By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi –
If there is any conversation in recent times that must not be allowed to go with political winds, as it supports the argument that Nigeria’s present political and socioeconomic challenges were created by Nigerians, accelerated by Nigerians and can only be resolved by Nigerians, it is the recent lesson/awareness by Barrister Egede, former Director, Obasanjo Farms, and presently Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, Supersavers Stores Limited, during a recent interview held at his Magodo, Lagos office , as part of events lined up to mark his 60th birthday.
While he described himself as a village groomed boy that lives within the confines of morals, and aptly exemplified ‘the good old days’ as an era when our value system was sound, integrity and good name mattered much, when people had value for handwork and honesty and corruption was never an institution as we are now experiencing in contemporary Nigeria and the society then frowned at unexplained sources of wealth of individuals, he argued that in those good old days, people did not lose their consciences as is the case today. Even as he observed with nostalgia that the society is presently broken and has become intolerable for everybody to live freely just because people have deliberately chosen to be lawless, he submitted that the best way to rebuild Nigeria’s dilapidated Cultural, Political and socioeconomic walls, is for all Nigerians to adhere to the values that are essential for good governance, especially transparency and accountability while turning away from negative attitudes such as clamour for tribe and selfishness.
He recalled that growing up; you will always be reminded to remember the son of who you are. We were also taught to maintain our self esteem. That good name is better than all the money in the whole world. We were also taught not to look for money, rather, we should look for what we can do for people and money will follow you. Those are the ethics that I grew up with as a person coming from the rural background.
My parents were both farmers. Yet, I had access to good/quality education because at that time, the money budgeted for school was used for schools. My father couldn’t write a sentence in English. We came from such a background, yet, that did not stop our education. Nobody needed to fly to Canada or the UK to go and look for education. It was here. People from Canada were doing Commonwealth exchange. Coming from Canada to go and study at the University of Ife. So, it was not Nigerians alone going out. If you want to go out, it was just for the fun of it not because the education here was inferior to what you are going to get outside because people observed the law.
Today everybody in the South west wants to use Awo to campaign. I attended Awo School. If you grew up in the then Mid Western region, all the primary schools that I know were founded in 1955 by Awo. It is amazing. To create this number of schools to make sure that education was available for all. You ask; what was the education budget of Western region in 1955 to create this number of primary schools? Have you ever heard Awo mentioned in relation to money? No. But you see people that died with so much wealth but today, nobody is talking about them. Money is something not worth pursuing.
If you steal at that time, you will be disowned by the community. But today, the community welcomes everything. If you occupy a position and you come out without bringing anything, you will be disowned by the community. When you get to a society where you now call somebody a thief and they will sew Asoebi , the whole community go to the Court to celebrate that their son has been called a thief, what do you expect of such society? And when the society is bad, we begin to look for who actually spoiled the society. The type of pressure we put on people in political positions stands as the root cause. In most cases, you hear people say; it is now our turn. Our brother is there, so all our problems are solved. We don’t look at how to earn and solve our problems. When we over expect from politicians, we set them into corruption and disruption and the things that we are working against.
When I was growing up, nobody was talking about tribes. You just go to school. The children of the poorest of the poor got educated and when you get education, you become a person of impact in the society. You are able to relate to society what the society needs. What can I put into this society? I have taken enough out of society. You find people coming from such a background today, they are the deprived of society because we have killed the school system, we have killed the hospital system, and we have killed the infrastructural system.
Presently, if you want to travel from Lagos to Ibadan, you are afraid because you don’t know whether you will get there. It was not so in the past. You travelled when there was no telephone. You move from Agbor going to school in Edo state, your parents will take it for granted that you will get there. Nobody is phoning to know whether you get there or didn’t get there. Until you come back for holiday after three months and they are at peace, they are sure that you will get there. Do you send a child now 50 kilometers away and be sure that the child will get there? No phone calls and you did not hear from the child for two or three months and you are certain that the child will be there and that he is coming back home?
What brought us to this sorry state is that people want to make money without adding value. That is the first point. He concluded.
Away from scary insecurity to the nation’s constitution, he again stressed that as faulty as the nation’s constitution may be, if the human beings are orderly, such challenges will not arise. We operated a parliamentary constitution, it didn’t work for us. We operated the regional constitution, it didn’t work for us. We operated the presidential system of government, it didn’t work for us. So, there is no document you will bring to the wrong people that will not go wrong. It is not the document that is the problem, it is the people. Human beings are not interested in the reign of justice. Documents cannot make it right. The Bible is a perfect document. Is it not? Has it been able to straighten human conduct? No.
The human being just has to make up their minds to obey. The constitution is a law in itself, if we all obey it, all will be well.
Take for instance; which part of the constitution says only one section of the country should occupy all the positions. People will say that the constitution made it possible, No. We put democracy down. Every four years, if you oppress me too much, after four years I will vote you out. That is one of the benefits of democracy. You can threaten a leader. You are my staff. I will sack you after four years. Americans did it to Trump. As much as people trooped out, he scored the highest votes that any Republican candidate ever scored. But democrats trouped out in mass to say you must leave.
Leaders will begin to recognize that they are hired by the people and can be fired by the people from their offices. But in Nigeria, we have followers that no matter how much I oppress them, at the end of four years, I give you indomie that will serve you one meal and you will sell the next four years for one plate of food –that is the Esau’s spirit. I am hungry and you are talking about development. Give me food, let me eat. How many meals will you eat from that indomie for the next four years? You are eating your children’s education; you are eating your medical/health services. You are eating up infrastructure inside this plate of food.
So if leaders know that after four years I will go to these people and by the time I bring indomie, they will push me down and force that indomie into my mouth, whatever constitution you present, the people will learn to behave.
All over the world, people revolt against what they do not want. Nigerians accept whatever that is thrown at them. When you reject things, you reject in its totality. You don’t sit down and grumble –take charge.
The point here is that it is not the constitution but selfishness that is another major problem bedeviling the nation.
Continuing, he queried; the constitutions we had in the past, what did we do with them? We had the constitution that was written towards the 1960. There was a Constituent Assembly that debated everything about it. Did we operate it for a long time? In 1963, we went for republican constitution; we said we are now a republic, what did we make out of it? Then the 1979 constitution was well debated, what did we make of it? So, we are not having problems because we met in one room or we didn’t meet in one room, we have problems because selfishness has become the order of the day. We think that we are trying to break the law but what I am trying to point out is that you cannot break the law, you break yourself. So, the society is broken and it has become intolerable for everybody because you cannot live freely in Nigeria anymore-because people have deliberately chosen to be lawless.
You steal all the money and you walkway, you think you have broken the law? No, the law breaks you. You cannot find peace. You cannot go anywhere without Mobile Police men.
(To Be Continued)
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;j[email protected]/08032725374.