I am delighted to be with you this afternoon to inaugurate the National Economic Council (NEC).NEC is established by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999), as amended. By virtue of Section 153 and paragraph 18 of the 3rd Schedule to the Constitution, NEC has the mandate to advise the President on economic policy of the country and in particular, co-ordination of the economic planning efforts, and programmes of the three- tiers of Government. I am very happy to observe that during our first term of office, the Council made very significant progress, holding an unprecedented total of 38 meetings and setting up 10 Ad-Hoc Committees to address various issues of national concern. In the course of its deliberations, it came up with a total of 173 resolutions, cutting across eight areas, namely;
a. Agriculture and Solid Minerals;
b. Investments Promotion and Industrialization;
c. Monetary and fiscal stability;
e. Health and Education;
f. Revenue Generation;
g. Security and
h. Support for States.
The resolutions were designed to energize the various sectors of the Nigerian economy to which the eight areas relate. Initiatives brought about by the NEC resolutions are either implemented already or at different stages of implementation across the country. Together, they have proved to be of utmost importance in dictating the pace of national development. I therefore urge the NEC Coordination Team to press forward with key initiatives that will strengthen the implementation mechanism, enhance cooperation across States and further promote joint deliberations, peer learning and experience sharing, under a very strong Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.
Your Excellencies, I want you to pay special attention to the four major issues of security, education, health and agriculture in the coming years of this tenure. As you are no doubt aware, our successes in these four areas will go a long way in lifting our people out of poverty and secure our future for sustainable growth and development.
On Security, government will continue to rate security of lives and properties as top priority on our agenda. We are firmly committed to securing the territorial integrity of our nation, while confronting the remnants of terrorists, bandits and other criminals across the country. There must be collective and deliberate efforts by all to improve the security of lives and properties across the country. Security is a bottom to top operation. Everybody must be involved for total success.
On education, I want to stress in particular the need to take very seriously and enforce very rigorously the statutory provisions on free and compulsory basic education. Section 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended places on all of us here an obligation to eradicate illiteracy and provide free and compulsory education. Section 2 of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act provides that every Government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. It is indeed a crime for any parent to keep his child out of school for this period. In my view, when a government fails to provide the schools, teachers and teaching materials necessary for basic education, it is actually aiding and abetting that crime.
This is therefore a call to action. I would like to see every Governor rise from this meeting and rally his local Government Chairmen towards ensuring that our schools offer the right opportunities and provide the needed materials and teachers for basic education, at the minimum. If we are able to do this, the benefits will surely manifest themselves. Ensuring proper education during the first nine years of schooling means that our children start off their lives with some discipline and education. They will be safeguarded from roaming the streets, and protected from all the evil influences that assail idle hands and idle minds.
Whatever they choose to do thereafter, children with basic education will be better prepared to learn and to appreciate their own role in society. This will also go a long way in solving our security and other anti-social problems, which are often the manifestations of early delinquency. I therefore think every Governor here should make a firm commitment to be personally involved in ensuring that every child of school age actually goes to school throughout the crucial nine years of basic education.
On our own part, the Federal Government will strive to extend the school feeding programme which will not only encourage school enrolment but also enhance the health and learning capabilities of pupils. We will also assist States as much as possible to access the counterpart funding provided by UBEC for the development of basic education. As I already indicated, public healthcare is also a major sector of concern where States and Local Governments have crucial roles to play. Health is an area where the neglect of one person quickly amounts to the neglect of many. It is in our collective interest that each and every citizen gets at least a minimal access to healthcare, including primary, preventive and emergency care. Funding is again a major problem in this regard, so we must take more seriously the idea of universal health insurance and strive to make it work in our respective domains.
We must also find ways of assisting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, who cannot even afford to pay the premium. We must therefore resolve to increase budgetary allocation to health and ensure prompt fund releases to keep the hospitals and primary healthcare centres in operation at all times. The Federal Government is now implementing the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund. By this, we hope to achieve at least 65 percent increase in the share of the population covered by primary healthcare by 2023, up from the 12.6 percent we cover at the moment.
Accordingly, it is imperative for us to do more on diversifying the economy, and this necessarily entails the sustenance and even acceleration of the agricultural revolution, which is already firmly rooted in some States. Of our nearly one million hectares of land, about 77% is confirmed suitable for agriculture. The potentials are therefore huge, both for the domestic and international markets. Mechanisation and agro-allied industry are very big areas still largely untapped and awaiting investment, both by government and the private sector. I therefore urge you to take agriculture most seriously as a very viable developmental enterprise.
While the Federal Government has primary responsibility for security and will not shy away from it, the States also have a critical role to play; in particular Your Excellencies, as State Governors. You can definitely make a difference, not just by assisting the security agencies in your respective States, but also by keenly pursuing policies and programmes that forestall communal, tribal, religious and societal conflicts; policies and programs that promote education, information, dispute resolution, vocational training and youth employment. I have no doubt that if these four areas – security, education, health and agriculture – are actively implemented and closely monitored by NEC and the Governors’ Forum, we shall in the near future see a more peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.
Your Excellencies, the Federal Government in the last four years has demonstrated unwavering inclusiveness in dealing with every State, notwithstanding the political leaning of the Governor or the predominant party in power at the State level. I want this to be your model at the State level. No matter which party we belong to, let us shun divisive policies and join hands together for the upliftment of our people. Going forward, States must in the next four years find ways to increase internally generated revenues, improve VAT collection and increase agricultural output without disrupting business activities. I also want you to work with the Federal Agencies and the service providers in ensuring that broadband infrastructure is made available all over the country. Information and Communication Technology is the future of work and we must not allow ourselves to be left behind.
Let me restate the high expectations on NEC as a veritable source of articulating policies and programmes that are expected to drive growth and development, secure our environment and take the country to the next level. Your Excellencies, the challenges that confront us in the next few years, especially in the areas of security, human capital development and employment for our youths are monumental and historic. But we are more than equal to the task.
I have the honour and privilege to formally inaugurate the National Economic Council today, and to wish you all a very successful tenure.
Thank you for your attention