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PROFESSIONALISM & OUR NATION

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-         By Bashorun J.K. Randle, OFR,FCA
(Address delivered at the Professional Excellence Foundation

On  22nd March  2014 at  Hotel Victoria, Victoria Island, Lagos

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Chief Dapo Bailey the indefatigable promoter of the Professional Excellence Foundation for his unrelenting crusade for professional excellence in all spheres of our nation's affairs.   We cannot hold him responsible if the nation either deliberately or by default prefers to consign professionalism to the back row and eventually to the dustbin as we reel from one financial crisis to another only to lurch into yet another blaze of allegations of outright stealing of public funds otherwise known as looting the treasury (or “deduction at source”), blatant incompetence, misplaced priorities; wasteful expenditure; diversion of revenue that should legitimately accrue to government; and criminal misappropriation / misallocation of public funds etc.     The generic term for all these abuses is corruption.  However, we are sometimes tempted to break the components into various categories – scams, sleaze and of course “419” which is the common parlance for obtaining money under false pretences which is a criminal offence under Section 419 of Nigeria's Criminal Code.

I suspect that it is this backdrop and litany of shenanigans in both the public and private sectors of our political economy that have prompted the Professional Excellence Foundation to assemble us here this evening and selected some of us as worthy of special awards during the Investiture Ceremony.   Perhaps it is a consolation prize for those who missed out on the Centenary Awards which were recently conferred on the 100 most outstanding contributors to Nigeria's fortune (or misfortune).

Alas, if any of you feel dejected about missing out this time round, I plead that you exercise patience.   Just hang around for another 100 years and you may be lucky when our beloved nation, Nigeria celebrates its 200th Anniversary in 2114!!  Amen.

As professionals, what we owe to our nation is never to surrender to despair, depression or despondency.  We must remain the steadfast reference point for hope, optimism and self-fulfillment.   We cannot afford to give up.   Indeed, we are like the currents of the ocean – forever rolling even though we should be mindful that not all that is washed up by the high tide will necessarily be retrieved by the low tide.   Whatever is left is marooned until the next cycle.   Perhaps that is where professionals find ourselves in Nigeria.   We may be marooned but surely we are entitled to know where we are; how we got here and where do we go from here?   Besides, could it be that we have set our expectations too high thereby making disappointment a foregone conclusion?

Regardless, it is not excusable to keep moaning about the state of affairs in our nation without accepting the challenge to fix it not necessarily for ourselves but for future generations.  It behoves us to publicly acknowledge the selfless sacrifices of the generation that preceeded the current crop of professionals – doctors, engineers, lawyers, bankers, insurers, architects, surveyors, chartered accountants etc.   I had a rough time at the dentist yesterday so I am not inclined to add dentists to the list.    However, if there are any dentists amongst us this evening, I shall do so most reluctantly.     I believe that it is fair to declare that our predecessors who took over the mantle of leadership from a professional class that consisted largely of expatriates (under the Colonial Government) were   by and large conscientious, upright and accountable for their deeds or misdeeds.   Sadly, what now confronts us are glaring deviations from the ethics, ethos and traditions of our various professions further compounded by outright abuse of public trust and enthronement of impunity as the reigning culture.

There is no doubt whatever that our nation is in the grip of a monumental crisis.  Unfortunately much of it is self-inflicted-fear, hunger, terrorism and revenge.   Indeed, it is most unfortunate that since the present government assumed the reigns of power, it has not had any respite not to talk of honeymoon no matter how brief.   Hence, we as professionals have a solemn obligation to ensure that we do not keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Only a fool or buffoon refuses to learn from his/her mistakes.  Professionals are by definition not fools, our real challenge is to make sense of the situation we are confronted with.

Perhaps, we should avail ourselves of a snapshot of our nation as matters stand now.  Thankfully, the press has heeded our call to provide a rescue ladder by documenting and reporting on the state of affairs in our beloved country, Nigeria.

Here is a report carried by “ThisDay” newspaper of February 9, 2014 under the headline: “WOEFUL PERCEPTION”

“Nigeria remains one of the most corrupt nations in the world, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2013 released by Transparency International, a global watchdog.

In the last survey released on December 2, 2013, Nigeria ranked 144th out of 177 nations in the world, scoring 25 points out of a possible 100 points.   Her corruption performance in 2013 was worse than 2012, when it scored 27points.  The regional giant was ranked alongside crisis-torn Central African Republic and Cameroon.

In December 2012, Nigeria was ranked 139 out of the 176 countries surveyed on public sector corruption perception by Transparency International (TI), the global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption.

From that ranking, Nigeria scored 27 marks out of a possible 100, where zero (0) denotes the worst form of corruption perception in the public sector, and 100 signifies the highest form of cleanliness.

From past survey results, the West African giant was ranked 143rd in 2011 out of the 183 nations surveyed by TI.   She was ranked 134th out of 178 surveyed nations in 2010; 130th out of 180 nations in 2009; 121 out of 180 in 2008; 147 out of 180 countries in 2007, and 153 globally out of 180 surveyed nations in 2006.

Denmark and New Zealand were the cleanest countries in the world in 2013, sharing the first spot in the index, with scores of 91.   Afghanistan, North Korea and strife torn, Somalia were the worst, with scores of 8 points.   Finland, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia and Canada emerged in the top ten of least corrupt nations in the world.

Transparency International said the 2013 report underscored the global reality that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery have continued.

NIGERIA'S   CPI   RANKING
Country                         Year      Ranking               No  of Countries Surveyed

Nigeria                           2006         153                        180

Nigeria                           2007         147                        180

Nigeria                           2008         121                        180

Nigeria                           2009         130                        180

Nigeria                           2010         134                        178

Nigeria                           2011         143                        183

Nigeria                           2012         139                        176

Nigeria                           2013         144                        177

Note: Nigeria actually improved in her corruption perception index ranking in the years 2008 (ranked 121st out of 180 surveyed nations) and 2009 (ranked 130 out of 180 surveyed nations), but it plunged again to lower heights in 2013, where it was ranked 144 out of 177 surveyed countries.

We also have to factor in and contend with the following reports.

(i)                “Saturday Independent” newspaper November 23, 2013.

“HOW POLICE CRAZE FOR EGUNJE (bribe) KILLED PREGNANT WOMAN IN IBADAN”

(ii)              “Saturday Punch” newspaper November 30, 2013

“MORE LAGOS SCHOOLS WHERE PUPILS SIT ON BARE FLOORS UNEARTHED”

(iii)            “Saturday Sun” newspaper February 8m 2014

“SHAME”
·        Four men in trouble for impregnating 12-year-old primary school pupil.

·        Another defiles 3-year-old girl in Port Harcourt

·        Mother of 5 raped to death in Abeokuta.
(iv)            “Saturday Punch”  newspaper February 15, 2014

“MAN WHO SLEPT WITH DAUGHTERS FOR TWO YEARS GETS 14 YEARS IMPRISONMENT”

(v)              “The Nation” newspaper February 15, 2014

“IF YOU SEE THE MORTUARY, YOU'LL LIKE TO DIE”
·        Tale of “Wonder” hospital in President's home-town.

(vi)            “Daily Sun” newspaper March 13, 2014

“TERROR ALERT IN ABUJA”
·        Soldiers deployed over bombing plot during national conference.

(vii)          “Daily Independent” newspaper March 13, 2014

“QUIT SOUTH-EAST, BIAFRAN GROUP TELLS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

(viii)        “ThisDay” newspaper March 13, 2013
“NIGERIA AND THE NEXT 100 YEARS”
“The failure (of Nigeria) is the more poignant when one makes the comparison with other parts of the world. In 1965, Nigerian (oil exporter) had higher Gross Domestic  Product [GDP] per capita than Indonesia (another oil exporter).  However, twenty-five years later, Indonesia had three times the Nigerian level.”

As for the Boko Haram insurgency, the gruesomeness, brutality and ruthlessness are far beyond anything we have ever witnessed either as professionals or mere mortals/ordinary citizens.  Nobody is safe – Christians, moslems, women, children, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, Ijaw, Kanuri, Fulani, Ibibio, Efik, Edo etc. are all victims.   It is as if all hell has been let loose.

Yet we cannot but remember the certainty and vehemence with which the former Ambassador of the United States of America to Nigeria, John Campbell declared our nation a failed state and that Nigeria would disintegrate before year 2015.

The year of Armageddon is just around the corner but the question we must ask ourselves is how can professionals profess (or even expect) to be successful if the country in which they operate fails?  Even more relevant is what can we as professionals do to salvage what is clearly the road to hell and eternal damnation?   It may be comforting and tempting to conclude that if it happens, we are all going to hell together and in any case there is not much we can do.

I suspect   that it is precisely to dissuade us from choosing the easy and self-indulgent option of lethargy that the Professional Excellence Foundation has invited us this evening.

For us as professionals, the wake-up call delivered by the “Daily Sun” newspaper editorial published on March 13, 2014 is a high voltage severe jolt.

Headline:     “ACCOUNTING FOR N100 BILLION TEXTILE INTERVENTION FUND”

“There are strong indications that the N100 billion intervention fund set aside by the Federal Government in 2009 to revive the nation's ailing textile industries may have been misapplied or misappropriated.  If this is found to be so, it will be a very embarrassing and disheartening development that calls for thorough investigation.    The suggestion that the fund specifically meant for the cotton, textile and garment industries has gone down the drain was made recently by the National President of the Nigerian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar.   Speaking during a visit to a media house in Lagos, the NACCIMA boss alleged that the fund, which is reportedly being managed by the Bank of Industry (BoI), has been misapplied.  He likened the situation to “putting a new engine in a broken car.   You cannot get the result.”

We recall with dismay that similar intervention funds set aside by the Federal Government, such as the one for aviation, suffered the same sorry fate.   It is disturbing that the textile industry, with its critical role in the economy, has suffered a reversal of fortunes.  It moved from its boom years to the present moribund state, largely due to policy flip-flops of successive governments in the country.

The suggestion that the intervention fund which should have served as a life-line for the sub-sector might have been diverted to uses other than the one for which it was intended is worrisome.   The failure to use the funds to bring the textile sector back to life smacks of a lack of concern for developing alternative sources of revenue besides oil.

Figures from the Federal Ministry of Trade show that the textile industry used to net an average of $2 billion annually across the value chain, in its boom years.  For instance, in the 1980s, there were no fewer than 175 textile factories employing 600,000 workers in the country.   Notable among the thriving textile companies in the past were Aba Textile Mill, Afprint, Arewa Textile Mills, Gaskiya Textile Factory and other textile factories  in Kaduna, Zamfara and other parts of the country.

At a time, the textile sector was the second biggest employer of labour in the country, contributing significantly to the national revenue.

However, the fortunes of the industry began to nosedive in the 1990s, as many of the manufacturers began to feel the pinch of the unfriendly economic and political environment, forcing them to close shop in the wake of massive smuggling and importation of textiles into the country.  The situation became worse in 1997 when the Federal Government lifted the ban on textile importation. As recent as 2008, the downward spiral of the sector left only about 24 textile factories still operating with less than 25,000 workers.   Worse still, those still functioning are not producing at full capacity as high cost of production, erratic power supply, high taxes and lack of government support hamper their operations.

It is sad to learn that the provision of the intervention fund that was badly needed to resuscitate the industry was mismanaged.   Nevertheless, it is still necessary for the government to rethink the revitalization of the sector.  Information from the Nigerian Textile Manufacturers Association corroborate recent research findings that the textile industry is one of the few viable alternative sources of government revenue, if the Nigerian authorities are serious about diversifying the economy and reducing the almost absolute dependence on oil revenue.   Nigeria cannot continue to be a dumping ground for textile materials, some of which are inferior to locally produced ones.

It is important for government to swiftly investigate what happened to the N100 billion intervention fund.   The way government handles this investigation, and its outcome, will go a long way in determining the handling of similar intervention funds in the country.

For a country desperately seeking alternative sources of income and employment opportunities, the government should not treat this matter with levity.   In other words, government should not leave any room for error in the effort to find out what happened to the intervention fund.  It must ensure that the objective for setting the money aside is achieved.   Anything less than that will be counterproductive.   It will encourage the mismanagement of similar intervention funds in other sectors of the economy.

Perhaps on account of our collective guilt and culpability we have become hardened to criticism almost to the point of non-chalance.  Hence, we have become easy prey.   In the past, foreign visitors were very circumspect in criticizing us or our government out of trepidation of reprisal attack from our voluble politicians, the vibrant Nigerian press, and our eminent professionals, particularly the lawyers and dentists.

Last week former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw was here.  He is very mild mannered and a lawyer by profession.  There was no protest in the streets as would have been the case in days of yore!!    Instead, the Nigerian press carried the following reports:

(i)                Vanguard newspaper March 19, 2014

Front page headline
“CORRUPTION AFFECTS ADMINISTRATION IN NIGERIA
-         EX-BRITISH FOREIGN SCRIBE
………As APC Senators say Nigeria Is Under Siege.
Abuja – Former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw has said that corruption and lack of transparency among the political class have become a great problem that have permeated all cadre of administration in Nigeria.

Straw said that for the war against corruption in the country to be decisively fought and won by government and the people, there must be transparency in governance at all levels as well as incorruptible judiciary to give appropriate penalties to apprehended corrupt officials.

The former British Secretary who stated this yesterday in an interaction with Senators on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, stated that though opposition may not be in government, they can use their voice in a democracy to bring about good governance.

He urged Nigeria to copy the British model by meting out stiffer penalties to corrupt officials, adding that allowing for transparency in governance and having clean courts to handle corruption related cases in the land, would go a long way in reducing corruption in the country.

He said, “There's need to raise the penalty for corruption in Nigeria.   You have anti-corruption laws, you have great laws and you jail people on corruption and you ensure proper transparency; then, it's safe to say that people would stop being corrupt.   You've got to change the quality of your public administration.

“One of the encouraging signs about Nigeria is the fact that you have effective and viable opposition because democracy requires that there's change. In democracy, there are alternatives.

What message can I give you about opposition?  Well, first of all, you can change the weather in opposition.   Although you've  not got the votes, you've got the voice.  As you make the better use of the voice, you get public support, then you start to unnerve the government.”

Straw however, challenged the opposition lawmakers to get quality manifestos and should not mistake the quantity of policies for quality of policies just as he described the 2011 elections as better than the rest but that it didn't meet international standards.

He further stated, “The second thing is that you cannot just wait for the government to be unpopular….you have to fight crime, tackle health problems, deal with immigration and ensure transparency in government.

Leadership is about character, but if you don't have the right leaders, who have the right character, the right backbone, then, it won't work.   He won't have the qualities to bring out the best in people who would work with him.

Of course, elections are fought through the prisms of leaders….don't mistake quantity of policies for quality of policies”, he added.

Present at the interactive meeting were about five out of the 11 Peoples Democratic Party Senators, Senators Bukola Saraki, Danjuma Goje, Ali Ndume, Abdullahi Adamu and Umaru Dahiru, who had written to the senate to announce their defection to the APC.

They have maintained that they are already in the APC as they participated actively in the registration exercise of the APC and they proved this yesterday by openly aligning with the opposition lawmakers.

Speaking on behalf of the opposition Senators, the Senate minority leader, Senator George Akume said the country was under siege due to the rising wave of insecurity in the North East and some parts of the country.

Akume stated that lack of transparency was one of the major causes of insecurity and corruption in the country adding that the government had failed in its primary duty of protecting the citizens of the country.

He told the former foreign secretary that as the nation was preparing for the 2015 elections, it was pertinent that the elections must be free and fair.

The Senate Minority Leader said, “You are coming at a time when there are many problems in the country. On a positive note, you are coming when the country is celebrating its centenary, every country has its history, you are also visiting during very difficult circumstances in our dear country.”

“Daily Independent” newspaper March 13, 2014
Front page headline:         “EX-BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY GIVES RECIPE

TO FIGHT CORRUPTION IN NIGERIA”
“Former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has said for the war against corruption in Nigeria to be decisively fought and won by government and the people, there must be transparency in governance at all levels and an incorruptible judiciary to give appropriate penalties to apprehended corrupt officials.

Straw made the declaration on Tuesday, when he interacted with senators on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC) on how the opposition can use its voice in a democracy to bring about good governance.  He urged   Nigerians to copy the British model by meting out stiffer penalties to corrupt officials.

By allowing for transparency in governance and having clean courts to handle corruption related cases in the land, he maintained, Nigeria will go a long way in reducing corruption in the land.

Straw said:  “There's need to raise the penalty for corruption in Nigeria.   You have anti-corruption laws, you have great laws and you jail people on corruption and you ensure proper transparency; then, it's safe to say that people would stop being corrupt.  You've got to change the quality of your public administration.

One of the encouraging signs about Nigeria is the fact that you have effective and viable opposition because democracy requires that to change.  In democracy, there are alternatives.

What message can I give you about opposition?   Well, first of all, you can change the weather in opposition.   Although you've not got the votes, you've got the voices.  As you make the better use of the voice, you get public support, then you start to unnerve the government.”

“ThisDay” newspaper  March 13, 2014
Front page headline:         “EX-BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY:

LIFE HAS BEEN SO ROUGH IN NIGERIA
·        Advocates Stiffer Penalties For Corrupt Officers.

“Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, yesterday bemoaned the spate of destruction by insurgents in North-eastern part of Nigeria, saying it had been so rough.

Straw, who said the spate of terrorism in Nigeria had ranked it among terrorist nations such as Afghanistan, added that the affected states were now under siege given the rate at which human lives are destroyed with impunity.

He added that the situation fulfilled the words of the famous philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, noting that life had now become so brutish and short in Nigeria, while security of the citizens is no longer guaranteed.

Straw, who made the remarks while being hosted by All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus in the National Assembly, said little or no progress had been made in the move to tackle the menace.

“Life is now becoming poor, brutish and short that we cannot guarantee the security of our citizens as a government.  The large part of the North-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe are under siege with a very slow progress in tackling the terrorists.  It is very rough,” he lamented.

The Briton, who was accompanied to the meeting by the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, also expressed concerns on the war against corruption in Nigeria.   According to him, if the war must be won, it has to be decisively fought by governments at all levels, with every sense of transparency as well as availability of security operatives and an incorruptible judiciary to respectively apprehend corrupt officials and impose penalties on them.

At the session, which bordered on how the opposition could use its voice to bring about good governance in a democracy, Straw urged Nigeria to emulate the British model of anti-graft war by issuing stiffer penalties against corrupt officials.

He argued further that promoting transparency in governance and putting in place “corrupt free” courts to handle corruption related cases would go a long way in reducing corruption in the country.   “There's need to raise the penalty for corruption in Nigeria.   You have anti-corruption laws; you have great laws and you jail people for corruption and you ensure proper transparency; then, it's safe to say that people would stop being corrupt.   You've got to change the quality of your public administration.”   One of the encouraging signs about Nigeria is the fact that you have an effective and viable opposition because democracy requires that there's change.   In democracy, there are alternatives.

“What message can I give you about opposition?   Well, first of all, you can change the weather in opposition.  Although you've not got the votes, you've got the voice. As you make the better use of the voice, you get public support, then you start to unnerve the government,” Straw said.

He challenged the opposition lawmakers to evolve sound manifesto and avoid mistaking what he described as “quantity of policies for quality of policies.”

Also commenting on elections in Nigeria, he noted that the 2011 elections were better than previous ones, which he said did not meet international standard, adding that Nigeria was duty bound to elect credible leaders who could champion the course of good governance.

He added:  “The second thing is that you cannot just wait for the government to be unpopular.    You have to fight crimes, tackle health problems, deal with immigration and ensure transparency in government.

Leadership is about character, but if you don't have the right leaders who have the right character, the right backbone, then, it won't work.   They won't have the qualities to bring out the best in people who would work with them.

Of course, elections are fought through the prisms of leaders…..don't mistake quantity of policies for quality of policies.”

Earlier, the Senate's Minority Leader, Senator George Akume, had told Straw that the opposition was worried about lack of transparency in government as well as corruption in high places adding that Straw was visiting the country at a time Nigeria was witnessing unprecedented security challenges.”

We owe Jideofor Adibe of “Daily Trust” newspaper a huge debt of gratitude for raising pertinent issues under the headline:

“JACK STRAW, ROTIMI AMAECHI AND THE NIGERIAN CONDITION”

“Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and former Prime Minister of Ireland, John Burton were among the high-profile speakers at a one-day international conference on democracy and good governance organized  by the Rivers State Government at the Banquet Hall of Government House, Port Harcourt, on March 11, 2014.

Apart from the oddity of a state government appropriating a talk-shop of this nature from those best suited for such- relevant departments of our Universities, research institutes, NGOs and other think-tanks – my interest in the live-televised conference was aroused by the presence of John Whitaker “Jack” Straw, who has been a Member of the British House of Commons for Blackburn since 1979. Straw served in the British  Cabinet from 1997 to 2010 under the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.   During this period, he held two of Britain's traditional Great Offices of State' (juiciest political offices in Nigeria – speak) – as Home Secretary from 1997 to 2001 and Foreign Secretary from 2001 to 2006 under Tony Blair.

My strongest memory of him however was in late September 2004 when he was embroiled in a controversy that nearly cost him his ministerial position for 'shaking Mugabe's hand.' No, Mugabe's hand was not leprous. Mugabe was and remains a man British politicians love to hate.

The then Conservative spokesman Michael Ancram, called the handshake a “scandalous betrayal of the men and women of Zimbabwe who are suffering at the hands of Mugabe's blood-stained regime”.

BBC Newsnight, which had been following Mr. Straw around the United Nations, filmed the controversial handshake during a reception for the then South African president, Thabo Mbeki, at the UN Building in New York.  In his defense, Straw who had just started wearing contact lenses, said:  “I hadn't expected to see President Mugabe there.  Because     it was quite dark in that corner…..I was being pushed towards shaking hands with somebody just as a matter of courtesy, and then it transpired it was President Mugabe.   But the fact that there is a serious disagreement between Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom does not   mean that you should then be discourteous or rude” – (The Guardian [London], 28 September 2004).   Later Straw's aides, in what was meant to be damage control, claimed that the hall was dark (and Mugabe being dark too) did not help matters in Straw not knowing the hand he was shaking.

The UK government remains Mugabe's severest critic, a mode of criticism which, in my opinion, has made the man resolve to die as his country's president knowing that if he ever relinquished power Britain and his international critics will ensure he ends up at The Hague as a guest of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Britain has for instance denounced all the elections in which Mugabe, 90, was returned to power and has sponsored various opposition groups and parties against him.   Mugabe on his own regularly criticizes the UK.   In 2003, Mugabe withdrew Zimbabwe from the British Commonwealth. Members of his government, and senior members of ZANU-PF, are in turn banned from entering the EU.

I was honestly pissed off by the furore caused by the Mugabe handshake.   Here was a group of politicians who lauded Desmond Tutu and others for their Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which forgave White South Africans for the sins of apartheid and even criminalized the anti-apartheid struggle.   I saw the whole handshake affair as British double standard.   But this is only a digression.

My main concern with the live, televised one-day conference was what the whole conference was intended to achieve.   Rivers State government organizing what was essentially an academic conference – not even a policy-oriented workshop – to understand the relationship between democracy and good governance is akin to Anambra state or any of the states of the country not directly affected by what is happening in the North-Eastern part of the country, organizing expensive talk-shops to understand the challenges of terrorism in Nigeria.

Several questions agitated my mind after watching the televised conference:  Why does the Rivers State government deem it necessary to organize an international 'academic' conference on 'democracy and good governance in Nigeria' rather than a policy-oriented roundtable or workshops on issues of local concerns?  Knowing that former high profile politicians like Straw and Burton command extremely high speaking fees from mostly governments of “Third World” countries, what was the cost of such talk-shop to the Rivers State government?  If Rivers State government  was genuinely interested in understanding the relationship between democracy and good governance, would it not have been more cost effective and more rewarding if it had commissioned consultants, a research institute or even a relevant department or any of our universities to carry out a research on the topic?   Did Jack Straw or John Burton bring any special perspective on the topic to warrant the astronomical fees they were most likely paid?  Or are their invitations a hangover of the colonial mentality in which we needed colonial endorsements of the political options we embrace as a proof of our wisdom?  Is the sharing of the same platform with them a proof of our putative global statesmanship?  Simply put, is Governor Amaechi losing it?

In his lecture titled: 'Democracy, Nationhood and Citizenship Rights, Freedom and Responsibilities in a Global Order,' Straw argued that a strong opposition party would boost Nigeria's democracy and welcomed the formation of the All Progressive Congress (APC). Understandably APC apparatchiks had gone to market with this, wrongly giving the impression that Straw endorsed APC as a party rather than what it represents as a strong opposition party.

But even this apparent 'obvious truth' by Straw that a strong opposition  party boosts democracy is simplistic in fragile societies with deep fault lines as ours.   In other words, while the mantra of strong opposition parties boosting  democracy may be true in countries where the bases of nationhood are accepted  by all the citizens, it is not the whole truth in multi-ethnic and multi-faith countries like ours where even the basis of statehood remains contested.   The fear in democratizing fragile states is that democracy and strong parties (especially those that converge with the fault lines) will aggravate the structures of conflicts in such countries and widen the social distance among the citizens. In essence, if a strong opposition party complicates the nation-building process, it cannot ab initio be said to help in deepening democracy.

I am not in any way against the emergence of a strong opposition party.  My position rather is that in our euphoria or desire to get rid of PDP or President Jonathan (or both) through a 'strong opposition party', we tend to gloss over what I believe should be a precedent question:  how do we ensure that the sharp contestation of ideas in our democracy with a strong opposition party is not hijacked by a cabal or fissiparous forces to unravel the state if such forces do not get their way?

It is instructive that at the conference Governor Amaechi expressed disappointment that the people of the South-south had stopped their campaign for resource control, stating that the region might not have the opportunity to press for their rights again.  His words:  “In 2005/2006, the mantra  was resource control.   Where are we now?  Are we controlling our resources, is oil in our hands?  If tomorrow President Goodluck Jonathan leaves office, who will we say is controlling the resources? Why are we not talking now or is it because it is our turn to chop?”   With the one-day jamboree in Port Harcourt funded by the Rivers state government, it is also important not just to talk about 'resource control' but judicious management of available resources.”

Indeed, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal summed up the gravity of the security situation in our nation when he declared on CNN:

“I am the Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives.  We cannot claim to be one nation if we cannot provide security or find unity in grief.  Neither can we claim to be a great nation when we are incapable of preventing horrendous attacks on our children who were peacefully asleep when Boko Haram cut short their lives by slaughtering them or traumatized them by kidnapping them as hostages or for bondage.”

That is the political angle.
The economic dimension is provided by David S. Landes in his fascinating book: “The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations”.

“The distortions and ills which have plagued Latin America and the Middle East are exponentially compounded in sub-Saharan Africa as demonstrated by incompetent leadership, (abject) poverty, hunger and (debilitating) disease.

Of all the so-called developing regions, Africa has done (performed) worst.  Gross Domestic Product per capita may be increasing by less than 1 percent a year.  The statical tables are sprinkled with minus signs (resulting) in many countries with lower income today than before independence.”

At this juncture, perhaps we need to ask ourselves a few tough questions starting with the lawyers.   Suddenly, we are hearing about “the Association of Ibo lawyers in Lagos”; “Omo Olofin lawyers” (lawyers from Yoruba speaking areas); and all sorts of connotations and fragmentation – “moslem lawyers in Lagos”; “Christian judges” in wherever; “moslem doctors” and to crown it all only the other day we came across a bus with the inscription “Catholic Youth Corpers”!!  Where are we going; and where will all this end while professionals fold their hands?

Bashorun J.K. Randle is
Chairman & Chief Executive
JK Randle Professional Services
Chartered Accountants
“X KPMG HOUSE”
One King Ologunkutere Street
Park View
Ikoyi
(opposite Astoria Hotel)
E-mail:  [email protected]
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