Change is possible only if every Nigerian takes responsibility for their actions and the consequences of their inaction, former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Frank Nweke II, said in Lagos on Thursday.

He made the declaration while delivering a lecture entitled: “The State of the Nation: Redefining Our Values’’ as part of activities marking the 71st birthday of Bishop Mike Okonkwo.

Mike Okonkwo is the Presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM).

In the lecture, the 13th in the series, Nweke II, said taking responsibility for an action or inaction must start from the family unit before going to the community stage and consequently the national arena.

He also suggested ways to redefine the values of Nigeria as a nation.

An excerpt of the transcript of his speech reads:

On the matter of redefining our values, we must go back to first principles and that is the unadulterated fulfillment of our roles as parents. We must nurture our children in every sense of the word and pay attention to their welfare as well as their physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

How about the state? Does the state have a role to play? Absolutely, the state has a very important role to play as outlined under the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy in chapter 2 of the Nigerian constitution.

A critical aspect of the role of the state is of course creating an environment conducive for all persons to achieve their full potential, maintenance of law and order and the protection of the lives and property of citizens.

I would like to argue that the role of parents in the upbringing of children and for the orderly conduct of society is accentuated by the difficulty that the state has in reigning in renegades, militants and insurgents who threaten our sovereignty.

These groups of people have been largely successful because parents and society appear to have failed them. They largely do not know better. You may have observed that the greater majority of recruits and partakers in the unwholesome acts of lawlessness in our society are barely literate.

If we therefore wish to redefine our values as a collective, then as I said at the National Conference in 2014… “we must mobilize a national consensus on a national development philosophy. It is such a philosophy that will underpin our socio-economic policies and development.

We must be clear what we want as a people? What are our national ethos? What are our irreducible national development priorities, irrespective of party or government? What is our place in the world today? Where do we want to be in a time specific future following a clear time line?

It is such a clear development philosophy cognizant of the importance of leadership as distinct from political authority that will guide the role and place of both leaders and followers as they evolve and march along in our polity as partners and joint heirs in Nigeria’s development.

It is this philosophy that will help or enable our leaders understand the spiritual burden they bear as leaders and the cosmic responsibility imposed on them to cater to the nearly 200million people created by the almighty God in a country called Nigeria, situated on the west coast of the continent of Africa. It is such a philosophy that will also enable citizens to learn that leadership and followership is shared responsibility but more importantly that political authority is only exercised on trust for the people. Sovereignty will always reside with the people.

Let us check and see that all through human history, the greatest progress, in different countries, has been achieved under the guidance of leaders who have a deep sense of personal awareness about their reason for being, a keen sense of foresight and great personal discipline and appreciation of the transient nature of human existence. These leaders were intellectually and spiritually endowed and they understood nature’s law of karma. There are consequences for every action or inaction!

As a boy, I saw the seeds of Boko Haram sown. As I was driven to school every morning between 1976 and 1977, I saw children of all ages underneath shades provided by the branches of Neem (Dogonyaro) trees which lined most of the streets of Maiduguri. They had adult tutors who supposedly taught them the Koran. As my siblings and I passed by, we were usually fascinated by the musical and almost hypnotic repetition of the verses.

On our return journey later in the day, they would have relocated to the various intersections on our way home with bowls begging for alms. It didn’t matter what time of the day or what season of the year it was, they were usually barely clothed. In the evenings when we would go off to St Patrick’s Cathedral Church in Maiduguri for catechism, they were back under the shades to receive their own ‘catechism’. We now know what kind of catechism those children received.

Today, we have Boko Haram, an extreme aversion to western learning and civilization. There is the scourge of militancy, kidnapping and other forms of security breaches in other parts of the country. But in our fear and indignation, let us step back for a moment. Could all of these have been pre-empted, I asked?

Let us take it that the insurgents do not know better, hence the insurgency against the state. Does the abdication of parental responsibility that allowed those who sired those children to throw them out on the streets suggest that those parents knew better or now do so? How have governments and society held those parents accountable? How do we intend to ensure that we pre-empt the emergence of successor generations of insurgents?

Does the absence of a coherent social policy by successive governments at both federal and state levels suggest they knew better? Does the continuing absence of such policies even now suggest we now know better?

Does the ongoing stealing at every level of our governance system suggest we know better? Does the increasing allocations to security and the escalating conflict situation suggest that we know better? I leave you to provide the answers.

During the same periods, the ‘big men’ from those parts of the country returned home at the weekends from their plum jobs in Lagos and subsequently Abuja to offer them sadaka on Fridays. Feed them they did, educate them they did not! The better and more sustainable choice is clear today!

The men and women who sired those kids failed them. The state failed them. I make no excuse for insurgency of any kind by any group in any part of our country. I condemn the destruction of human lives and property in every part of Nigeria and indeed any part of the world. But, it is what you sow that you reap. I know this but I didn’t say it. The bible says so and I believe the bible because it is the basis of my Christian faith.

I support a political and economic system that will devolve power to the regions on mutually agreeable terms. This will lead to greater accountability and faster economic development. I support a decentralized police system that will empower the security architecture of the states to respond faster and better to the realities of our security situation today. I support the entrenchment of a system that will place a higher premium on citizenship rather than indigeneship.

As a beneficiary of a unity college education, I believe that I am well placed to canvass the benefits of a pan-Nigerian exposure and outlook. That singular opportunity and foundation in life from 1977-1982, exposed me to some of the finest individuals that Nigeria has ever nurtured. They are citizens of Nigeria whose backgrounds span the North, South, East and West. The five years we spent together in college in our childhood years, tutored under the same roof, subject to the same standards, rules and regulations was an immersion in cultural diversity and a rare opportunity to learn respect for individual differences and world-view.

The unity school idea to assemble young Nigerians, chosen through a merit based system, from all over the country, consciously placing these children outside their own regions, is one of the best thought out and most pragmatic policy initiatives ever to come out of Nigeria’s bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, most of these have changed, our beloved unity colleges have deteriorated in standards and quality and reduced to community colleges, which serve mostly their so-called catchment area in which it is located.

The National Youth Service Corp, NYSC, was also instituted to inculcate a sense of responsibility and service to nation and to similarly promote national unity. Even this is no longer what it used to be anymore.

Babatunde and Ibrahim, Bassey and Okechukwu, Amina and Belema, Yetunde and Adanma are less likely to take up arms against each other than those who didn’t have a chance to learn each other’s way of life as these others did, as children.

The lessons and bonds that were formed between and amongst us as children remain with us and continues to serve as a cohesive force for mutual cooperation, respect for individual differences and the promotion of national unity, something our country is in desperate need of, at this time.

I spent over 20 years in Maiduguri but had to go home to Enugu to become Chief of Staff to a Governor and subsequently, ministerial nominee from Enugu state. We must spare our children this burden if we are committed to building a truly united country.

Author: Yemi Olarinre