Text of the Convocation Lecture delivered by Rev Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese at the University of Jos Multipurpose Auditorium, 22 June 2018. The full title was: Broken Truths: Nigeria’s Elusive Quest for National Cohesion
Introduction: The Truth of our Nigerian Story?
Let me start with a conceptual clarification regarding the title and topic of this lecture. Not unexpectedly, my first reaction is to ask what is a broken truth? What does an unbroken truth look like? When we speak of truth, we immediately recall the trial of Jesus before Pilate: When Jesus said to Pilate that He had come to bear witness to the Truth, Pilate replied, ‘Truth, what is that’? (Jn.18: 38). Truth has been and remains a contested concept precisely because its very veracity depends on a range of other options.
Today in the court room, an accused person takes the witness stand, with a holy book in one hand, and promises to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Sadly, even up to the completion of the hearing of the case, we are often not sure which truth has been told; we are unsure what part, version or fraction of the truth the judge or the jury may have heard. It is often said that to get to the truth, it is important to hear both sides of the story. Yet, even after both sides have told their story, we do not necessarily get to the so-called truth.
There are often at least three sides of a truth, that is, his/her side, the other side, and ‘the’ truth!
We will all agree that knowing or finding the truth is integral to the attainment of justice. Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, the legal legend of blessed memory, came up with the dictum that Justice is a three-way street: justice for the perpetrator, justice for the victim and justice for the larger society. I remember saying to him once that I thought there should be a fourth leg of Justice: that is, Justice before God. Of course, since we believe that only God is Truth, one would hope that the quest for justice on earth would be guided by and therefore somehow reflect God’s Justice. But, let me here return sharply to the substance of this lecture – I have undertaken this philosophical excursion merely to serve the fact (truth) that this is a multifaceted conversation, which can only be enriched by a multiplicity of views.
As I was reflecting on what to speak on, this title came to my mind. I thought it would be a useful guide to help me address the issues concerning the collective sense of cynicism and anomie that has gripped our land and indeed our world today. We are surrounded by walls of lies, half-truths, and innuendos, which have become woven into the tapestry of our national history. I dare anyone to try to present one definitive narrative about any of the epochal events in our nation’s history.
We have no comprehensive history of the civil war. We have no exhaustive history of the various coups that took place in our country. We have no complete narrative of the history of political formations and culture in Nigeria. Every phase of our recorded national history is a mish-mash of half-truths, stratagems, and incomplete stories, drawn from rumour, allegations, and outright lies fed to the public, as well as of course the fact that each of us sees reality from our diverse perspectives. Indeed, as Napoleon Bonaparte stated, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
But where are the truth-tellers? How did all the mighty citadels of learning in our country, along with their Theatre Departments, Parks, Gardens and Staff Clubs suddenly become abandoned wastelands overrun by cultists, drug pedlars and rodents? Who can forget the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and other Marxists havens in the Universities of Port Harcourt, Calabar or Ife? Where are the colleagues, students and successors of the likes of the late Professors Bala Usman, Patrick Wilmot, Mike and George Kwanashie, Eskor Toyo, Monday Mwangvat, Claude Ake, Sam Oyobvaire, Adele Jinadu? Where is the generation whose intense scholarship gave us the phenomenal work, The Kaduna Mafia ?
Today, to survey the intellectual landscape in Nigeria, is to see stalks cut low by the scythe of the grim reaper. After the haemorrhage of the generation that President Babangida accused of ‘teaching what they were not paid to teach’ in the mid 1980s, the University environment became a conquered land of surrender where playing safe became the basis for survival. As Military Generals who themselves had no university education began to appoint Vice Chancellors and even some from within their ranks to administer the Universities, so began our slouch towards Bethlehem, to quote Yeats.
Today, a band of illiterate so-called herdsmen have taken an entire nation hostage. A movement, Boko Haram, led by an illiterate, has taken on the entire security apparatus of the nation. How did we come to this sorry state? Will the next generation dream great dreams and hope they can be realised or will they forever remain trapped in nightmares of the mass violence that has become their diet? What narrative shall the next generation inherit? Today, we rely on comedians for ephemeral comic relief. We have no Nobel Prize winning authors to celebrate in our Universities, no academic feats worthy of international recognition. There is need to interrogate the consequences of the choices we made or did not make and their impact on where we are today. To this I now turn.
Nigeria: The Road Not Taken
I have always loved to return to this great poem as a source of inspiration. It offers us an opportunity to speculate about what might have been had we made different choices. I will quote just the first and the last verses of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ :
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; ”
“ I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference ”
Even before independence, what would later become Nigeria had a rather distorted history cast in competing, even conflicting, narratives and experiences. A century before the invasions of the British, the people of most of what is now the Middle Belt had lived with the traumatic experiences of war, slavery, compulsory conversions to Islam, and the destruction of their cultures and habitats in the course of the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate. The scars were deep, but not being a literate society, and with no written records about their own history and experiences, this subjugation had become embedded in the individual and collective psyche, surviving only in tales told by forbears.
For instance, as children growing up, my siblings and cousins would gather around our grandmother at meal-time and whenever we seemed to be eating in a hurry, she would yell: ‘Why are you eating as if you are running away from Fulani ?’ I had to wait for over forty years, going to the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, to stumble on the meaning of these words in the course of my research in the library. When I stumbled on a narrative of the days of slavery, it said that in the days of the Caliphate, communities to be invaded for slave raids could see the horses of the raiders by the dust they raised by day. As a result, the raiders took to raiding communities for slaves at night. They would often follow the direction of the cooking fires and strike at families in the middle of their meals. As such, families took to eating very quickly so they could put out the fires and go into hiding! Clearly, our grandmother knew we were too young to grasp the complexity of the history, but it was her life.
Today, a band of illiterate so-called herdsmen have taken an entire nation hostage. A movement, Boko Haram, led by an illiterate, has taken on the entire security apparatus of the nation. How did we come to this sorry state? Will the next generation dream great dreams and hope they can be realised or will they forever remain trapped in nightmares of the mass violence that has become their diet?
I am nostalgic about the days of Bala Usman and his radical movement, which enabled the generation of the time to address the primary contradictions and then set up a higher ideological platform that enabled scholars to unite and confront the secondary contradictions of a rogue state. The dreams of a non-sectarian society articulated by the Left have been replaced by the divisive rhetoric of those who now use religion and ethnicity to further divide our society.
As a rogue state continued to exploit its citizens, what we have had and still have is a nation too divided and distracted, a nation whose elite has been caught up in fighting so many little civil wars and squabbles that it has had no reserve energy to fight the larger war against the real enemy, the rogue state. As it rides rough-shod over its citizens, the Nigerian state leaves in its wake, death and destruction. Rather than unite to confront it, its citizens continue to compose dirges in their vernaculars as they bury their dead, lamenting about marginalisation. We now face the predicament of the axe and the forest trees, namely: The axe was felling the trees, and all the trees kept falling as the forest disappeared but the trees could not rebel against the man hewing them down because the trees said that the handle was one of them !
From independence till date, we have lived with horrible leadership and we have excused the rogues on the grounds that they are our tribesmen, our fellow religionists, and that those who raise their voices are enemies of our tribe or religion. Unlike Frost’s traveler, when we got to where the road diverged, we opted for the comfort of taking what seemed the easier road. Instead of the high road, in Michelle Obama’s rendering, we took the low one. Choosing the road less travelled was too difficult. This is where we are now. So, what have been the consequences of these choices? It is to them that I now want to turn very briefly.
The Colonial legacy and Independence
Before independence, the British tinkered with the system in a way and manner that literally sowed the seeds for our enduring conflict and convoluted history. We know of the anecdote that stated that had Nigerians disappeared, the colonial administrators in the north and south of Nigeria would have gone to war because of the intensity of their differences. We now know that the disparity in background, social status and ideology meant that colonial administrators in the north and south had different and conflicting views about what the new nation would look like. It is clear that we became victims of these world-views.
For example, in the area of Education, the colonial officers in the North believed that education was meant to merely consolidate the stranglehold of the northern feudal classes over the masses of the people. Indeed, in 1922, when Barewa College was established, it was meant to educate those that the colonial administration considered would be the leaders of the north and Nigeria. Indirect Rule as a system of government merely reinforced the powers of the Emirs who appropriated residual powers from the colonial state especially in the areas of taxation and used these to subjugate the non-Muslim communities.
In the south on the other hand, in 1834, almost one hundred years earlier, the Methodist Church established the first Primary school in Badagry, and in 1859, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) established the first Secondary School in Bariga, Lagos. Within that same period, inroads were being made in such areas of southern Nigeria as Efikland and Igboland. Thus, even before the British arrived, a local elite, primarily made up of descendants of the Liberian experiment, had emerged in the Lagos area. Missionary education, unlike the straightjacket impression that the colonial state sought to create in the North, had a more liberating, humanitarian, egalitarian dimension. It was not only open to everyone but was also presented as the means for breaking open the doors of the bastions of exclusion.
The British were determined to ensure the supremacy of the North in the new nation. They took three key steps to ensure that this happened. First, they decided on a regional system of government which was skewed to favour the North. Three quarters of the landmass were allocated to the areas of the northern part of the country that were coterminous with the boundaries of the Fulani caliphate, which the British themselves had overthrown. Second, the British closed their ears even to the realities of their own investigations through the 1958 Willinks Commission and refused to acknowledge the loud cries from the Minorities for the creation of a Middle Belt Region. Third, they offered independence but only on the terms that were agreeable to the North. Thus, whereas, the South, represented by the young Anthony Enahoro, wanted independence in 1956, the British opted to accept the proposition of the North, that independence would be, as soon as it is feasible ! The agitations were renewed after independence. With the Tiv riots (1962), and the political crises in the western region (1965), the coups of 1966 and 1977 threw the country inexorably into the cauldron of a civil war whose details should be the subject of a different project. Was there another road to be taken? Well, the military thought so and it is to them that we shall now turn.
Enter the Military: Paradise Postponed
The wheels of the new nation had barely begun to turn when the vehicle hit a major gully, the military coup of January 15 , 1966. The new nation would then go into a tailspin, dragged into a corrosive system that would prove to be worse than the colonial state it had just come out of. Military intervention coincided with the rise in the commercial value of Oil, which had been discovered in the Niger Delta region of the country before independence. The sweet taste of crude money whetted the appetite of the military elite who then proceeded to destroy the foundation of Democracy and institutionalise a military command structure.
This is not the time or place to review the consequences and impact of military rule on the life of the nation. Seduced by the notion of the choice of a lesser evil, the military was often welcomed as heroes, Messiah that were praised for sacking a corrupt civilian administration. The accusations against the civilian regimes were often based on unproven claims of massive corruption, with the military promising to rid the country of the cancer of corruption. As it turned out, successive military regimes proved that their cure was worse than the disease they came to treat. The best place to look for the broken truths is in the speeches of the successive military coup plotters.
The speeches themselves illustrate very clearly a simplistic perception of changes in the society, a limited understanding of the complex issues of managing diversity and governance. What we find in the speeches is repetition of catalogues of the mess created either by their predecessors in the military or civilian governments. An exhausted citizenry, tired and pained by the chaotic state of things would time and time again buy into these ill thought-out speeches which promised social and welfare services, only to discover that they had been duped. Curiously these speeches would all end with an appeal to the citizens to stay tuned to their radios for further announcements, showing clearly that the coup plotters had no agenda and no idea what they would do next. The motivation for coups was never as patriotic or as forward looking as the planners would make them out to be. They were largely cases of settling old scores or serving sectional class interests.
For example, when Major Nzeogwu came on January 15 , 1966, he said in his speech that he and his colleagues had come to… get rid of those who took bribes and demand ten percent….those who seek to keep the country permanently divided so that they can remain in office…we promise that you will no longer be ashamed to say that you are Nigerians. When a revenge coup was staged in 1967, it was to correct or avenge the severely strained events that had rocked the foundation of the country. In his speech of May 1967, General Gowon, the Head of State, to avert a civil war decided on the creation of twelve states. In his speech, Gowon stated that: We have now reached a most critical phase where what is at stake is the very survival of Nigeria as one political and economic unit. His efforts towards saving the country as one unit did not succeed as the nation ended up in war.
Sadly, after the war, the military did not return to the barracks. Instead, an extensive economic Development Programme was put in place, along with a post war rehabilitation programme which came to be known as the three Rs ( Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation) and which got buried in military ambition. The Gowon regime decided to shift the goal posts only to invite another coup, which came to correct the mistakes. The military dug in their heels.
When Buhari came in 1984, he said that the new government… will not tolerate kickbacks, inflation of contracts and over invoicing of imports. It will not condone forgery, embezzlement, misuse and abuse of power . When he himself was overthrown, General Babangida lamented that: it turned out that Major General Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitude to issues of national significance. Efforts to make him understand that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions, only served to aggravate these attitudes .
And on and on the military coup plotters went, telling tales to a naïve nation and citizens too dazed to see through the deceit. It is interesting that even by 1997 with the last coup that was foiled, the controversial Diya coup, a text of the proposed speech against the Abacha regime had planned to make the same claims to justify the reasons why the military had come again, reasons based on accusations against the Abacha government and promises to do better.
Looking back, we can see that frustrations within the military had produced a culture of coups and intense infighting and corruption within the institution. The more the coups were staged, the weaker and divided the military institution became. By way of counter-penetration, civilian influence began to play a significant role in military interventions. Regional, traditional, religious and economic and social class interests held sway as these elite groups often funded military interventions to either forestall the erosion or the preservation of the influences of these groups. The end result was that a more divided, distracted, fractured and confused military severely became a threat to national cohesion.
The sense of a national security apparatus was lost, thus opening the country up to the multiple stabs from aggrieved sectional, national and international interests. More or less, this is the story of Nigeria today. As I said earlier, it is a sad story of an accumulation of lies, half-truths, and of subterfuge, of fractured hopes, like the jagged edges of broken bottles. The idea that today, semi illiterate and illiterate herdsmen have held the country to ransom under the Boko Haram insurgency and the endless killings across the country suggest how low we have sunk in the quality of our security systems and in terms of levels of cohesiveness in our society. An aggregate of these is what constitutes what I call, broken truths. By way of conclusion, let us look at the prospects of the future.
Democracy and the Return to Purgatory
Looking back, we must ask the question, what has happened or not happened to us? To attempt to answer these questions, I will have an eye to the future and to that extent my attention will now turn to the young men and women who are our future, that is, our Graduands on whose behalf we have all gathered here today. The younger generation must learn from our horrible mistakes, the hypocrisy, the deceit and outright criminality which have passed for governance in Nigeria.
With all its failures, our nation has survived three most critical threats to the very foundations of our Democracy. First, was in 2000 when a few disgruntled northern politicians took their hypocrisy to a very high level by declaring that they wanted the northern states to sign on to Islamic law.
Their hypocrisy was soon exposed but not before it had produced all the ingredients of a military coup. The waywardness of that period merely validated what most Nigerians considered to be the misguided views expressed by Col Gideon Orkar in 1990. As we recall, in his speech Col Orkar threatened to excise the core Muslim northern states from Nigeria, a move that Nigerians stood firmly against. Sadly, these hypocritical Northern Muslim Governors and politicians exposed the limitations of the manipulation of religion. Happily, their political chivalry soon turned into a nightmare. Today, even in whispers, there is no mention of Sharia.
The second incident was after the death of Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua. The nation waited in bated breath for months, as we did not know whether the President was dead or alive. This period of uncertainty was a perfect excuse for a coup to protect northern interests. Happily, the nation held on and the political class was able to find a solution to the problem.
Thirdly and finally was the election of 2015. There were many powerful forces that did not want President Jonathan to concede the elections. Again, it would have been easy to call in the military, but yet, our nation held on. So, on paper, we can say that Nigerians have signed on to the prospects of Democracy as the best form of government to ensure national cohesion. The challenge is to accept its intricacies.
In her book, Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom , Professor Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, makes the point quite eloquently when she said: “Every Democracy is flawed at its inception. And, indeed, no Democracy ever becomes perfect. The question is not one of perfection but how an imperfect system can survive, move forward and grow stronger”. The challenge for us, as I see it, is how to first, appreciate that no system is perfect, and secondly find the way to best work through the challenges and improve the imperfections that are inherent in all human institutions. However, before we address these, it is necessary to briefly highlight what I will refer to as the consequences of broken truths on the quest for national cohesion.
3: The Consequences of Broken Truths on National Cohesion:
Nigerians have continued to wonder whether their country has been under a curse. However, if this were the case, then a country with such a convoluted spiritual landscape with altars to what St. Paul would have referred to as unknown gods would have been able to appease the gods. From my analysis, my conclusion is that the massive heap of failures that we have before us is heap from the harvest of broken truths. The single word for is what we call, Corruption.
It is quite interesting that with corruption, the more we fight it, the more we, like Sisyphus find ourselves worse off than where we started. This is why, between 1966 till date, with all the highfalutin, messianic and even evangelistic coup and inaugural speeches, we are nowhere near slaying this dragon. The saddest part of it all is that successive governments have tried to fight a disease without proper scientific diagnosis. Let us for the sake of argument say that almost every Nigerian President has meant well and set out to genuinely fight corruption, if so, why has no progress been registered? I hazard a few suggestions that may be controversial or even inaccurate, but they are the result of my own reflections on these matters.
First, we have a national leadership that has tended to fear intellectual or scientific solutions to problems. Thus, what we call fighting corruption will not respond to mere institutionalisation of the so-called solution because that solution will sink into the cesspool of an already corrupt bureaucracy. So, what we have been doing all along is not fighting corruption but merely struggling to recover stolen monies from thieves.
The second mistake which government has focused on is the belief that corruption, stealing of money is what politicians. This is why the focus has been on Governors or Ministers. Does it not surprise you that no single living President has ever had an allegation of corruption brought before them in a court? We can recover all stolen monies or jail the thieves, but corruption will not end because the source from where the stolen money came from still has more money and the infrastructure for theft is still intact. So, we call fighting corruption will remain a circus that dances to a music composed by the government of the day for those who came before them. The corruption cases involving those at the top end up filed in iCloud accounts.
Second, rather than develop a vision of how to unite a diverse country like ours, those in power resorted to arbitrarily continue to balkanise the nation. We went from Regions to States, hundreds of Local government Councils and thousands of Chiefdoms, all funded from state coffers. The more the units of power are created, the more divided the nation has become as loyalties have often shifted. The result is that the centrifugal forces have continued to weaken national cohesion while creating atomised centres of peripheral power that privilege disparate entities often in conflict with the centre. This is why the elite see the centre as a domain of theft and looting for the enrichment of their peripheral fiefdoms where in return, they are rewarded as local warriors!
Third, what we call corruption is the oxygen that drives the convoluted governance system that we have come to accept. You require billions to become a President or a Governor. You require a few billions to become a Senator and a few hundreds of millions to get into the National Assembly. Why then do we expect anything different? If you arrive your destination in a stolen car, driven by a thief, what are you yourself? Does it matter whether you run for office with money from other thieves or money that you yourself have stolen? Like synchronised swimmers, you are dancing to the same music. Do you then understand why corruption is a disease that affects only other people and why it has become part of our lives?
Fourth, to be sure, every person, community or nation goes through bad and tough times. Civil or external wars are fought, diseases and violence break out, policies go wrong, individuals and groups subvert the system, bandits wreak havoc on the society and so on. However, these things may pull a country back, but it depends on the lessons to be learnt. When these set backs occur, Commissions or Committees of Inquiries are often set up so that what led to the tragedy can be found.
Recommendations are then made so that mistakes can be corrected. Sadly, in our country, daily, Commissions and Committees are set up by Federal or State Governments to examine certain disasters. Governments receive the reports amidst fanfare and that is it. Sadly, they are no more than ornaments, strategies for buying time. This deceit has become part of the broken truths that make national cohesion and illusion. We are left with no lessons to learn and thus, make the same mistakes all over again. For example, Reports on the Bay of Pigs, Watergate, the 911 tragedy, all these are now part of the studies, Student Projects, Term Papers or Ph. D theses for the leaders of tomorrow. That is how a country learns and grows.
Fifth, there is need for concerted efforts towards building a good society. Every society should have a set of values. Today, there are what you can loosely call, American or European values. Locally, you can talk of Swedish, Irish, French, or German values. These values have stood the test of time and every immigrant who wants to become a citizen must sign on to them. They are gradually embedded in the lives of all citizens. You can call them an ethos. Everyone who lives in America imbibes the spirit of freedom, they also grow to believe in the greatness of their country and their own greatness as individuals. They inculcate in all citizens the notion that you can achieve anything you want in America, but there are rules. They call it the American dream. This is founded on the 1776 Declaration of Independence which focused on the three principles of Freedom, Justice, Equality and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, what can a Nigerian hold on to as a result of being a Nigerian? It is this ethos, built around values, a Constitution and so on that make for national cohesion. Faithfully obeying them is the unbroken truth and it is the guarantee for fulfilment/happiness. In Nigeria, the absence of these is what makes us so chaotic. It is to achieve these intangible values, to freely pursue happiness within a set of rules, this is what we call, Democracy. Contrary to what our politicians think, building roads, bridges, health centres and schools are all good. You do not need Democracy to do them. Apartheid left the best infrastructure in South Africa. Colonialism left us the best Bureaucracy, Education and infrastructure. Hitler and his Nazi government left Germany the best infrastructure. So, why did the world fight against colonialism, apartheid, or Nazism? The reason is because the human spirit needs freedom and space to fulfil its dreams. We can go on and on, but let us turn to how despite all these, we can explore the road to national cohesion.
4: The Road towards National Cohesion
So, how should imperfect mortals use an imperfect system to hold together and achieve national cohesion? I propose a few ideas that are not new.
First, if we accept that Democracy is hard work on an imperfect system, then we need discipline and deep knowledge of what it is. So far, it seems that between the operators and the people, there is very little understanding of what Democracy really is. A friend of mine who had served as a two time Governor of his state told me that in his view and from interacting with his fellow Governors, barely 30% of his colleagues had an idea about what their assignments were as Governors. So, we must take very seriously the issue of the quality of people participating in this process and their pedigree.
Second, and arising from this, is the urgent need for us to create rules of engagement and a process of leadership recruitment. The literature on China, Europe and the United States of America where Democracy has matured suggests that there is no way anyone can surprise the system. In China and all these Democracies, a certain degree of learning, experience and exposure are often basic requirements. Compare that with our system where only the President or Governor knows who among his cronies will succeed them.
Third, there is the need for a system that has what I will call, for want of a better expression, some level of ambiguity, tentativeness and even uncertainty built into it. For example, one of the greatest sources of excitement for the FIFA World Cup is not so much the quality of play, though that is very important, but the uncertainty as to its final outcome. Our appetite is whetted by this uncertainty and that is why we sit glued to the screens. Today, most Coaches have learnt to respect every team, saying there are no more small teams in the World Cup. Since it follows that only the best is good enough, everyone knows that it is hard work, not luck, connection, godfather or prayer, which guarantees victory. Compare this with our Democracy in which only those in power know whom they will rig into power to cover up their soiled footsteps. Remember that General Babangida said that even though he did not know who would succeed them, he knew those who would not succeed them!
Imagine a young Nigerian seeking a job in an environment where every outcome is already predetermined. Today, recruitment and promotions in almost every spectrum of the public service under federal, state and local governments, depend on whom you know not what you know. We claim to maintain high standards while ensuring everyone gets a chance in the society, but this cannot be practiced in such a morally despicable manner as we have in Nigeria. When access to the most sensitive positions in public life is based on family connections, outright barefaced and shameless nepotism, religious and ethnic considerations, our nation is doomed. Loyalties in the security services, the bureaucracy and so on are to those who got us in, not to the nation. You can understand why the every nerve and bone of the nation is so weakened today.
Fourth, there is need for the University communities to become bastions of integrity. The University community must return to its preeminent high post of being the citadel of learning. Its prestige can only be returned if it focuses on research and academic excellence rather than being distracted by the filthy lucre of politics and intrigues from politicians. To be sure, the academia must support politics but this support must be based on its capacity to generate fresh ideas and to produce evidence based research to assist policy makers. We need to identify, recruit and retain the best. A culture of mentoring and raising the bar for intellectualism is an urgent proposition. This was the academic tradition before the military and politicians lured and lowered the bar for the primacy of academia.
Fifth, there is the dragon of corruption who has defied all the armies and the coup plots, who has subdued, converted and tamed those who set out to conquer it. As we saw in the speeches of the coup plotters, fighting corruption has become the eternal vote catcher for the Nigerian politicians and the means of validating any military coup. However, the hard and sad fact is that corruption is everywhere and, like the mark of Cain, will remain with human systems always. There is no need for grand standing about ending corruption. The immune system of a giant can withstand a mosquito bite, but not that of a child. Corruption exists everywhere in the world and sorry to say, in an invidious way, it is part and parcel what drives development. The White House, Downing Street, the Elyse Palace, Wall Street, everywhere, it lurks in the corner. It is just a question of the deodorant or pesticide that is used to control it and limit its extent and its effect.
Presidents Nixon, Hollande, Netanyahu, Zuma, the whole lot, have had to deal with corruption allegations in various ways. And the deodorant used is a functional system that works and has enough mechanisms of restraint. The strategy for fighting corruption is not erected on the altars of high moral exhortations, but on the laboratory of scientific discoveries where technology provides the structures that are no respecter of persons or classes. This is where the academic community must take the lead by massive scientific research.
Finally, to return to where we started, we have expressed concerns over the fabrication of lies and half-truths that have characterised leadership in Nigeria by way of speeches and promises. Today, this country is on a moral free fall because no institution or instrument seems to command overarching loyalty: The Constitution does not. The Courts do not. The security agencies do not. The Bureaucracy does not. Citizens do not trust their leaders to act on their behalf. What we have is a nation where institutions which command loyalty elsewhere have been reduced to empty shells. An aggregate of these doubts make national cohesion impossible and unachievable.
5: Conclusion: The Seed of the Future is You
To end, let me refer you back to the beginning of my address. You will remember I mentioned broken truths, and then lamented how the truth-tellers were withered and their vines with them. And how a professional military turned cancer and began to feast on the carcass it had made of what was its mission to protect, splintering even further notions of truth and cohesiveness. And you will remember that I adduced some steps to redressing this monstrous effect.
Only one thing is left to say: To the young women and men of the University of Jos graduating class of 2018, I would like to Congratulate every single one of you, God’s children all of you, whether male or female, Muslim or Christian, whether Berom, Anaguta, Angas, Fulani, Junkun, Igbo, Ikulu, Yoruba or any of the 500 tribes and languages in our great country. And I leave you with a question and a message:
The question is this: Who will write the truth of this great country as well as right the wrongs of its past leaders? Is it the historian or the office holder? Shall we remain trapped in the lies and half-truths and broken truths of yesterday? The writers are right here.
As for the message- you have worked hard and long and done what was required of you by the school and its administrators and that is why you are here today, dressed in gown and mortar board. You have done what is expected of you but sometimes it looks like your country and its leaders do not do what you expect of them. You believe in your hearts and minds that the future is yours, just as this country is, although they don’t act like they know it, and although you don’t act like you know it either. And so you are timid, and you whisper among yourselves, or you are excited at the passing of a “ Not too Young to Run Bill ’ which is meant for the benefits of those whose parents have stolen enough money to continue where their fathers left off? I remember the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti singing, “Human rights na my property; So therefore, you can’t dash me my property”. The freedom to participate in the affairs of your own country does not need a bill. It is the convoluted system designed by those who thrived in broken truths that turned access to power into an opaque, Delphic, oblique and mythological exercise.
But I know the future is yours, and this country also, and that is the most pertinent thing I am here to tell you today. And I know something else: The leaders of today dominated and ruled the affairs of this country in their time, and it seems that they seek to dominate and rule the affairs of this country in your time also. It seems that they have forgotten that you exist, or even that the country they supposedly serve is yours. They seem to have buried you and deprived you of a mouth, a mind and a future. The frustration of it is enough to want to swallow you whole or make you despair; but do not lose hope, and do not despair.
Decades ago, a Greek poet named Dinos Christianopoulos wrote a line, which resonates today still, and reads: “What didn’t you do to bury me, but you forgot I was a seed”. Scripture says, Unless a seed falls and dies, it cannot bear fruit (Jn.12: 24). The dead never die in vain. We the living must, by our actions and sacrifices, learn new lessons from their death and seek to create a new world. That is the tribute we, the living owe the dead.
During the First World War, 1914-1918), between 20 and 30 million lives were lost. Two years later, the world powers created the League of Nations on January 10 , 1920. The Second World War (1939-1945) claimed between 80 and 100 million people. Barely one month after it ended, precisely September 2, 1945, the United Nations was born on October 24 , 1945. By December 10 , 1948, in Paris, the world powers officially ratified the Universal Human Rights Declaration , a life changing decision that acknowledge the equality of ALL God’s children.
My dear Graduands, you are stepping into a country that is at war with itself. However, reconstructing that world is your challenge and each of you here has the right weapons to bring about that change. Your certificate is more than a thousand armoured tanks. A single one of you with a certificate is worth more than a thousand bandits, murderers, and assassins, by whatever name they are called.
Let me paraphrase some wise words I stumbled upon long time ago:
“A catapult and a stone in my hands can only frighten a little bird. But in the hands of David, it killed Goliath. It depends on whose hands it is in.”
“A tennis racquet in my hands might hit a ball across a net. But, a tennis racquet in the hands of Serena Williams is worth millions of dollars. It depends on whose hands it is in.”
“A soccer ball before me is nothing more than an inflated leather. But, in the feet of Ronaldo or Messi, it is worth millions of dollars. It depends on whose feet it is before. ”
“A certificate from the University of Jos is perhaps just a piece of paper. But with it, Yakubu Dogara is now the Speaker of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. ”
“ It depends on whose hands it is in. ”
So, my dear friends, let your certificates be your road map. With them, you can form the strongest army in the world and conquer all the herdsmen and women in the world. With it, you can defeat death and its sponsors. With your certificates, you can cross any ocean, climb any mountain and make the sky only a stepping-stone to your dreams. The future is before you, a wide, open, and limitless frontier of possibilities. Go ahead, conquer it and create a new, peaceful and just Nigeria. Fear not, the good Lord is ahead of you. Help create a new, united, just and strong Nigeria where no broken truths exist. Live your dreams and fear no one. Live the truth. God bless you.