ACCEPTANCE SPEECH BY ALHAJI (DR) IBRAHIM AHMADU COOMASSIE GCON, NPM, psc (+), mni ON THE CONFERMENT OF HONORARY DOCTOR OF PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION (DPA) BY THE UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA DURING THE 45TH CONVOCATION CEREMONIES, ON SATURDAY 20TH FEBRUARY 2016 AT NSUKKA
When I received the hint that the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was considering me for the award of Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) Honoris Causa, my initial reaction was that of astonishment. In a country of close to 200 million people, there are quite literally an uncountable number of people who are eminently more qualified for the honour than I am. However, when I received a letter confirming the offer and signed personally by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Benjamin Ozumba, I was highly elated.
To be conferred with an honorary degree by a distinguished university such as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is a rare honour. The University of Nigeria is the second university to be established in Nigeria with its origins dating as far back as 1955. It has grown famous as a pace-setter in academic pursuits, in its willingness to embrace change, in its disposition to make innovations and in its patriotic worldview. The UNN is miles ahead of many of its peers in the achievements that really count. To be considered and recognised by this eminent institution is certainly one of the happiest events in my life.
Beyond the Vice-Chancellor is, of course, the Chairman and members of the university’s governing council, members of the Senate and many others who played important roles in arriving at the decision to bestow on me this exceptional honour. To all of you I say thank you.
All of us who have benefitted from this great citadel of knowledge must give thanks to Almighty God and all those who worked hard and tirelessly to build the university to its present position. We must never forget that UNN is the outcome of those bold and ambitious efforts of Nigeria’s founding fathers personified by the Right Honourable Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, the last Governor-General and the first President of Nigeria. Their struggles and pains of yesterday have produced the sweet fruits that we are eating today. It is therefore incumbent on us on this special day, and all days like this, to give thanks to their sweat, pains and sacrifices. We too should ponder how we can contribute our quota to earn the gratitude of our children and our children’s children.
This leads me to a few additional remarks that I wish to make with your kind permission, Mr Chancellor and the distinguished members of this convocation. These remarks relate to the call for the breakup of Nigeria and, specifically, the formation of the Sovereign State of Biafra as is being agitated for. Mr Chancellor, as the Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), it would be remiss of me to be in this audience and fail to explain why we have remained unapologetic advocates of the continued unity, harmony and corporate existence of Nigeria.
Comments such as – ‘What is the point of keeping the country together when it’s clearly not working? or Only the northern elites want one Nigeria and that’s because their region lacks natural resources while there is plenty of oil in the south or If Yugoslavia and Sudan can break up, then why can’t we?’ – have become commonplace these days. The sum total of the arguments for the breakup of Nigeria is that one group has marginalised and dominated the other groups. What is particularly disturbing about these agitations is not just the threat to break away, but the promise to plunge the whole country into another round of violent civil strife. Youths are being mobilised and called to arms. They are taught to hate and despise other groups within the union. There are times that I have been greeted with comments like this: “The north is a burden on Nigeria; it is why Nigeria is not working. Break up Nigeria, remove the North and see Nigeria prosper”.
Mr Chancellor, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, pardon my bluntness. While I am not trying to put any one on the spot, you will agree with me that these allegations have been around for many years. Yet, like all allegations made by angry people, they are often long on emotions and short on logic.
The problem of Nigeria has nothing to do with its size, diversity or the attempt by any group to marginalise other nationalities. As was succinctly put by the late great literary giant, Chinua Achebe, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership.” This same view has been echoed by another patriotic Nigerian, Chief Sunday Awoniyi (of blessed memory) when he explained it in the following words:
“We (Nigerian leaders) have become greedier and less willing to share. We have become more acquisitive and eager to amass wealth in a hurry. We have become less generous and less caring of the less fortunate. We are less thorough in the performance of our task and are more willing to tolerate shoddy work. Our concept of public office has changed from service to the public to service to oneself in the form of undisguised looting of public assets for private benefits”.
Without a doubt, given all the facts, most Nigerians will step back from the agitation for the breakup of the country. For one thing, we have paid a heavy price fighting a bloody Civil War in which over a million people lost their lives. Even a bitter enemy of Nigeria would not wish that we go through that experience ever again. The lessons of history are clear on the violence that always attended the process of breaking up a country. There are many examples such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, the old Yugoslavia and most recently Sudan and South Sudan. Indeed, since the breakup of the former, the newly formed South Sudan has been consumed in a new wave of internecine conflict.
Mr Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen since May 29th, 2015 when a new government was sworn into office, the spate of revelations detailing the orgy of looting that has characterised the Nigerian state is frightening. Elected office holders and other government functionaries had virtually turned public funds into personal property. Public service was virtually non-existent. There was no security and only skeletal social services were being offered. Most Nigerians discovered that the government had practically abandoned its most basic function of protecting the lives of her citizens and securing their property because funds earmarked for that purpose have been spirited away into private accounts of politicians and their cronies. This, more than any other thing, lends credence to the fact that the problem of Nigeria is that of leadership.
It is therefore very crucial that before we embark on any critical decision-making as it affects our future, we should ponder on the ramifications of such decisions. Nigeria is a country made up of thirty-six (36) semi-autonomous states and seven hundred and seventy four (774) local governments. All incomes accruing to the Federal government are shared between the three tiers of government based on a sharing formula enshrined in our constitution. Note that the monthly allocation of a single state in the Niger-Delta is more than that of six northern states put together. Again, my attention was drawn to the fact that in allocation for capital projects in this year’s budget the South-West and the South-South under a ‘northern presidency’ have more than the three northern zones combined. Yet, no one is crying of marginalisation.
From 1999 when democratic governance was restored to today, trillions of naira has poured into these states and local governments from the federation account. Is it rational and justifiable for any section of the country to claim discrimination or marginalisation, under the circumstance? If no developments have taken place in my state or local government shouldn’t I first of all query those running the affairs of my state or local government?
We, at Arewa Consultative Forum had long ago realised that unless and until we have credible leadership in Nigeria, the issue of meaningful development, peaceful and harmonious co-existence between Nigerians will continue to elude us. One of the principal goals we set for ourselves is to build bridges between the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. We have reached out to the Yoruba Elders Forum (Afenefere), the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the South-South Peoples Association as well as the leaders of Itsekiri and Urhobo peoples and Nigerians in Diaspora. We will not relent until we extend the hand of friendship and cooperation across all Nigerian nationalities.
I think I have to make it clear that despite everything I have said so far, I am not about to give Nigeria a clean bill of health. Nigeria badly needs help. Indeed, there is no way of exaggerating the near total state of hopelessness Nigerians feel. Yet, if there will be a big and strong country to be inherited by our children, we cannot afford to despair. We must work to pull Nigeria out of the depth of iniquity into which it has sunk. We must re-establish norms of behaviour and performance in public life below which no one is allowed to fall – and still remain in the public service. The business of the government and all public officers must be that of working for the greatest good of the country and its people.
With these as the agenda, we dare to hope for progress with the election of Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria last year. It is said that the quality of a leader is reflected in the standard he sets for himself. This is especially true of President Muhammadu Buhari, who I happen to know from childhood, having been together in the same class right from primary school. The Buhari I know has the character, discipline and determination to achieve any goal he sets for himself, no matter how daunting the task. It is our hope and prayer that President Buhari, with the help of God and the support of Nigerians, shall check and rid this much abused country of the pandemic of corruption, indiscipline and selfishness; the diseases that had rendered all previous governments irrelevant. Perhaps one sure way of going about this is to spearhead the move to amend the vexatious clause in the Nigerian constitution which gives certain elected public holders immunity from prosecution while in office. The cover should not extend to criminal offences.
President Muhammadu Buhari is no miracle worker, as he himself has admitted, but with the enthusiastic support and cooperation of all Nigerians, especially the youths, who should have no difficulties embracing positive change, we are today poised to witness extraordinary reconstruction of Nigeria.
If there is any doubting Thomas among us here and is having difficulties believing what is being said about our President, I will advise him to pay a visit to Aso Villa to the President’s office and behold the conspicuous billboard hanging on the wall with the following inscriptions: “Unless we kill corruption, corruption will kill us”.
Finally, on behalf of His Royal Highness the Obi of Onitsha and myself, we thank the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, for honouring us today. I pledge that we shall be good ambassadors of this institution at all times.
Mr Chancellor, fellow compatriots, I thank you very much for your patience. I leave you with this last request: let’s not kill Nigeria. Let’s kill only that which is killing Nigeria.
Alhaji (Dr) Ibrahim Ahmadu Coomassie GCON, NPM, psc (+), mni Sardaunan Katsina/Garkuwan Hausa is the Chairman NEC Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF)