Being a paper delivered at the 2nd Annual Nigerian Leadership Summit held at the Nigerian Consulate, New York,United States
August 12th, 2011
Iyere Ernest Ahamioje
Founder, Positive Nigeria International
I am thankful to the organizers of this summit for giving me the opportunity to speak at this unique gathering. Unique not just because it is a leadership summit that brings together some of the brightest young Nigerians in the Diaspora, but more importantly because it is occurring when Nigeria is at the threshold of collapse and greatness. We have indeed arrived at a junction leading to two lanes both leading to absolutely different destinations.
Just before the elections, Nigeria was almost torn apart with very heated zoning and non-zoning vociferation by members and associates of the ruling party. It was a disagreement between the elites of Nigeria founded on very personal and parochial interests without any genuine concern for the masses. This development made political campaigns particularly at the presidential level degenerate to aspirants appealing and exploiting the regional and religious sentiments of the masses rather than centering their campaigns on more critical issues. However, it is important to note that all the major candidates had the war against corruption as a major campaign promise. Hence, with the elections long gone, the current leadership of Nigeria especially at the Federal level must be held accountable to their promises.
The post-election violence, boko haram insurgency, reoccurring fatal road accidents due to degenerated and substandard roads, reappearance of armed robbers and car snatchers are examples of problems the nation has faced and is currently facing as a result of corruption. A young Nigerian pained by the threat corruption posed to the entity called Nigeria advocated for executions to be given to corrupt persons. I dare say if such is carried out, every home in Nigeria is going to experience mourning as at least one person in each home would be executed. Many of us in the Diaspora cannot be excused as we have been complicit by aiding our friends and relations in carrying out fraudulent activities due to corrupt practices of our leaders and those we look up too or at the least turning a blind eye to all that is going on at home when in reality we are major stakeholders in the future of our country.
At Positive Nigeria International, we do not believe in celebrating problems but rather coming up with solutions through innovations and collaborations. I nevertheless decided to start by highlighting our present state to provide a perspective as we look at ways of coming out of this quagmire.
When I started this speech, I said that Nigeria is faced with two turns, one leading to collapse and the other to greatness with each destination an end product of the lane chosen. Corruption, nepotism, tribalism are some negative signs that leads to imminent collapse of Nigeria and they must be expunged with haste to save the nation. I have come up with the 3As which if implemented would significantly aid the eradication of corruption in Nigeria. The 3As are discussed below:
A-Merit based society: Hard work can only be sustained when everybody plays by the same rule. For instance, a student guaranteed that discipline and hard work can help him gain admission would be easily motivated to shun corruption such as exam malpractice and sorting (bribing lecturers to get high scores or pass their courses) whereas when such high virtues are ignored for lower things like man-know-man, corruption would always be enthroned. Dr. Wale Babalakin SAN (2010) in an inaugural lecture presented at the University of Lagos opined that until Nigeria return to a merit based society, development would continue to elude it. He noted that the best must be given preference above the average and employment/admissions should be based on competence and capacity rather than on recommendation. I assert that as long as Nigeria continues to value medio-crity above excellence, collapse would just be a matter of time. Indeed most of us in the diaspora ventured outside Nigeria after the system of favoritism attempted to dim our potentials. Some other less fortunate ones have become frustrated and given up on themselves. In Nigeria today, many with the brain required to bring about development have been relegated to the position of drivers and beggars. They are drivers to empty heads that lack the common sense to manage the nation’s abundant resources. I call upon President Goodluck Jonathan and indeed all the 36 state governors of Nigeria to urgently restore this nation back to the path of recognizing merit by putting to end forever the culture of tribalism, nepotism and favoritism. We must cease to be a nation that celebrates ordina-riness and scorns ingenuity and creativity.
All Men are equal before the law: In Nigeria, a common saying that has been used to aid corruption is that not all fingers are equal hence all men cannot be equal before the face of the law. This has been used by the elite class to defend their breaking of the law. Because of this, most Nigerians have lost confidence in the entire system with some others lured to engaging in corruption. I have heard people say if you want to steal in Nigeria, make sure you steal in billions so that when you are arrested, you have enough money to buy your bail or plea bargain and shorten your sentence. It is pathetic that different laws are used for the rich and the poor. For stealing billions of naira, A former Inspector General of Police and A former Chief Executive of a Bank got some months conviction whereas for stealing a few thousands of naira ordinary Nigerians are sentenced to several years’ imprisonment. The recent allegations, counter allegations and denial game by the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the President of the Court of Appeal expose the terrible rot in our judicial system. Whereas, the United States of America has consistently disgraced and convicted criminals irrespective of social status. Very recently, a popular Investment Consultant and Billionaire Bernard Madoff got a maximum of 150 years conviction for engaging in financial fraud in the United States. Unless such measures are embarked upon in Nigeria, the rich will continue to break the law with impunity while the poor continue to aspire to become rich at any cost in order to have the boldness to break the law. Government institutions must therefore be empowered and given the needed independence to carry out their duties without fear or favor.
A-one Nigeria Mentality: To eradicate corruption, every Nigerian must view Nigeria as a united entity and work collectively for its good whether within the country or in the diaspora. Nowadays, corrupt individuals are brazenly defended by people from their region. For instance, before the eventual arrest of Mr. James Ibori former Governor of Delta State, there were wide protests in his home area of Asaba where though the people knew of his criminal deeds they supported him because he is “their son and the son of the soil”. Such mentality still exists in Nigeria and poses a threat to both her development and corporate existence. This one Nigeria mentality would help put the interest of the nation above every personal interest which is a prerequisite to eradicating corruption and ensuring acceleration of the much needed development.
It is my sincere belief that though these 3As prescription may not be all encompassing, if they are implemented, they would lay the foundation of integrity for the house called Nigeria to be built upon. In 2009, Prof Toyin Falola of the University of Texas disclosed while delivering a lecture at the Benue State University that Nigerians in Diaspora remit over $1.7billion yearly back home. This should put us all in the diaspora on our toes as whether we realize it or not, we are major stakeholders in the project called Nigeria. It is in light of this I want to once again commend the organizers of this leadership summit for taking the initiative and the bull by the horn, to chart the way forward for Nigeria in faraway United States.
My final word of advice to everyone is to carry out the anti-corruption campaign first internally, then in our homes and constituencies before we attempt to change the entire Nigerian society. History is filled with many examples of people that were eager to carry out change on others whilst they ironically ignored carrying it out on themselves first. Great was their fall.