Nigeria has accomplished so much less than its vast potential mainly because we have stood on the shoulders of dwarves. We have found the best answers to our problems, but they are all buried in government White Papers in what seems to be an endless cavern of archives. We have also found answers in the selfless studied ideas of some Nigerians whose credibility transcend the shores of our land.
So, why do we talk things to death, refusing to walk the talk? Why do we keep chewing our problems over and over until there is nothing left to swallow? Why do we always try to heap things whose solutions we know on the proverbial drawing board, on which there is no more space? Is it that we hope that our problems will get better with age like wine? I know that some things get worse before they get better, but that only happens when the people concerned do not stop looking for answers and do not stop engaging each other to find honest solutions.
Writing in his treatise The Art of War, Sun Tzu declared that when you are without resources, depend on resourcefulness. But Nigeria is blessed with both incredible resources and resourceful people across the land. So once again, what is our problem? Reginald Ihejiahi, the managing director of Fidelity Bank Plc told us that everything boils down to what he called a wholesomeness of integrity which he said makes the difference in the lives of individuals, companies and nations.
Democratic government is supposed to mean the people in power. Governance is then the art of exercising power on behalf of the people. But our leaders mostly exercise power for themselves. Until we dare to enthrone a wholesomeness of character, a wholesomeness of integrity, our nation will continue to be a place where if the rules we created gets in the way, we bend them to pass.
All through the ages, it has always been the few saving the many, but in Nigeria, it is the few who bend the rules to enslave the rest of us, to control our nation and corner our common wealth. This is why the law respects persons. This is why Nigerians are angry, so angry that it is becoming increasingly contagious. This anger is more evident in those like me who know that our nation is so remarkably blessed we have no reason not being a member of the G8 group of nations.
We have paid and are still paying a huge price for our failure to turn our vast potential into greatness. But I know that the day will come when every blow we strike against the rock of deception that entombs our nation will cause it to shatter and we will be free at last. Some will be quick to dismiss and label me a hyper optimist especially those who have seen my raging anger in cold print. The rock is a peculiar object. When you try to break it, it seems to absorb every blow, mocking every effort. But the truth is that every single blow we deliver weakens it internally, until one final blow shatters it. The fact is, we do not know which blow will shatter this rock of deceit and that is precisely why we must not tire in our effort to provoke change. We dare not stop striking because we may stop when we are ten blows, five blows or even one blow away from shattering the manufactured chaos behind which hidden negative interests prosper. We weaken this evil force by doing what Reginald Ihejiahi still remembers he was taught a long time ago to “brighten the corner where you are” and “act well thy own part for there the honour lies.” Though Mr Ihejiahi heard those words years ago, they have an eternal quality, relevant through the ages, timeless and worth their hefty weight in gold. If every individual brightens the corner where they are, the land will be enveloped by light that will chase away the darkness.
In his epochal ‘I have a dream’ speech, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. said he did not want people to be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. It is therefore abundantly clear that character and integrity have content. Though integrity has content, it is still indivisible. We cannot have selective, partial or convenient integrity. It is either wholesome or it is not integrity. The challenge is to rise up and shatter this rock of lies, duplicity, corruption, cheating, hypocrisy…by living lives that show clearly that integrity is indivisible.
Let us now begin to stand on the shoulders of giants. And it does not take rocket science to do so. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan recently distributed to his top functionaries the book written by one such living legend, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who turned his country from a third world nation to a first world nation in one generation. In 1965, Singapore’s per capita was $511 but it is currently the 15th in the world at $42,653. Their economy depends heavily on export, ranked 14th globally with manufacturing contributing about 27.2 percent in 2010. It is the world’s fourth leading financial centre and fourth largest foreign-exchange trading centre. Singapore is rated the 2nd most business friendly economy in the world and grew the fastest globally in 2010 with GDP growth of 14.5%.
Singapore is host to more than 7,000 companies from the United States, Europe and Japan, 1,500 from China and another 1,500 from India. Singapore is in the top three as an oil refining centre.
Their focus and hard work have earned them the world’s 10th largest foreign reserves which as at June 2011, stood at $242.287 billion. Yet Singapore is a nation of 5.1 million people, occupying a land area of 710 sq km. In essence, Singapore has less than a third of the population of Lagos state and occupies about 20 percent of the total area of Lagos state. I am using the story of Singapore to illustrate how we have been short changed over the years by clueless leaders who ruled us not for national or regional profit but for their personal profit. What made the difference in Singapore and similarly progressive nations is credible leadership anchored on integrity.
The way success is measured in government and governance is through the standard of living of citizens. Here in Nigeria, politicians speak so flippantly of the dividends of democracy, a phrase they plucked from the arcane and mysterious syllabus of political sloganeering. The success story of Singapore, created in one generation is the most eloquent testimony of the dividends of integrity. In a nut shell, it is not democracy but integrity that delivers honest leadership and very visible and celebratory development.
We have many roads to choose from. Some of them we have travelled before with disastrous consequences. The only road Nigeria should now take is called integrity. The Singapore story makes it lavishly clear why I believe that if we dare to harness our massive resources and resourcefulness, if we dare to reinvent our nation, if we dare to make integrity a way of individual and national life, Nigeria will leapfrog to the G8 group of industrialised nations within a generation. Integrity enthroned will create a new breed of ‘virtuecrats’ and not hide bound bureaucrats with vested personal, religious and regional interests, who specialise in making red tape so long, no one has seen its end. In business, people talk of the return on investment, which involves calculating viability and profitability. What about the return on integrity? We have seen the massive evidence of that in Singapore. If we dare in Nigeria, the return on integrity will blow the mind of the world in just one generation. If we dare…, investors will find their way to our nation knowing that Nigeria is truly an investors’ goldmine.
The fault lines on which Nigeria sits is dangerously shifting because of our refusal to address the glaring faults, a wilful negligence that has birthed all manner of violent crises across the land. We are pulling in different directions. When we achieve true unity, Nigeria will truly become greater than the sum of its parts. The irony is everyone seems to be in agreement that the nation needs to be reengineered, restructured and refocused to achieve her optimal best. What is the best way to do this? Is it through the National Assembly or a Sovereign National Conference or a combination of both? Whatever it will take, let us truly and sincerely redesign Nigeria. The fear of balkanisation is not real because no one truly wants that outcome. Whatever options we choose, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi are two giants on whose shoulders agitators for a better Nigeria should hence forth stand.
No calamity or natural disaster will be worse than terrible leadership. But what is the usual response of governments at all levels to calamities? Set up with great fanfare a ‘high powered’ commission of inquiries that will be peopled with ‘expired’ brains who actually are part of the problems, to amongst other things find out the immediate and remote causes of the immediate crisis. The commission’s report will be received with even greater fanfare but will be dumped unread as soon as the cameras stop rolling. I look forward to the day when governments will set up commissions of inquiry to look into the immediate and remote causes of success and its multiplier effect, make all Nigerians to own the report and dare to implement these immediate and remote causes of success. It will not only signpost the beginning of real hope but also more importantly, the beginning of the reign of integrity. It will herald a new attitude where, ask not what is in it for me, ask what is in it for my country Nigeria, will be the new rallying cry. That will mean that integrity has become king. And will mark the ultimate achievement of a balance of responsibilities between the people and those they entrusted with power.
There are indeed many giants on whose shoulders we can stand on, but none evidently is greater than integrity. May we as individuals and a nation find both integrity and God. And may the best days of our past not even measure up to the worst days of our future.
Okechukwu Peter Nwobu