Abuja, Lagos — The Queen of England, Elizabeth II; former President Goodluck Jonathan; ex-military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd); President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan; and the governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), yesterday congratulated Nigerians on today's occasion of the country's 60th independence anniversary.
President Muhammadu Buhari will signal the low key nature of the celebrations with a broadcast this morning, a shift from the elaborate programme earlier schedule to hold at the Eagle Square in Abuja.
A statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the queen's message to President Muhammadu Buhari was conveyed by the British High Commission in Nigeria.
He quoted the queen as saying: "It gives me great pleasure to offer my warmest congratulations on the 60th anniversary of Nigeria's independence, together with my best wishes for your country's continued happiness and prosperity.
"The United Kingdom and Nigeria benefit from strong and enduring ties as Commonwealth partners through shared history and most importantly, our people. These are bonds that I hope and believe will flourish long into the future."
In his goodwill message, Jonathan told Nigerians not to lose hope in their nation even as he charged them to be purposeful in playing their own role towards making the country great.
He noted that the journey of Nigeria has been that of mixed fortunes, adding that it requires the commitment of all citizens to build a strong and prosperous nation.
He said: "Like many other great nations, our journey has been that of mixed fortunes. Our nation has been through periods of progress and times of setbacks. We have experienced eras of strength, unity and faith as well as seasons of weakness, trials and despair. Despite these challenges, we have remained as one, and nurtured our democracy to 21 unbroken years.
"I, therefore, urge us to make investments that will shore up the democratic gains and work towards building strong and virile institutions. We need to harness the greatness that lies within our diversity and the strength of our population, to recreate and build the Nigeria we desire. We must de-emphasize our fault lines and concentrate on the silver lining within our lands."
While some Nigerians are calling for the convocation of another constitutional conference to chart the way forward for the country, Abdulsalami, in his message, told journalists yesterday in Minna that embarking on such a voyage will be an exercise in futility.
"You see, the issue of nation-building takes time. It's not a matter of the conference. You put another conference, what are you going to discuss that hasn't been discussed. If you look into the archives, there are a lot of things that were discussed and recommendations made, how many of these recommendations have been implemented?
"And if we sit down again and start talking all over again, how long will it take us? To me, I think the government, our parliamentarian, our legislators, would do us a world of good if we go back to the archives and sieve these recommendations that have been discussed and recommended and implement them."
In his message, Lawan said: "While we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee Anniversary of our country as a sovereign nation, the occasion is also auspicious for a sober reflection on the progress that we have made, the challenges that we face and the future that we desire as a nation."
APC governors under the aegis of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) commended Nigerian people for their resilience and faith in a united democratic Nigeria, saying 60 years of independence and nationhood were years with moments of rasping experiences.
The governors said emerging as a stable democracy, the growing confidence of Nigerians to the country's fledging democratic system of governance is indisputable.
The Chairman of the Forum Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, in a statement issued yesterday, reaffirmed APC governors' commitment to the principles that democratic governance should lead to improved welfare for the mass of the citizens.
He said: "We in particular commend and congratulate the Nigerian people for their resilience and faith in a united democratic Nigeria. Sixty years of independence and nationhood were years with moments of rasping experiences. Coming out of these years as a united country gives us all the reasons for celebration, most especially because we are today emerging as a stable democracy having been in our Fourth Republic for 20 years now with six successful general elections."
EU Urges Unity among Nigerians
The European Union Delegation in Nigeria has called on Nigerians to build on things that unite rather than divide the country in spite of diverse cultures and religions.
The Head of the EU Delegation in Nigeria, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, gave the advice in a broadcast in Abuja to celebrate Nigeria's 60th independence.
He said the EU was proud that Nigeria has remained united in spite of its diversity.
"The amazing and rich diversity of Nigeria in terms of culture, language, religion and ethnicity is simply unique, and a vital strength that should make every Nigerian proud," Karlsen said.
He charged Nigerians to always focus on what unites the country rather than what keeps it apart, noting that togetherness is what defines the potential of Nigeria as a nation.
The envoy said although Nigeria still faced a number of challenges, the important achievements recorded in the last 60 years should not be taken for granted.
He said the uninterrupted democratic rule for more than 20 years is worth celebrating too, but must be nourished as the country starts the journey of the next 60 years and beyond.
OPS, Others Outline Strategies for Nigeria's Economic Recovery
The Organised Private Sector (OPS) comprising Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN); Nigerian Employers' Consultative Association (NECA); Nigerian Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA); the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), and some CEOs have outlined strategies to tackle Nigeria's economic woes.
In their separate interviews with THISDAY, these various bodies and other CEOs lamented that despite many policies by the various administrations that had ruled the country, the economy has remained comatose.
NACCIMA's Director- General, Ambassador Ayoola Olukanni, described the state of the manufacturing sector in Nigeria as very unfortunate, saying that "over the last 60 years the performance of is unfortunately not cheering."
He told THISDAY that in the 1960s, the sector was doing well because of the support from the agricultural sector from which it got raw materials such as cotton, rubber, cocoa among others, adding these led to the flourishing textiles industries in the north.
"But today, the situation is no more because of weak infrastructure, especially electricity," he said.
The Director-General of LCCI, Mr. Muda Yusuf, lamented that "despite the numerous policies and measures that have been articulated by successive governments, manufacturing contribution to GDP remains less than 10 per cent on average over this period.
He argued that the sector has remained largely import dependent, which has made it very vulnerable to external shocks.
He said that this feature is also factor on the weak competitiveness of the sector as many manufacturing firms have low local value addition, weak backward integration, inadequate forward integration, and low job creation potentials.
According to him, "All of these weakened the impact of the sector on the economy and the development process."
Also speaking on the issue, the Director-General of NECA Mr. Timothy Olawale said: "The industrial development of the country over the last 60 years could be described
as still operating in infancy, as its contribution towards the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) still hovers around four per cent, when compared to its contemporaries in emerging economies, which recorded around 40 -50 per cent."
He said that "one of the challenging factors to the sector, despite its huge potentials to create wealth and generate employment, is inconsistency or policy somersault. Its contribution when compared with other sectors like retail, wholesale trade, crude petroleum and natural gas, services and agriculture, were still far less, despite increased macroeconomic stability and slightly improved business environment over the years."
Acting Director-General of MAN, Mr. Ambrose Oruche, said: "As a matter of fact, a thriving real sector must be able to rely on consistency, predictability, and sustainability of Government policies.
Policy inconsistency and reversals are major constraints to industrialization in Nigeria. Policy reversals create obstacles to the growth of existing firms and new start-ups. Sometimes, incentives provided for industries are terminated before the beneficiaries mobilise to take advantage of such policies and, at other times, mid-way in the expected life span of such policies."
He said the establishment of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) with the mandate to improve the Ease of Doing Business (EOBD) in the country no doubt had the potential to improve the performance of the manufacturing sector.
On the way forward, OPS suggested that the systemic issues of infrastructure should be addressed as a matter of utmost priority, with immediate focus on electricity supply and logistics, adding that unless "we have these two critical infrastructure in place, it will be very difficult to ensure a competitive industrial sector and to make possible the transformation of the sector.
"There is a need to focus on labour-intensive industries to enhance job creation and promote economic inclusion, ensure that there is adequate investment in core industries such as Iron and steel and petrochemical. Nigeria should take full advantage of the large Nigerian market to scale up our industrial capacity utilisation.".
Meanwhile, some chief executive officers (CEOs) have reiterated the need for policymakers in the country to focus on policies that would positively affect the standard of living of its citizens.
The CEO of Afri-Bond Nigeria Limited based in Kaduna, Mr. Mohammad Lere, told THISDAY that the country has not enjoyed much stability due to the coups and counter coups that had characterised the country's governance until 1999.
Lere, who is also the President of the Nigeria-Egypt Business Council, added that even in the present democratic era, the economic environment has not been stable due to policy inconsistencies and corruption, which the present government is fighting.
He also pointed out that the way forward is to encourage local production in order to diversify the economy from oil and the creation of secured and conducive environment for investments.
"But the good news is that currently the government is creating opportunities for domestic production for the things like food that we had been importing. The solution going forward is for people to look inward to see how we can enhance our local production. And the government has to provide real support on how we can enhance our local production.
"Another important thing is that the government needs to intensify its effort in confronting the security challenges facing the country. Because there will not be investment, stability if there is no security. People are afraid to go to farms. People are afraid to travel on the road. Some foreigners are afraid to come to Nigeria. You cannot do business in an unsecured environment. The government is trying but it needs to do much more.
"Moreover, we have to come together and forget about our ethnic and religious divides. We are one. People do not travel much in the past like now," Lere said.
Also, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Maxifund Securities Limited, Mr. Okechukwu Unegbu, expressed dissatisfaction that the country's economy has not grown fully after 60 years of independence and called on the government to re-orient the education sector for enhanced human capital development, especially in the area of technical skills.
"We should re-orient our schools to make them centres of skill acquisition. Goggle and Microsoft do not need your degree to employ you. They look for your technical ability and skill.
"Moreover, our environment is hostile for good businesses. It is my candid opinion that government would not grow the economy successfully by increasing taxes. This could only be done by reducing taxes so that people will have money to do business and employ more people while the government would be getting more revenue from taxing more people and businesses because it is a matter of volume transaction. But high taxation might lead to business contraction and retrenchment of workers."
In her contribution, a former President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Mrs. Bunmi Oke, urged government to adopt the strategy that Rwanda adopted whereby the country was able to rebrand its image from "a war-torn country," and is now being celebrated as a tourist attraction.
Oke also called on the current administration to develop a road map for Nigeria as she moves into another phase of her development to generate positive news and create inroads to seamless repositioning.
The President of AAAN, Mr. Steve Babaeko, aptly captured the scenario by quoting Chinua Achebe, who once opined; "If you don't like my story write your own,"
"Truth is that as beleaguered as Nigeria is, it's still one of the countries with the most potential in the world. The vibrancy of our culture which is fast becoming mainstream global especially in the areas of music, films, cuisine, and fashion can be explored. These are pillars we can package to change the narrative," Babaeko said.
According to him, for every dishonest Nigerian out there, there are a thousand pushing the boundaries and excelling in different fields of human endeavour: Business, medicine, tech and academic.
"The western media will never cease projecting the negative narrative about Nigeria but the onus is on us as a people to change the narrative and tell in the most eloquent way possible, the story of our people doing the country and the world proud," he added.
Another top Advertising practitioner and President, Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN), Emmanuel Ajufo, admitted that the need for effective perception management cannot be overemphasised in Nigeria at this point in the country's national development.
While calling on all the stakeholders in the Nigeria project to work on the country's image from many angles simultaneously, Ajufo emphasised the essential of revisiting the country's core values as they were in the past years and the need for the media to play its role well.
To the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Mid-Century Agro Allied Ventures Limited, Mr. Raymond Isiadinso, the Nigerian economy is suffering from policy instability and security challenges.
Isiadinso said agriculture was being threatened by insecurity and warned that the country could be doomed if the agriculture sector collapses.
"I will want the government to through its fiat and authority to create an enabling environment for agriculture to thrive. Once agriculture grows, the economy will boom. The way to create the enabling environment is to stop the insecurity by enacting laws (to address cattle grazing) that agricultural practitioners will see as government's support to step out to practice their farming career. The government is the only institution that can stop the insecurity being suffered by farmers from herdsmen," he said.
Omololu Ogunmade, Chuks Okocha, Kingsley Nwezeh, Adedayo Akinwale, Raheem Akingbolu, Dike Onwuamaeze and Chris Uba