Mr. Chairman sir, my intervention now will be brief because I am not the Keynote Speaker or the reviewer but it will not be out of place to set the tone for today’s discussion which I strongly believe will be intellectual, given the calibre of people in attendance.
Mr. Chairman Sir, please permit me to read this short address which will take about 10 minutes of our time, at least to set the tone for today’s book launch and discourse, which I believe will be intellectual, given the calibre of people in attendance.
For today’s event, there is no point talking about challenges confronting Nigeria, the country we proudly proclaim as the most populous black nation and Africa’s big brother.
I strongly believe that what we should do today is to try and find out the root cause of the crises in the land and how to ensure that this fundamental problem does not lead to the disintegration of the country, especially in the build up to the 2015 election.
Why do Nigerians commit crimes per second?
Why is it that laws are observed more in breach than in compliance?
In the book we are launching today, I argued severally that we have enough laws in the land to make Nigeria one of the best countries in the world.
As a realist, I will identify with the school of thought which argues that whatever the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) are doing can be handled by the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).
It is just a duplication of efforts, a practice which is central to the major challenges confronting this country.
Also, I will never support the argument that the 1999 Constitution, from page 1 to the last, is, in any way, defective.
There is no perfect Constitution in the world. Even in Britain, a leading economic and political power on the globe, there is no written Constitution.
Yet, that country is still being run efficiently and effectively. At least, the change of baton from Gordon Brown to David Cameron is an indication of one of the things they are doing right. That institutions must be placed above individuals.
There may be a few imperfections in the 1999 Constitution but is that document the fundamental problem of this country?
Even if we change from the presidential system of government to a parliamentary system, will that solve the problems facing this country?
I will say no.
Perhaps, I should hazard a guess as to why Nigeria is like this today.
Given my years of experience as a political reporter, I am sure that the great American lawyer, politician, writer and philosopher, Thomas Jefferson, who lived between 1743 and 1826, had countries like Nigeria in mind when he made one of his famous statements: “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the government down with the chains of the Constitution so that it will not become the legalised version of the first.”
Jefferson, the third American President who governed between 1801-1809, believed that criminals will always be criminals.
In fact, some criminals may find their ways into government (and this happens all over the world) but the only instrument for stopping any criminal who finds his way in, from behaving like a criminal, is the Constitution, a document which legally promotes good governance and welfare of all citizens.
In many countries, the difference between leaders and the led is very close. The moment leaders breach the law and the led vow to uphold the same law, there will be a role reversal: the leaders will become the led and the led will become the leaders.
Actors will always come on stage, but the laws should remain strong to enforce good governance.
So, why is it difficult to tie some elected Nigerian officials down with the Constitution?
Why is it that for centuries and decades, Americans, French, Canadians, Germans and others have been able to tie down their governments with the Constitution while we cannot do the same here?
Why do people in other climes see a breach of their Constitution as a mortal sin while in Nigeria, we will simply say: “It is one of those things?”
Why should a woman shout rape in New York and one of the most powerful men in the world, the then President of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was arrested immediately and handcuffed while a similar suspect in Nigeria would play up the ethnic factor, saying it is because he is Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa that he is being victimised?
Talking about our Constitution, at least, Section 188 stipulates that two-thirds of the members of a House of Assembly must vote ‘yes’ before a governor is removed.
We were all alive in this country when former President Olusegun Obasanjo unilaterally ‘changed’ this section and used one third and zero third to remove some governors.
In 2006, he went to Port Harcourt and hinted that he was not only more powerful than Nigeria’s Constitution but that he was above the laws of his own party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The governorship primaries had been held and the then Speaker of the House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, had won the exercise to become the candidate of the party with a wide margin but Obasanjo told the whole world that the PDP Constitution could go to hell by saying that ‘Amaechi’s case get k-leg’.
For no reason, he crushed a promising airline, Slok, and got it killed at all cost.
If that airline is still around today, thousands of Nigerians would have left the labour market.
Even in his home state, Ogun, what Obasanjo did in the build-up to the 2011 elections is still the cause of the crisis in that state today.
Many Nigerians would describe several actions of the Obasanjo administration between 1999 and 2007 as atrocities committed against the Constitution but, pitiably today, Obasanjo is still being referred to, in some quarters, as the father and mother of modern Nigeria.
Why is this so?
The fundamental problem confronting this country today has nothing to do with our laws or the system of government we run or operate.
The major problem has to do with attitude of Nigerians, leaders and the led. Any country, whose citizens have the wrong attitude to achieving an egalitarian society, will continue to grope in the dark.
Nigeria’s problems border on the consistent inconsistencies of Nigerians which have to do with our attitude to growth, life, death, development and our welfare.
Our attitude to the country is even worse during elections.
The need to change this negative attitude is the central theme of the book we are launching today.
I stand to be corrected. I don’t know any country that is blessed more than Nigeria, in terms of human and natural resources combined.
Many countries without natural resources but with the right attitude have turned themselves into reference points in good governance.
Japan and Singapore are examples in this regard.
Almost everywhere else, democracy is working except in Nigeria.
Some have said that because of our size and diversity, managing the country is difficult for our leaders.
But China and India have proved that it is not about size. It is about hardwork, patriotism, about competent and genuine leadership. And we can only achieve all these if the attitude is right.
Because the attitude is right, India is one of the emerging global economic powers, threatening the dominance of Europe and America.
China, world’s most populous country, has put a lie to the theory that size is a problem for emerging nations.
In any country, if the attitude is wrong, there will be no good governance at all levels.
In Nigeria, nothing can be more disturbing than the way this wrong attitude has conditioned Nigerians to accept the absurd.
For example, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), which was unbundled last week, is the body legally empowered to provide electricity to Nigerians.
But when Nigerians go to PHCN offices to recharge cards for their pre-paid metres, generators have to be on to power the system.
How do Nigerians now expect PHCN to provide them light when it cannot even give itself electricity?
This wrong attitude to development has been with us for decades and it is because of this that the popular Arabian story of ‘Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves’ has been derogatorily adapted into the Nigerian situation.
In the original story, Ali Baba was not the leader of the 40 thieves. He was an honest man. In fact, he, with a
young lady, Morgiana, ensured that the 40 thieves were killed.
But in the Nigerian situation, the popular perception of Ali Baba implies that he was the leader of the 40 thieves.
Somehow, this wrong notion is being equated with governance in this country in which we will always find an Ali Baba and the 40 thieves in every administration or regime.
Fortunately for us, since 1960, an Ali Baba will always die with each regime but unfortunately, the 40 thieves have refused to die or they have not been killed.
Today, they are not only around, they have multiplied and they are more deadly than Boko Haram members.
Just the way the Arabian 40 thieves killed Ali Baba’s brother, Cassim, to ensure that nobody knew their secret, the 40 thieves in Nigeria have become more deadly in their looting spree, using the power of populism and propaganda to cover their tracks. The more they loot, the more Nigerians have become detached from those governing them. That is why the impunity in the land has become unprecedented.
It is the inability of the Ali Baba in each administration in the country to deal with the 40 thieves that is responsible for the wrong attitude we have today.
And this has bastardised national development.
In this book, a key message is that for governance to be right in Nigeria, our attitude must be right.
This wrong attitude has affected the psyche of an average Nigerian for many years and if we really care for this country, we must start planning today to lay a solid foundation for our future.
That is why it is wrong to blame President Goodluck Jonathan for the rot in the polity today.
A rot of over half a century cannot just be cleared in one or two years.
The President must be given the time and breathing space to clear the mess. But one danger Jonathan must avoid is to play the script of a man called Neville Chamberlain.
Chamberlain, the 59th Prime Minister of Britain, saw evil and he could not confront it.
He toyed with evil, played with evil and said this evil will soon go away. But that evil, Adolf Hitler, almost consumed Britain.
Jonathan must avoid the Chamberlain scenario and not allow, as a matter of policy, the appellation of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves to stick to his administration.
Mr. Chairman Sir, I am posing a question with my book and for this forum: what do we do to ensure that we get it right in this country?
Attitude is key to the new direction this country must follow.
To buttress this point, I will use the example of what happened in Alaska, the United States in 1976.
Alaska is the largest state in the U.S.
It is almost three times larger than the second largest state, Texas, and almost five times larger than the third largest state, California.
The population of Alaska today is 722,718.
A major crisis almost happened in Alaska in 1976 when pipelines were laid in the state for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
How was it resolved?
Everybody in Alaska – led by the then Governor Jay Hammond, lawmakers, the rich, the poor, the young, the old, policemen, soldiers, the jobless, clerics, thugs, teachers, civil servants and others – met and decided that 25 per cent of proceeds of this oil boom must be shared by people of Alaska through the Alaska Permanent Fund.
In fact, the Alaska Constitution was amended to accommodate this new arrangement with the U.S. Government.
And since 1982 when the law came into force, because the attitude is right, everybody gets a cheque from the U.S. Government every year.
This payment is made to residents who have lived within the state for a full calendar year.
For you to qualify, it is like leaving Lagos for Rivers State. Once you live in Port Harcourt for one year, you will get this cheque. And the details are made public.
Mr. Chairman sir, it might interest you to know how much was collected by each resident of Alaska since 1982, that is 30 years ago.
In 1982, each resident got $1,000 (N160,000). In 2008, each resident got $3,269 (N523,040). In 2011, each resident got $1,174 (N187,840).
The total amount paid last year to all residents was $760.2 million (N121 billion).
This month, all residents of Alaska will get their 2012 cheques from the U.S. Government.
The day set aside to announce the payment yearly is referred to as the first Christmas in Alaska before the normal December 25 Christmas Day because residents turn it into a carnival.
Because of this, they are ready to protect the pipelines with their lives.
Mr. Chairman Sir, what is the lesson from this short story?
Anything done outside the people will never work. If the attitude of leaders is wrong, attitude of the led will automatically be wrong.
Because of our wrong attitude, Nigeria is gradually being turned into a failed state.
It is this same wrong attitude that will make some so-called fans of, say, Chelsea Football Club to think of killing fans of, say, Manchester United Football Club, all in the name of football fanatism when players of those British clubs, earning millions of naira weekly, don’t even know if some of their fans exist in Nigeria, let alone killing themselves.
Mr. Chairman sir, obviously, Nigeria is not working.
Many people have given up on this country. It is even worse now that some Nigerians are openly cursing this country per second.
You can imagine that some people will work for the country for 35 years and when it is time for them to enjoy the fruit of their labour, some officials will seize their pensions.
It is not too late for Nigeria to be rescued.
For this to be done, our attitude, that fundamental nature which propels mankind to good or evil, must change for the better.
Being Gabriel Akinadewo’s speech at the launch of his book, Here comes the Commander-in-Chief, on October 2, 2012 in Lagos, Nigeria.