Bukola Saraki: Nigeria of our dream starts now!
Eminent citizens, highly respected leaders and operators of the Fourth Estate of the realm, my friends and colleagues, dear compatriots, let me start by thanking all of you for finding time to be with us this morning.
- It is no longer news that I am in the race for the PDP’s ticket to contest for the Office of the President. But I have decided to convene this session to let you know why I am in the race.
- For all that we have experienced in the last couple of years, the 2023 Presidential election looms large as another watershed moment in our political history. We must all acknowledge that some things have happened in this country in the last couple of years that no one could have imagined possible only less than a decade ago. 2023 therefore presents us with a great moment of decision: the moment to choose hope over hopelessness; the moment to choose peace and security over fear and terror; the moment to choose unity and inclusion over division and exclusion; the moment that we draw a bold line in the sands of history and say, “no more,” and then move ahead as one people, as one nation, towards our God-assigned destiny as the greatest black nation on the face of the earth.
- We all have reasons to be worried about the future of this country. But this is not the time to surrender and wallow in despair. Rather, this is the moment, when all patriots and citizens of goodwill must show courage, rise above those lines of divisions that have kept us apart over the years and ask this very important question: “where do we go from here?”
- I do not have a grass to grace story to tell. Some may even consider me privileged. But I never take my privileges for granted. I learnt as a young boy growing up under the watchful guidance of a father who loved this country so dearly that to whom much is given, much is expected. Therefore, I can say that even the privileges of my childhood were easily matched by a dominant culture of giving, created by a father whose politics was defined by a deep commitment to helping and uplifting others. I learnt from him that life is truly worth living only when it is lived in the service of something that is bigger than yourself.
- I decided to become a doctor because of this ingrained desire to help and to serve others. And when in 1999, I joined government as Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo, I became even more acutely aware of the limitless possibilities for service through government; and of how political power in the hands of a committed, competent and courageous leadership can solve real problems and uplift the destiny of a nation and her people. It was this same realization that motivated me to contest and win election as the Governor of Kwara State in 2003.
- Even back then, many did not give me a chance to succeed. They thought I was too young and too much of a political neophyte to make an impact. “He is private sector and privileged,” they said. “So how would he understand what the poor people in the state want or what they are going through?”. But I believe I proved them wrong in the end. Armed with a deep passion to serve, and to make a difference, I did my best to impact lives and to leave a lasting legacy.
- I did not solve all the problems, but in eight years I left Kwara State better than I met it. We were able to confront old problems with new and innovative solutions. We implemented bold education reforms that brought children back to school, and improved the quality of teaching across the state. We established a State University and the International Aviation College to create jobs and expand access to higher eduction.
- We rolled back malaria, we defeated polio, and we introduced the first community health insurance IN THE COUNTRY ON that brought thousands of rural poor under insurance coverage. We opened our state to commercial aviation, built road and housing infrastructure. We ensured value-for-money IN GOVERNMENT EXPENDITURE and became the first sub-national government in Nigeria to submit itself to a Fitch Rating, which returned with a national long-term rating of AA-.
- As a Senator, I was able to rise above ruinous partisanship and challenged the massive scam perpetrated under the cover of fuel subsidy. As Senate President, I defended the integrity of the National Assembly, sometimes, at great personal cost. And even in the face of daunting challenges and conspiracies, we passed important legislations to make legitimate business easier in our country, and to support enterprise. We developed a 21-point Economic Agenda and designed a new security architecture that if fully implemented would have left us in a different place in our fight against terror. We promoted youth participation in politics and passed the law to lower the entry barrier for young people. We did so much more.
- In all the positions that I have had the good fortune to occupy, I have been driven by the deep conviction to serve, to help, to proffer solutions and to leave behind a legacy of courage, of hard work and of unyielding commitment to making a difference.
- Perhaps more importantly, I have gone into each of these positions with clearly thought-out plans, decided well in advance. Working with some of the best brains around, I took my time to study situations, decide on what to do, and agree on the best implementation strategies. I never muddled through. On every occasion, I have had to break through the walls of doubts and cynicism from those who thought that it could not be done; those who thought that the odds were too stacked against us and we wouldn’t stand a chance. But each time, we were able to prove them wrong because we had the courage of conviction and we had God on our side.
- The stake has never been higher for our country. This is the moment that we must put in everything we have to save this nation, because what we have today is not our country. This certainly, is not the Nigeria of the dreams of our founding fathers and those who came after them.
- In our lifetime, we have seen a Nigeria where everyone, rich or poor, was guaranteed education just by merely attending a school.
- In our lifetime, we have witnessed a Nigeria where children could wander far away from home, for as long as they wanted, and were sure to return in the evening.
- In our lifetime, we have witnessed a Nigeria where one could drive from Lagos in the night and arrive Maiduguri in the morning, without fear or misfortune.
- In our lifetime, we have witnessed a Nigeria, where a Fulani man, would arrive Enugu as a cattle trader and ended up as elected mayor of the city.
- In our lifetime, we have witnessed a Nigeria where everyone was guaranteed a minimum standard of living, where the middle class thrived, where jobs were available and predictable, where crimes were punished, where the civil service was efficient, where public utilities worked, and where Nigeria was the pride of every black man anywhere in the world.
- Where has this our Nigeria gone? How can we rediscover it and make it even greater for our children and for generations yet unborn? This is the reason I am running. I want to be President because I believe that this Nigeria is still possible in our lifetime.
- I am aware that even now, many are asking, what am I going to do differently; what I am I going to say which has not been promised in the past? I know that even for those of you listening to me in this room, you are probably telling yourself right now, “Haven’t we heard all these before?”
- Yes, you have the right to be skeptical. Yes, you have heard all these before. But here is what will make the difference. I will do what I have always done: I will arrive in the office with a well-thought-out plan of my own; I will implement my plans with courage and conviction; and I will work every single day as if it would be my last.
- We never lacked ideas in this country. We all seem to know what needs to be done. What we have missed is leadership; the ability to rally everyone and everything around agreed priorities, to set measurable targets, to be uncompromising in achieving results, and to accept no excuse or justification for failure. This critical vacuum is what I intend to fill. This leadership with a purpose is what I bring to the table, and this is what would make the difference.
- You may also ask; how long would it take to solve all these problems? I agree, the problems that we face are so many and so daunting that we may not solve them all in the lifetime of a presidency or even in our lifetime. But that is not the point. The point is not whether we would be able to solve all the problems; or whether I possess a magic wand that will turn our country into a paradise overnight.
- The point is that we can be the generation that starts it all. We can be the turning point generation; in whose time everything began to change. The generation that despite our differences, we are able to unite against poverty and hunger, because poverty and hunger spare no tribe or religion.
- We can be the generation that is ashamed to be labelled as the poverty capital of the world; and therefore, commit itself to do whatever it takes to remove this badge of dishonour on our country.
- We can be the generation that is collectively embarrassed to admit that we have more children out of school than any other country in the world and therefore resolve to ensuring that every Nigerian child, regardless of the circumstance of her parents, is guaranteed quality basic education.
- We can be the generation that commits to building a country on the principle of equal opportunity for all; a generation that gives equal chance to everyone; that is deliberate about policies that promote the inclusion of women and youth, as well as people living with disabilities; believing that we are only as strong as the weakest among us.
- We can be the generation that is determined to make ours the last generation in whose time people aspiring for public office would be judged based on the content of their character and their capacity not on which part of the country they come from, what language they speak or how they worship God. Let us be the last generation that would ask, “Where do you come from,” rather than “What can you do?
- Indeed, we can be the generation that says, ENOUGH TALK, ENOUGH LAMENTATION, ENOUGH BLAMING EACH OTHER — THIS IS TIME FOR ACTION. This is the time for real work, this is the time to fix our Nigeria, and to make Nigeria work for all Nigerians.
- I acknowledge the great efforts of all our past leaders over the years. I pay my great respect to them all and I thank them for their service to our nation.
- However, as long as there is a child in Nigeria that cannot read or write, then the job is not done. And it is for this one child that I want to run for President, because I will ensure that the law on compulsory basic education is enforced and quality of teaching improves in all public schools.
- As long as there is an old woman in this country who cannot afford her prescription drugs for diabetes or malaria because she has no insurance coverage, the job is not done. And it is for this woman that I want to run for President, because I will ensure that people like her are covered; and that we are able to push our compulsory health insurance coverage from the current 7 per cent to 50 per cent in the first two years.
- As long as a single village or forest in this country is controlled by terrorists, or bandits or any other criminal groups; as long as any of our citizen lives in fear; as long as our soldiers and other security agents do not get the right training, the right equipment and the right incentives, the job is not done. And it is for these citizens that I want to be President, because I will do everything to protect the lives and properties of every Nigerian and everyone that live within our borders. I will ensure that all our men and women in uniform are well-trained, are well-paid and are well-equipped.
- As long as crude oil revenue remains the mainstay of our economy, and we remain so vulnerable to the volatility of international oil market, then the job is not done. And this is why I want to be President, because I will raise the revenue from the non-oil sectors to the same level as we currently earn from oil.
- As long as there are still people in this country who believe that they can break the laws of Nigeria with impunity; who think that crime has no consequences, then the job is not done. And this is why I want to be President, because I will ensure strict compliance with the rule of law and guarantee consequences for crime.
- As long as we still import tilers, plumbers and electricians from neighboring countries, then the job is not done. And this is why I want to be President, because I will collaborate with the industries, and train one million of our youths in technical and vocational skills each year.
- As long as 65 million of our citizens still live in slum conditions in our cities and urban centers, then the job is not done. And this is why I want to be President, because I will deliver half a million affordable housing units every year to our low-income earners and eliminate urban slums.
- As long as Nigeria is not the tech hub for Africa, despite our incredible talents in this area, then our job is not done. And this is why I want to be President, because I will invest massively in skills in cloud computing, data analytics, programming and other such in-demand skills to drive innovation and competitiveness among our youths.
- As long as our huge army of talented youths do not think that the Nigerian government can support their dreams, whether in entertainment, fashion or other creative business, the job is not done. And it is for these talented Nigerians that I want to be President, because I will create the Nigeria Creative Industry Initiatives to protect our leadership position on the African continent and position us to be global leader in the cultural productions economy.
- As long as our university lecturers still have reasons to embark on strike actions; as long our universities still rank outside the top 1000 in the world, then our job is not done. And this is why I want to be President, because I will ensure that our universities and higher education institutions are competitive and well-funded, adopting models and approaches that have served the most successful higher education systems in the world.
- As long as some of our best and brightest brains still relocate to other countries to find fulfillment, then our job is not done. And this is why I want to be President, because I will develop targeted incentives to reverse the brain drain and keep our professionals in the country.
- I CAN DO IT! My portfolio of experience at the executive level, and at the highest legislative institution of our country, makes me a unique asset in democratic leadership at a time that calls for consensus building, for cooperation and for compromise.
- I KNOW how business works. I KNOW how government functions. And I KNOW how the legislature operates. This diverse experience stands me out. And I will bring the experience to bear in getting the most critical constituencies behind the tough decisions that we must take if Nigeria must survive.
- I will be President for all because I represent a Nigerian identity that is truly diverse, truly inclusive and truly Nigerian. I WILL BE THE BRIDGE BETWEEN THE YOUNG AND THE OLD. I WILL BE THE BRIDGE BETWEEN THE PRIVATE SECTOR AND THE PUBLIC SECTOR. I WILL BE THE BRIDGE BETWEEN MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS. I WILL BE THE BRIDGE BETWEEN NORTH AND THE SOUTH. BECAUSE I AM THE NIGERIAN FOR ALL NIGERIANS!
- Join hands with me, let’s go fix Nigeria. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
DR. ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, CON, is a presidential aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party. He was the Senate President of Nigeria and former Governor of Kwara State.
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