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Making a New Nigeria: Welfarist Policies and People-Centred Development

Making a New Nigeria: Welfarist Policies and People-Centred Development

Being a lecture delivered by Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, CON

President, African Development Bank Group

Award of the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership.

March 6, 2024

Your Excellencies.

Ladies and gentlemen,.

My darling wife, Grace (Yemisi), and I are simply overwhelmed with emotion, overjoyed, and filled with very deep and sincere appreciation for your being here on this occasion and for all your heartfelt well wishes.

I am greatly honoured and humbled by the very large and significant presence of leaders from my home country, Nigeria, from Africa, and other parts of the world.

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I wish to recognise H.E. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, ably represented by H.E. Kashim Shettima, GCON, Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; H.E. General Gowon, GCFR, former Head of State; H.E. former President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR; H.E. former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, my boss; and H.E. former Vice President Namadi Sambo, GCON.

I am enormously honoured and humbled that the Excellencies Presidents and Heads of State of African countries have travelled to be here, especially for this occasion.

I would like to specially appreciate and thank H.E. Samia Suluhu-Hassan, the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, and my dear sister and friend, who gladly agreed to be the Chairperson of this occasion.

I would like to immensely thank H.E. Azali Assoumani, President of the Republic of the Union of Comoros and former Chairperson of the African Union, my dear brother and friend; and H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, my dear big sister and friend; H.E. Faure Gnassingbe, President of the Republic of Togo, my dear brother and friend, represented by the Prime Minister H.E. Victoire Dogbe; and former President of the Republic of Ghana, H.E. John Dramami Mahama, for taking time to all be here today.

What a great honour for Nigeria and Africa.

I am also greatly honoured to have here at this event, your Excellencies, the President of the Senate of Nigeria, the Speaker of the House of Representatives,

Executive Governors, distinguished senators, members of the house of representatives, as well as Honourable Ministers from Nigeria and other African countries.

My special thanks go to H.E. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Governor of Lagos State, for your extraordinary hospitality in welcoming all of us to Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital and centre of excellence.

Thank you very much.

I wish to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude to the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation for selecting me to receive this distinguished award.

My special thanks go to Ambassador Dosumu-Awolowo, Executive Director, Obafemi Awolowo Foundation; the Chair of the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation, former Head of State General H.E. Yakubu Gowon, as well as the Chairman of the Selection Committee, Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership, and H.E. Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, and members of the Technical Committee for the Prize.

My immense gratitude goes to H.E. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who nominated me for the prize. He was my boss as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and it was my greatest honour to serve Nigeria under him as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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My immense appreciation also goes to several global leaders who supported my nomination, including the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon; Rt. Honourable Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, former United States Ambassador to Vietnam and President Emeritus of the World Food Prize Foundation; Professor Soji Adelaja, Distinguished Professor of Land Policy, Michigan State University, USA; and Professor Patrick Verkooijen, Chief Executive Officer, Global Centre on Adaptation.

The conferment of this award today, March 6, 2024, coincides with what would have marked Chief Awolowo’s 115th birthday and 37 years since his passing.

May Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s soul continue to rest in peace, even as we draw inspiring lessons from his life, policies, and philosophy.

I have received several global awards, for which I am very grateful. Receiving the Awolowo Prize for Leadership is particularly special.

That’s because it brings back so many personal memories.

Growing up in the old Western Region of Nigeria in the 1960s, only one name was synonymous with people-centred development: Awolowo. We lived in the same community as the sage, in Okebola, Ibadan. As a young child, passing by the frontage of his house was a favourite pastime. I remember peering over its low walls to see if I could just catch a glimpse of the man who transformed the lives of millions in the then-Western region. My father was enamoured by Chief Awolowo; he devoured his books, writings, and articles. The name ‘Awolowo’ was a constant guidepost for every discussion in our home.

So much was the admiration that when I was 19 years old and Chief Awolowo ran for president under the Unity Party of Nigeria in 1979, myself and a close friend desperately wanted to simply catch a glimpse of him. When we arrived at Tafawa Balewa in Lagos, the stands and grounds were packed to capacity. The gates were locked. But we were absolutely undeterred. We had travelled all the way from Ife and would not be denied. So, we climbed the tall steel gates of the square, an unbelievable height when I look at it today.

Once we scaled through, we ran up close to the stage where he was speaking and proudly stood just one arm’s length from him and his dear wife, Mama Hannah Dideolu Awolowo. Just a glimpse was enough. We listened with rapt attention to the exposition of his plans for Nigeria. We were mesmerised.

Like a fragrance, his words took our breath away. We could smell hope in the air. I hope that Nigeria will be great. I hope that education will be free at all levels. I hope that there will be health for all. I hope that the remarkable transformation witnessed in the Western region of Nigeria in education, agriculture, health, and infrastructure, undergirded by a highly professional and disciplined civil service, will soon take hold in Nigeria.

Like the refrains of an orchestra, the sounds of Awo, Awo filled the air as our hopes were raised. We could see a new Nigeria. Alas, this was not to be. Nigeria missed its best opportunity to be great under ‘President’ Awolowo. Chief Emeka Ojukwu called him “the best president that Nigeria never had.”

Let me say clearly: Chief Awolowo was bigger than Nigeria. He was the pacesetter and forerunner for development in Africa. His intellectual capacity, vision, and pragmatic social welfarism helped him accomplish what was seemingly unimaginable at the time.

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He built the first skyscraper in Africa, the Cocoa House. He built the first television station in Africa, WNTV. He built the Liberty Stadium, the first of its kind in Africa. He implemented a blueprint for development that focused on building human capacity through massive programmes to educate the people, develop skills, lift people out of poverty, provide massive rural infrastructure, and develop institutions that turned farmers into wealthy entrepreneurs.

I dare say that Chief Awolowo implemented sustainable development goals decades before the phrase was coined. He was an inspiration for Africa, far beyond the shores of Nigeria. His philosophy, “Awoism,” was studied globally and helped shape programmes and policies in other countries.

Today, my lecture is titled Making a New Nigeria: Welfarist Policies and People-Centred Development.

From my early days, I was influenced by the same drive as Chief Awolowo. I promised myself then that if I ever got into any public position, I would run welfare- and people-centric policies.

My heartbeat has always been about people. Nothing more. Nothing less. My life is only useful to the extent that it is used by God to do my utmost to transform the lives of people.

Awo inspired me. Decades ago, the perfume of building hope rubbed off on me. It’s a fragrance that still lingers today. So, as I stand before you to receive the Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership, I am humbled, inspired, and motivated.

I feel a new sense of responsibility. I am reminded today of the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “History has thrust upon me a responsibility from which I cannot turn away.”

Yes, I have a dream of a better and more prosperous Nigeria.

Yes, I have a dream of a globally respected Africa.

Yes, I have a dream that Africa will not be condemned to the bottom rungs of the global economic ladder.

I refuse to accept poverty’s imprint on Africa.

I still believe that Nigeria will rise again.

I still believe that Africa will shine and fulfil its destiny.

I still believe that we will be who we are meant to be.

Today, I accept this prize as a trustee of hope for millions of our people.

You bestow upon me this honour at a momentous period of great global challenges, including rising debt, climate change, fragilities, and vulnerabilities.

Your honour is a call to do more amid these challenges.

So, I celebrate with measure, as I know with all humility that the work of making Nigeria great, and by implication, making Africa great, is still in progress. It is my lifelong mission to do all I can to improve the lives of all Africans. The wind of challenges may sometimes shift us away from our destined path, albeit momentarily, but we shall overcome our challenges.

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Nigeria must dream. Africa must dream. Yes, we may have challenges, yet all I see tells me we will get there.

We must start by unleashing our full potential while managing our challenges. We must make poverty history in Nigeria.

We must make poverty history in Africa.

We must deliver a better Nigeria and a better Africa for this generation and generations to come.

Given the high level of poverty in Africa and Nigeria, what is needed are welfarist policies that exponentially expand opportunities for all, reduce inequalities, and improve the quality of life of people. These must be anchored on public-centric policies and private-sector wealth creation for all.

I would like to focus on five areas:

First, rural economic transformation and food security.

Second, health care security for all.

Third, education for all.

Fourth, access to affordable housing for all.

Fifth, government accountability and fiscal decentralisation for true federalism.

Nigeria must completely transform its rural economies to ensure food security for all.

A better Africa must start with the transformation of rural economies. That is because some 70 percent of the population lives there. Rural poverty is extremely high. At the heart of transforming rural economies is agriculture, the main source of livelihoods.

When agriculture moves from being a way of life to a business, everything changes. Higher incomes and wages from agribusinesses will support education and health and spur even greater job creation for millions of youth.

As a young student who attended high school in the village, I witnessed the high correlation of agricultural performance with education.

Several of my classmates were children of farmers. I noticed then that when the agricultural season was good, they stayed in school and performed well, but when the season was poor, several dropped out or attended intermittently.

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The decision by Chief Awolowo to start with the transformation of the rural economy was a very sound policy.

The establishment of farm estates and the expansion of rural roads, supported by professionally run marketing boards, helped stabilise the prices of farm produce. It is worth noting that the prudent fiscal management of the cocoa revenues powered the economies of the states that then constituted the Western Region. These revenues allowed the government to embark on an unprecedented idea: free education and free basic health care services. It was common then to hear the phrase “Agbe lo ba” (farmers are kings), uttered with great pride.

We must give new life to our rural areas.

If Chief Awolowo could do this in the 1960s, there is no reason why rural economies today should be immersed in extreme poverty. Clearly, rural economies have been abandoned by politicians, planning, and policies. Today, they have become zones of economic misery. The pauperization of rural economies is what is causing the implosion of many countries across Africa. When rural economies (the fulcrum of African society) falter, nations falter. This leads to the spread of anarchy, banditry, and terrorism. This troika of social disruption takes advantage of the economic misery to entrench themselves.

The transformation of rural economies must therefore be structural, systemic, strategic, and comprehensive. Doing so means agriculture must be turned into a wealth-creating sector.

I aggressively pursued this philosophy when I served as minister of agriculture and rural development in Nigeria from 2011 to 2015. Many call this period the “farm revolution” years, as Nigeria witnessed an impressive transformation of its agricultural sector.

With farmer-centric policies, we delivered improved seeds and fertilisers for 15 million farmers. We delivered millions of cocoa seedlings across southern Nigeria. We delivered a cotton transformation across the north. We provided millions of oil palm seedlings to farm estates, including small farmers and large farm estates, across the East, South, and West. We accelerated the delivery of improved rice seeds across Nigeria and sparked a rice revolution that transformed several regions across the country.

Sound public policies transform the lives of people.

I fondly remember one of my farm trips in the company of the then Governor of Kebbi State, H.E. Usman Dakingari. Amazed by the revolution happening, I recall him saying, “Minister, thank you; we no longer measure our rice yields in hectares of land but in kilometres.”

Rural economies boomed. Local, well-packaged rice took over the market. The price of rice at the time was N6,000 per bag, which helped to stem food price inflation. Unfortunately, today, that same bag of rice, just nine years later, is N77,000 per bag. That 12-fold price increase unfortunately puts rice, a basic staple, beyond the reach of millions of people.

In several parts of Africa today, farm revolutions are happening at scale, with the support of the African Development Bank. Over the last seven years, we have invested over $8.5 billion in agriculture, which has impacted 250 million people.

At the core of the Africa-wide strategy to revamp rural economies and turn them into zones of economic prosperity is the development of special agro-industrial processing zones across the continent.

These zones are being provided with critical supportive infrastructure, including water, roads, processing infrastructure, and logistics. The African Development Bank and its partners are providing $1.4 billion for the development of 25 special agro-industrial processing zones in eleven countries.

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Right here in Nigeria, we are developing these zones in 8 states with $518 million. The second phase of the programme in Nigeria, which will cover 23 more states, will be financed with $1 billion. The Bank and partners recently launched a $3 billion Alliance for Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones.

Feeding Africa is a serious business.

To ensure that the continent can feed itself and achieve food sovereignty, we organised the Feed Africa Summit in January 2023, which had 34 African Heads of State and the President of Ireland in attendance, as well as global leaders. In what is a remarkable global development, we were able to secure $72 billion in financial commitments towards the delivery of national food compacts.

Second, Nigeria needs health care for all.

Smart governments provide universal basic health coverage for their citizens. Africa loses $2.6 trillion annually in productivity due to illnesses and diseases. Just as every nation has a national defence system to protect its citizens against all forms of aggression, the same is true for health care systems. A nation without a sound health care system is a nation that is defenceless against the invasion of all forms of disease or epidemics.

COVID-19 exposed the weakness of Africa’s health systems.

While developed economies spent $19 trillion in fiscal stimulus programmes, or approximately 19 percent of the world’s GDP, Africa spent only $89 billion. Africa’s urgent need for basic vaccines was pushed to the bottom of global vaccine supply chains. At a time when Africa was unable to provide one basic shot of vaccine, developed countries were providing second, third, and more booster shots. It was alarming to watch an unprotected Africa grapple with this insidious virus. Some even projected that as many as 3 million Africans would die from the pandemic. Africa had just two testing centres—no medical gloves, no face masks, no medications, no vaccines. The African Development Bank immediately put in place a $10 billion facility to support African countries in their fight against the pandemic.

What is not acceptable or sustainable is an Africa that imports 70–80 percent of its medicines and produces just 1% of its vaccines. The health security of Africa’s 1.4 billion people cannot be subjugated to global supply chains or the generosity of others.

That’s why the African Development Bank also launched a $3 billion programme to revamp Africa’s pharmaceutical industries and why it established the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation to support access to proprietary technologies from global pharmaceutical companies.

The Bank also launched another $3 billion programme to develop quality health infrastructure across the continent, with special emphasis on primary health care systems, which, if well fixed, can assure basic health care for hundreds of millions of people.

We will continue to invest heavily in Nigeria to support its pharmaceutical industry and develop better health infrastructure.

It is imperative that Nigeria secure the health of its entire population. This will require ensuring that no citizen travels more than a few kilometres to find a health care centre. The widespread use of mobile health centres and e-health facilities, the digitalization of health systems, especially in all primary health care centres, and health insurance policies for all, including innovative micro-health insurance pay-as-you-go systems, will capture the bulk of the population that is in the informal sector.

Third, Nigeria needs education for all.

Nigeria accounts for 15 percent of the total population of out-of-school children, according to UNICEF, with over 10.2 million at the primary school level and 8.1 million at the junior secondary school. This is not a gold medal Nigeria should be proud of.

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The problem is both acute and alarming in northern Nigeria. Urgent public policies, coupled with community sensitization and incentives for schooling, are needed if this trend is to be reversed. Public incentives such as free and compulsory primary and secondary education should be put in place, along with massive investments in training and better salaries for teachers, building quality and safe classrooms, and school feeding programmes.

A well-educated citizenry is critical for technological growth and development and for fostering creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and global competitiveness. We do not have a choice. A highly educated Nigeria is not an option. It is an imperative.

With only 1 percent of the population enrolled, Nigeria is currently not educating enough of its people at the university level. The poor funding of universities, a lack of basic infrastructure, poor incentives for faculty and staff, and incessant strikes due to wage disputes have almost crippled the university system.

As a result, there is a mass exodus out of Nigerian universities, with 128,770 Nigerian students “Japa-ing” (moving) to study in UK universities alone between 2015 and 2022, according to the Higher Education Agency of the United Kingdom.

The mass exodus of students pales when compared to that of skilled professionals. From doctors to engineers, architects, lawyers, IT specialists, bankers, and medical technicians, Nigeria is witnessing a massive depletion of its human capital. This human capital haemorrhage will slow down economic growth, performance, overall development, and the competitiveness of the economy.

While one might argue that a growing diaspora is good as they send home some billions, which is higher than the oil export earnings, this clearly is not the way to develop sustainably.

Nations that develop do all they can to keep their best human capital at home and additionally source skills from elsewhere with flexible immigration and labour policies. We must make Nigeria a viable place for people to stay, not a place to run away from. The same applies for other countries.

I refuse to believe that the future of Nigeria’s and Africa’s youth lies in Europe, North America, Asia, or anywhere else.

I firmly believe that their future lies in a rapidly developing Nigeria and Africa that are able to generate quality jobs with competitive wages and a decent quality of life for millions of youths. That is why the African Development Bank Group and partners have provided $614 million to Nigeria for the i-DICE programme to support the development of digital and creative enterprises, which are expected to create 6.3 million jobs and add an estimated $6.4 billion to the Nigerian economy.

To support the businesses of young Nigerians, the African Development Bank Group is also planning to establish a Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Bank in Nigeria, which will provide financial instruments to create youth-based wealth.

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Fourth, Nigeria needs housing for all.

A better quality of life requires access to decent and affordable housing for all. I remember growing up and how hard my father worked to be able to build us a decent house to stay in after living for years in high-density areas, in what is called face-to-face. What a joy it was to finally have our own rooms with baths and toilets. This joy eludes hundreds of millions of people in Africa, yet several governments stand watch undeterred and unflinching as millions of their citizens live in slums. Today, over 65 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums.

Let me bring this closer home.

In Nigeria, 49 percent of the population lives in slums, according to data by UN-Habitat. That is a staggering 102 million people!

These trends need to change rapidly.

Welfarist policies are urgently needed to ensure that 100 percent of citizens have access to basic and affordable housing. The inappropriate policies that seek to upgrade slums should be jettisoned. There is nothing like a 5-Star Slum; a slum is a slum. Urgent actions are needed to support mortgage financing, refinancing, and the use of innovative financing structures to raise long-term capital for closing the housing deficits.

Fifth, Nigeria needs government accountability and fiscal decentralisation for true federalism.

Democracy is more than the right to cast a vote. It is the right of citizens to hold governments accountable for improvements in their welfare. Citizen accountability forums are needed in order to have a say in how their nation’s resources are being used and how their governments are performing. Governments must show concrete and transparent evidence of fiscal responsibility.

Governments without citizen accountability become synonyms for democratic dictatorship.

Therefore, there is a greater need for e-governance systems to enhance the transparency and accountability of governments in service of the people. That is what people-centred governance is all about.

That is why the African Development Bank is developing a public service delivery index that will rate governments on the quality of service delivery for citizens.

Development clearly requires a significant amount of financing, which governments need to raise. A primary tool for doing so is taxation. The rationale for raising taxes in Nigeria is that the nation’s tax-to-GDP ratio is low compared to other African or non-African countries. However, taxation in the absence of a social contract between governments and citizens is simply fiscal extortion.

Participatory tax-based financing systems demand participatory governance.

Take the case of Norway, for instance. Its tax-to-GDP ratio is 39 percent. It is easy to make the comparison and say Nigeria needs to raise its taxes from 6.1 percent of GDP to a similar level as Norway.

But consider that in Norway, like all the Nordic countries, education is free through the university. And if you finish your course on time, any loans you took to feed yourself, clothe yourself, and maintain yourself are converted into grants.

We must distinguish between nominal taxes and implicit taxes—taxes that are borne by the people but are not seen or recorded.

Truth be told, Nigerians pay one of the highest implicit tax rates in the world. Most of the citizens provide electricity for themselves via generators; they repair roads in their neighbourhoods if they can afford to. They provide boreholes for drinking water with their own money. In the 21st century, this is incredible, as every household should have pipe-borne water!

Sadly, the abnormality has been normalised.

If people pay taxes, governments must deliver services to citizens and be held accountable for their ability to do so or not. Governments should not transfer their responsibility to citizens. When governments or institutions fail to provide basic services, the people bear the burden of a heavy implicit tax.

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To succeed with much-needed welfarist and people-centred policies across Nigeria, it is necessary to change the governance system and decentralised governance to states in order to provide greater autonomy.

States have tremendous potential to become even more financially autonomous through greater fiscal prudence. If states focus on unlocking the huge resources they have based on areas of comparative advantage, they will rapidly expand wealth for their people. With such increased wealth, they will be able to access capital markets and secure long-term financing to fast-track their growth and development.

States that adopt this strategy would have less of a need for monthly trips to Abuja for grants. Instead, part of their federal revenue allocations can be saved as ‘internal state sovereign wealth funds.’ This can then be used as a guarantee against borrowings from capital markets. In essence, they would be free from needing to exclusively rely on the federal government.

To get out of the economic quagmire, there is a compelling need for the restructuring of Nigeria. Restructuring should not be driven by political expediency but by economic and financial viability. Economic and financial viability are the necessary and sufficient conditions for political viability.

If there was one attribute that defined Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and there were many, it would be his visionary boldness. He went where others feared or failed to go. In the process, decades later, his footprints remain in the sands of time.

Likewise, today, in Nigeria, we need men and women with vision who are willing to take bold decisions.

Surgeries are tough. They are better done well the first time. The resources found in each state or state grouping should belong to them. The constituent entities should pay federal taxes or royalties for those resources.

But let’s be clear. The achievement of economically viable entities and the viability of national entities require constitutional changes to devolve more economic and fiscal powers to the states or regions. The stronger the states or regions, the stronger the federated units.

In the process, our union would be renewed.

Our union would be stronger.

Our union would be equitable.

Our union would be fully participatory.

Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. We must be audacious!

Instead of the Federal Government of Nigeria, we could think of the United States of Nigeria.

The old would give way to the new.

We would change the relational mindset between the states and Abuja: the fulcrum would be the states, while the centre would support them, not lord over them.

With good governance, better accountability systems, and a zero tolerance for corruption, more economically strong constituent states would emerge!

We would unleash massive wealth across the states.

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A new Nigeria would arise!

To do so, we will need all of us, not just some of us.

From our forgotten rural villages to our boisterous and dynamic urban areas.

From the sparks of desire in the eyes of our children to the lingering hope in the hearts of our youth,.

From the yearnings of our women and mothers and our men and fathers for a better tomorrow, to the desires of the old that our end would be better than our past,.

From the hardworking street vendors and small businesses to the largest business conglomerates, we must create a movement of hope.

I hope for a better Nigeria!

Not a Muslim Nigeria.

Not a Christian Nigeria.

Not Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria, or Northern or Southern Nigeria.

But one Nigeria—a New Nigeria—was created by a renewed commitment to turn our amazing diversity into exceptional strength.

A New Nigeria, powered by torrents of hope, trust, equity, fairness, and wealth at every level, in every state… by all and for all.

We have the capacity to do this and make it happen.

We must rise above mistrust and divisions and make history.

Not the history that is written about us, about Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, or Western Nigeria.

Not the history of divisive political parties, but a new history that we commit to writing for ourselves—the history of a new Nigeria.

We are the history-makers. So, let us commit to making history for a new Nigeria!

The darkness of today will soon fade.

It will not be long before our star shines brighter as a nation, as welfare policies and people-centred policies spur shared wealth.

A nation where the majority prospers, not just the privileged few.

A nation that provides real opportunities for the youth.

A nation where equality of opportunity for women is a reality, not a dream.

A nation where hope is ignited and dreams are realised.

A nation known for wealth, not poverty.

A nation set on a hill whose light will never be hidden.

A new Nigeria that we are all proud to call home.

So, help us, God!

Thank you very much.