Fellow citizens of Nigeria, I have a very heavy word to deliver to both the church and the nation today and my heartfelt prayer is that we will heed the warnings of Jehovah in order to avert His unbearable blows. I hope it is not too late already.
As is my practice, let me start with some portions of Scripture that will govern my contribution to the issues currently bedeviling our nation. Turn your Bible with me, if you will, to:
Psalm 141:1-6 (NKJV) –
1 “LORD, I cry out to You; Make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
2 Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
3 Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.
4 Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice wicked works With men who work iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies.
5 Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.
6 Their judges are overthrown by the sides of the cliff, And they hear my words, for they are sweet.”
And Proverbs 15:28 and 29 (NKJV) –
28 “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.
29 The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.”
And verses 31 and 32 (NKJV) –
31 “The ear that hears the rebukes of life Will abide among the wise.
32 He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.”
I have chosen a title drawn from the scriptures just quoted:
THE HEAD THAT REFUSES A LIFE-GIVING REBUKE WILL BE THROWN DOWN THE CLIFF OF PERDITION.
In the past week, the media has been awash with emotive distractions from what is apparently a national calamity and shame. But in the midst of the fury, noise and emotional outbursts, there have been voices of wisdom and courage both from the press, some in government as well as patriotic citizens. Let me start with the Leadership Newspaper editorial on Justice in Nigeria sent to my e-mail box by a well-respected veteran journalist, Chief Tola Adeniyi, yesterday:
Two judgments delivered within the last one week by two different courts send powerful messages to both the poor and the rich in the country. On Wednesday, in Abeokuta, a magistrate court headed by Idowu Olayinka sentenced 49-year-old Mustapha Adesina to two years in prison for stealing vegetables valued N5, 000. This Monday, in Abuja, a former director of the Police Pension Board, Yakubu Yusuf, who admitted he stole N32.8 billion, received an even lighter sentence from Justice Abubakar Talba of the FCT High Court: two years in jail or payment of N750, 000 fine. In other words, the latter convict was told to pay 0.0015 of what he stole and walk home free while the former, who probably could not pay the N10, 000 fine given him as an option, would spend two years in jail.
With these contrasting judgments, no one needs to be reminded anymore that justice in Nigeria is a travesty. Little wonder why the prisons are brimming with the poor and the unknown while the rich and the powerful who commit more grievous crimes get away scot-free. Indeed, convicts like Yusuf have become the new normal. Former Edo State governor Lucky Igbinedion, who was found guilty of stealing N9 billion, was fined N3 million after a fraudulent process called “plea bargaining”. Cecilia Ibru was said to have crippled Oceanic Bank plc after stealing more than N190 billion, but she spent just four months, not in jail but in a hospital; there are now even reports that she has reclaimed most of her properties that had been confiscated. Former inspector-general of police Tafa Balogun stole N17 billion but was sentenced to six months in jail – and he spent most of the term in a hospital too.
Those are among the few celebrated cases that ended up in the court slapping the influential convicts on the wrist. The cases of many others have either been buried in endless litigations or forgotten altogether. The man who stole vegetables – most likely out of poverty and probably to feed himself and his family – will spend two years in jail while all the suspects in the murders of Bola Ige, Marshal Harry, Aminoasari Dikibo, Funsho Williams, Dipo Ojerinde and others have been freed.
While members of the executive arm of government are the usual culprits in embezzlement of public funds, it could be safely concluded that the Nigerian judiciary is the greatest cog in the country’s wheel of progress. For all the public outcry against corrupt judges, the temple of justice in this country is still tainted with the putrid smell of corruption. Almost always, it is chicken thieves who steal to stay alive that get sentenced while those who steal billions of naira can buy their way out of trouble. Knowing that it is money that can set them free, treasury looters have learned to steal very huge sums: “the bigger the loot, the safer.”
Is it strange, then, that no “big man” in Nigeria is in jail today in spite of the monumental corruption witnessed every day? No. What exists in the country is like a cult of the rich and influential who control the executive, legislature and judiciary. Convict Yusuf is lucky to belong to that club. And it has earned him the freedom he needs so much. Out of the N32.8 billion he embezzled, he would have lost less than N1billion through forfeiture of his properties, payment of a fine and getting “justice” done speedily. He may even buy back the confiscated properties with the balance of the looted billions remaining with him. And he will enjoy the rest of the money in the most beautiful cities of the world – and live happily ever after.
The vegetable thief from Abeokuta must be full of anguish now, knowing that Nigeria is hellish to poor thieves but magnanimous to the rich ones. In this country, the judiciary has since ceased to be the last hope of the common man; it has become the last refuge of crooks. Is it surprising then that many of our young people are carrying arms against the state via one terrorist group or the other?
As if that is not enough food for thought, the Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN) was quoted by Daily Post as saying that: “Jonathan does not have what it takes to solve Nigeria’s problems”. Let me quote from the Daily Post:
Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) has declared that President Goodluck Jonathan-led federal government lacks the requisite knowledge and capacity to tackle Nigeria’s problems, saying that there is the need to effect a change at the centre in 2015 for the country to achieve positive development.
Fashola, who stated this during an exclusive interview with a team of LEADERSHIP editors in Abuja yesterday, was giving the rationale behind the ongoing merger talks by his party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) towards dislodging the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) at the centre in 2015.
Explaining that their push for political alignment was not only to seize power but to use it to better the lives of the people, he likened Jonathan’s government to an unskilled auto mechanic who consistently failed to correctly service a vehicle, causing it to continuously break down, a fallout that would necessitate the owner to try another technician.
“You buy a car and it breaks down and you go to a mechanic and he fixes it in the morning, and it breaks down again in the afternoon. You go back in the evening, he fixes it but it doesn’t take you home. You go and call him again; he tosses it up and says you should come back by 6am the next day.
“You take it at 6am and it doesn’t take you home. Are you going to stay with that mechanic?” he asked.
“Nigeria needs a new mechanic. The country’s problems need a new pair of eyes and pure heart that can see, and clearer minds that can articulate the problems better. That is the heart of the matter. It is now left for the electorate to decide whether they are satisfied with this mechanic.”
All these came in the wake of a rude-awakening sort of lecture delivered at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka by former Minister of Education and Vice President of the World Bank, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, titled: “The wealth and poverty of a nation: Who will restore the dignity of Nigeria?”
In her timely lecture, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili spoke some naked truths to power in Nigeria in a season when massaging the over-bloated egos of our rulers has become an industry for allied sycophants across all strata of our society.
Though some of the facts she released are not alien, her pedigree as a founding director of the global anti-graft body, Transparency International, and Director of Due Process office, sufficiently exonerate her from the charge of frivolity or ignorance on the subject of profligacy she chose to address in our body polity.
For those who may not have accessed the details of what is now referred to as ‘Oby’s bombshell’, here are some excerpts from the incisive lecture:
Due to profligacy we have dismal human development indicators which are inconsistent with the scale of our earnings. For example using life expectancy as a proxy measuring how we score on human development, 51.4 years for Nigerians falls far short of the 80 years for citizens of Singapore and South Korea, 78 years for citizens of Chile, 73 years for citizens of Malaysia and 72 years for citizens of Brazil. We may in fact be the world record holder in the rank of natural resources rich countries that tend to have worse human development scores when compared to countries without endowments. As our human development scores have lagged, we continued with our binge on oil revenue and became trapped in cyclical decline of national competitiveness. It explains why every other economic sector in Nigeria has suffered the effect of the oil enclave economy. Oil has unleashed shocks and volatility of revenues on our economy due to exposure to global commodity market swing, proliferated “weak, ineffectual, unstable and systemically corrupt institutions and bureaucracies” that have helped misappropriate or plunder public recourses. Nations with abundance of natural resources especially in Africa, Latin America and part of South Asia have experienced the fuelling of official corruption and “violent competition for the resource by the citizens of the nation.”
While these countries moved up the manufacturing and economic development ladder, in my fifty years of existence all I can say for Nigeria is that during the same period I have known at least five cycles of commodity booms that offered us rare opportunities to use revenues generated from oil to transform our economy. Sadly, each cycle ended up sliding us farther down the productivity ladder. The present cycle boom of the 2010s is however much more vexing than the other four that happened in the 70s, 80s, 90, 2000s. This is because we are still caught up in it even as I speak today and it is more egregious than the other periods in revealing that we learned absolutely nothing from the previous massive failures.
Furthermore, it is happening back to back with the squandering of the significant sum of $45 billion in foreign reserve account and another $22 billion in the Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007. Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another; most Nigerians but especially the poor continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions. One cannot but ask, what exactly does Nigeria seek to symbolize and convey with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources? Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use both of these resources plus the additional several hundred dollars realized from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last five years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately, misapplied? Tragic choices! Yes.
Our national dignity continues to be degraded by cycles of stagnation because of the terrible choices my generation and those before repeatedly make as a result of free oil money. The wealth and poverty of a nation never found a better symbol!
Towards the tail end of her lecture, she threw a serious challenge to the Class of 2013 – It’s vintage Oby. Hear her:
But I warn you to be mindful and not rush to decide. You will need to fully assess all the possible costs of your decisions and choices and then determine whether you have the strength of will to bear them. Whatever choices you make from today for the purpose of helping build a New Nigeria will most certainly cost you something. Such is the reality of nation rebuilding. Those who truly build their societies pay a price. For example you cannot be one given to the lure of free money, one who cannot defer gratification and one for whom the path of least resistance holds abiding fascination; and then say you are part of the Turning Point Generation. No! The willingness to “enjoy” wealth that is not earned is not consistent with such Turning Point paradigm. For example, for anyone of you in the Class of 2013 you cannot having perverted the maxim “reward for effort” cheating in exams or using forged certificates to gain your admission and say you are a catalyst for the emergence of the New Nigeria. If your decisions or choices from today are driven by some selfish interest of replacing the failed and fading generations so as to repeat their nation-hobbling pattern then please know that you are not of the Turning Point Generation.
I have spoken to you today to stir up your collective effective angst at the indignity of your inheritance. If I have succeeded in raising your determination to free our nation from the trap of oil, then my coming is worthy. If I have succeeded in helping you see how continuous education and not more extraction of oil will help you outperform and take Nigeria up the economic development ladder, then my coming is worthy. If I have succeeded in preparing you to embrace dignity of labor as your philosophy of life – never shunning legitimate vocation that helps you earn a living regardless of how lowly it might seem – then my coming is worthy. If today, I have succeeded in preparing you for a life of private and public integrity then my coming is worthy. If I have deposited in you a deep seated contempt for poor governance, then my coming is worthy. If I have succeeded in preparing you for a lifetime of costly choices that invariably ennoble your path, then my coming is worthy. If I have succeeded in helping you realize that you are not weak – that you are actually very powerful – and have both the exceptional opportunities and the tools like your peers in other nations to solve our own Big Problem then my coming is worthy.
If I have moved you to decide that you will be one of those that will redefine and build a New Nigeria of our dreams, then is my coming worthy. If I have succeeded in inspiring a resolve within you to uphold from today a strong sense of personal responsibility for the political governance of Nigeria then my coming is worthy. Above all, if I have succeeded in getting you motivated and empowered enough to walk out of this hall being ready to walk and work as a part of the Turning Point Generation that courageously dares to restore the dignity of Nigeria, then my BEING is truly worth it!
Rather than giving a lucid, reasoned and mature response to Dr. Ezekwesili, the Federal Government, through its spokespersons, went into all manner of tirades against her person, virulently attacking the messenger while ignoring the message. Prior to belatedly presenting some mumbo-jumbo statistics on our foreign reserves from 2007-2012, which have only raised yet more integrity questions for the administration, the first puerile action of the Federal Government was to ask Oby to account for four years of budgetary allocations to the Ministry of Education of which she spent only a few months as Minister.
This puerile approach must have incensed many Nigerians with a sense of decency and propriety in public affairs. One young Nigerian with such righteous indignation went on Twitter to comment, among other things, that if Christ in all His holiness were to criticize the present administration, it would, out of its intolerance, accuse the Messiah of having slept with Mary Magdalene.
It was the re-tweeting of this figurative expression by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai that the agents of diversion have latched onto in order to take our focus from the fundamental issues Oby raised and to which they have no answer.
Nigerians must be used to this worn out strategy by now as they have seen how the $620,000 Otedola-Farouk bribery saga has been used to bury the N2.6 trillion subsidy theft uncovered by the House of Representatives Probe.
For how long are they going to bewitch us like foolish Galatians?
It is rather unfortunate that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that should bring understanding to the simple on matters like this has chosen to confirm its description by the Catholic Church as an arm of the government in power by fanning the propaganda of agents of the administration that Nasir El-Rufai is a “bigot” for a statement that did not originate from him and whose meaning should be clear to a non-mischievous person.
This is nothing but feeding on mass neurosis and widening the gap between people of different faiths in our country. Is CAN saying the gentleman who wrote the “offending” statement who happens to be a Christian is a “bigot”?
If they are not saying so, they are only showing selective integrity by picking on El-Rufai who re-tweeted simply because he is a Muslim!
And can El-Rufai justifiably be called a “bigot” by any stretch of the imagination? I say NO as he has worshiped with us at the Latter Rain Assembly on several occasions and shared Christian messages from our services with all who follow him on Twitter. He is a liberal Muslim who respects the faith of others. Given the fragile state of our country today, we need faith leaders who are voices of moderation across the faiths who will preach harmony and not divisions.
It must be pointed out that CAN’s bellicose posture came after El-Rufai publicly apologized for the re-tweet. Jesus Christ, who asked the Father to forgive those who nailed Him to the cross when they didn’t even acknowledge they did anything wrong, must be wondering what those who are supposed to be His servants are doing in His name to a man who asked for forgiveness.
For those who do not really know him, let Mallam El-Rufai speak directly to you from his fantastic book, The Accidental Public Servant, due to be presented to the public on the 7th of February in Abuja, and you will perhaps understand what quality stuff he is made of. Hear him as I quote from pages 91 and 92 of this must-read book for every Nigerian who loves truth:
By the time I came to the BPE, my thoughts and life experiences had already aligned in one particular direction, which can be summarized in four points. The first was that although Nigeria had a population then of some 120 million people (now more than 160 million) over 500 languages and more than 300 ethnic groups, I had come to the conclusion through my experiences up to that point that there are simply two kinds of people in Nigeria. There were good people and there were bad people, period! Each can be found speaking every language, in every religion, every ethnic group, every village, every town and every city. In my private sector career, I had been helped more by people from the south of Nigeria despite the fact that they knew me as a ‘northerner’, and I had more often than not been let down by fellow ‘northerners’ perhaps because I grew up knowing more of them. I therefore do not perceive my country and its population through tribal or ethnic lenses.
Secondly, I believe that human beings are generally about the same, and to a large extent, strategic and rational in their thinking and conduct. Everyone pursues what he or she perceives to be in his or her interest. An effective way I have found of relating to people is to consider what I would do if I were in their position pursuing my rational strategic interest. Any negotiation that bears that in mind will result in a deal being made. Our common humanity suggests that people of all religions, ethnic groups or races are essentially all the same, which leads to my third point.
Thirdly, human beings respond to incentives and sanctions, and shape their conduct accordingly. People like to say Nigeria is a corrupt country; it simply is a matter of incentives or absence of sanctions. I have seen many British, Italian and American citizens who have come to Nigeria and were they to be judged strictly on their corrupt tendencies and actions, one might easily then think they were born in Nigeria, which proves that environment trumps race or ethnicity anytime. They conduct themselves simply in response to the incentives they find, a person looking around the system and subconsciously asking, “What can I get away with?” The reason people are more honest in one society than another is because there is a very high chance of being caught and sanctioned somehow, for dishonesty. In Nigeria, the unfortunate verdict seems to be that if you are dishonest, not only is there very little chance of getting caught, there is very high chance of being rewarded with senior appointive or elective positions in politics or public service, honoured with chieftaincy titles, and with praises and respect of one’s community. As a nation, we have become unquestioning of wealth, no matter how ill-gotten, and generally forgotten to name, shame, and ostracize bad people, while failing to recognize and adore the good – those that sacrifice and resist all temptations in order to be decent and serve the nation honestly.
In the forward to the book you will read my considered opinion of a good man being vilified by religious zealous, viz: “In this book, Nasir El-Rufai enumerates four cardinal points which governed his orientation and disposition as a public servant. First is a detribalized, religiously neutral humanistic view of the Nigerian person – whether good or bad…”
No book in recent history has fully diagnosed our leadership problems and proffered solutions like this book written by an accomplished patriot who is calling our attention to how we can still turn our numerous potentials as a nation into major assets for national development and greatness.
I have read most publications in Nigeria in the last week and I am yet to come across a word spoken by the leaders of CAN on the weighty issues Dr. Ezekwesili raised on how the “prodigal sons” have run our country bankrupt – what a sinful silence!
Instead of speaking truth to power or putting the ‘House of CAN’ in order following the withdrawal of the Catholic Church from CAN’s activities at the national level, it is a big shame that the response of CAN’s leadership is that the Catholics are withdrawing because they lost election to the current leader. What do we expect those in government to do when critical issues of good governance and accountability are raised and leaders in the church leave the substance and chase shadows? No wonder President Jonathan thinks the way he thinks and talks the way he talks because he is surrounded and encouraged by the likes of the present CAN leadership. I recall the response of President Jonathan to the Fuel Hike Protest in January 2012. To him, the protest was spearheaded by election losers.
And now the Catholics are said to have pulled out because they lost election to a Pentecostal pastor. How shallow can we be in our thinking? Let’s have a roll call of past CAN Presidents to debunk this flimsy assertion.
1. The Founding President of CAN: Eminence Dominic Cardinal Ekanem of the Methodist Church. Neither the Catholics nor any other group withdrew during his tenure;
2. He was succeeded by Bishop Olubunmi Okogie – a Catholic. No group withdrew during his tenure;
3. Followed by Sunday Mbang of the Methodist Church – the Catholics did not withdraw, nor did any other group;
4. Then Jasper Akinola of the Anglican Church – No withdrawals;
5. Then John Onaiyekan – a Catholic. No group has ever withdrawn.
But now, “O do ri aka yin – akara de gun” – Now it is the turn of the gospel czar, bean cake has transformed into a very hard bone.
Indeed we have “promoted” men into leadership positions both in the Church and the nation beyond their mental capacities and the incompetencies are now very glaring to the whole world except the leaders themselves, or how do you categorize our using ring worm medicine to cure leprosy?
The reason the Catholic bloc gave for their withdrawal – namely that “CAN is being dragged into partisan politics thereby compromising the ability to play its true role as the conscience of the nation and the voice of the voiceless” was never addressed – rather the shallow response of their losing election to one of us became “the badge of honour” we wear on our oversize Episcopal garments. Shame! Big Shame!!
Nothing can be more appropriate at this juncture than the very words of Jesus Christ, the one and only true Head of the Church, as recorded in Revelation 2:5 –
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.”
One final word from the Lord for those who make mountains out of molehills; the religious zealots who confuse the zeal of God with the ‘zeal for God, and (that) not according to knowledge’:
Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV) –
1 “”Judge not, that you be not judged.
2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?
5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen: “The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it” (James Russell Lowell); for “truth is the property of no individual but is the treasure of all men.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
The emotive distractions flowing from different spokespersons of the government is the problem you encounter when you tell truth to those who are not worthy of it.
May God help us all know the truth and may the truth set our nation free. Amen.
Thank you for listening, God bless you all, and may God bless Nigeria.
Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare
The Latter Rain Assembly