A NEW NIGERIA IS POSSIBLE
Isma’ila Muhammadu Zakari, mni, FBR, FCA
Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria
2017 KING’S COLLEGE LAGOS
FOUNDERS’ DAY LECTURE
KING’S COLLEGE HALL
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
I feel very highly honoured and privileged to be invited as Guest Speaker at the 2017 King’s College Lagos Founder’s day lecture which during my own time at the College were delivered by distinguished personalities and KCOBs of likes of Dr Alex Ekwueme GCON former Vice President of the Nigeria, Late Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya who was fondly addressed as Kings College Old Boy Extra-Ordinary.
It is always a thing of joy to come back to the crucible; where we learnt to cherish chivalry and truth. Chivalry. That eponymous word encapsulating those values, the pillars upon which the British built their great nation, the same principles that motivated the empire builders who founded this school, modelled after that crucible of British leadership, Eton College. 577 years old spawned Nineteen British Prime Ministers till date and still going strong. There is no gainsaying that colonialism was and shall forever be deplorable. But we must pay attention to the British as nation-builders, with their renown and enduring institutions.
King’s College was conceived as an incubator of Nigerian leadership, just as Eton before it has proven over five centuries to be a veritable incubator of British leadership. This institution, like its sister school, Queens College Lagos and its cousin schools, the Federal Government Colleges nationwide were conceived to churn out those leaders that were supposed to fulfil the manifest destiny of Nigeria as the giant of Africa and one of the leading nations of the world.
Well, here we are now in 2017, 108 years after the founding of our school and 57 years after Nigerian independence from Britain. 35 years after I graduated from these hallowed classrooms, Nigeria our dear nation is at risk!!! A great calamitous risk arising from a fast declining trend – a trend that cannot be said to be resultant from conditions beyond our control but stem more from weakness of purpose, confusion of vision, underuse of talent, and lack of leadership.
Our present plight did not appear overnight and the responsibility for it is widespread.
The state of the Nigerian nation today readily brings to mind, the immortal words of the great anti-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon who said, “Every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.” And I dare say that it is my generation, which have benefitted so much from the largesse of the Nigerian state that must frontally address this risk. Our work is clearly cut out for us. Thankfully, we were not made to fail. Yet, if you fail, look closely, seek the reason why.
We have all have a good idea how precarious our situation is as a Nation today. We are not short of theory about how we have come to where we are today. If we can all agree on anything at all, I am willing to bet that we will agree that we cannot afford to continue along the path that has brought us to where we are today. Clearly there are a lot of things we have been doing as a nation that are clearly not working, while there are those things we are not doing today that we must begin to do immediately if we want a new Nigeria. Indeed, the question that preoccupies most right-thinking adults in this country today is this: “How can we create a new beginning for our country and a more fulfilling future for our people?”
Yes, it is always a thing of joy to come back to this hallowed place where we learnt to pull together, each one with the rest, playing up and striving each to do his best You have power to conquer if you only try. Chivalry. Truth. Honour. Grit. Glory. These values with which we were raised in the good old school, these are the stuff upon which the foundations of great nations are made. They form the core of the vision of every great nation. That each citizen being the smallest indivisible sovereign component of a modern nation-state, must be inspired, motivated, and afforded all the possible opportunities to achieve his full potential.
A nation is an imagined community, after all, existing first and foremost in the imagination of its citizens. It only concretises into something real when the citizens begin to feel bound together by shared values, and a common vision for a future that empowers each one of them to conquer if he is willing to try. The hard grinding work of nation-building is first to distil these ideals into a compelling national vision and then transform this vision into enduring social institutions which nurture a vibrant culture that motivates and empowers every citizen to be the best that he can be. At this point in the history of our country, we cannot afford to be too invested in ideology, our overriding ideology should be characterised by an unrelenting quest for the greatest good for the greatest number of our people.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us as a Nation today is to cater for the teeming population of poor, unemployed and unskilled young people across the country while at the same time building lasting democratic institutions that can sustain a strong, inclusive nation. We have to get our young people between the ages of 16 and 45 to work.
We need to come up with more incentives and supporting policies that will give small and big businesses the confidence to invest more in the future, grow their businesses aggressively and hire more people.
The first thing we have to do right from tomorrow morning is to start entrusting the management of our country to our most competent people. We can no longer afford to let incompetent people run important public and private enterprises, and crucial institutions of the state. We must launch a war against incompetence and mediocrity in the public sector and ensure that both private and public enterprises keep their promises to their stakeholders. Ultimately, it is not in our collective interest to have incompetent people in positions of authority. We need our brightest and best people running the ministries, the government agencies and the public utilities. The fact that we are not getting the results other countries are getting from the public and private sector institutions strongly points to the incompetence of the people in charge.
We need people in leadership positions who not only know what to do, but can also get things done, and deliver good results. Our preoccupation as from tomorrow morning must be to find those people amongst us, wherever they may come from, and entrust the administration and leadership of our country to them.
The next thing to do would be to put in place systems in every part of society that reward industry and build trust. We must promote hard work and honesty in order to encourage productivity and discourage corruption and unethical behaviour. These are essential elements for development.
We must entrench the rule of law. We must reform the criminal justice system and stop the rampant culture of impunity. Private citizens and public officials must be held accountable for their actions and a strong message must be sent across the land that nobody is above the law. Government at various levels and government officials must routinely obey court orders. Corruption in the judiciary must be proactively exposed, and those found wanting subjected to due process and be severely punished.
Elections must be credible and the will of the people must be allowed to prevail. The people must resist any attempt to rig elections.
The legislature must take their cue from the people they serve.
Nigerians in positions of leadership must be held to a high standard of accountability and they must be expected to set good examples to our largely young population. Our leaders must make themselves accountable to the people they serve.
The culture of Nigerian leaders enriching themselves while majority of our people live in abject poverty is clearly not sustainable and will lead to a breakdown in society if it is not curbed.
The culture of incontinent and conspicuous consumption must the replaced by a culture of production and investment.
Derivation should no longer be tied to population size or population density but to volumes of production and levels of productivity.
It is important to encourage and reward policies and behaviours that serve our collective interest as a nation and the values we share and the vision we commonly hold.
We should lay more emphasis on what people produce and less on what they collect and we should bring governance and decision-making as close as possible to the local governments.
Nation building is a holistic project and so is development. This is one area where we cannot adopt a pay as you go approach. We will not succeed if we keep attacking our problems piecemeal. We have to address them at the same time, the myriad of issues facing the different parts of our society, preventing our nation from working for our diverse people. We have to be holistic and strategic at the same time. We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We cannot just keep applying the same knee-jerk reactions and throwing money at problems. Although we have to be much more strategic and less tactical in our approach, we have to be both at the same time.
As a nation, we need to start investing more in education, in research and data collection. We need to produce a highly educated population, build a solid database of facts and figures that will facilitate more effective policies, more accurate decision-making and more judicious allocation of our resources.
Thus I call all who care about Nigeria and its future, to parents and children, to Governors and State Legislators, to the President and to members of the National Assembly, to all public officials, to the elites, to the print and electronic media, to the formal and informal sector, to villagers, city dwellers and those in diaspora, to concerned citizens everywhere to give priority to nation-building. It is by our willingness to take up this challenge and our resolve to see it through that Nigeria’s place in the world will either be secured or forfeited.
Yes it is always uplifting and energising to come back to this crucible where we were nurtured in our early youth. There is something magical and priceless about coming here and engaging with different generations of KCOBs and the current KC boys. And being poignantly reminded that we will not forget that we all are brothers with a common debt which must be paid through service to the living and honour to our collective heritage.
Yes, it all comes together nicely on a day like this, one gets a palpable sense of the past, the present, and the future forming one mighty whole and pointing to the fact that a new Nigeria is indeed possible.
The is King’s College after all, we know the stuff we are made of. From whom much has been given, much is expected. We cannot afford to fail.