Association of 
Nigerian Scholars 
for Dialogue

[A text of Speech to the Nigerian Nation, July 20, 1998)
General Abdulsalam Abubakar
Head of State and Head of Nigeria's Military Government

Fellow Nigerians,

WE have hardly concluded the official mourning of our late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, when God the Almighty took yet one of our foremost compatriots, Chief Moshood Abiola. Only six months before, the nation had lost another illustrious citizen - Major-General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua. We pray that Almighty God will grant their souls mercy and eternal rest.

While the recent unfortunate events have come at this crucial time of national self-correction and reconciliation, we must retain our sense of balance and courage to continue with our momentum for change in the interest of our nation. We must move forward and lay the foundation for good governance and democracy. Let us all maintain our resolve with solemnity and keep to this goal. This administration remains as committed as ever to this objective and will remain unwavering in maintaining the momentum towards its realisation.

This was the spirit I set out in my maiden address to the nation. Since then, we have endeavoured to consult widely to ascertain the thinking, the desire and opinion of different groups of our population. In the absence of real democracy or credible democratic structures, this was the best we could do to involve the people in our decision-making process on very vital and important national issues of our time.

I am impressed with the response and overwhelmed by the spirit that greeted our call. And I take this opportunity to thank all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria who have made contributions to the consultation process out of concern and love for our country. We have benefitted immensely from the consultations, and we are quite enriched as well by the candour of the various contributions.

It is quite clear from the efforts we have made to reach out to the people that Nigerians want nothing less than true democracy in a united and peaceful country. It is clear that Nigerians want a country where fairness, justice and equity are not mere slogans but principles put into timely and indiscriminate practice. Nigerians want true democracy which must be based on a sound democratic foundation to ensure fulfilment and sustenance.

Fellow Nigerians, we are living witnesses to past attempts made towards the attainment of democracy in our country. We are also witnesses to the painful failures of those attempts. While recrimination and buck-passing would be unhealthy, we must admit that mistakes have been made. In particular, our most recent attempt at democratisation was marred by manoeuvering and manipulation of political institutions, structures and actors. In the end, we have only succeeded in creating a defective foundation on which a solid democratic structure can neither be constructed nor sustained. This is the overwhelming verdict from our consultations.

In the light of this therefore, all the existing five political parties are hereby dissolved and their assets will be taken over by administrators who will be appointed by government. Similarly, all previous elections conducted with the dissolved parties as participants, are hereby cancelled for their widespread lack of credibility and acceptability. State governments should ensure that senior civil servants are posted immediately to take charge of local government councils to manage their affairs.

I am quite aware that a lot of time, resources and emotions were invested in those parties andelections by the government and individuals. To set them aside therefore is a difficult, but necessary step which must be taken. It is a part of the necessary sacrifice which we must all make in the overall interest of this country and the cultivation of a conducive atmosphere for an unstunted growth of democracy in Nigeria. It must be obvious to all of us that the cancellation of the flawed transition programme which we inherited is necessary

This administration, given its deep insight into what destroyed the credibility of the last exercise, has decided it will not interfere with party formation and the electoral process. Justice will not only be done, it will be seen to be done. To this end, the National Electoral Commission (NECON) is hereby dissolved with immediate effect. A new independent electoral body will be established with the necessary enabling law to replace NECON. It will have responsibility for the registration of political parties, registration of voters, and conduct of elections. At every stage of the elections, international observers particularly from the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Organisation of African Unity, and other relevant organisations, would be allowed access to observe the elections. Government on its part will ensure that the electoral commission is equipped with a new law and necessary funds for effective, independent, free and fair elections. Communication between government and the electoral commission will be open and transparent.

Under the new dispensation, every Nigerian citizen has equal opportunity to form or join any political party of his or her choice, in accordance with the guidelines to be issued by the electoral commission on the registration of political parties. This administration recognises that the formation of political parties is an expression of the right of association, so the government will not fund parties. Furthermore, political parties must neither solicit nor accept financial contributions from outside Nigeria and must transfer any unsolicited contribution to the electoralcommission.

While this administration wants to remove all restrictions on the freedom of association and undue controls, let me specially appeal to all Nigerians to cultivate a sense of sound judgement. For a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria, we must have enduring bonds that bind us together. Otherwise, our diversity, if allowed to manifest itself in the proliferation of political parties with parochial orientation may lead to disunity and instability. This is a luxury we cannot afford and, indeed, a danger that we must avoid. We urge all politicians to narrow their differences and work together towards the formation of parties with national following. I believe and trust that we will allow our collective sense of good judgement, honesty and accommodation to see us through.

It is a measure of this administration's commitment to promoting an unfettered atmosphere for credible electoral process in our determined march to a genuine and full-fledged democratic civilian rule that the Transition Implementation Committee (TIC), the Committee on Devolution of Powers (CDP), and the National Reconciliation Committee (NARECOM) were dissolved. The decrees establishing these agencies are hereby repealed.

It must be obvious to all of us that the cancellation of the flawed transition programme which we inherited is necessary to ensure that we have a true and lasting democracy as demanded by the majority of our people. With the cooperation of all Nigerians and our friends all over the world, we are determined to do a good job.

Some Nigerians yearn for a Sovereign National Conference in the belief that this is the only way to address the issue of governance of the country. Dissension and opposition are key elements of the democratic process. Those who have patriotic views should associate with others of like minds in the new political process. Their parties will be registered to give voice to those views along guidelines of a truly independent electoral body. It is our belief that the Constitutional Conference that took place between 1994 and 1995 has produced a good draft constitution. This administration will therefore, publish and widely circulate the Draft Constitution presented by the National Constitutional Conference prior to consideration and approval by the Provisional Ruling Council.

This administration has also given considerable thought to the calls for a Government of National Unity (GNU). We note the patriotic motives of these calls. But such an arrangement is full of pitfalls and dangers which this administration cannot accept. Given the strong desire of the overwhelming majority of our people for a return to democratic governance and credible structures within the shortest practicable time, a Government of National Unity whose composition could only be through selection would be undemocratic. We consider this unnecessary because this administration has gone to great lengths to level the political playing field to enable our people elect their representatives in the shortest time possible. We will not substitute one undemocratic institution for another. However, this administration will constitute a new Federal Cabinet which will reflect the various shades of political opinion across the land.

We must emphatically state that in our extensive consultations with most segments of society and in the extensive submissions and pronouncements of our people, the cry for unfettered democracy is most audible. This administration is resolved to ensure that our people's aspiration for a speedy but sure-footed return to democracy is neither denied nor delayed. Our democratisation programme is an embodiment of the spirit of this resolve.

For the avoidance of doubt, I wish to stress that this administration has no desire whatsoever to succeed itself and is steadfastly committed to an expeditious hand-over to a democratically elected government. But it will not be possible to accomplish the process of party formation and elections from the local government level through state and national elections and disposing of election petitions in all these elections between now and October 1, 1998.

We seek your cooperation in the spirit of the reconciliation that I declared in my maiden address to the nation. We must learn from the mistakes of the past. The June 12 presidential election and the controversial events preceding it were unfortunate in our political history. We cannot pretend that they did not happen. Yet we must accept that elections had similarly been cancelled in earlier situations. Equally more important, fully elected governments have been toppled. A call to return to the past is not helpful as it will be neither just nor fair, nor even practicable.

Neither the annulment of the last presidential elections, nor toppled elected governments can be brought back. We must all resolve to prevent a repeat of these sad events. This administration is so resolved. My appeal to all those who feel a sense of loss as a result of the annulment of the last presidential election is to regard it as a sacrifice in the interest of the nation. Let us all move forward to a new opportunity, with confidence in the present and hope in the future.

As a proof of the genuineness of the call for reconciliation on the part of this administration, and the desire to have all hands on deck for the new dispensation, this administration has released all political detainees. Government has also decided to withdraw all charges against political offenders. I therefore call on all Nigerians at home and abroad to reciprocate this gesture. Those who are on self-exile should return and join our efforts to build a greater nation.

In the same spirit, the Provisional Ruling Council has commuted the death sentence passed on some of the convicted coup plotters, including the former Chief of General Staff, to various terms of imprisonment. The Provisional Ruling Council has similarly granted pardon to General Olusegun Obasanjo and posthumously to late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar'Adua.

Fellow Nigerians, given the short life span of this administration, we are aware that the main issue before us is political re-engineering. We are however, acutely aware as well that Nigerians are heavily burdened with serious economic and social problems. We intend, in the limited time at our disposal, to take urgent and decisive steps to bring relief to our people.

Our economy has achieved a good measure of macro-economic stability. Interest rates have been fairly stable, inflation has declined and domestic output has increased. Our external reserves have also increased considerably. During the life of this administration, we shall continue broadly with measures to consolidate these macro-economic gains. A major plank in this effort is our desire to enhance the value of market-oriented Naira and eliminate the dual exchange rate.

We recognise that the macro-economic stability recorded has not translated into higher standard of living for a majority of our population. Unemployment is high as a result of the contraction of agriculture and manufacturing. Disruptions in the supply and distribution of fertilizer, petroleum products and electricity supply in 1998 have caused sustained dislocation of economic and social activities. Our people spend a substantial proportion of their incomes on basic needs -- foods, housing, transportation, education and healthcare. The shortage of fertilizer and the fuel crisis have put pressure on the prices of these goods and services, further depleting the purchasing power of the average Nigerian.

Accordingly, we shall implement short-term micro-economic measures targeted at specific sectors whose revitalization would have multiplier effect on the economy, productive activities, household incomes and purchasing power. Central to these measures is the resolution of the issues mitigating against the supply and distribution of petroleum products and fertilizer, reliable power and telecommunications services which are necessary for productive activities.

We have already put in place a transparent machinery for the importation and storage of significant quantities of petroleum products which will, in the short term, help alleviate the current difficulties. We have also provided funds for the immediate rehabilitation of our refineries which will bring long term solution to the fuel crisis. Similarly, funds have been provided to NAFCON to enable it start production to provide the inputs needed to meet the fertilizer requirements of the nation. Also, government will rehabilitate NEPA's key generation and distribution facilities to ensure reliability of supply in this area.

This administration recognises the importance of oil exploration and production activities to the future of our country. Accordingly, we shall meet the funding needs of our joint venture operations to sustain these investments. As a first step, we have recently paid the sum of $630 million which has been outstanding on NNPC cash call obligations to the joint venture operations. Furthermore, government is currently reviewing an alternative funding mechanism for the joint venture operations with a view to permanently eliminating the cash call problem.

Many of our economic aspirations and some of the strategies for achieving them have been articulated in the Vision 2010 Report. We are convinced that as the out come of the collective effort of various segments of our society, the Vision 2010 Report represents a sound assessment of the way forward for our country. This administration is determined to implement the immediate and short-term recommendations of the report.

Many parastatals, government agencies and companies have performed below expectations over the years. One of the reasons is the absence of Boards of Directors as required by law. We have therefore decided to constitute the Boards of these agencies promptly to provide the appropriate atmosphere for them to discharge their functions.

With the Boards in place, this administration is resolved to examine the performance of all parastatals and the subsidies they receive from the Treasury with a view to eliminating such subsidies. We shall repeal all legislation or sections thereof that either inhibit competition or confer monopoly status to any public enterprise. This administration will license private operators to provide additional competitive impetus to existing public enterprises in power, petroleum refining, telecommunications and transportation sectors. All the legal and regulatory framework to achieve this will be in place as soon as possible.

We recognize the relative success of joint ventures with technical and financial partners in the oil industry. We shall pursue similar arrangements in other sectors with a view to solving permanently the performance problems of our public utilities. Accordingly, government will explore the possibility of handing over the management control and disposal of 40% of the ownership of NEPA, NITEL, NAFCON, Federal Superphosphate Fertilizer Company and the Refineries to qualified technical and financial partners. The proceeds from the sale, which shall be by open, international competitive bidding, will be applied towards the reduction of our foreign debt and investment in social infrastructure.

Government will apply the proceeds of the National Housing Fund, Education Tax Fund, and Toll Collections on Federal Highways, to finance public and private sector participation in hosing, educational development, and rehabilitation of Federal Highways respectively. All similar funds will be applied for the purpose in accordance with the law. This should greatly improve the services these funds are designed to support, and generate further positive multiplier effects in the economy.

In order to focus limited resources available in the short life of this administration on the alleviation of poverty, the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund will apply the bulk of its resources for investment in the Roads, Education and Water Supply sectors. The National Directorate of Employment, People's Bank of Nigeria and the Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP) are all institutions set up to combat poverty through provision of credit to micro-enterprises. This administration will study these institutions with a view to redefining their roles, to improve access to loans for traders, artisans, peasant farmers and market women.

We appreciate the hardship that local contractors and suppliers have gone through due to undue delays in payment for work done and goods supplied to various arms of government. Government has therefore directed the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC) to promptly conclude the verification exercise to enable the settlement of all such debts.

OMPADEC deserves special mention. The peculiar problems of the oil producing areas require urgent attention. A fully reconstituted OMPADEC will be provided with the wherewithal as provided in the Revenue Allocation Formula to enable it discharge its obligation to the oil producing areas.

Government acknowledges the relative decline in real terms of the salaries and benefits of civil servants, judicial officers, the police and members of the Armed Forces. Accordingly, this administration will review the salaries and benefits of the public service of the federation to address this anomaly. Until this is done, I have directed that the planned rationalization of personnel in the public service be suspended forthwith.

The protection of life and property is one of the primary responsibilities of every government. Indeed, peace, law and order are necessary if we are to provide a conducive atmosphere not only for productive economic activities in our country but also for the normal day to day life of our people. The judiciary will be strengthened in order to enable it discharge its constitutional responsibility of dispensing justice and protecting the rights of individuals without let or hindrance. Accordingly, this administration will enhance the funding of the judiciary and its financial independence.

This administration will respect human rights. In particular, freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association as enshrined in the laws of our country will be protected. Non-governmental organizations and associations, including students' unions, professional bodies and labour unions, will be allowed to function freely within the norms of the law. The democratisation of the labour movement will be accomplished during the life of this administration. Government will also embark on extensive prison reform with a view to de-congesting the prisons and providing a more humane atmosphere for the inmates.

This administration is concerned about the level of corruption in our national life. Such concern emanates from lapses in the management of public funds. We are determined to put in place all necessary measure to breathe into the conduct of government, a fresh air of openness and accountability. I therefore enjoin all public officers to demonstrate transparency, uprightness and honesty in the conduct of government. Machinery will be established in due course to ensure the compliance of all public officers to the principle of transparency, particularly in the management of public funds.

As a first measure to ensure transparency, government will revert with immediate effect to the due process of open tendering for goods and services, as provided for in existing financial regulations. Accordingly, all contracts for construction, supply of equipment and other goods and services shall henceforth be placed under open competitive bidding.

This administration will rebuild institutions and procedures to restore accountability and transparency in governance. Financial regulations will be resurrected and enforced. The Public Accounts Committee will be reconstituted and strengthened to ensure the proper discharge of its statutory functions.

Drugs and advance fee fraud, among other syndicate crimes, remain an embarrassment to the nation. We therefore commit ourselves to enter into the necessary cooperation with all nations to fight these crimes. We are also resolved to restore air links with other nations for our mutual benefit.

In a world that has become increasingly inter-dependent, our actions at home as a people are always interpreted in the context of the cherished norms of international morality and behaviour. In this context, I wish to reiterate the intention of this administration to consolidate existing relationships and maintain positive and friendly relations with all nations of the world without compromise to our sovereignty and independence as we endeavour to defend and protect the legitimate interest of our sub-region on all issues.

The world is a global village. Yet, every country is saddled with problems and possibilities that are unique to it. Thus, even as we as a people strive to improve on those aspects of our domestic policies that affect our image abroad, we demand that our foreign friends extend to us a level of understanding and respect desired of all sovereign nations.

We implore our friends to exercise patience and appreciate the unique problems that face us as a nation. I have therefore directed the immediate resolution of the Medium Term Economic Programme with the World Bank and IMF. We also intend to begin discussions with the Paris Club with a view to obtaining debt relief. In the meantime, we will liberalize the debt conversion programme to encourage further foreign investment. Trade and investment will remain an important determinant in our multilateral relationships.

Fellow Nigerians, the extensive democratisation process I have outlined in this address and the ambitious economic programme that this administration is set to achieve require time for successful implementation. It is, however, our desire to achieve the objectives within the shortest time possible. After all necessary consultations; government has decided that the election of a civilian president will be held in the first quarter of 1999. The new elected president will be sworn into office on the 29th of May, 199. The period in between is to provide for the eventuality of legal adjudication and/or run-off in the presidential election. These two possibilities cannot be discounted in view of the multiple number of parties that may be registered.

Finally, achieving the task before us requires full and undivided commitment on the part of all Nigerians. This administration is committed to providing the appropriate environment for the majority of peace loving Nigerians to achieve these ends, and to applying the law against those intent on its subversion. As we extend our hands of friendship, we trust that we shall all work towards building brigdes of understanding and respect for one another.

Thank you, and God bless Nigeria.

20 July, 1998

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