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Setting an agenda for the incoming government (1)

By Guardian Nigeria
21 May 2015   |   2:15 am
SHORTLY after the Presidential election, the organisers of this event, whom I am persuaded are patriotic, idealistic, focused and well-meaning young Nigerians, approached me and politely asked whether I could spare some time to interact with this audience, by way of this short discourse, in honour of a most distinguished Nigerian, erudite scholar of international acclaim a foremost Legal Practitioner and toast of the Inner Bar
Olanipekun. Photo;

Olanipekun. Photo;

“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn”. Proverbs 29:2(KJV)

Text delivered by Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN at a reception hosted by Committee of Friends in honour of the Vice President-elect, Prof Yemi Osinbajo
SHORTLY after the Presidential election, the organisers of this event, whom I am persuaded are patriotic, idealistic, focused and well-meaning young Nigerians, approached me and politely asked whether I could spare some time to interact with this audience, by way of this short discourse, in honour of a most distinguished Nigerian, erudite scholar of international acclaim a foremost Legal Practitioner and toast of the Inner Bar, a gentleman of the highest order, a Pan-Africanist, a teacher who actually teaches and impacts knowledge on his teaming students, who in turn see and take him as not just a role model, but also an idol; a devoted and committed husband, who doubles effectively as a responsible and caring father, a compassionate son of a virtuous mother, a patriot extraordinaire, and a politician, not bred within the rank and file or phylum of a typical Nigerian politician, but one who has politics thrust on him by fate and professional nuances – Professor Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo, SAN, Vice-President elect, Federal Republic of Nigeria; who is hereinafter interchangeably referred to as President-elect, honouree or Professor Osinbajo.

Let me lay a humble claim to having known Professor Osinbajo intimately well, for upward of three decades, and, in my modest judgment, he is a unique personality who possesses exceptional and extraordinary virtues, attributes, ideals, ideas and intelligence.

He is always a beauty to engage in any intellectual discourse and forensic argument, whether extempore or in the courtroom. Despite being endowed with deep learning, he does not flaunt his sumptuous resume; and at every given time, he is ever humble, polite, meek, and unassuming.

I believe in him, trust his ability, appreciate his honesty and good intentions, espouse his incorruptibility, humbled by his humility, applaud his humane ambiance and spiritual approach to issues.

We have mutual respect for one another, or, let me say that there is reciprocity of love and affection between us. Arising from the foregoing, I am persuaded within me that I owe a duty, not only to the organisers of this gathering, but also to Prof. Osinbajo, my conscience and posterity, to accept and honour the invitation.

The mail conveying the invitation to deliver this address enjoins me to focus this address on: “Setting an Agenda for the Incoming Government”. Hence, I have chosen not to set up another theme, but to restrict myself within the perimeters of the one already given. In so doing, I had recourse to the truism pertaining to any and every good government, leader or ruler, anywhere in the world, as encapsulated in the Holy Writ, the Holy Bible, particularly, Proverbs 29:2, where and when the Holy Spirit of God spoke through the writer thus: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.” Without prejudging what might be the set agenda or the expectation of Nigerians from the incoming government of General Mohammadu Buhari, I want to plead through the Vice-President elect, that in its consciousness and sub-consciousness, the incoming government must bear in mind these sacred words of God on daily basis, and by so doing, strive to make the people rejoice all the time; and even if the people cannot describe them as being wholly righteous, they would not at anytime ascribe wickedness to them.

Intertwined with this opening admonition is also an invitation to the incoming administration to be always reminded of the divinely inspired words in Psalm 126:1 where the Psalmist exclaimed thus: “When God returned the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.”

Over the years, Nigerians have felt, and I want to believe rightly too, that successive governments at the federal level have pigeon-holed them in captivity.

Just a few days ago I got a sarcastic text message from a fellow Nigerian as early as about 3:30am. It was couched in Yoruba and reads thus: ‘E ma ku Nigeria wa yi o; ko si ina, ko si epo, ko si owo, ko si ise fun awon omo wa, ko si owo osu fun awon ti o’n sise; ko si onje lati bo ile.” Literally translated to English, it means: “What do we do with this our Nigeria; there is no power supply, there is no fuel/diesel supply, there is no money in the pocket, there is no job for our children, those who are in employment are not paid their salaries/wages, and there is no food on the table for the family.” In unison, Nigerians of all shades and grades, sexes and religions, tribes and ethnicity have placed very high demands before the incoming government of General Mohammadu Buhari. Therefore, the incoming government is neither going on a picnic, nor to be involved in the luxury of a tea party.

In contemporary times, we have heard of incoming governments churning out and bandying policy statements using coinages like:‘5 points agenda’, ‘7 points agenda’, ‘Vision 2010’, ‘Vision 2015’, ‘Vision 2020’ and the likes.

The lack of depth, substance, and practical validity of most of these showroom pontifications, however come to light after the tenure of these governments.

They make poverty eradication, power supply and security their policy tripod; yet after four years, nay eight years, the people’s pockets remain as dry as never before, the nation remains submerged in and inundated with darkness as though our country has the mandate to carry on the legacy of the dark-age, and a state of involuntary insomnia is foisted on the people due to the prevalent insecurity in the land.

This is not another esoteric and abstract construction of what the problem is with our land, we have gone past that phase. We have gone past the phase of theorising on the problems and hypothesising textbook solutions. This is the time for stating our problems as they are and positing the solutions that best resolve them.

Let the truth be told, the common man in Nigeria today, more often than not, hears of an agricultural revolution, but has no food to eat, he is inundated with the news of billions of dollars pumped into the power industry, yet struggles to generate power for himself, however he can, he hears of the income generated from crude oil, yet lives on in a crude and deplorable state.

I cannot but conjecture that the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge had Nigeria in mind when he wrote in his poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, those resoundingly apt lines: “Water, water, everywhere; and all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere; Nor any drop to drink”.

Regardless the apparently depressing picture of the state of the commonwealth which stares us all in the face, reading about the phenomenal and amazing transformation of Singapore from a third world country to a first world nation in less than three decades of late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership, gives me a reason to hope and dream again. I am tempted to hint that the combined disciplinary traits of General Buhari and Professor Osinbajo mirror the qualities of the deceased father of modern Singapore. For one, like our erudite professor, Lee Kuan Yew was a distinguished legal practitioner before his voyage into politics, and like our expected dual harbingers of change, Yew was a man of deep convictions. More substantively however, are the similarities in the challenges, which bedevilled the Singaporean state upon the emergence of Prime Minister Lee and our present dire strait.

Singapore as at the commencement of Yew’s leadership was befuddled with high unemployment rate, plummeting economy and entrenched corruption. Further complicating Singapore’s problems, was the fact that they had no tangible natural resources. What then did he do? Yew forged a meritocratic system where competence and efficiency were emphasised above sentimental concerns and he opened up the economy with an articulated free trade policy with very low tariffs and with zero-bureaucratic red tape.

In fact, it is said that you can start a company in Singapore within three hours. Yew went ahead to give the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau of Singapore power to arrest, investigate and prosecute anyone suspected of corrupt practices. He also advocated that to nip corruption in the civil/public service, civil servants should earn as much as professionals in the private sector.

I believe that the nub of Nigerians’ agenda for the incoming administration is ensconced in Singapore’s success story. It has been said variously and I agree that the most daunting challenge of the Nigerian state is corruption.

In the words of the judicial juggernaut, late Justice Kayode Eso JSC in his lecture titled ‘Judiciary and Elections’ delivered at the Obafemi Awolowo Institute of Government and Public Policy in 2010: “Again let us pause.

Is it not getting to stage now that the present generation…hardly know what democracy is, having regard to lack of transparency and corruption in practically every sector and wanton acceptance thereof, as a normal way of life? It has come to a stage in this country that every sector is presumed to be corrupt.

The onus for proof of transparency now lies on individuals…Men in police uniforms take bribes openly and with slinging guns in their hands, they have turned themselves in the highways to legalized armed robbers.

Only recently, Jesse Jackson, from the United States of America, talking about corruption in Africa said – For Africa to move forward, corruption must be seen as a crime against humanity…”

Indeed, I agree that for this nation to move forward we must not just criminalise corruption; it must become an anathema to us. I am convinced that as King Solomon enthused in Proverbs 14:34, only righteousness, right living, honesty, integrity and uprightness can exalt a nation; and that a sure route to reproach, shame, backwardness and retrogression is toeing the path of corruption. I need no empirical instance to underscore this point than to refer us all to the deplorable state of our motherland.

The power sector has remained in its state of comatose not because we have not invested heavily in it, but because a heinous cabal has continued to leach on this gruelling sore. Our educational sector is increasingly on a downward slide, not because we have not had policies, but due to the criminal irresponsibility of some people to properly implement necessary changes; the teacher will rather sell wares in class than teach, the school administrator will rather bribe examiners than prepare students adequately, and government will rather fuel and maintain fleet of airplanes than invest in the sector that guarantees your future and mine.

What about the health sector, the oil and gas industry, our security architecture, the banking industry, and a tiny fraction of the judiciary qua legal profession? It seems as though that we have berthed at a state that Alexander Pope described in these words; “at length corruption, like a general flood shall deluge all; and avarice, creeping on, spread like a low-born mist, and blot the sun”. Has our sun not been blotted by this evil mist? Are we not becoming deluged by this vermin? Have we not accepted this millstone as a national norm?

I am not unaware that this is not a new theme and that it was the cardinal message of the incoming President and Vice-President at the just concluded election, yet I am compelled to beat again this seemingly worn-out drum. The reason for reiterating this is not farfetched and it is aptly captured by the President-elect when he said: “if we don’t kill corruption in this country, corruption will kill the country”.

May I say that the demise of corruption is the flag-expectation of Nigerians; I heard that a policeman recently stopped a bus and demanded for bribe, one of the passengers told the driver to take heart that from May 29, such abominable scene will not reoccur.

How then do we kill corruption, and not just merely administer anaesthetics to it, such that it will not regain consciousness after the tenure of this administration? For me, this fight goes beyond prosecuting offenders and making scapegoats of a few.

This is about fundamentally repairing the value/moral tapestry of this nation. We must of necessity design a robust and all-encapsulating policy that will see to the entrenchment of the values of integrity, honesty and probity in every ramification of our national life.

Let a value-system emergency be declared. Let these values be our national refrain. Let meritocracy be the directive principles of all public and private establishments.