Saturday, 18 May 2013
PUNCH NEWSPAPER: Most Nigerian Billionaires Are Corrupt – Akinyemi
A former Minister of External Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, on Saturday said it was not possible for any Nigerian to be a billionaire without being corrupt.
Akinyemi stated this in Akure, the Ondo State capital while delivering the second term inauguration lecture of Governor Olusegun Mimiko.
The professor of International Relations and Diplomacy spoke on the topic, ‘Leadership, Democracy, and Development.’
He said at the event chaired by a former Nigerian High Commissioner to United Kingdom, Dr. Christopher Kolade, that “being a billionaire in Nigeria today without corruption is impossible.”
Akinyemi said, “No one can be a billionaire in Nigeria today without being corrupt. If you are a businessman, you would have evaded tax or other levies like import duties with the active connivance of those in charge.
“Your entire income as a political office holder, either elected or appointed, cannot make you a billionaire without indulging in corrupt practices. It is also not possible for you to work and retire as a civil servant in whatever capacity and become a billionaire without being corrupt.
“I know I am stepping on sensitive toes but I can handle that. Unless our leaders tackle the issue of corruption and offer selfless service to the people, our democracy may not produce the desired development we are all expecting.”
Akinyemi lamented that Nigerians had sacrificed value systems on the altar of greed, indiscipline, selfishness and insatiable craze for material wealth acquisition.
He said, “There are no more values to hold on to. Parents not only encourage their children to cheat in order to beat the system but also aid and abet them in their nefarious activities. No one believes anymore in the concept of society.
“Nigerians have created their own God in their own image. In my youth, to be accused of theft or any other criminal offence was tantamount to being banished from the society while to be convicted was tantamount to suicide.
“However, today, no one asks for the source of wealth. People in jail, accused of murder run for, and win elections.
“More than a score of members of the Senate have EFCC court cases hanging against them. Only in Nigeria do you steal billions and escape with less than a million naira fine.”
Akinyemi noted that Nigeria problem, which invariably led to its backwardness in all ramifications, started after the military coup which displaced the first civilian generation of Nigerian leaders.
“Only three years after independence, whatever system existed was shattered by the thoughtless overthrow of the western regional government and from then on, politics of development was replaced by politics of looting,” he stated.
He also blamed the judiciary both at the bar and bench, for the upsurge in corrupt practices in the country by granting frivoulous bails to those indicted for corruption.
He suggested that for the country to move forward, “the political elite must make a conscious effort to arrive at a consensus that will be outcome of negotiation, give and take and compromises.”
The occasion was attended by seasoned diplomats, senior citizens, politicians, former governors, traditional rulers and religious leaders from within and outside the country.
FULL TEXT OF PROF. AKINYEMI'S SPEECH:
Leadership, Democracy And Development: A Paradigm Relationship
Professor A. Bolaji Akinyemi B.A., M.A., M.A.L.D., D.Phil (Oxon), Cfr, Fniia
Professor Of International Relations And Diplomacy
Former Minister Of External Affairs
A Public Lecture To Commemorate The Inauguration Of The Governor Of Ondo State
23 February 2013 Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria
I must start on a note of congratulations. I congratulate the people of Ondo State for their good fortune in having as Governor, His Excellency, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko for the past four years. Why should I congratulate you. Because in the past four years, Governor Mimiko has changed the face of Ondo state to the benefit of Ondo people. Let me cite just one example at this juncture. I am going to quote from an international report. A report prepared under the auspices of the Centre For Strategic and International Studies had this to say about the Abiye Initiative: “The Initiative has won early praise from maternal and public health experts in Nigeria and beyond. The programme is seen by many as a promising home-grown effort to build a comprehensive, sustainable, and evidence-driven approach that ensures that women have reliable access to quality maternal health services”(p.2). What has been said about the Abiye Initiative can be said about his initiatives in education, urban development and other fields.
Let me also extend this felicitation to the Yoruba nation, Nigeria and the Black race. The reason for the linkages will become very obvious later. I also congratulate the people of Ondo State for having had the good sense of re-electing Governor Mimiko for a second time. I know that some have said that in that multi-candidate election, Governor Mimiko did not win an outright majority. True enough. I am a political scientist, and I can declare without any fear of contradiction that in most elections in free and democratic countries, candidates and parties often win with narrow majorities. A few examples will suffice: In 1960, John F. Kennedy won with 49.72% of the votes. In 1968, Richard Nixon won with 43.42% of the votes, In 1992, Bill Clinton won with 43.01% of the votes cast. In 2000, George Bush, Jnr. Won with 47.87% of the votes cast. If we go way back, in 1860, Abe Lincoln won with 39.65% of the votes cast. In Britain, in the 2010 elections, the Conservative party under David Cameron which is the senior party in the government won only 36.1% of the votes cast.
It is only where elections are rigged or where it is only a one-party system that winners claim outlandish majorities.
I congratulate Governor Mimiko himself for having won a second-term election. I thank him as a Yorubaman, a Nigerian and a Blackman, for giving me something to boast about in the achievements of a fellow Yoruba, a fellow Nigerian and a fellow Blackman. At the same time, I commiserate with him. I feel sorry for him because having set such high standards of achievement in his first term, he is going to be under considerable pressure to maintain that high level of achievement for the second term. If your child has been recording a position in class of 10 out of 30 students, you heap praise on him or her when he or she moves to a position of 5 out of 30. But if the same student has always been among the first three in the class, and all of a sudden, he falls to a position of 5, most parents will reward that kid with a tongue lashing if not worse. “So what happened to the first three positions? Did those kids have two heads?” And to the mother, the father bellows “come and ask your child whether I sent him to school to play and waste my money” etc. So now that
Governor Mimiko scored a distinction in the first term, I am also expecting another Grade A performance during this term. And so say all of us.
Some of you may be tempted to ask: What does he know about Ondo state? I am not a new comer to this state. I have been visiting Ondo State since the 1950s. My father, the late Canon J.A. Akinyemi was a member of the Action Group and I used to accompany him to Action Group conferences in Owo. That was in the 50s. In the 90s, I was the leader of the Afenifere assessment team who visited Ondo state to assess the projects of the Alliance for Democracy Government then under Governor Adefarati. Your present Governor was the Commissioner for health then. I was also here to deliver the Democracy Day lecture in 2000. Since the advent of the Mimiko Administration, this will be my third time of visiting. The first two were private visits, and on each occasion, I drove round with my eyes open. Before the election period in 2012, I came to Akure on a private visit and the Governor himself, around midnight, without escort, without siren and without advance notice, drove me all around Akure for me to see the projects he had on the ground--- the mega schools, the market, the hospital, the proposed mechanic place, the electrification of the city roads---. At the hospital, he was mobbed by patients, medical staff, family members of patients. These people were not members of a rented crowd. I know Ondo people very well. They don’t suffer fools gladly. They were happy to see the Governor; he exchanged pleasantries with them, no gun-toting security pushing anybody back. This was true governance at its best.
I have gone through giving you these details to let you know that I have seen it all. Fredrick Nietzsche, a German philosopher, in his TWILIGHT OF THE IDOLS wrote “to learn to see – to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgement, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides. This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality.” I know what Ondo state looked like in the 50s at least as seen through the eyes of a young adult, I have seen what it looked like in the 1990s and what it looks like now. I am impressed by what I see. I came, I saw and I believed. Veni, Vidi, Credi . It has been a long journey and you should be proud of how much things have changed within such a time frame.
Why do I wax so effusive about the developments in Ondo state? The answer lies in the linkages which I established a few paragraphs ago. I was born into Western Region of Nigeria in the early 1940s. Then it became Lagos State and Western State. Then it became Lagos State, Ogun State, Oyo State and Ondo State. Then it became Lagos State, Ogun State, Oyo State, Oshun State, Ekiti State and Ondo State. All through these changes, however, one thing remained constant: my Yoruba identity, an identity which I proudly share with all the inhabitants of these six states and those in the diaspora. Therefore success in any part of Yoruba land is also my success. As the Eyo masquerade in Lagos will say: “Mo ba o yo. Mo si bara mi yo.”
The linkage is wider than this. Any happening in any part of Nigeria reflects on all parts of Nigeria. It is not for nothing that the CSIS report earlier mentioned referred to “Ondo State, in the South West region of Nigeria” The report itself draws the wider inference when it wrote: “The purpose of this report is to highlight one such effort, which warrants encouragement and bears watching as Nigeria, the United States, and the broader global community seek more effective and innovative approaches to the challenge of maternal mortality”(p.3).
I am an international relations scholar and it does not take rocket science to observe that the rest of the world cannot tell the difference between one Blackman or another. And when the speech gives the game away, it is only as far as making a distinction between an African and an American. To the extent that the rest of the world cannot differentiate between one Blackman and another, the acclaimed success of a programme in Africa rubs off on all Africans in public perception.
When I got the invitation, signed by the Governor personally to deliver this lecture, the theme I was given was “ELECTORAL SANCTITY, RESULT ORIENTED DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND THE PLACE OF NIGERIA IN THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY”. I thought this is what you get with an intellectual-activist as Governor. I thought I would need a Nobel laureate to translate for me. I carried out a deconstruction exercise of the theme to come up with a title that will keep faith with the theme. The title I came up with which the Governor graciously accepted is LEADERSHIP, DEMOCRACY AND DEVELOPMENT: A PARADIGM RELATIONSHIP.
In his speech in Accra during his first trip to Africa on July 11, 2009, President Obama made his famous remark that “Africa doesn’t need strong men, it needs strong institutions. In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success----- strong parliaments, and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society….” Anybody listening to that would agree that the declaration was in tandem with the popular Nigerian saying that “nobody is indispensable”.
My own reading of history has led me to be less categorical than Obama. Sometimes in 2008, in the course of a lecture celebrating the first Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, I had taken the opposite position that a tree can make a forest.
Historical analysis of periods in a nation’s history demonstrates the decisive impact that strong leadership whether good or bad can have on the life of the nation. Even the United States has not been an exception to this. Franklin D Roosevelt assumed office as the President of the United States at the peak of the economic depression when millions were out of work, banks were failing and what was even more ominous, many Americans out of despair were starting to look at the German experiment under Hitler and the Nazis as a solution to American problems. The previous administration under President Herbert Hoover had proved not only incompetent but had no clue as to the way forward. It took Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal programme to not only rescue the United States but to position the United States in such a way that it was able to rescue Europe, militarily and economically. Yet, before Roosevelt, all the institutions were in place: the Presidency, the Congress and the Judiciary. In Europe, Winston Churchill was a classic example of the strongman vis a vis the fate of the nation. Before Churchill became the Prime Minister, Hitler had struck terror into the hearts of the Britons. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister before him was known as the apostle of appeasement, prepared to give away anything and everything to Chancellor Adolf Hitler to avoid a war. All the institutions were there: Parliament, the Monarchy, the Church, the Civil Service etc. But they were all infected with the virus of defeatism. Then came Winston Churchill. Nothing defined him and what he infused into the United Kingdom as his famous speech “We shall not flag or fall. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island , whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..”
Of course, there is the example of Adolf Hitler himself who turned a defeated and dispirited nation, Germany, into a mighty force that at one time occupied ninety percent of Europe and took the combined force of the whole world to defeat him. I do not condone or commend Hitler’s policies. But in the life of the German nation, one man made the difference.
In the modern period, names of leaders which come to mind include Martin Luther King jr in the United States., General Park Chung-Hee in South Korea, Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore and other leaders of the Asian Tigers, Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain and of course Mao Tse Tung of China. In the case of Martin Luther King, there were several civil rights movements in existence, including the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) which was formed before King was even born. Yet it took the peculiar personality of King, with a steely commitment to non-violence in the face of extreme provocation and white violence, violence which ultimately cost him his life to capture world indignation over racism in America. In the case of Margaret Thatcher, she dismantled the welfare state system in Britain and reduced Britain from a society to just a collection of atomistic individuals.
Each one of the Asian leaders inherited a rundown and impoverished nation and through sheer forceful personality transformed their nations into the prosperous tigers.
Coming to the home front, we all swear by the name of Obafemi Awolowo, at least in this part of the country. The greatest political insult one can hurl at an opponent is to call him an anti-Awoist and the greatest accolade one can be draped with or drape oneself with is to be called or to call oneself an Awoist. Yet we all seem to forget that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the Premier of the Western Region for only five years during which he seized a basically peasant economy by the scruff of its neck, introduced free education, free health, first ring road in Africa, first Television station in Africa, Liberty stadium, Cocoa House, which was first sky-scrapper in Africa, a string of firsts still unmatched in these days of petrol dollars. Even the charlatans in or out of office who are busy looting the public treasuries lay claim to the Awolowo heritage.
All these examples show the enormous difference that an individual can make in the life of a nation. Two inferences which can be made from the examples cited above are rather obvious. Where the challenges faced by a nation are so enormous as to challenge the very foundation of that nation, individual leadership is more important than the institutions because at that stage, even the institutions of the state, no matter how sacred are in mortal danger. This is what led Horace to say “misfortunes, untoward events, lay open, disclose the skill of a general…”
The second inference is that when you are at ground zero as most of the developing countries found themselves at independence or Awolowo found the Western Region in the 1950s or Mimiko found Ondo state in the 2000s, a strong leadership is a desideratum.
A leader according to Napoleon Bonaparte is a “dealer in hope” or as John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States put it “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, you are a leader”
I will return to this leadership theme later.
When I was considering the wording of the topic, I put Democracy before Development. I could easily have put Development before Democracy because the jury is still out whether democracy leads to development or whether it is development that leads to democracy.
From the historical analysis above, one can make some inferences. Democracy was able to respond favourably in the case of the United States by producing Franklin Roosevelt who succeeded in rescuing the American economy from collapse. But it was touch and go as the same democratic elections had produced President Herbert Hoover who proved incapable of addressing the economic collapse that public opinion was starting to flirt with the German Nazi experiment. Even though economic issues were not at stake in Britain, there was also an upsurge in right wing fundamentalism before Winston Churchill stepped into the breach thus ensuring the survival of democracy in Britain. But democracy failed woefully in Italy and Germany producing fascist regimes which rescued Germany and Italy from economic ruin.
The tentative conclusion we can reach at this point is that well established and well entrenched democracies have the capability to lead to and sustain development. It is the capability that is certain. Whether that capability will translate into actuality is another question entirely. It depends on a lot of factors, one of which is leadership.
But that still begs the fundamental question: which comes first, democracy or development? Actually, it is authority that comes first. But that authority has usually been clever enough to pass off itself as a product of democracy. Only 55 delegates, all landowners and picked by fellow landowners drew up the American constitution, and only 39 signed it. Although called a democracy, the political system was controlled by the propertied class. Then gradually, the suffrage was extended to include tax payers, then extended to white men, then extended to white women, then extended to Blacks, a process that took over 200 years. Yet, at each stage, it was called a democracy. The British system proceeded along similar lines, with each stage marked by gradual assimilation and expansion until you got to the stage of universal suffrage. There was the so-called Great Revolution of 1688 in Britain which embodied a limited expansion of the political franchise and which led to gradual expansions of the franchise in 1832, 1867, 1884 and then the final universal suffrage in 1928.
But the critical point is that unless it is a case of a revolution, the expansion is into an already established system with fixed parameters and fixed rules. Unless we are involved in gimmickry, no system short of adult suffrage should be called democratic. As Aristotle put it, “The real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is democracy” Economic development accompanied each stage from wealth accumulated from landownership to wealth accumulated through industrialization. To that extent, I would suggest that the history of Europe and the United States provide the adequate answer that development breeds democracy and not the other way around.
Let me further illustrate this point by the following two quotations from two of the prominent delegates to the United States Constitutional Convention who went on to become Presidents of the United States. The first quotation is from James Madison:
In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the opulent against the majority. The Senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.”
The other quotation from Alexander Hamilton:
“All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy. Their turbulent and uncontrolling disposition requires checks.”
Those two quotations eloquently prove my point. To further reinforce my point, John Adams, the second President of the United States said “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” The United States so-called democracy was in fact founded on a fear and a disdain for democracy. But for philosophical reasons, it has to be sold to the people as democracy; just as the Marxist countries had to sell their own brand of democracy as Peoples’ democracy. And so democracy ends being whatever is called democracy. It is all reminiscent of the dialogue between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll in Alice Through the Looking-Glass:
“When I use a word”, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean ---- neither more nor less.” “The question is” said Alice “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
An alternative paradigm model in the Democracy-Development dichotomy is derived by the historical experiences of Russia, China, South Korea, Singapore and other Asian tigers. They were pure dictatorships driven development leading to phenomenal growth through sustained economic planning and discipline and all dragging their countries from the Third World to the First World to borrow the title of the book on Singapore by Lee Kwan Yew. Whether Marshal Stalin in the Soviet Union, Mao Tse Tung in China, General Park Chung-hee in South Korea, Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore, General Suharto in Indonesia and Tunku Abdul Rahman in Malaya, the story was the same as strong leaders with imposing personalities and a sense of mission led their countries through economic growth to become economic power houses. It was only after economic development, that political freedom and political liberalization were gradually introduced in small doses, thus economic development was driving democracy. In the western sense of the word, only South Korea would pass for a full-fledged democracy. However, by some stroke of irony, this was the same path that the Western countries followed, that is if you agree with my historical analysis earlier adumbrated.
India has always presented a problem for a political scientist in terms of systemic analysis. It credits itself and it is credited as the largest democracy in the world. Yet for most of its post-independence period, it has been ruled by one party, a father Jawaharlal Nehru, a daughter, Indira Gandhi, a grandson, Rajiv Gandhi and the power behind the throne now is the wife of the grandson, who is just waiting for her own son to mature to become the fourth generation of Gandhi that will rule India. Even though there is one person, one vote, the way India is actually carved up into political fiefdoms beggars belief. Humpty Dumpty would be clearly delighted as to the elasticity of the word DEMOCRACY.
I suppose some of you are wondering when I will apply this analysis to Nigeria. After all, here we are celebrating a democracy-driven development icon. I concede that in Ondo, Lagos, Rivers and Edo states that I have visited, I can see evidence of dividends of governance, in this case democratic governance. Is there not something unique in the sense that of these four states, three initially were installed through the intervention of the judiciary? Even if we ignore this factor, we still need to ask whether on the national scale, we can claim to be operating a democratic system in Nigeria. Or is it a civilian system? I will not pursue this trend of thought further for now. To move on, I will concede without much conviction that we are operating a version of democracy (civilian rule) especially in contradiction to the years of military rule.
Irrespective of the cyclical game between the military and the civilian political elite in the governance of Nigeria, the biggest threat to our putative democracy is not from the military but from the state of our un-development. In a lecture delivered by Oby Ezekwesili at the convocation ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, some alarming figures as regards the state of poverty in Nigeria were given: in 1980, we had 17.1million poor people in Nigeria, in 1985, we had 34.5m, in 1992, we had 39.2m, in 1996 we had 67.1m, in 2004, we had 68.7m, and in 2010 we had 112.47 poor people.
Originally, I was not going to go beyond this set of figures but the gravity of the danger we face may be lost in the generality of these figures that I have decided to deconstruct what these figures mean in terms of poverty.
The 2011 Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Programme ranks Nigeria at no 156 out of 186 countries, no 1 being the best and no 186 being the worst. Among countries ranked higher than Nigeria in terms of Human Development are Angola (148), Bahamas, (53), Bangladesh (146), Botswana (118), Cambodia (139), Cameroon (150), Cape Verde (133), Congo (137), Egypt (113), Equitorial Guinea (136), Fiji (100), Gabon (106), Ghana (135), Iraq (132), Jamaica (79), Lebanon (71), Namibia (120), even the Occupied Palestinian Territory (114).
There are four categories into which all countries are classified, namely 1) Very High Human Development, 2) High Human Development, 3) Medium Human Development, and 4) Low Human Development. Nigeria is classified into the fourth category. African countries classified higher than Nigeria include Swaziland, Congo, Equitorial Guinea, Ghana, Cape Verde, Morocco, South Africa and Namibia.
Life Expectancy in Nigeria is 51.9 years compared with Ghana at 64.2 years, Cape Verde at 74.2 years, Morocco at 72.2 yrs and Egypt at 73.2 years.
A set of statistics which should be of utmost interest to the Abiye initiative is that dealing with the category of “Births attended by skilled health personnel” in terms of percentage. In Nigeria, it is 39% compared to Swaziland (69%), Congo (83%), Equitorial Guinea (65%), Ghana (57%), Cape Verde (78%), Morocco (63%), South Africa (91%), Namibia (81%), Botswana (95%) and Cuba (100%).
Why have I all of a sudden introduced Cuba into this calculus? Cuba is the country that I know that has not only a surplus of doctors but the best healthcare system in the world. Yet the country is short of things which Nigeria can easily supply. Let me suggest a scheme. When the British colonial authorities came here, they established a Government Reserved Area (GRA) in every urban centre all over the country. Suppose as a Federal-State scheme, we were to establish a GRA in every Local Government or dare I say it in every Ward (there are only 9572 wards in the country). In each ward a Government development area is built consisting of a cottage hospital, an elementary school or two, a secondary school, a mini-secretariat to cater for the roads and these other government institutions. Attached to it will be a housing estate for the staff of these institutions. Nigeria should then approach Cuba for a supply of nurses and doctors to man the health institutions, in exchange for building an oil refinery in Cuba and supplying crude oil for refining there and supplying the refined needs of Cuba and selling the rest at the world market. The Nigerian staff for the other institutions will be from the bloated civil service by grading those who agree to go and serve there at a grade higher than they will occupy if they stay at the capitals. Just think about it in terms of the positive effect on Nigeria developmental projectiles.
Now back to present day abysmal statistics. For every 1000 births, Nigeria records 138 deaths, for Senegal it is 93, for Madagascar it is 58, for Bangladesh it is 52, for Sao Tome it is 78, for Kenya it is 84, for Swaziland, it is 73, for Ghana it is 69, for Cape Verde, it is 28, for Namibia, it is 48. Population in severe poverty, Nigeria records 34%, Sao Tome and Principe 10.7%, Kenya 20%, Swaziland 13%, Ghana 11.4%, South Africa 2.4%, Egypt 1%, Namibia 14.7%.
The accumulated totality of these statistics do not reflect the tragedy that has befallen Nigeria. The real tragedy is that we have bred several generations who have lost hope in today and tomorrow. They have given up on Nigeria because Nigeria has given up on them. I belong to a generation, and I am sure some of you also belong to that generation, who grew up having faith in Nigeria. Our expectations were that the sky was the limit for Nigeria. My generation was offered United States Green cards without asking and we turned them down because we wanted to come home and we knew there would be opportunities waiting for us to join in the task of nation-building. Now, our youths and even our elders would go through hell to seek US visas. They would commit any atrocity to secure foreign visas and they would endure any hardship and subject themselves to any danger to escape from this country.
Quite recently, I came across an article titled, CARPE DIEM NATION, by David Brooks (International Herald Tribune, February 12, 2013). The views expressed in that article encapsulate what I am trying to say, and I will share some of the views with you:
“Europeans who settled America gave their lives a slingshot shape. They pulled back so they could shoot forward. They volunteered to live in harsh conditions today so their descendants could live well for centuries. The pioneers who travelled West did the same thing. So has each generation of immigrants ---sacrificing the present for the sake of the future. This slingshot manner of life led to one of those true national clichés: that America is the nation of futurity, that Americans organize their lives around romantic visions of what is to be.
In 1775, Sam Adams confidently predicted that the scraggly little colonies would one day be the world’s most powerful nation…..In his novel, “GIANTS IN THE EARTH”, Ole Rolvaag has a pioneering farmer give a visitor a tour of his land. The farmer describes his beautiful home and his large buildings. The visitor confesses that he can’t see them. That’s because they haven’t been built yet, the farmer acknowledges, but they already exist as reality in his mind”
As Americans even in the winter of their lives had a vision of the summer of their future, so did my generation at independence had a vision of LIFE MORE ABUNDANT for all. We embraced the philosophy ably put by the Dalai Lama who said:
I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.”
But now there are no more values to hold on to. Parents not only encourage their children to cheat to beat the system, they aid and abet the children in the nefarious activities. No one believes anymore in the concept of society. It is everyman for himself and God for us all. Perhaps bringing God into it might have had a salutary effect if not for the fact that Nigerians have created their own God in their own image. In my youth, to be accused of theft or any other criminal offence was tantamount to being banished from society. Not only for the accused but for his entire family. To be convicted was tantamount to suicide. But now, no one asks for the source of the wealth. People in jail, accused of murder run for and win elections. More than a score of members of the Nigerian Senate have EFCC court cases against them. Only in Nigeria do you steal billions and escape with less than a million naira fine.
So, where and how did it all start to go wrong? What is the way forward? These two questions lead us back to the centrality of the issue of LEADERSHIP. It is not for nothing that the sub-title of the Report on the Abiye initiative was subtitled “WITH LEADERSHIP, PROGRESS IS POSSIBLE”. One of the comments made in the report apropos leadership was “Successful models can serve as an encouragement to policymakers and health implementers elsewhere and can offer practical examples of what is possible with local innovation, leadership and planning.”(p2).
Our leaders at independence did not have a collective vision of what type of Nigeria they were going to build. If truth be spoken, there was no collective faith in the Nigerian project. Each of the Premiers with his political associates had a vision for his own region but there was no vision for the whole nation. There were no goals around which a consensus was built. Only three years after independence, whatever system existed was shattered by the thoughtless overthrow of the Western Regional Government. From then on, politics of development was replaced by politics of looting.
To move forward, the political elite must make a conscious effort to arrive at a consensus that will be the outcome of negotiation, give and take, compromises etc. The system to be put in place should not reflect temporary advantages secured through a temporary monopoly of power. We must find a way to building a nation where no man or woman is oppressed, where no man or woman is marginalized, where there is hope for everyone, where a man or a woman through hard work, honesty and integrity will have the opportunity to achieve his dreams. When dreams are killed and visions dulled, the nation is finished. As the Bible has warned us, in Proverbs, “for lack of vision, the nation perishes.”
This is not the responsibility for the many who are poor but for the few who are lucky to find themselves in a position of leadership whether political, economic, cultural, spiritual or traditional.
PROFESSOR A. BOLAJI AKINYEMI, D.PHIL (Oxon), CFR, FNIIA.