A former Minister of Education in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, has stated that the squandering of $45 billion in foreign reserves and $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) by the Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration is “the most egregious” instance of Nigeria’s failure to make the right developmental choices.
Ezekwesili, also a former vice-president (Africa) at the World Bank, stated Thursday at the convocation lecture of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) that Nigerians had lost dignity because of the ravaging poverty arising from poor choices of the elite, corruption and lack of investment in education.
Noting that Nigeria had enjoyed five cycles of oil boom, she decried the failure to convert oil income to renewable assets through the development of human capital, development of other sectors or investment in foreign assets as other resource-rich countries have done with their oil income.
Ezekwesili, a founding director of Transparency International (TI), asserted, “The present cycle of boom of the current decade is much more vexingthan the other four that happened in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s.
“This is because we are still caught up in it and it is more egregious than the other periods in revealing that we learned absolutely nothing from the previous massive failures.”
She lamented the “squandering of the significant sum of $45 billion in foreign reserves and another $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account, being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007”.
She stated: “Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one, most Nigerians but especially the poor continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions.”
She queried: “One cannot but ask what exactly symbolises this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources? Where did all that money go?
“Where is the accountability for the use of both these resources and the additional several hundred of dollars realised from oil sales by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last five years?
“How were these resources applied or more appropriately misapplied? Tragic choices.”
Ezekwesili advised the graduating students of UNN and other educated young people to become the turning point generation of young and educated Nigerians willing to make the right choices by serving or having a say in political affairs of the country.
She said that sorting out the “Nigerian political mess” is critical as there is a strong correlation between politics and economic development.
According to her, university graduates account for 4.3 per cent of Nigeria’s youthful population in 2013, a slight increase from the 3 per cent when she graduated in 1985.
“This compares unfavourably with opportunities for university education in other countries put at 37.5 per cent in Chile, 33.7 per cent in Singapore, 28.2 per cent for Malaysia and 16.5 per cent for Brazil,” she said.
Ezekwesili linked Nigeria’s poor capital formation to the low development of its people through education.
“Our lag in tertiary education enrolment is quite revealing and could be interpreted as the basis of the competitiveness gap between the same set of countries and Nigeria.
“The countries with the most highly educated citizens are also some of the wealthiest in the world, revealed a study by the OECD published by the Wall Street Journal last year,” she observed.
She posited that it was up to the younger generation to restore the dignity of Nigeria by making the right choices to lift the nation out of poverty.
She also described Nigeria as “a paradox of the kind of wealth that breeds penury,” noting “the trend of Nigeria’s population in poverty since 1980 to 2010 suggests that the more we earned from oil, the larger the population of poor citizens.”
The figures of the poor in Nigeria grew from 17.1 million in 1980, 34.5 million in 1985, 39.2 million in 1992, 67.1 million in 1996, to 68.7 million in 2004 and 112.47 million in 2010, she said.
Ezekwesili espoused a new vision for Nigeria couched simply as “we believe in dignity”. She said the resurgence of entrepreneurial spirit based on hard work and sound education were critical factors to changing Nigeria.
“For Nigeria’s dignity to be restored, your generation must build a coalition of young entrepreneurial minds that are ready to ask and respond to the question: What does it take for nations to become rich?
“Throughout economic history, the factors that determine which nations became rich and improved the standard of living of their citizens read like a Dignity Treatise in that they all revolve around the choices that ordinary citizens made in defining the value constructs of their nation,” she said.