Speech by Bukunyi Olateru Olagbegi, Chairman, MDP at Party’s ‘Play Your Part’ Convention
It has been three and a half gruelling years since 2015 when we last gathered as a nation to choose a leader.
Our national reawakening began in 2014 the year we saw young people across the nation and in the diaspora take an active interest in politics. They voiced their opinions and divided themselves across party lines. Friendships disintegrated, alliances were formed, allegiances were declared. As a generation we embraced our civic duties online and offline, even as we worried that our efforts would prove impotent.
The events that have followed our last elections show our worries were not altogether misplaced. Let’s take stock for a minute: A lot has happened in the last four years. Some of it good, plenty of it bad. Together we put an opposition government in power, pushed for and got the first peaceful civilian to civilian government handover, and the freest and fairest elections Nigeria has ever had. We had so much power in 2015 and we showed it, but now it is clear we did so on behalf of the wrong people.
Before we created The Modern Democratic Party we thought long and hard about why it was needed in the first place. Besides the major political parties, there are several other smaller parties that had already done significant work building a comprehensive structure that prioritized the needs of its most disadvantaged members and were committed to nation building. It would be much easier to plug into these already existing structures, circumvent the challenge of building a party from the ground up.
Was it presumptuous for us to add to the already saturated number of existing political parties? Was it presumptuous to throw our hats in the ring?
We found our answer when we looked at the history of the country. Many of our revolutionary leaders, some of whom still hold power today, began their acts of nation building as young adults, many younger than I am today. They had less education, less access to knowledge and strategy, than we do today, but they were able to determine the course of their countries.
Where are the young revolutionaries today?
Why aren’t they given a platform by our existing political parties; Why aren’t their plans and policies on nation building championed?
The answer is simple. Young Nigerians don’t identify with the parties that currently exist. The parties don’t care about the issues that matter to young people, don’t speak our language, don’t hear or even see us as anything other than part of the landscape they drive by on their way to their very important meetings. Young men and women who are driven and have purpose to do things for this country are crowded out of positions of power, by insensitive financial requirements to contest for political office, by elder statesmen who frustrate their efforts with bureaucracy, by widespread corruption that cripples vibrant young minds, turning them into political puppets.
The only answer to these questions was the Modern Democratic Party, a party created by young Nigerians to champion the civic ambitions of young Nigerians.
There is a long road ahead for this nation, filled with endless mountains we must summit and deep valleys out of which we must climb. MDP chose a ladder as the only symbol on our logo because the climb to these heights will not be easy, and it cannot be undertaken immediately by everyone, but we must hold our base steady and choose our champions to plot our path up. There is no easy way out of our country’s problems and we do not have the answers, but we are willing to work our way to them.
The generations before us have worked blindly, listening to everyone but our people solving every problem but our own. At MDP we intend to do things, different and we intend to start by adopting a different philosophy towards electioneering.
Nation building does not start and end with elections. Every member of the Modern Democratic Party takes on a mandate to champion the interest of every Nigerian. That mandate might be aided by political office, but it remains even without political power. This is our manifesto, and if we do not have the political resources to implement them, we will ensure that those who do are forced to.
Our most important priority is education. Many of us in this room are privileged to have had access to the existing educational infrastructure in Nigeria. If you graduated from a public secondary school or university, you have benefitted from education subsidies and grants. But we have taken for granted that these privileges are not accessible to everyone and we underestimate the short- and long-term consequences of illiteracy. As at 2018, 13 million Nigerian children are out of school, 60 per cent of which are girls. This is enough to declare a state of emergency in education.
However, we do not need the government to formally declare a state of emergency before we begin to actively resolve this problem. We must act independent of the government and show them we are not afraid to shame them, locally and internationally, into performing their obligations.
Education is only one of several pressing concerns that require swift and decisive reform. Our healthcare system is haemorrhaging medical professionals by the thousands, professionals that are forced into the diaspora by poor working conditions, a distinct lack of career advancement opportunities and a lack of infrastructure.
Our lack of medical infrastructure is asymptomatic of a much larger problem where even the most basic amenities are either delivered infrequently or completely inaccessible. Without this framework of infrastructure, wealth that should go to improving the lives of our electorate is diverted to providing missing or defective infrastructure, interrupting the cycle of wealth creation and distribution and enriching a select few at the expense of the majority. Women bear the brunt of this redistribution of wealth, as more of them are forced into poverty and denied of opportunities to empower themselves. More people turn to crime, targeting these at-risk groups, deepening the insecurity in the country and weakening our potential to attract foreign direct investment.
It is all connected, our problems, and our solutions must extend beyond an election cycle.
We must adopt economic policies geared towards creating a conducive business environment where it is easy to start up, operate and grow a business. The Nigerian business environment is far too volatile, our institutions are weak, and businesses need far more support than they are getting from the government. If businesses thrive, the Nigerian economy will be the better for it and this will inevitably have a trickle-down effect that will transform the country rapidly.
But do not take this to mean that MDP has no desire to win elections.
Our party’s commitment is to building a structure capable of winning elections across all political spheres and levels. If we have bad leadership, no amount of social engineering will matter against a ruling government unconcerned with the plight of the downtrodden, so as we provide a environment that encourages them to thrive, we must also deliver them from the bondage of bad leadership.
As a party we hope to correct the present for the sake of the future. We must harness the genius and resources of my generation, purge ourselves of the prejudices and biases of the generations before us and seek to rule by acknowledging tribe, religion and gender and working to ensure that all are represented and listened to but not elevated above any other. Our hunger for success must unite us.
So what does the MDP offer?
A new way of navigating nation building. Our is a generation that is young, bold and open to possibilities. We believe that we must affirm the hope that exists in the hearts of young Nigerians that our country may yet free itself of the political wrangling of the existing political parties, the inflexibility of their thinking, their unwillingness to let our country grow. The MDP is committed to retaining that flexibility of youth, the curiosity to explore new ideas, the willingness to trust in the process.
Every successful nation rests on its pillars of institution, its judiciary its legislature the financial institutions, educations that works, a culture that seeks to empower the people instead of limiting them, a security system that seeks to protect freedoms of the people not enforce the will of the government. But these institutions must be strengthened in Nigeria.
Every system needs an opposition to check the excesses of government and we intend to fill this vacuum. When they bring a list of ministers we will kick against candidates over the retirement age, we will work with banks to privatize health insurance, and force the government to buy in, we will work with the financial industry push for reforms that make loans accessible for all. We will ensure that legislation is passed to outlaw intimate partner violence and ensure that rape is treated with the severity it deserves.
We represent the country’s most powerful bloc, the electorate. MDP will provide the structure to convert that power into tangible results, in and out of government. But first, we must start by pledging our unwavering commitment to our party.
Not Too Young To Run was derided when they began their campaign to make political office accessible to younger Nigerians, but they ended up changing legislation. We want to do the same, but by taking advantage of the unrest in the ruling parties. MDP is too young to realistically seek to take the presidency, but we can and will fight for take legislative positions. With legislative seats, we can begin to test our political might and hold whatever party leads us in 2019 accountable.
This is just the beginning the fight ahead will be long and hard, but we WILL fight it and we WILL win. We have no other choice if we want Nigeria to not just survive, but to thrive.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how we start the work of creating a country that strives for more for its citizens. That rejects that notion that wealth is what grants you first class citizenship. I hope you join us on this march, because I truly believe that together, young, smart, capable Nigerians can build a better Nigeria.
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