Thursday, May 28, 2015

After Nigeria's Power Transfer: What Will Be Its Place in Africa's Democratic Growth

 Nigeria's Place in Africa's Democratic Growth: Striving to be a More Perfect Union
Keynote Address
Ambassador (Dr.) Robin Renee Sanders
CEO-FEEEDS Advocacy Initiative and former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, ECOWAS, Republic of Congo, and Director for Africa National Security Council at the White House
                                       May 26, 2015, Port Harcourt, River State

Every now and again there are hallmarks, legacy moments, and periods of time in a country's history. .  .in a country's future, in a country's ability to change and grow. I would argue that this is one of those times in Nigeria -- as a result of your recent elections, and as you embark on a historic, peaceful handover of power to a new set of leaders on May 29, 2015.
You had a seismic shift in your political landscape and your political future in 2015, which has proffered two things:

·      It has proven the naysayers and doubters who thought Nigeria could not have credible elections wrong, not once but twice – as your 2011 and your 2015 elections more than met international observer standards; and,

·      The 2015 election moved Nigeria into a different “league of nations” not just for Africa, but on the world stage.

I made remarks in Washington in both 2011 and early 2015 highlighting two things I know about Nigeria and Nigerians – do not underestimate their "Resilience and Resolve" [I call these the two R's] to get it right despite the range of challenges betwixt and between.   I have always marveled at these two elements which are fundamental to Nigeria's national character.
Granted, despite these two R's [resolve and resilience], we all recognize that there are headwinds…challenges [which you know better than I] in the road ahead as the nation seeks to move forward on development, but equally important, will be to heal political wounds and move past any remaining animosities from the election period. The future well-being of the nation should be at the top of everyone's to-do list.
It was clear with the 2015 election that the Nigerian voter wanted a transparent process. You had that albeit with some irregularities and incidents of violence; but, none, as declared, which fundamentally affected the outcome of the national process.
I wrote after the election that I thought INEC Chairman Jega was Nobel Peace Prize-worthy, and that the Nigerian voters were the super heroes of ensuring that your national elections were both democratic and transparent. May no one ever again question your ability to do so?  

So what is next for the Continent's giant? The President–elect and his team have already outlined "The Buhari Doctrine" turning the mandate, as desired by the Nigerian people, into his top policy priorities – addressing security, corruption, economic issues, energy/fuel needs, and poverty through education and job/entrepreneurial opportunities. But, the watch words now are "patience and support" from both the voter and the international community to provide time to fix, correct, and improve all of the elements outlined in "The Buhari Doctrine" to address the current challenges. The President-elect has asked for this; we all need to support him and his team thus so.
None of what I just said is new. It is all known. So what is the message for today?  What does all this democratic, national, political change mean for Nigeria, moreover for the Continent?
It is – by far and clearly one key thing -- an Opportunity -- an opportunity to fundamentally change the paradigm of Nigeria's political future; to fundamentally change your leadership role on the Continent, and to speak with authority about not only how things should be, but how things can be.
You are an independent sovereign nation, and nothing I say here changes that. You will make you own decisions as a nation, as Nigerians.

So my broader message is in my philosophy about democracy and democracies.  I want to share that with you as it might be useful at this important juncture in your history, but more specifically to address the two-part theme of this anniversary celebration in honor for His Excellency, Governor Amaechi  -- Deepening Democracy in Nigeria- Implications for Development in Africa.  So I will address the themes as such as I share my philosophy about democracy and where it comes from for me.
Deepening Democracy In Nigeria: What is Nigeria's Democratic Philosophy?

Fundamentally, many countries have a philosophy of what they want their democracy to be like, to look like. For Nigeria what are those elements, what is the Democratic philosophy you are going to build into your national character to take advantage this historic political paradigm shift?

The most important democratic phrases to me which have driven my beliefs in both my personal and professional life on democratic processes just so happen to be in the Preamble of United States Constitution. For other Americans it may come from Bill of Rights, other historical or contemporary documents of America. But for me, it comes from the Preamble, the phrases are:

·      "In Order to Form a More Perfect Union;" and, 

·      "We the People." 

I believe in these phrases, even though, at times we have had challenges in the US as a nation, but I truly think it is important to have a democratic philosophy to live by, and upon which to judge yourself and your nation. I am probably inspired by these words more so because I am an African-American and because of the history of African Americans in the U.S. from slavery to today. We, as well as other groups in the US, have faced diversity issues and exclusion throughout times in our history, and we still face some of these challenges today as a nation -- as evident by recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland this year. But for me, these challenges further underscore how critical having a democratic philosophy can be for a nation: it serves as a compass in both good times, and bad.

Striving to be a More Perfect Union

Let me highlight the applicability of the first phrase [In Order to Form a More Perfect Union] and what that means to me and for me. These are just examples and as Nigerians you will need to decide from this New Dispensation which starts on May 29, 2015 – what your new democratic philosophy will be; how you will deepen it; and, moreover describe it. I have read your Constitution many, many times since I first came to Nigeria in 2008; so your democratic philosophy might come from there or elsewhere from your many inspirational writers.

Nigeria has turned a page already toward a more perfect union; a more perfect federal republic; a more perfect Nigeria. This is part of the democratic deepening called for by the lecture’s theme today and by your historic election, and transition.

Your election has made the world sit up and pay attention and from this point forward you are a role model for the Continent. Don't lose that, build on it, cherish it…embrace it.

We the people

This brings me to the second phrase I hold on to as part of my democratic philosophy – We the people – which actually are the very first three words of the Preamble. I am intentionally addressing these three words last as they inspire me more than any others, and provide me my compass about the role of democracy.   The same precepts apply as I noted above – Nigeria will have to determine the elements of its democratic philosophy to truly "deepen" this New Dispensation.

The reason I am sharing my  very personal thoughts with you about what these three words -- "We the People," – can mean is they underscore that any nation –  yours, mine, your country neighbors, your colleague African nations, your allies, and your nation-partners, your nation-friends – any that consider themselves in the league of democracies in both practice and spirit must not only include, but see and respect all of its nationals, no matter where they live or from what region or ethnic group they are from.
A Nigerian philosophy of "we the people," would mean everyone has an opportunity not to live in poverty or fear, everyone who is a Nigerian is respected as such, and honored as such. It needs to means that everyone along the political spectrum, providing you are not intent on harm, human rights violations, or abuse, has a voice because democracies are also not about one voice, but many…in a word "inclusiveness" -- all political parties and ethnic groups, women, youth, all religions, the disabled, civil society, the media – albeit participating fairly, constructively, transparently, and honestly.

"We the People, in Order to Form a More Perfect Union," is the full weight of that first phrase in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution, and its represents the vehicles that help me keep my moral, professional and personal compass. But I also believe philosophies like that have helped America deepen its democracy, even when we stumbled…and we have stumbled from time to time.  

The Continent is looking up to you as the standard on both elections and, even more so, on transitions. Your leadership in both deed and philosophy will be even more important as a marker of progress not just domestically but for Africa.  You have a great start; remember mature democracies have two things as regards to elections when a change in political power takes place:

·      A statesman-like concession, as you had from President Jonathan;

·      The grace and leadership of Mr. President-elect Buhari as the victor taking the helm.

Nigeria had both those things.

Implications for Development in Africa

Moving on to the second part in today's theme -- Implications for Development in Africa – ostensibly means what are the development expectations for Nigeria coming out of this election: what they will be on May 30, 2015; the first 100 days, and the first year. Those will be set by Mr. President-elect and his team and he has already mentioned many of those things in the run-up to the handover. The international community, particularly friends like the United States, the UK, China and others will need to be helpful, supportive, and good partners to Nigeria at this time. The importance of Nigeria to the U.S. has always been there. That being said, you already know that Secretary of State John Kerry will lead the U.S. Delegation, which further underscores not just the friendship between our two nations, but how significant your election and the peaceful transition are as positive messages about Nigeria and the African Continent.

You know the positives already in terms of your nation, but let's quickly recap:
You are now the largest African economy; the fourth largest populated country in the world[i];  singularly you have the world's largest number of mobile phones at 100 million – important for business and education; you are right now the best-practice example of an African election; the premier Africa investment destination; your 30 million middle class [ii]members grow daily; and you have improved access to capital/financial inclusion by 44 percent[iii]. Your leadership in international arenas such as the African Union, in ECOWAS, potentially also at the helm of the African Development Bank, and in New York, you have called for a permanent UNSC seat for Africa -- are all actions of which to be proud.

However, the list of challenges here is a lot longer, and the suffering of the everyday Nigerian is high. Thus, with this new Dispensation and good news also comes the responsibility to "lean forward" more vigorously to address development:
·      Improving security  in the North;

·      Combating corruption;

·      Reducing poverty, as most Nigerians live on naira 290 a day ($1.25), representing about 60 per cent of your population[iv], with the same number of people facing daily food security issues;

·      Addressing education such as having the world's largest number of school-aged children [10 million]not in school; particularly since children under 15 make up 44 per cent of your overall population, and 39 per cent of Nigerian adults cannot read or write;[v]

·      Improving  health systems and providing affordable housing to the 17 million people in Nigeria without good shelter is critical;[vi]

·      Expanding the number of Nigerian Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs) from its current 17 million;[vii]

·      Creating 1.8 million jobs per year from your current 1.2 million just to outpace poverty and keep pace with your population growth;[viii] 

·      Securing energy-fuel needs, including rural electrification, remain one of your most press needs not only for daily living but for your private sector and investors; and an

·      Additional focus needs to be on women and at-risk girls from education to financial inclusion as they both lag behind here on all human index well-being indicators.

Changing any of these issues to the positive side of the ledger will further underscore Nigeria's leadership role on the Continent.

In sum, a new paradigm begins for your nation on May 29, 2015, and Nigerians should be very proud of the example they are setting for Africa and for evolving democracies all over the world. I want to again congratulate Governor Amaechi for his leadership in holding such an important symposium at the dawn of the changing of the political guard in Nigeria.

As I close my remarks, I am extremely proud of Nigeria and have always been in the pro-Nigeria corner way before it became fashionable to be so. I am appreciative of having represented the U.S. Government here, honored to have served as an observer in your 2015 historic, democratic elections, and to be asked to speak here today. I wish the Governor, people of Rivers State, the nation, the outgoing President, and most assuredly President-elect Buhari and Vice-President elect Osinbajo the very best as they lead Nigeria during this landmark period in Nigeria's history.

 I Thank you.

[ii] Source for SME & job figures: Sept 24, 2014, McKinsey Breakfast on Nigeria, The New York Palace Hotel, New York
[vi] Source for SME & job figures: Sept 24, 2014, McKinsey Breakfast on Nigeria, The New York Palace Hotel, New York
[vii] Source for SME & job figures: Sept 24, 2014, McKinsey Breakfast on Nigeria, The New York Palace Hotel, New York
[viii] Source for SME & job figures: Sept 24, 2014, McKinsey Breakfast on Nigeria, The New York Palace Hotel, New York