TEXT OF A LECTURE DELIVERED BY THE CHIEF OF STAFF TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, RT. HON. FEMI GBAJABIAMILA,CFR AT THE 35TH CONVOCATION CEREMONY OF THE YABA COLLEGE OF TECHNOLOGY (YABATECH) NOVEMBER, 2023.
“Empowering Nigerian Youths in the Present Day Economy.”
1. I am honoured by the opportunity to address this distinguished assembly on this occasion of the thirty-fifth convocation of the Yaba College of Technology, one of our nation’s famous institutes of learning and skills acquisition. This gathering today is an opportunity for us to have meaningful conversations about the future of tertiary education in our country and the roles we all have to play as politicians, administrators, parents and stakeholders to ensure that the future of our nation’s youth is better than today, and all our yesteryears. I am grateful for the privilege to contribute my perspective and experience to this conversation.
2. I have been asked today to speak on “Empowering Nigerian Youths in the Present Day Economy”. This is a timely topic at a critical time. For the government, and indeed for our nation, there must be no higher aspiration than ensuring that the massive and growing population of Nigerian youth are engaged in productive endeavours, earning a good living, and competing favourably with their peers across the world. Achieving this goal requires us to rethink all our assumptions and recognise that our current realities demand that we ask hard questions and provide answers that are as honest as they are considered.
3. Ladies and gentlemen, our world has changed. The old certainties from which we derived assurance and built our expectations no longer exist. The value of the extractive industries that have powered our economic growth has deteriorated. It continues to do so rapidly as technological advances lead us toward a future where crude oil and coal are replaced by renewable solar, wind, and water alternatives. The illusion of national wealth, under which we have laboured for too long, has been exposed by a rapidly growing population for whom there are too few jobs and limited opportunities for social and economic advancement.
4. Education is the foundation of national wealth in this new economy. So, the first answer to the question of how to empower our nation’s youth in the present-day economy is evident. We must ensure that our young people receive an education that inspires them to innovate and empowers them with the skills and confidence to participate in the global economy. We must ensure that our higher education institutions are citadels that produce graduates who have the
desire and drive to change the world and who have the ability to do so.
5. Education in the twenty-first century is not merely about skills acquisition and specialisation but disruption and reinvention. Quality education in the 21st knowledge economy must empower the individual to operate effectively in multiple fields, to ask hard questions and challenge the status quo. Essentially, the purpose of 21st-century education is not merely skills acquisition and specialisation but disruption and reinvention. How do we achieve this? We do this by reviewing our curricula and teaching methods to situate our practices in the context of global labour needs. We require a programme of aggressive and sustained investment in education. Not only in the physical infrastructure of classrooms and lecture halls but in technology hardware and software to facilitate information exchange and innovation.
6. In this new world we have found ourselves in, nothing has changed as drastically as the nature of work and how we measure productivity. Today, many skills that guaranteed employment and a healthy income for previous generations have been made redundant by technological advances. This generation will not only be competing with one another for opportunities, but they will also be competing in a global marketplace, against students from all over the world, and against technology, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, blockchain and financial technology tools that are increasingly replacing the human function in the workplace. We must prepare them with these realities in mind.
7. To do this effectively, we need to develop a new understanding of the changing nature of work and the future of employment. The limits of our knowledge hinder us from effectively addressing the challenges of this new age and adapting to the changing realities we cannot escape. Collaboration between our higher institutions and the organised private sector is vital to carry out the essential work of engagement, research and review required to bridge the gaps in our knowledge. We need to do this as a necessary precursor to focusing national attention on these issues so that we can jointly rise to the demands of the moment. This is an objective that we cannot, for the sake of our future, leave to the government alone to pursue.
8. In a perfect world, access to education will be a fundamental benefit afforded to every individual from basic through tertiary. And our learning centres will be majestic citadels of research and innovation, open to all who seek knowledge, regardless of means. But this is not a perfect world. In this real world, education is a commodity and a quality education even more so. Therefore, the central public policy challenge is the conflict between the competing objectives of access and quality. How do we fund a quality tertiary education without imposing costs that make access to quality education impossible for most people?
9. Earlier this year, His Excellency President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR signed the Students’ Loan (Access to Higher Education) Act, establishing the Education Loan Fund and creating a new legal framework to provide education financing through interest-free loans to Nigerian students. Efforts are underway to ensure that by January 2024, Nigerian students can access these loans to fund their educational aspirations. The application system for the student loan programme is being designed so that there is no interface between the loan administrators and the beneficiaries. Applicants will apply online, be verified online, and be credited based on the verifiable documents and credentials they have submitted. Nobody will need to know anybody to qualify for these loans, so that access to this financing will be genuinely egalitarian.
10. The student loan system answers part of the question of how to fund a quality public tertiary education but doesn’t answer all of it. Any serious conversation about the future of tertiary education in Nigeria must include a thorough consideration of the ways and means of addressing the funding needs of public tertiary institutions beyond government subvention. In this regard, we cannot for much longer avoid the simple truth that tertiary education costs
money, and the best institutions worldwide succeed, amongst other things, because they can generate significant sums through fees, investments and other means. The simple truth is that for our institutions to compete favourably, we need more resources than are currently available to address the dangerous decline in the quality of scholarship and academic output and the graduates we produce from many of our institutions.
11. I have focused most of my remarks today on education and the necessary improvements we must make to our education sector, especially public tertiary education. This is because I know that ensuring that every Nigerian youth in this generation and hereafter can compete favourably in an ever- changing world is the defining issue of our age. I firmly believe that the first and most important means by which we achieve this objective is by providing a quality education that empowers the mind to ask hard questions and accept complicated solutions. Education offers the promise that by the application of our minds and the works of our hands, we can make this world better and improve the life of man on this earth. Evidence abounds of the transformations that can happen when ambition and diligence are amplified by access to quality education and training.
12. However, beyond the necessary improvements to the education sector, especially public tertiary education, as I have outlined above, our objective and government aspiration is to make Nigeria once more attractive to capital from all over the world. This is a critical objective because the private sector will always be the primary driver of economic growth. Our job in government is to use the instruments of legislation and policy to create a more enabling environment, to use the appropriations process to make investments in critical infrastructure and to ensure that in the capital expenditure framework, priority is given to projects that have the potential to open new markets and transform communities by making them more attractive to foreign and local investors.
13. Critical to this is removing the regulatory obstacles that have become burdensome, stifling innovation and discouraging investment. The regulatory function of government is essential, but it should not hinder innovation or investment. Its primary purpose is to promote best practices so our companies can compete in a global marketplace. The work of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) and the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat (EBES) are critical. This is why the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is determined to support the work of PEBEC and to accelerate the implementation of policy and legislative changes recommended by the Council as necessary to encourage enterprise and promote investment in Nigeria.
14. Addressing the prevailing challenges of national security is another government priority in our efforts to ensure that Nigeria is an attractive location for the investments we need to empower our youth and ensure the prosperity of all our nation’s people. Insecurity manifested through a concerning rate of banditry and insurgency has made entire swathes of our country uninhabitable to profitable commercial enterprise. We know that capital is cowardly, and capital will not go anyplace that is unfriendly. We also know that so long as investment and innovation are concentrated in a selected number of states or regions, we cannot achieve our goals of sustained national economic growth, innovation, investment, and rapid reduction in unemployment.
15. Since President Bola Tinubu assumed office, he has made it a priority of his administration to increase the resources available to our armed forces and our police and para-military institutions to ensure that our national security institutions are fully empowered to succeed in the fight against all manifestations of insecurity in our country. We have also made it a priority to ensure the welfare of our officers as well as their families. This applies particularly to those of our service men and women who paid the ultimate prize in the course of their service to the fatherland. The days when our service members went to battle or into the field without adequate protection, arms and ammunition are gone. And the days when their families suffered deprivation whilst they risked their lives on our behalf are gone and will never return.
16. We have also accelerated efforts to ensure the full implementation of community policing nationwide in line with the Nigerian Police Force Community Policing Initiative. A collaborative relationship between the Nigerian police and communities across the country is essential to the security of these communities. It allows for enhanced intelligence gathering, establishes the framework to check abuses of authority and involves citizens in efforts to ensure their safety. Community policing redefines the policing paradigm within the federal police structure so that policemen and women are not strangers or considered an occupying force in the communities where they operate but partners in peace and prosperity.
17. There is an often overlooked international element to the myriad national security challenges in our country. Addressing this requires increased collaboration with our neighbours in West Africa and regional and international partners to track financial flows, share intelligence and ensure that perpetrators and instigators of violence, wherever they may operate from, are made to answer for their crimes in due course. This collaboration is critical to this administration’s national security strategy to ensure a safer and more prosperous environment for all.
18. We have begun to take essential steps to implement the Start-Up Act to support the efforts of investors and innovators to create new businesses using information and technology solutions to solve problems, facilitate commerce and improve lives. Through the Federal Ministry of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, the Renewed Hope administration is also implementing the 3 Million Technical Talent (3MTT) programme to train and place technical talent and provide a pipeline of technical talent to power our digital economy and position Nigeria as a net talent exporter. This programme is a dedicated government effort to ensure we can empower our young people to benefit from emerging technologies. I urge you all to get involved with the programme and become part of the technical talent that will power the growth of our national economy in this modern age.
19. In addition to our continued efforts to make Nigeria attractive to capital, we are also engaged in an active effort to identify and collaborate with companies and countries willing to invest in the promise of Nigeria, whether through investments in infrastructure or natural resources development or as partners in addressing the social welfare needs of our population. These efforts have begun to yield good fruits from Europe to America, Asia and the Middle East. I am confident that the benefits of these efforts will shortly begin to manifest in our country’s real economy.
20. The last eight years have been epoch-making as far as investments in our public infrastructure are concerned, particularly in transportation infrastructure. However, despite these significant investments, we are far from overcoming the deficit caused by decades of underinvestment in critical infrastructure in the country. Now, confronted by the reality of limited resources and multiple competing priorities, we must adopt a robust framework for public-private sector partnership in funding infrastructure development across the country.
21. In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt, in response to the Great Depression, created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as an ambitious employment and infrastructure program to reverse the effects of the great depression through investments in public infrastructure. The WPA put roughly 8.5 million Americans to work building schools, hospitals, roads and other public works. Over its eight years of existence, the WPA built 4,000 new school buildings and130 new hospitals, laid roughly 9,000 miles of storm drains and sewer lines, built 29,000 new bridges, constructed 150 new airfields, paved or repaired 280,000 miles of roads and planted 24 million trees to alleviate erosion in affected areas.
22. This administration has begun to develop a similar programme of sustained investments to rebuild old infrastructure and build new infrastructure for transportation and health care, housing education, and communications as part of a strategic, national effort that will create jobs for millions of young people, establish opportunities for commerce and open opportunities for economic growth and advancement in every part of our country. During the lifetime of this administration, through such investments, we will meet our national infrastructure needs whilst injecting resources to generate employment, create wealth, and leave a legacy of prosperity for all.
23. During my remarks here today, I have spoken about what the government and the tertiary institutions should do to empower our nation’s youth in the present-day economy. I have highlighted some ongoing initiatives of the Renewed Hope administration of President Bola Tinubu, GCFR, and I have spoken about some of the things we intend to do over the lifetime of the administration. Now, please permit me to address the young men and women who are graduating today and will shortly be cast into the world to make your way as generations before you have done.
24. I congratulate you all heartily on your achievement. You have accomplished a great thing, and you should be rightly proud of yourselves because not everybody who started with you stayed the course. You may not realise it now, but you are graduating at an exciting time. Every forty years or so, the world remakes itself, and almost overnight, the rules of global trade, power and politics are rewritten forever. We are now in such a historical moment. The portends of war and political agitations worldwide, the economic anxiety and uncertainty you see all around, are the manifestations of a world in transition.
25. This is an opportune moment because in this moment of transformation and transition, as the old rules are being rewritten, young people like you are best placed to take advantage of the opportunities that will emerge from this transition. You have the advantage of energy and the benefit of looking at the world with new eyes. Do not take these for granted. Instead, you must wake up every day determined to devote your learning, ambitions and energy to understanding this new world and take advantage of the many opportunities that abound.
26. Please do not imagine that the qualification you have acquired here is the end of your education; instead, you should consider it the beginning because it is the hallmark of the educated mind to recognise that there is no such thing as too much learning. Open your mind to the possibilities in your world and devote yourself to lifelong learning and self- development. Remember always that you are worthy of your best dreams, and by the grace of God and with the same hard work and dedication that has carried you to this moment, all the best desires of your heart can be achieved. I congratulate you once more on your graduation. Go forth and succeed.
27. To all the teachers and mentors who have guided these young ones, imparting knowledge and skills to prepare them to face the world, thank you for your service. I salute all the friends and family, guardians and supporters who have contributed in one form or the other to the success we have gathered to celebrate today. I pray for you that you will live to enjoy the rewards of your labours.
28. Thank you all for listening. God bless and keep you, and God bless our Federal Republic of Nigeria.