“When some Nigerians were executed in Indonesia yesterday, and I started reading about their ordeal, I stumbled on the picture of one of those who were killed last year. I was shocked to discover I had met him before in Mali during one of my efforts to cross into Europe in 1994. His name is Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise although we knew him back then as SON. He was a footballer, working in an Indian shop and playing for an unregistered football club at Mopti. I am not saying he was innocent because I do not know the fact of his case but I am just very sad to see him among those who were executed. My fear is that, going by what I witnessed in those places, some of those killed might actually be innocent of the offence for which they were charged, especially knowing those people hardly provide interpreter in the course of their interrogation. Once you are arrested, you are deemed guilty and only God can help you. I feel very sad and since there are still several Nigerians on death row in many of these countries, going by the report, if there is anything in your power to help get the authorities to assist them, please do it, Sir.”
I got the foregoing mail about three weeks ago from my younger brother who I spoke about in my Platform Nigeria lecture on 1st October last year titled “If we stay here we die”. It is one of those tragedies of our country where many young men and women believe the only way to make it in life is to travel outside the country. Incidentally, following the feedback I received after that presentation and the interest shown by many Nigerians in the story, I encouraged my brother to write on his experience. He sent me the draft about four months ago and not only do I find the story gripping, I believe the authorities will have to do something to discourage the dangerous mindset that is pushing many of our young men and women into suicide missions on the erroneous belief that the grass is greener on the other side.
I know things are hard in our country today but if we must be honest, this particular problem predates the current challenge we face as a nation and it will take concerted efforts to address. Ever since I can remember, I have always encountered young men and women who, when asked what their ambition was, would say “I want to travel out”. There is no career prospect or profession in mind, the ambition is just to cross to Europe, America or Asia on the assumption that once they did, their problems would be solved. That is the mindset that is driving many to their death on the Mediterranean Sea or becoming prostitutes in Europe.
However, the challenge that we face in our country today, especially regarding our young people is beyond what government alone can handle. It would take each one of us helping to sensitise them that there is no shortcut to success and that they must take responsibility for their future. It is also important to inspire in them the hope that no matter how tough the situation may seem, they can still reach their goals.
That was the essence of the Teens Career Conference held last Saturday in my church for which we had the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele; the former Chairperson, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and current chair of the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, Mrs. Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru; the Director General of PenCom, Mrs. Chinelo Anohu-Amazu; ace comedian, Mr. Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere (aka Ali Baba) and Pastor Eva Azodoh, a medical doctor (consultant urologist) and retired colonel of the Nigerian Army.
In his statement read by Mrs Sarah Alade, CBN Deputy Governor who represented him, Emefiele counseled the teenagers on the virtue of hard work and dedication to their studies. “When I look back at some of my peers in school who focused on other things besides hard work and dedication to excellence, I see a different turn in their life cycle relative to mine. For this and many other reasons, I remain eternally grateful to God and my parents for the principles they imparted in me”, said Emefiele.
Interested readers will find Emefiele’s speech on my web portal, olusegunadeniyi.com along with seven new offerings from the past. Meanwhile, in the course of fielding questions last Saturday, Mrs Alade challenged the teenagers to always go the extra mile. “Think outside the box. Surround yourself with people who will add value to your life by lifting you up rather than those who will bring you down”, Mrs Alade admonished.
Second to speak was the PenCom DG, Anohu-Amazu, who began by posing a question to the audience: “How many of the things you are doing now can fit into what you will do in ten years time?” Then she told a story of what inspired that question. She said in her first encounter with the current Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, then the Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), he asked her: “Where do you see yourself in ten years time?” But before she could respond, el-Rufai added: “Don’t reply me now, go and think deeply about it.”
In the interactive session that followed her presentation, Anohu-Amazu told the teenagers: “Making money is good. But if your only goal in life is just to make money, you will end up with a miserable life.” She also reminded them of what they need to do to succeed. “You must not settle for being average and please remember, if your work is good, it will speak for you”.
Mrs Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru, who came with her husband, adopted a different format by posing questions to each of the participants and using their responses to drive home her message. To the charge that there are no jobs, she said it is something she hears all the time. “Yes, many young people moan that there are no jobs, but what they mean is there are no government or bank or oil company jobs. But I am also aware that where some people see problems, that is where others see opportunities”, she said as she challenged them to be more creative.
For a man used to sending people to roaring laughter, Ali Baba took the topic literally and delivered his message in a manner that would convince the children that life indeed is not a laughing matter. Aside telling his personal story, Ali Baba also reminded the teenagers of the reasons why they must work, the first one being: “To put food on your table because if you are jobless, you are helpless.”
Finally, the host of the event, Pastor Evaristus Azodoh, spoke about choices. He enjoined the teenagers to take responsibilities for their lives, the same line of argument by my boss, Ms Elizabeth Ekpenyong, Head of the Children Church, in her opening remark. And at the end, the teenagers spoke freely while two of them rendered poems. It was altogether a fun programme for which some parents brought their children from Niger, Nasarawa and Plateau States.
While we will soon upload online some of the key highlights, we are open to discussions from media/youth organizations on how we can make the audio-visual contents available to as many of young Nigerians as possible. It will be of immense benefit to them. But before I continue, I must express my appreciation to the four speakers who did not even hesitate to accept the invitation the moment I contacted them. I also thank the Chairman of UBA, Mr. Tony Elumelu; Group Managing Director of Sahara Energy, Mr Tonye Cole; Legal Practitioner, Mr. Sunday Ameh, SAN, (whose daughter, Mariam, inspired the idea); AIT Chairman, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi and Mr. Tony Akiotu; NTA Director of News, Mr. Sola Atere as well as several others who provided support for the successful hosting of the conference.
However, as good as such sessions are, dealing with the challenge of youth unemployment or lack of opportunities for self-advancement would require more than moral suasion. There are too many complex issues of governance and economic management involved because we cannot ask young kids to think outside the box while government is not doing any thinking even inside the boxes it built by itself. What is being done to make agriculture attractive to youth? What about access to credit, value re-orientation etc. And then, why does the president keep dictating fiscal and monetary policies through his views on the economy and exchange rate?
Just recently, the National Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) and the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), the two largest arms of the organised Private Sector in the country, urged the federal government to consider tax reduction to save the economy from further decline. They also argued against the plan by the federal government to increase Value Added Tax (VAT). When you add that to the new interest rate of 26 per cent minimum, scarcity of forex to procure raw materials and machinery parts by factories, you get a picture of an environment that is not business friendly.
Even before Feyi Fayehinmi, the only credible “Finance Minister” known to a vast majority of our young people on social media, released his latest bombshell on the “Change” he supported to power, many had been worried about the disposition of this government towards business. First, at a time banks were laying off staff and you expect government to ask what the challenges were/are, all we heard were threats that their licences would be revoked. It was that same mindset that led to another threat by the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe on a fertilizer company which got the ire of Aguntasolo. That also accounted for why the FIRS could on Monday seal up four big companies for defaulting in tax payments, at about the same time the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) was sealing the warehouses of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (NAHCo Aviance) and the Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) over alleged stolen donkey skins from Kenya.
Under a democratic dispensation when ordinarily you would expect discussions and negotiations to resolve issues, it is all about force and threats and because of that, businesses that are employing thousands of people are now being shut down either in the name of revenue drive or fighting corruption. In May, the Bayelsa government sealed a gas plant operated by Shell in Yenagoa over breach of development control levies and last week threatened to seal the premises of other oil companies and oil servicing companies should they default in their tax obligations to the state. In June, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike threatened to revoke the certificate of occupancy of Agip Oil Company “if Agip continued to act against the security of the state” (whatever that means).
In a country where doing business has in recent years become more a gamble than risk (you generate your own electricity, dig boreholes to provide your own water etc), business owners are now being practically criminalized at a time we should be wooing them. Today, many Nigerians of means would rather put their money inside overhead or underground tanks (going by the tales we are being told) rather than invest in businesses. Such is the toxic nature of the investment climate in our country at a most desperate season. Everybody is talking tough and in the process making it look as if it is an offence to do business in Nigeria.
That now leads me to the question I believe President Muhammadu Buhari should be asking himself in the light of the economic challenges we are facing in the country today and the choices being made by government officials at all levels: What am I chasing? Put more differently: What are my priorities? The inspiration for that question comes from a Whatsapp message I received last week which I found very instructive. Yes, it is good to fight corruption, indiscipline and all that. But at the end of the day, how those policies impact on the welfare of the people is what would ultimately count. So, here goes the story:
“It was evening time and a man was walking home with his son. They were crossing the street when his wallet dropped. While he stopped to pick it, the little boy ran across the street. A car that was coming knocked the little boy down but instead of stopping the driver sped off. The father stood there shouting at the driver and screaming at him to stop and strangely when that failed, he started chasing after the car. He stopped a motor bike and got on it knowing the car would have to stop by all means at the police barrier which was ahead. He urged the motorcycle rider to speed up and to catch up with the car.
“Truly they met up with the driver at the police barrier, where the driver had stopped and gone in to the small office to report himself. The father came into the office and started slapping the driver before the police could hold him. The driver was just pleading that he was sorry and that he did not see the little boy and that because he was afraid that people around could lynch him, he had sped off to the police.
“The police asked the father where his son was and he told them the boy was at the accident site. The police asked if the little boy had died instantly and the father said he did not know. The police personnel were shocked that the father had thought it was more important to catch a culprit than to see to the life of his son. They got back in the driver’s car and drove off to the accident site but the boy was not there. Some people around there said a car had picked up the boy and sent him towards the hospital. At the hospital the doctors examined the little boy and did all they could and at the end they declared that had he been brought a little bit earlier the boy could have lived…”
The moral of the story is how some people pursue vengeance at the expense of restoration and the consequences that come with such a choice. While the authorities are ever quick to take action against corruption, especially those that had to do with how the 2015 presidential election was funded by the defeated Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with dirty money, the economy is going down by the day. Besides, even some policy options designed to ensure transparency and accountability are implemented in manners that may not be very helpful to the system. For instance, the idea behind the Treasury Single Account (TSA) is good but of what use is money that is practically locked out of the banking system and is not working for the people?
This is not to suggest that fighting corruption is wrong – far from it. But it has to be done in such a manner that in trying to solve a problem, we do not create bigger ones. As things stands today in Nigeria, we need the private sector very badly. Yet business cannot thrive in an atmosphere of intimidation of the very people whose confidence you need to secure. To unleash the creative energies of our people, including of Nigerian youth, we have to make the environment very friendly for business. The president has to realize that and he must send the message down. As nostalgic as excavating WAI and all that may be, it will not solve the problem of hunger and deprivation in the land nor would it offer succour to the thousands of our young people who, in desperation, are embarking on what is fast becoming a journey to perdition on the Mediterranean Sea.
OJ Abuah: A Tragic Loss
When I got an SMS from a State House staff on Sunday afternoon with a terse message, “afternoon Sir, we just lost Mr. Abuah”, I nearly froze. When I called the person and she was crying, I also could not hold back my tears. Presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina could not have put it any better, when, in announcing the death of Mr. Onuorah Justin Abuah, known simply as OJ, he wrote: “His many colleagues, friends and admirers will fondly remember him as the man behind several presidential statements and speeches; and he demonstrated a rare sense of calmness and candour in service”.
With 30 years working experience in public communications at Nigeria’s seat of power, OJ, who died on Sunday at age 57, had considerable expertise in writing, editing and information management. He also had requisite managerial skills and experience from several years of assisting in the running of the State House Media Department, managing the over 100 strong State House Press Corps and serving as a member of the State House Top Management Committee.
The late OJ read Mass Communications at the University of Lagos and graduated in 1981. After completing his NYSC primary assignment at Radio Kwara, Ilorin where he worked as a writer, News & Current Affairs Department, he joined the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in 1983 as a Reporter/Sub-Editor, before he was posted to the State House in December 1986 as a Senior Information Officer. He would later rise through the ranks (Principal Information Officer, Assistant Chief Information Officer, Chief Information Officer, Assistant Director, Deputy Director) until he became the Director of Information in January 2014, all in the office of spokesman to Nigerian leader.
In working under eight leaders of our country (former and current), OJ assisted 12 spokespersons: Chief Duro Onabule, Mallam Mohammed Haruna, Mr Emma Agu, Chief David Attah, Dr. Doyin Okupe, the late Mr Tunji Oseni, Mrs Remi Oyo (also now of blessed memory), this reporter (Olusegun Adeniyi), Mr. Emma Niboro, Dr Reuben Abati and Mr. Adesina/Mallam Garba Shehu. And I doubt if any of us can have a bad word to say about OJ. He was a thoroughbred professional and a good man.
My own case was peculiar. I had a special relationship with OJ dating back to the early nineties when I was a State House Correspondent during the military era and he took me like a younger brother. A very reserved man with an incredible sense of humour, especially when among people he trusted, OJ had given me a “present” on my first day as presidential spokesman in June 2007. He handed back to me my old (1992) State House Correspondent ID Card. It was OJ’s way of reminding me where I was coming from so that I would not get carried away. Despite that, he did not only give me the respect my office deserved, he was also very supportive of me throughout my stint at the Villa.
I pray God to grant his lovely wife and three brilliant sons the fortitude to bear this painful loss.