Nigeria: Bola Tinubu Colloquium and Productive National Discourse

The Tinubu Colloquium.

In some other climes, the proponents of the yearly The Bola Tinubu Colloquium would be applauded for the brilliance of the idea in galvanising national discourse to remedy most of the country's intractable problems. But is it a mere yearly talk-shop for a gathering of Nigeria's bigwigs? After 10 years, what actionable blueprint has the colloquium produced for governance? With its enviable themes, what became the products of past colloquiums?

The theme for this year's, 'Investing in People: Jobs and the Economy', couldn't have come at a better time given the parlous state of the economy and the army of jobless Nigerians, both within and those fleeing for greener pastures in strange places through perilous routes. With Tinubu as a close ally of the current government, how much impact has his colloquium had on the administration's policy thrust to improving the lives of Nigerians?

"The objective is to outline and showcase the government's efforts to add millions of jobs over the next four years through policies and investment in agriculture, industrialisation, and technology, and creative sector," a statement from the organisers says. "This will also highlight the Next Level initiatives to prepare our people for the jobs of the future through education and skills development."

The colloquium, which took root as a discourse platform during Tinubu's term in office as governor of Lagos State, was proposed to serve as "a platform for sharing knowledge, experience and information around socio-economic and governance issues".It has since become an avenue to put forward some brilliant ideas that have gone largely unapplied in the governance of the country.

At the inaugural edition in 2009, 'Evert Vote Must Count' was the theme while in 2010, the theme was 'This House Must Stand! Pulling Nigeria Back from the Brink.' Also in in 2011 'Nigeria: Why isn't it Working? How Will it Work?' was chosen as the theme for the colloquium. These themes reflect the political tempers in those years and how Nigeria has managed to navigate those issues till date.

In 2013, the 'Beyond Mergers: Movement for National Change, A New Generation Speaks' theme was apt as the oppositional momentum was gathering against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party-led government. That year the colloquium sought means "to bring new voices to the table to interrogate ways by which we can meaningfully engage the political space and sustain a national movement for change that will result in a national transformation, as we have seen happen in some countries around the world in recent years."

In 2014, the organisers had lamented, "there are 20.3 million unemployed youth. 75 per cent of Nigerians have no access to primary healthcare. 10.8 million children of primary school age are out of school, 24.4 million Nigerians would be homeless by 2015 and 55,000 women die annually," adding, "these numbers are alarming and something needs to be done to reduce it to the barest minimum."But how far has the current government, the handiwork of Tinubu, who considerably helped bring it into being, gone in alleviating the multiple blights that bedevil Nigeria since 2015 when it came to power?

The theme of the seventh colloquium in 2015, 'Change: How Will It work?' which held weeks away from the historic 2015 elections, had the change agenda of the Buhari government in focus. The organisers had the agenda of APC in mind once it attained power. Of course, that change has since gone awry and made way for the Next Level agenda of government.For the 2016 event, the theme was 'Agriculture: Action, Work, Revolution' and focused on the country's agricultural potential and how it could be best harnessed for food sufficiency.

In 2017 the colloquium dwelt on 'Make It in Nigeria: Use What We Make and Make What We Use,' a bold, revolutionary statement for which national performance fell abysmally low. The theme was in tune with President Bubari's nationalistic slogan 'Change Begins with Me' which even Mr. President himself practised more in breach, with his frequent medical tourism abroad that makes a mockery of Aso Rock clinic that is a ghost of what it should be.

As usual, the 2019 colloquium brought together stakeholders including policy makers, academics, members of civil society organisations, with the expectation that "The people will tell our own unique Nigerian story of what it means for the government to act as a social investor in the lives and the future of its people."

Curiously, organisers have also raised some posers regarding the possible outcomes of the colloquium in last year's event, as they note, "Is it simply a great campaign tag line? Is it (The Bola Tinubu Colloquium) a mere ideology with no real incremental/socio-economic benefits? Or is it as we would wish it to be, a necessary policy action which we must take as a nation if we are to see any real development in our nation?"

This self-appraising proposition of the organisers is critical in situating the actual relevance of the colloquium in national discourse and how far it has gone in achieving its set objectives 11 years after it was inaugurated.The fourth colloquium in 2012 had 'Looking Back, Think Ahead' as theme; it had former Commonwealth Secretary, Chief Emeka Anyaoku as chairman. These were obviously the heady days of Action for Democracy (AD) when Tinubu was still breathing the fire of restructuring as panacea for the multiple ills plaguing the country.

Anyaoku had said, "I do believe that rather than our current unitary system, federalism will better promote peace, stability and development in Nigeria. To return to true federalism, we need a major restructuring of our current architecture of governance. We need six federating units instead of our present 36, which not only sustains an over-dominant centre, but also compels the country to spend less than 74 percent of its revenue on the cost of administration.

"If the existing 36 states must be retained, they could be made developmental zones with minimal administrative structures within the respective six federating units. I do not believe that we can successfully tackle the serious challenges currently facing our country on the basis of our existing constitution and architecture of governance."He went on to describe Tinubu as "an effective advocate of federalism and a dedicated activist for the return of democracy and the restitution of Chief MKO Abiola's presidential election victory in Nigeria. My second reason for agreeing to be here is the significance of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as a consistent advocate of true federalism in Nigeria. As governor of Lagos State, he undertook some key development projects which, under our existing Constitution, were federal responsibility."

Now however, it is doubtful if Tinubu is still the 'effective advocate of true federalism' that Anyaoku described him, having paired up with strange bedfellows who treat restructuring with disdain, as if it is an incomprehensible term. Both President Muhammadu Buhari and his VP, Yemi Osinbajo have variously described restructuring as if speaking about one word in mutually unintelligible languages in spite of the term being in their party APC's manifesto.

The 10th colloquium last year saw key government functionaries speaking to some social investment policies of the Buhari administration. These were Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, National Programme Coordinator, National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Job Creation and Youth Empowerment and Coordinator of N-Power Programme and Job Creation, Mr. Afolabi Imoukhuede, and Executive Director of Bank of Industry, Mrs. Toyin Adeniji, who spoke on 'Market Moni'.

From these officials' job profiles it was clear that the last colloquium was devoted to selling the Buhari administration via the various social intervention programmes of government to the people, as some of these programmes became defining during the last general elections, particularly the 'TraderMoni' programme Mr. Osinbajo spearheaded.

However, to what extent have the impoverished people of Nigeria felt the positive impact of these social interventions, as the country bears the infamous tag of Poverty Capital of the World? In other words, what significant impact has the Bola Tinubu Colloquium had on Buhari government's policies since 2015? What evaluative tool could be deployed to measure its real time impact on the social wellbeing of Nigerians, or have its organisers predicted its probable outcome when they asked, 'Is it (the Bola Tinubu Colloquium) a mere ideology with no real incremental/socio-economic benefits?'

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