another transmission mechanism is by way of what has come to be known as ‘the Dutch Disease”. The phrase was coined from the experience of Holland during heydays of its oil and mineral resource boom. It was found that a ‘positive shock’ deriving from the boom in world prices tended to lead to an artificially high exchange rate, which in turn led to the contraction of the country’s tradable sector. Massive revenues from petroleum have often led to high exchange rates which depress rural agriculture and foster an appetite for massive imports of cheap consumer goods.
During boom times, consumption will tend to expand while exchange rates are kept artificially high to maintain the path-dependence on importation of cheap consumer items to feed the appetites of urban elites. This of course works to the detriment of the rural-agrarian populace. The phenomenon of ‘urban bias’ then becomes one of the defining pillars of the national political economy. A depressed agrarian sector leads not only to a higher incidence of rural poverty; it encourages high expenditures on food imports. It also weakens the local manufacturing.
The ensuing decline in the real sector worsens youth unemployment, which in turn breeds criminality, youth restlessness and other forms of social malaise.
- The Nigerian Experience
Nigeria is the sixth largest exporter of petroleum in OPEC and the seventh largest petroleum exporter globally. In addition to many important solid minerals, Nigeria also has one of the largest gas reserves in the world, estimated to last more than a century.
There is no doubting that, over the last decade, some giant strides have been recorded in terms of macroeconomic growth which has averaged more than 7 percent annually. There have been considerable investments in physical infrastructures, including the building of the impressive Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.
But there have been serious challenges, many of them directly connected to the resource curse syndrome. Many of the older generation would insist that they had a better quality of life before the discovery of oil in 1956. Electricity was stable; food was widely available; housing was affordable; the cities were safer; and most people looked forward to a secure and happy future for their children.
It bears testimony to the difficult times in which we live that the social and economic worries besetting the great people of this nation have become so enormous. The universities are a shadow of what they were in the past. In the 1960s the University of Ibadan was a world centre of excellence in tropical medicine. I say it also on the authority of the Oxford Nobel laureate Dorothy Hodgkin who noted that University of Lagos was once a recognised centre of excellence in her of specialist field crystallography. The health system remains in the doldrums. The railways have virtually disappeared. Nigeria’s roads are among the most dangerous in the world. Equally so are her cities and towns.
It is estimated that 70 percent of Nigerians live under conditions of absolute poverty, defined in terms of being unable to have access to a minimum of $2 a day. Income inequality between the rich and the poor has continued to widen. Youth unemployment stands at a frightening 46 percent. Most of Nigeria’s talented youths feel that they have no hope and no future.
When you juxtapose these conditions against the backdrop of an emerging culture of impunity, whereby those who hold power feel that they are accountable to no-one, then you can understand why armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of criminality are becoming so widespread.
It is a great disappointment that despite an investment of $20 billion in the power sector over the last decade, less than 20 percent of Nigerians have access to regular electricity. The country still spends billions of dollars in food imports despite the fact that its soil has the potential to feed half of our continent. I do not need to remind you that Nigeria continues to score among the lowest on the International Corruption Perception Index.
Many of us in the rest of Africa who look to Nigeria for leadership feel disappointed that this country is yet to live up to its full potentials. With its vast natural resource and human capital endowments, Nigeria, with strong and accountable leadership, could easily take its place among the leading nations of the twenty-first century. Under the current development trajectory, I fear that the country is unlikely to be able to fulfil her manifest destiny.
Your Excellencies, the threat of state failure is a major challenge that must be faced head-on. State failure has been defined by the OECD as a situation where “state structures lack political will and/or capacity to provide the basic functions needed for poverty reduction, development and to safeguard the security and human rights of their populations”. State failure can be said to prevail where public institutions are no longer able to deliver positive political goods to citizens and such failure prevails on a scale likely to undermine the legitimacy and the existence of the state itself.
The most critical areas of state failure relate to inability to provide a wide range of public goods especially in terms of law and order, security, provision of economic and communication infrastructures and supply of basic welfare services. Some of the indicators of state weakness that could potentially lead to state failure include: emergence of disharmony among communities, inability to control borders, growth of criminal violence and corrupt institutions and decaying infrastructures. A good number of countries in Africa have been categorised as ‘failed states’, the most obvious cases being Somalia, Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau.
For several years now, Nigeria has been featured among the unhappy band of Failed States. Whilst we believe that Nigeria is not a ‘failed state’, there is no doubting that the resilience of its institutions has been severely tested in recent years. This manifests in a number of critical areas: inability of the state to effectively maintain law and order; random outbreak of gratuitous, nihilistic violence; failure to provide stable electricity for all its people; the parlous state of infrastructures; the paradox of being a net importer of refined petroleum while being the seventh largest exporter of crude petroleum in the world; and the abiding challenge of corruption.
Equally important in this regard is the politics of competitive ethnicity and the dynamics of inter-group relations within the Nigerian federation. The Nigerian political economy places awesome powers at the federal centre. This makes the Presidency the most coveted political prize of all; a zero-sum game in which the winners view state power as an opportunity to corner the nation’s wealth for themselves and their narrow coterie of acolytes. Nigerian politics is dangerously taking on ethno-regional and religious dimensions. In a situation where the North feel that they have lost power even as poverty wears a predominantly ‘Northern face’, we may not be hard put to explain how violence and political extremism are becoming the defining features of the region.
There are some 200 ethnic groups and over 500 dialects within the country. In a county of such diversity, ethnic and religious cleavages can easily be exploited by unscrupulous elites to inflame latent tensions, leading to inter-communal violence. In this respect, the country is not any different from other multiethnic developing societies where power elites often prefer to exploit what the eminent American political scientist Crawford Young terms “the politics of cultural pluralism”.
Outbreaks of communal violence have characterised multi-ethnic nations such as India, Malaysia and Kenya. In the context of resource curse, poverty and dwindling economic opportunities, ‘horizontal inequities’, whether real or imagined, can aggravate latent tensions, leading to violence and conflict. Politicians who lose out in power struggles do often resort to religion and ethnicity as banners for political mobilisation. This largely explains why political violence has been on the increase – and the new phenomenon of suicide bombing associated with the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency has been on the rise.
Not too long ago, it was politics of ‘resource control’ defined by agitation by all sorts of militant youth groups in the Niger Delta for a greater share of the revenues from the oil that their region produces. These groups resorted increasingly to violence and kidnapping in their struggle to ensure ‘resource control’, in addition to participation in oil bunkering valued at over US$1 billion annually. The military administration of Sani Abacha had responded with a heavy hand, sending the likes of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues to the gallows. The heavy hand from the military dictatorship rightfully drew worldwide outrage and condemnation. As you all know, it was under the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua that an amnesty programme was brokered in 2008 and the region witnessed a gradual return of normalcy.
- Overcoming the Resource Curse
Your Excellencies, the lessons of world development over the last half-century have shown that resource curse is not inevitable. Several petroleum and resource rich countries have shown that natural resource endowments can indeed be a blessing.
I have earlier made reference to the case of Botswana. When the country discovered massive quantities of diamonds in the 1970s, Sir Seretse Khama took the tough decision of sterilizing earnings from diamonds from recurrent expenditure. He insisted that such earnings have to be saved for capital investments that yield real economic returns while fostering long-term growth. Sir Seretse laid the foundation for a vibrant and prosperous democracy based on good governance, accountability and effective public institutions. Corruption was also kept to a minimum and no effort was spared to give Batswana a sense of being one nation and one people.
Another example that comes to mind is Norway. Norway is a middle European nation with one of the highest incomes in the world. It has also scored consistently among the best in terms of the International Human Development Index. It was not always like this. Until the 1940s, it was a rather poor agrarian country by European standards. The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s brought a new found wealth which the country put to good use. The money was used to build a solid physical infrastructure base. Massive investments were made in education, skills and training. Most importantly, technology innovation was encouraged within the petroleum sector, generating employment and enhancing skills acquisition.
Norway also has a high reputation for strong democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law and low levels of corruption. Under the overall supervision of the Norwegian central bank, a sovereign wealth fund was created to invest all the surplus capital that could not immediately be invested in any productive sense. The fund currently exceeds $700 billion.
A third example that comes to mind is Indonesia. Peter Lewis, a Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC has written an important comparative study of Nigeria and Indonesia. The two countries both started off with the same initial conditions as resource-rich countries. Both went through periods of political instability and military authoritarianism. However, Indonesia has been able to overcome its resource curse, while Nigeria, unfortunately, has not. Lewis provides an explanation for this divergence between the two countries.
First, the role of leadership is decisive, together with the nature of social coalitions and the geopolitical locus of the country in the global economy. According to him, in societies undergoing rapid political transition, “the role of leadership looms large in the institutional landscape”. But leaders themselves must operate under structural and institutional constraints – constraints that are shaped by the dynamics of political coalitions and inherited institutional arrangements and the education, background and political values of the ruling elites.
There is also the regional factor. Located in Asia, Indonesia had neighbours with which it had to compete – Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Japan, its more advanced regional model, also offered a mirror image of how things could be if they put their home in order.
Thirdly, whereas the corrupt Indonesian rulers decided to invest most of the accumulated surplus in their home country, the Nigerian elites, sadly, preferred to haemorrhage theirs abroad. Economists at the African Development Bank have estimated that Nigeria earned over US$900 billion from petroleum exports during the past three decades alone, some $400 billion of this amount could not be properly accounted for, most of it having taken the form of capital flight to Swiss and other offshore accounts.
Your Excellencies, overcoming the resource curse requires a comprehensive mix of policies. Crucial to success is the imperative of revisiting the fundamentals of economic policy anchored on structural diversification, building of strong institutions, ensuring good governance and minimizing corruption.
Mineral resources rich countries have to put in place appropriate legal and institutional frameworks that ensure transparency, good governance and the rule of law. Indeed success in economic growth is tied to such “good policies”. Accordingly, initiatives aimed at cutting red tape, facilitating domestic and foreign investments, and improving fiscal policies, should be promoted.
Likewise, adherence to transparency initiatives is essential to ensure that they fully harness the opportunities arising out from the development of the mineral resources sector, and that these benefits effectively trickle down to the poorest and most vulnerable segment of the population.
It is also crucial to disconnect oil windfalls from the penchant for profligate spending. In this regard, I would like to applaud the recent creation of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) by the Federal Government. Indeed, better late than never. I believe the NSIA can go a long way in promoting a new culture of saving for the rainy day and not having to spend because excess funds are available. There is evidence that countries that have created sovereign wealth funds of this kind – among them Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago and Norway have also been spectacularly successful in overcoming the resource curse.
Ladies and gentlemen, equally important is the need to revisit the role of the state in the economic development process. The debate on what constitutes the role of the state is as old as Aristotle. In a democratic society this role covers a broad spectrum of imperatives: (1) protection of lives and properties; (2) preservation of the rule of law; (3) effective territorial administration; and (4) provision of critical public goods such as infrastructures, electricity, education and health.
The British political scientist Geoff Mulgan recently undertook a broad survey of the role of government in different civilisations, from mandarin China to Chandragupta India in the age of Asoka; and from Bismarck to contemporary Western industrial democracies. Mulgan believes that the role of the state has expanded beyond what classical political philosophers would have imagined.
Central to his analysis is the role of ‘state capability’, which has to do with the effectiveness of the state in meeting the expectations of its citizens. In a democracy, the elements of state capability will include: an effective, impartial and meritocratic civil service, effective and fair system of taxation, provision for the most vulnerable groups, robust conflict resolution mechanisms, a transparent and accountable system of public institutions and a capable and virtuous leadership.
A capable state also has to be a just state. Aristotle defined justice as ‘giving each their due’. In modern democratic societies, the just state is one that is not only based on the rule of law but that also governs according the norms of equity and fairness. A situation of gross injustice, such as widening inequalities between rich and poor and between one region and the other, can aggravate social tensions. A just state is one that ensures the relative equality of all citizens before the law and in access to social services and other public goods. The work by the philosopher John Rawls and the more recent one by the Indian Nobel economist Amartya Sen, underline the fact that social justice is vital not only to the maintenance of social harmony but also to long-term collective welfare.
A good state also has to be a transformational one – fostering not only macroeconomic growth, but also provision of public goods, food security, social services, peace, social justice and human security. A transformational state is steered by leaders with a ‘transforming vision’ – leaders who empathise with their people and work with them to change their societies for the better.
We also need to reinvent government to along the trajectory of developmental states. A ‘developmental state’ refers to a country where the government has assumes the driver’s seat in propelling the course of accelerated economic growth and social transformation. The developmental state makes ‘development’ its topmost national priority, encouraging citizens with the right mix of incentives to forego current consumption so as to maximize current consumption to achieve the goal of long-term economic performance.
Another feature of the developmental state is commitment to property rights, strong markets and the sanctity of contracts. This provides clear signals for foreign investors who also enjoy tax holidays and other incentives.
Developmental states also invest heavily in human capital development. They tend to give priority to ensuring universal compulsory education, expansion of higher education, especially in technical and engineering fields, and in the training and acquisition of industrial skills by workers.
Developmental states tend to insulate their technocratic elites from societal pressures. They evolve a professional civil service that is essentially merit-based, with autonomy to develop and implement policies for rapid growth and structural transformation. They have done this through the reform of the civil service and the creation of a merit-based bureaucracy, with functionaries that are well-paid and possess a vision of national destiny and purpose.
Your Excellencies, if I have painted a rather bleak picture of the resource curse syndrome and its attendant challenges, it is important that we also look at the bright side of the story. We do indeed have good reason to be more optimistic about recent developments on our continent. The December 2012 issue of the international London magazine, the Economist, depicted Africa as ‘the Hopeful Continent’. Democracy is gradually but surely taking root on the continent. The guns are also gradually falling silent in formerly war-torn countries of West and Central Africa.
Africa is the fastest growing region in the world, with a continental average of 5 percent GDP growth compared to a global average of 3 percent and an OECD average of 1.8 percent. Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Rwanda have had some of the fastest rates of growth in the world in recent years. Countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Mauritius and Ghana show that, with peace, stability, leadership, good governance and elite consensus, spectacular growth is possible. Countries such as Ghana and Uganda, with their new found oil resources, are determined to learn from the mistakes of others and ensure that petroleum doe become a blessing rather than a curse.
Globally, our continent is seen by investors as the ‘last great frontier’ to make fortunes and generate untold wealth. The potentials are incalculable. Africa possesses more than 50 percent of the world’s known strategic minerals. We have a young and vigorous population and some of the most ancient cultures in the world.
As the world gradually recovers from one of the worst economic meltdowns in living memory, some people believe there will be a massive wealth transfer from hitherto rich nations to the hitherto impoverished peripheries of world capital. To take advantage of the emerging opportunities, we have to reposition our nations and hook on to the vital networks of the emerging digital global economy. We need nothing less than a new paradigm anchored on a healthy mix of government and the private sector, with the latter being the driver while government provides the enabling environment and facilitating the provision of those public goods for which it has a comparative advantage.
We need smart governments and ‘smart thinking’ if we are to flourish in the new industrial civilisation of the twenty-first century.
With the emergence of new industrial powers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (the BRICS), it is clear that the appetite for massive consumption of raw materials from Africa is not likely to abet for the foreseeable future. But the time has now come to change the paradigm of exporting pure raw materials in exchange for finished industrial products. Africa must take bold steps to add real value to those products that it exports to the rest of the world. The potential for the industrialisation of Africa is immense, if the major bottlenecks to its development are appropriately addressed. It is clear that investment in value-added processing of raw materials in the production of which Africa has demonstrated comparative advantage, would allow African exporters to exert greater control over a larger portion of the value-chain. This would thus offer them higher returns and increased protection against terms of trade fluctuations while boosting employment and incomes and reducing the aforesaid effects associated with the resource curse syndrome.
The choices are clear: We have to put in place those economic fundamentals that would transform our economies while providing renewed hope for our people and opening prospects for prosperity and hope. In seeking to emancipate the African people from the millennial scourge of poverty, we must commit to developing our human capital as the most critical resource for national and continental development. Training the youths in the relevant skills and harnessing the knowledge base and energy of our populations is key to winning the struggle for competitive advantage. And this must be complimented by sound macroeconomic policies within a framework of social harmony, good governance and the rule of law.
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen; the great achievements of the current administration in Rivers State under Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi confirm what leadership, vision and commitment can achieve in a resource-rich environment. Governor Amaechi has proved to be a transformational leader who has made wise and prudent policy choices that are beginning to bear fruit for all to see.
The massive investments in physical infrastructure, in human capital and agriculture and rural development have brought a new lease of life to the majority of people. The once strife-torn city of Port Harcourt has reclaimed its image as ‘the Garden City’. Peace has returned to a once troubled and restless region. Democracy and popular participation in governance have brought about enhanced prospects in terms of welfare and social justice.
Certainly, it has not been an easy walk. There are many more mountains to climb and more rivers to cross. Nobody ever promised us that the road to the New Jerusalem will be an easy one. What matters is the faith and courage that we bring to the challenges of the hour – how we mobilise people and communities in confronting the challenges of our era.
The great nineteenth century West Indian scholar and educator, Edward Wilmot, is widely regarded as the father of pan-Africanism. West Africa was his chosen home, having travelled to Ghana and Nigeria; and having founded schools in Liberia and a newspaper in Sierra Leone. He once wrote a famous essay titled, “The Legacy of a Permanent Influence”. A self-educated historian and essayist, Blyden sought to redefine the meaning of human greatness in terms of the legacy we are able to bequeath to future generations. He saw all too well that this life of ours transient; and so are its glories and pageantry. And so too will pass all learning and all power. What will endure is the love we have in our hearts and the good deeds we leave behind.
The let Claude Ake perished in the sea when the plane and he and his fellow passengers were travelling in from Port Harcourt to Lagos plunged into the Atlantic Ocean. He was only fifty two when he passed away in that dreadful crash in 1996. As the American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to say, it is not how long a man lives but how well. Claude Ake did not live long, but he lived well. He touched the hearts and minds of his generation. And he has left the legacy of a permanent influence.
Although he is no longer with us, his ideas will live forever. They will live on in the hearts and minds of all those who believe in the most sacred precepts of Humanity. In commemorating this great son of Rivers State, Governor Rotimi Amaechi has also shown what a great statesman he is. Only deep can call on to deep. When the righteous are in power, the Holy Scriptures tell us, the people rejoice.
I thank you for your kind attention.