Speech By John Momoh At The Afe Babalola University Convocation Lecture

Channels Television  
Updated October 20, 2018
Speech By John Momoh At The Afe Babalola University Convocation Lecture
Chairman/CEO of Channels Media Group, Mr John Momoh (OON), delivers a speech at the sixth Convocation Lecture of the Afe Babalola University in Ado Ekiti on October 20, 2018.

 

‘DECONSTRUCTING THE NIGERIAN CONUNDRUM AS A PANACEA FOR NATIONAL COHESION AND TRANSFORMATION’ BEING A PAPER PRESENTED BY MR. JOHN MOMOH, {OON}, CHAIRMAN, CHANNELS MEDIA GROUP AT THE 6TH CONVOCATION CEREMONIES OF AFE BABALOLA UNIVERSITY ADO-EKITI, ON 20TH OCTOBER 2018.

 

PROTOCOLS

The founder, the great Aare Afe Babalola, members of the governing council, members of the various faculties, proud parents and above all, graduands.

Let me begin by saying thank you to the founder and to all of you, for I am so highly honoured to be invited to give the convocation lecture at one of the best universities in the African continent.

My heartfelt congratulations to all soon to be graduates, for the hard work and accomplishments that have brought you to this day.

You more than deserve it, so please give yourself a big hand.

I would also like to acknowledge proud and relieved parents, family members, and others who may have helped to pay the bills, or cheered you on, all these years. I am sure that they are all happy to see you graduate today.

Many thanks are also due to your lecturers, admin staff, library staff, canteen staff, the cleaning staff, gardeners, security and all those who keep these grounds in such immaculate order. These people and many more, are all involved in your graduation, and it will be a sign of your maturity, that you thank them for their efforts, on your behalf.  After all, gratitude to, and graciousness towards others, will always stand to you, in life.

It was just like yesterday when you matriculated and, just like that; graduation day is here. Right now, at this time, at this very moment, it’s like you are about to board a ship – the ship of life.  You are leaving behind your comfort zone, the safety and security of campus, for the uncertainty and adventure of the rest of your life. Life is, of course, a journey, and as you set sail, some of you will pause, and think about what the future holds, what people you will meet, and what will happen to your career.

Your degree is like a life jacket on the ship of life.  It will keep you afloat, until you find your own niche. And as the world that we now live in, is rapidly changing, you will have to be able to adapt to the changing times, to keep afloat. Keep in mind that you are already in the top 1 per cent, to have gotten to where you are today. As you move on from here, you are likely to suffer some setbacks along the way. But remember, even if you fail and fall many times, that’s ok – just get up, dust yourself off, and move on.

The strength of your character comes not from how you react to your successes, of which there will be many, instead, the strength of your character comes from how you react to your failures, of which there will also be many, especially if you are bold, daring, or audacious.  So, always believe in yourself, persevere, but be willing to adapt.

To paraphrase the Bible: “from whom much is given, much is expected.”  You’ve been given tools with which to solve the world’s problems, including those plaguing our dear country Nigeria.  We look to you to help fix them.

I’ve been invited to address you on this very special day that we are celebrating your academic success, on the topic: DECONSTRUCTING THE NIGERIAN CONUNDRUM, AS A PANACEA FOR NATIONAL COHESION AND TRANSFORMATION.

Incidentally, this is a topic that is close to my heart, and quite coincidentally so, as I speak to a new generation of Nigerian graduates and the crème de la crème of the Nigerian academia at this fountain of knowledge.

Indeed, our country is facing numerous challenges, and I recognise that conscious efforts are being made at different levels to resolve them; but more still needs to be done. We are witnessing different degrees of social, economic, and political difficulties, compounded by the challenge of insecurity in sections of the country. So, the call to deconstruct the Nigerian conundrum cannot, therefore, be an easy task, not only because of the problematic nature of “deconstruction process”, but because the Nigerian conundrum is complex and sometimes a trigger of disillusionment. The good thing is that this situation tasks the ability to be audacious with hope. Nonetheless, how do we conceptualise the Nigerian conundrum?

 

In my opinion, the Nigerian conundrum is a sum of our intractable problems. It began, for operational purposes, from the period of our post-colonial period, up to the period of independence.

The immediate post-independence period, the period of the military and the many attempts at democracy are notable times we can also put in context. The conundrum is reflected in our political challenges, witnessed in the fears and experiences around coups and counter-coups, and in the tensions around elections.

It reared its head in the downsides of military rule, through their abhorrence of debate, due process and methods in public administration. Their tendency for dictatorship offends the spirit of the civil society and diminishes the decision-making integrity of the populace. Apart from our military dictatorship experience, are the crisis of democracy, and the practitioners in the democratic process. Regrettably, we have been witnesses to a greater number of self-interested politicians, mostly concerned about pecuniary interests. Contrary to their campaign promises, our politicians are placing their private interests above common and national interests.

This has led to lip service and a slow pace of national development. Many politicians see the treasury as a tool for enrichment. There’s hardly any distinction, as have been shown in many cases in the past, between their private purse and that of the public. Once an access to public funds is created, its misuse and its abuse begin in earnest. While there may be some accountability at the federal level, there’s little or none at the state and local government levels.

The results have been failed promises, poverty, lack of economic development, deprivation, and insecurity. The people are alienated from government at all levels. It’s like we are back to colonialism, where the politicians are the ‘colonial masters’ and the people the subjects. While our politicians lead us through this path, we watch askance, as many other nations are progressing. We’ve heard of stories of Singapore, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, China, and increasingly Rwanda; most of them – countries with whom we were once development peers. Today, many of these countries are far ahead of us in development and are yet increasing their strides. On the hand, we have remained stagnant on many fronts, or at best are developing at a slower rate.

One of the greatest challenges facing Nigeria today is the threat to national unity, as centrifugal tensions, resource control and self-determination, ethnicity-based identity politics and religious cleavages have enveloped national consciousness. But the issue of ethnicity and the exploitation of its residual gain has been with us from the beginning.

Nigeria’s founding fathers, great as they were in terms of what they hoped for the young country in 1960, played their politics on ethnic lines. For example, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) was for the advancement of the north, the action group (ag) was founded and promoted for the advancement of the political agenda of the western region, while the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons was for the south-east agenda. Today, several years after, Nigeria is still dealing with the offshoot of such rather self-centred calculations.

This is why we have the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Oodua Peoples Congress and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, all waxing strong in this 21st century. Each of these ethnic groupings and organisations speaks for their people. None speaks for Nigeria. They all talk about their own ethnic nationalities. So, who then speaks for Nigeria?

According to Adeniji Adeyinka Sampson, in his publication titled “The Impact Of Ethnicity On Nigeria’s Political Development” we can see ethnicity as apparently a negative value, given that it has contributed nothing but disunity in diversity, as ethnic groups are regarded closer, and ethnic interest are seen as utmost priority over national interest.

Yet ethnicity, when viewed in a different perspective, could be regarded as a positive value, because it exemplifies unity in diversity. The Nigerian existence points to the fact that despite numerous and varying ethnic groups, ethnic militia movements, and recurring ethnic violence for over 50 years, the country still operates, and there is still political continuity.

Across the length and breadth of Nigeria, ethnic factor and consideration in politics, economic, social and academic matters cannot be avoided. Politics in Nigeria is ethnic-oriented; political parties have ethnic consciousness, and they pursue ethnic interest differently from the national interests. The ethnic factor or ethnicity is more often than not, the ground on which presidents are elected, governors voted, ministers appointed, contracts awarded, and national policies decided. The socio-political belief is that, one can only get to power at the centre through ethnic connections, or by fanning the embers of ethnicity. This has led to the formation of ethnic militia which refers to the extreme form of ethnic agitation for self-determination.

However, realising the danger associated with the ethnic card, national integration has been a top priority of governments in Nigeria. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, the unity schools, the federal character principle, and state creation are examples of state policies intended to achieve the goal of unifying Nigerians (Alapiki, 2005). But it is clear that the outcome of integration policies and programmes in Nigeria have fallen far below expectation, as primordial ethnic loyalties are still deep-seated. Ethnic particularism is seen as the major cause of this failure (Naanen, 1995), and consequently, suggestions on policy options are targeted to deal with this issue.

Unity occurs when all of the elements of a piece combine to make a balanced, harmonious, complete whole.

As the political landscape becomes very busy towards the 2019 elections, we are witnesses to the role that ethnicity is playing, in throwing up the gladiators. I dare say that the rivalry between the ethnic groups has made it impossible for leaders of high moral standing who live above boards, who, exude impeccable and predictable character, and who are ready to offer themselves for the development of the nation. Ethnic affiliation has not allowed such leaders to emerge. And at each election, the emphasis has always been on where the candidates came from, rather than on the right candidates for the election.

How do we deal with this political conundrum? How can we ensure that our political actors think and believe more in the collective than in the self? How do they develop a macro-view, as against the micro-vision? If we have moved away from the period of military hegemony, how do we move away from the reigning period of civilian oligarchs, who are pulling us backwards? Put more succinctly, how do we navigate our ways out of this political conundrum? These are big question marks.

In thinking through ways out of the logjam, I will like to see a reversal of our present impasse, where politics is practiced as a cost-benefit affair, as a profit and loss process. Where there are no options to victory and where the pride of participation is under glorified. Where ethics, values and virtues are diminished for materialism, for prebendal rapacity, at the expense of the public good. Where overt proclamation of morality is far distanced from the covert reality of dishonesty. Where our institutions are weakened, and where individuals are prioritised, lionised and deified, at the expense of the more structural and the more enduring establishments.

The economic sphere is also instructive. Nigeria’s economy has long being mono-cultural. It goes with its serious problem of, fluctuating prices. It takes us through booms and dooms, through debts and recoveries, into poverty, with prosperity still far to fetch. The sole revenue source also often raises issues around resource allocation, leading to further debates on restructuring, fiscal federalism, resource control and such others.

Trillions of U.S. dollars have also been frittered away through corruption, typifying the mindlessness of people who have been opportuned to manage the economy. Public funds have been brazenly looted, stashed abroad, or plundered on frivolities. The results are unemployment, and mass poverty, leading to our present rating as one of the most corrupt nations on planet earth.

Just a few years ago, Transparency International ranked us 136th globally in corruption, while the gallup world poll regularly tracks our perceptions of corruption, to be among the world’s worst. The oil industry, which accounts for 70% of government revenue, is handicapped by fraud and theft, at every level of the supply chain. Corruption has had far-reaching repercussions in the land. In the meantime, the world is moving on, and today’s business landscape continues to evolve at a blistering pace.

Even though Nigeria has an abundance of human and natural resources, including one of the region’s most trainable workforces and Africa’s largest oil reserves; it remains one of the world’s most unequal societies, and continues to face a number of serious social and economic challenges.

So, the conundrum in our current sociology is defined by the absence of peace, leading to disinvestment and the flight of capital. It is identified by the fear of tomorrow and concerns over unpredictable death, destruction and devastation. The fear of the neighbour, the next man, and the atmosphere of mutual distrust highlight the conundrum of insecurity.

Productivity is naturally discouraged in this situation. With the dearth of productivity, unemployment, under-employment and under-development are likely to follow.

Hmmm! The intention is not to dampen your enthusiasm as you celebrate your graduation today. My intention is to throw up the challenges confronting us as a nation, and the chaos, confusion and disorder that we have found ourselves. But even much more important, my intention is to let you know that chaos, confusion and disorder are antecedents of opportunity.

So, the big question is – how do we turn this situation around? What steps can we take to bring about national cohesion and transformation, from this discouraging environment? Remember what I said earlier – that we must have a steel-heart for hope, a resolve to pull ourselves out of the doldrums, and a spirit to excel.

First stop. We’ll have to rebuild our psychology to increase our belief in the collective – the common good. We need a greater sense of patriotism, a better disposition for nationalism, and an increased penchant to think about the welfare and prosperity of the community. The people should be our priority. I am convinced that we can move to a level where the public interest becomes the better interest, if a greater number of our leaders work in that direction, two, three or four leaders can make a whole lot of difference.

Dr Kofi Anna, the late United Nations Secretary-General, once said that “we need to think of the future and the planet we are going to leave to our children”.

In trying to find solutions to our crisis, it is important to emphasise the significance of the youth population of a nation. Most of you graduating today are due to join the teeming youth population out there. If a nation’s youth population is educated, healthy and productive, rest assured that the nation will grow. If all other variables add up, you can be confident that the nation’s future will be prosperous.

So, I charge you to be audacious. For, the best time to dare, is now – the time of your youth. It’s the best time to prepare for life; and to take risks. Mark Zuckerburg was 19 when he founded Facebook, the networking site. Bill Gates was 20 as at the time he began Microsoft. Apple’s Steve Jobs was 21, Google’s Larry Page was 25, Ebay’s Pierre Omidyar was 28, and Larry Ellison of Oracle was 32 at the time he came up with Oracle.

We cannot afford to waste our youthful energy. The energy is not just significant for national growth, but helpful to self- development.

As Dr Mo Ibrahim, founder of Mo’ Ibrahim Foundation for good governance in Africa once remarked; “Africa is a continent of young people. Our demography is completely different from the rest of the world. Within three generations, 41 per cent of the world’s youth will be Africans. By 2030, Africa’s labour force will be larger than China’s (and) by 2035 it will be larger than India’s. This is a wonderful resource for our continent if this resource is skilled and employed.

Therefore, I am arguing that the youth of this nation can be turned into a force for the resolution of our economic conundrum, if, and only if their potentials are harnessed, through appropriate opportunities. The youths of Nigeria could be one way out of our conundrum, against the background of the clamour for generational change in leadership.

Our challenges, our conundrum, which are obvious in the fields of politics, economics and our sociology, are not insurmountable. With the right leadership at all levels, our nation would be galvanised and propelled to the right path, for the needed redemption, and for the quest for national cohesion and transformation, which we now urgently deserve.

I congratulate our new graduates. But may I remind you that your journey has just begun, because you will definitely meet with diverse challenges that would task your imagination, shake your faith and patriotism. Do not be daunted.

I encourage you to have faith in your country and defend it. All round education entails the ability to use training in your chosen field of study to proffer solutions to societal challenges. The future of Nigeria, lives in, and rests on you. Every of your effort in deconstructing Nigeria’s conundrum for national integration, cohesion and transformation would position you for national greatness. I challenge you all to see any obstacles you would ever confront in the future, as a springboard to contributing your quota.

As I am most certain that you already know it, you, are the true and real panacea, for Nigeria’s conundrums.

There’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s go for it.

Class of 2018; congratulations!