What would you do if you had General Muhammadu Buhari, General TY Danjuma, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, Senator Ken Nnamani, former governors now Senators Goje and Makarfi, ex-governors, Adamu Muazu, Ibrahim Shekarau, Attahiru Bafarawa, Segun Osoba and Abdulkadir Kure along with Reuben Abati, Nuhu Ribadu, Femi Fani-Kayode and many others like them, all in one room as a captive audience?
What would you say if some of these people sounded troubled by Nigeria’s current trajectory, challenges and the many inexplicable issues which plague us? What would your response be to these people after they had filled the air with sound bites: ‘our nation is on fire’ and ‘Nigeria is a mess’?
I had a chance to say something these people have probably never heard before and I blew it.
Instead – totally surprised by this opportunity to address an attentive assembly at the lecture to mark the 50th birthday of the Chairman of Leadership (Sam Ndah Isaiah) me of the fiery pen and unready lips merely shared an anecdote of how I met the Chairman and started writing for leadership. I ended by exhorting people not to forget all they had heard as soon as they walked out the doors. I asked them to heed the calls to translate the talk into action…but on what action I was as vague as all the other VIP speakers before me.
Here is what I should have said.
“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen – all protocols observed.
I have listened intently – as I am sure others in the audience have and although I have clapped along with the others – I have not really heard anything new. It is the usual diagnosis of the problem and analysis of the mysteries of Nigeria – maybe put more eloquently and authoritatively than usual. As I listened to the speakers I could not help juxtaposing the personalities speaking with their recent history and louder than what they were saying, I was distracted by what they were not saying. None of them have admitted to being partly responsible for the mess, fire and disunity in Nigeria.
“There is no acknowledgement that you are or were part of the problem instead you talk about what the government is doing as if government has a separate identity disassociated from you and your friends. Right there is one of our major problems in Nigeria – no one feels a sense of responsibility for the mess we are in and no sense of tragedy about squandered opportunities.”
Yet, you have all been either at the helm of affairs of Nigeria or waiting in the wings, in one government capacity or another, for your chance to be at the driver’s seat for the past 40 years…and somehow your words do not reflect this. There is no acknowledgement that you are or were part of the problem instead you talk about what the government is doing as if government has a separate identity disassociated from you and your friends. Right there is one of our major problems in Nigeria – no one feels a sense of responsibility for the mess we are in and no sense of tragedy about squandered opportunities.
If I may take a little time to give a few examples – here sits Buhari and Tinubu – side by side and underneath all the words that rend the air, I wonder if they feel any regret for not being able to overcome the obstacles or personal demons that prevented them from providing Nigerians with a stronger opposition to PDP? And I wonder – do they feel a little responsible for the situation we are in today? Do they wonder- what if?
And ex governors of Bauchi, Gombe, Kano and Sokoto – what do you make of the fact that the Federal Government has to come and build almajiri schools for you in the North? Or that all of your states have the worst data in the country – nay in the world for basic development indices such as education and maternal mortality? Does it ever cross your mind as you listen to the tales of woe and hopelessness sweeping across Nigeria that you are part of the problem and do you wonder…what if?
For those in the audience who are firmly ensconced in this current government in one capacity or another do you too listen to the cries and the growing sense of alarm and are your perplexed about who is responsible for the consistent slide? Are there opportunities to turn things around and halt the slide or is everyone so busy not seeing that they are involved that they cannot take the opportunity to do something meaningful to improve the situation?
There has been lots of teasing today about how old many of the speakers and guests are and many are much older than my mother and so I dare to take the label ‘youth’ just for this purpose. So on behalf of the youth who are watching as Nigeria threatens to implode from the actions or inactions of those in this room – we say – please accept responsibility, please acknowledge your role and apologise with humility and say ‘we will do our best with what remains with the rest of our lives to turn things around for you’. That is the least that we expect of you and it would go a long way to solving our problem. Once you can admit that you are all part of the problem, then hopefully this will lead to remorse and a feeling that you should take every opportunity to fix things for future generations.
Thank you for listening and thank you Sam for creating the opportunity, with your birthday, for us to share some home truths with each other.”
Alas, I only wished I said these things the minute I dropped the microphone. Instead, I spent the entire day racked with vexation at myself for not being ready with this contribution. But I have created another opportunity to share what I wish I had said. There is something about lost opportunities that makes humans melancholy, introspective and humble and it makes us want to try even harder – to improve.
That is why acknowledging the lost opportunities is critical for the group of Nigerians who are so bent on being involved governance. It is not too late for those who are part of the problem to take the opportunity for self analysis and genuinely work to fix things. Otherwise, I hope that the pain of lost opportunities will sting them like 160 million pinpricks until they cry out with comprehension…‘what if’.
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