A KEYNOTE SPEECH BY SAM NDA-ISAIAH, CHAIRMAN, LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPERS GROUP, TO THE NATIONAL LAW STUDENTS’ LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE 2017 HELD AT THE OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY, ILE IFE, ON WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2017
Thank you for inviting me. It’s always a pleasure to come to Ife.
I am not sure what qualifies me to speak to our future learned juggernauts but I will never miss an opportunity to speak to those who will lead our nation tomorrow. We may have lost our past and may be struggling with our present, but we must do all we can to not lose our future. The future is ours to keep.
The organisers of this programme wanted me to speak on media-related issues, for obvious reasons. But I am in no mood to do that today. I want to speak on a subject that is more related to you and your country at this point of your lives and our nation’s life.
A famous American President, during his equally famous inauguration speech, said “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Today I want to paraphrase that J.F. Kennedy statement by asking you, “What can you do for your country?”
Nigeria is just getting out of recession caused by long years of the gang-raping of our economy by our former leaders. Nigeria is probably the only country where the richest people are not the business people creating economic activities, but people who have had the opportunity to hold public office. Nigeria is the only oil-producing country in the world that did not make progress during the oil boom years between 2000 and 2007 when the price of oil got as high as $145 per barrel. In 1998, the oil price hovered between $10 and $15 per barrel, many times below the cost of production. But taking one administration as an example, the Obasanjo administration of 1999-2007, what do we have to show for the oil boom? Obasanjo did not revamp NEPA, he did not revamp our collapsed railways, he did not repair our refineries, much less building new ones; he did not build hospitals, he did not build roads. He spent trillions of naira to generate electricity, but nothing came out of it. All he achieved was a change of name from NEPA to PHCN. Maybe I have not looked hard enough: I will want somebody to tell me what Obasanjo achieved. Well, I remember one: he built the Abuja Stadium. If you asked Obasanjo himself, he would claim he brought the GSM to Nigeria. Even comedians won’t find that funny.
But where has all the money gone? To answer this question we would have to do an audit of the ownership of all the choice properties in Maitama and Asokoro in Abuja; Banana Island, Ikoyi and VI in Lagos; and other choice locations around the country. Obasanjo himself apparently made good. If you compared his assets and holdings on May 29, 1999, the day he took office and what these assets have become today, we would not need to ask further questions.
Obasanjo is even the better one. I’d rather not talk about President Jonathan’s tenure. But at least he achieved one big thing: he conceded defeat in an election he fought as a sitting president – the first in Nigeria’s history.
The current administration is forced to face the consequences of the cumulative theft of the common weal and the collapse of the oil market. A combination of both sent us into a recession, from which we are just recovering.
But let’s go back to my subject matter: What can you do for your country? It is commonplace to think of what the government must do for us. That’s okay. Government has its own responsibility. The first duty of government is the welfare and security of the people. Others follow. But what you can do for your country is more consequential than what your country can do for you. China is a good case study here.
The youths are the greatest resource of any country. Not their natural resources or expanse of land or the size of their defence budgets. When you visit China and watch the kind of energy, seriousness, zeal and passion that the youths put into everything they do, it will not surprise you that the Chinese economy has, within just a decade, overtaken the economies of the whole of Europe and Japan to become the second largest economy in the world. And they are on course to overtake that of the United States soon.
There is no room for excuses because things are as difficult in China as they are in Nigeria, and if you do not believe this, go and read the story of Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba.com and one of the richest men in the world today. Jack Ma failed in everything he started so much so that, if he were a Nigerian, he would have blamed his fate on the witches and stepmothers from his village. Jack Ma was such a “failure” that he once applied for a job at KFC. KFC needed to employ 23 people; 24 applied; only Jack was rejected. He applied to Harvard University 10 times and was rejected 10 times.
Today, Jack Ma’s companies contribute daily to the Chinese economy in more ways than most Chinese government agencies do.
A Chinese rich-list published by China.org.cn a few years ago contained a list of 33 Chinese under 40 years of age, with assets valued at over one billion yuan, mostly held in entertainment and information technology.
My point is that for Nigeria to escape the economic danger that is staring at us, you the youths must pick up the gauntlet. The solution lies squarely on your shoulders. Oil, which is the mainstay of our economy, clearly has no future. Apart from the fact that the Americans have messed everything up with their advancement in fracking technology and making them no longer in need of our oil, every other country in the world today now produces oil of its own in one form or the other. Add this to the fact that, in a decade, many vehicles will not be running on oil, then you will see where I am coming from.
So, what can you do for your country? The first is to be law-abiding. No drugs or hard substances, no cultism, no crime. That is the obvious first step to a prosperous future, both for you and the country.
The second would be to make sure you are diligent in your studies and become graduates. Many students want to combine studies and business. These two don’t go together. And many end up not graduating.
The third thing you can do for your country after you have graduated would be to create an economic activity. Instead of becoming seekers of good jobs, you should become employers of labour. Nigeria probably has more than 50 million unemployed youths at the moment and there are definitely no 50 million jobs to give to them. And when you graduate, you are going to add to this number. But with our population and the opportunities that the internet creates, we can create millions of small businesses in all sectors. And don’t let anyone tell you this is not possible. Always remember: the person who says it is possible and the person who says it is not possible are both right. Choose the person you want to be. I encourage all of you to become employers of labour instead of seekers of good jobs. There are many low-interest intervention funds today from the CBN, Bank of Industry and Bank of Agriculture that are not being sufficiently used. Nobody promises you that life is going to be easy. But always remember it is possible. Most of the impossible things of yesterday are now being done. Imagine the kind of economic activities that would be generated with 50 million new jobs in the next five years. Imagine the cumulative effect of that on the Nigerian state. Our country would become one of the richest countries in the world.
The fourth thing you can do for your country is get interested in the political process. It is a misnomer to declare that you are not interested in politics, as we see several of our youths say these days. The consequence of that kind of attitude is clear already. See the kind of people that you have ruling you. You must get interested in politics and get involved in the quality of leaders that you will hand over your fates to. The fact that you are not interested in politics does not mean that politics is not interested in you. Be a member of a political party, become a delegate and make sure that riffraff and thieves do not take over the country. And be bold. Contest for seats in the Houses of Assembly, House of Reps, Senate and executive offices.
The fifth thing you can do for your country is speak positively about your country. You should have a stake in the wellbeing, unity and prosperity of the country. Never say negative things about your country. And anybody who wants to leave Nigeria or secede should come for a sendoff party so they could leave Nigeria for us. The rest of us are here to stay.
These are just a few things you can do for your country to make it the greatest country in the world. The best time to have started all these was a generation ago. But we missed that. The next best time to start is today; now!