Over the course of writing these weekly articles in The Sun Newspaper, I have met a number of Nigerians who have had one or two things to say about what they had read in the past. Sometime towards the end of 2019, I met this lady on a flight who went further to ask, “Is anyone listening?” I replied that, at least, she was one of those listening, and perhaps a greater percentage, if not all subscribers, of Sun, do listen. But I knew what she meant. It got me thinking, and I recalled how I got into this public narrative.
At the height of the African migrant crisis in Europe, an ex-governor friend of mine, publisher of Sun, visited me. We discussed several things, among which was the Nigerian exodus to Europe.
After listening to my take on the matter, the publisher said, “Sir, people need to hear what you have just shared with us. I can get my editor to meet with you to discuss further.”
I was truly surprised and the very next week the editor gave me this platform with the admonition to “write as long as you can, sir.” And so I had my first three listeners.
My friends had always accused me of being a humorous storyteller. My philosophy is that we do not need to literally fight each other to make our viewpoints known; but there is a school of thought that swears on the premise that, unless you are pugilistically emphatic, in Nigeria, no one would listen to you. That, if really it is the case, should not hold true. We can both be serious and humorous at the same time; for humour lightens the spirit.
The point my lady critic was making is, listening is one thing, but doing is another. Intrinsically, her question was, “Is anyone doing anything about what you are talking about?” The answer to that one seems an obvious NO, because I have neither been arrested, as I have not hurt anyone, nor has any policy arisen from my musings, as I am not in the corridors of power. But it is not that simple.
I have been ignored some of the time, and, some would argue, most of the time. Eight years ago, when I proposed to the then Minister of Environment to provide grazing fields in the North, the scourge of the terrorist herdsmen was a mere bud beginning to sprout only to the discerning eye. It has taken the authorities 10 years and some to arrive at grazing fields, though with some unpalatable caveats that should be and have been roundly debated and condemned. For me, I would argue that I have been largely listened to. In the 1980s, I was a board member of the Impresit Bakalori Dam Project Commission, which was set up to manage that water and agricultural project. I had been a member of the National Primary Education Board, set up to drive improvement in primary education in the country. The Kano State Government listened to me and allocated acres of land for me to establish the Makoda Greening Project, which was so successful as a climate change mitigating pilot project that others replicated it to create woodlot farms and orchards in the state.
During the Olusegun Obasanjo era, I was both a member of the Technical Committee on the Nigerian Great Green Wall, a climate change initiative, and a member of the Abuja Green Society. Ten years ago, Governor Raji Fashola (SAN) of Lagos State listened to me and promoted the Desert Warrior Reality Show Programme to address the desertification of our northern states. And he also made me an ambassador for his Greening Programme in Lagos State. Similarly, my state’s ex-Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, presented me a tract of land to establish the Mandela Gardens in Asaba, which is in the gradual process of becoming a nature’s multipurpose resort. Most recently, I was appointed a consultant for the Nigerian Green Bond, and we were able to impress on the authorities that using private equity to execute climate change projects can yield benefits to the community, profit for the farmers, and capital returns to the investors.
So, government does listen, and sometimes they act. The problem is continuity of purpose, or lack of it. I have consistently argued that, without policies and legislations, backed by the rule of law, you cannot govern neither can you successfully embark on nation-building and sustain economic development, nor can you provide sustained societal well-being.
We saw how rolling development plans worked in the first and second republics up to and including General Yakubu Gowon’s regime. President Barack Obama once said that the US presidency should function as a relay, nothing is finished, but one does his tasks and hands on to another to continue from where the former stopped.
When you drop the governance baton because you are incompetent or selfish over national needs, some others will come to spend time and energy looking for the baton to right the ship of state at some point in the future. Although we cannot all blame the executive, the buck stops at the President’s desk, but the President does not govern alone.
Knowledge is not the exclusive preserve of the executive branch of government. The legislature is there to assist and contribute to governance and nation-building, strengthening the laws of the land and the governance structures more than anybody else. Programmes that work should be turned into policies and laws.
In 1960, Nigeria was a young state, which should have been nurtured, and it is a national shame that we are still saying the same in 2020. We should be better than this.
There is a reason why education is important in the life of a nation. Our leaders do not have to be the best educated crop of Nigerians to govern but there is a minimum required of them. What they lack in knowledge, they should make up for in experience, not the experience of failure. We must be humble enough as leaders to acknowledge our limitations. A good manager is that who is able to assemble the best crop of workers to execute his mission. And the best crop of workers must be the best educated and trained workers. You cannot staff the public service with low class graduates and expect them to be nation-builders with you; that is as unattainable as turning stone into a human being.
In a democracy, government is for the people, and by the people. All 185 million Nigerians have a stake in our Federal Government. Therefore, we must all engage in matters that affect us. Our politicians, bureaucrats, and technocrats must be held accountable. We have to form the attitude of holding our representatives to account. They are our representatives! Holding them accountable is not disobedience, but telling them how we feel with their work. We hired them to work for us, we should never forget that. Above all, we are all partners in nation-building.
So, for the one million or so subscribers of The Sun Newspaper who read my column weekly, please, talk to your representatives, legislators, governors, and President. If you find some sense and truth in my writings. Let’s continue the stories, or should I say discussions?