Of Atiku and Other Deservationists

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    In the bid for the 2019 presidency, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his supporters have created an English word that does not exist and gone ahead to define it. In strategic places on the streets of Abuja, there are billboards bearing the campaign photograph of Atiku with the bold inscription ‘Deservation!’ and the rider: ‘Project 774 for Atiku 2019’.

    Curious as to what the word means within the context of Atiku’s aspiration to be president of Nigeria, I decided to do a Google search which took me directly to the website of ‘Atiku Deservation Movement: Project 774 for Atiku 2019’. While I enjoin readers to peruse the statement titled ‘Foundations of the Dream’, this line captures the essence of Atiku’s ‘Deservation’ dream: “He is believed to be one of the most deserving to lead Nigeria at this auspicious time in its history. So, Deservation connotes deserving to be crowned as the President of Nigeria…”

    Yes, I am one of those who believe that in terms of experience and exposure, Atiku is perhaps the most prepared of all the aspirants for the number one job in the country today. But to suggest that he deserves “to be crowned as the president of Nigeria” is to completely miss the point. When leaders give more importance to what they believe they are entitled to rather than what they have to offer the society, there is a problem. Sadly, that state of mind explains our woes in Nigeria because the primary motivation of those who aspire for public office is more about what they should get rather than what they ought to give.

    This culture of ‘Deservation’, which simply means that Nigerians owe Atiku the 2019 presidency, is one that denies taking responsibility, breeds inept and self-serving leadership and ultimately creates excuses for failure. Besides, leaders with a ‘Deservation’ mentality are good only at playing the victim and when their manipulation fails, as it most often does, they become desperate and toxic. We do not have to look very far to see all that in our country today, from Abuja to the 36 states, including where some “uncommon defectors” now boast publicly that they would deploy (Adolf) Hitler tactics to win the next election for their party.

    For those who may still not understand the ‘Deservation’ mentality, they need only to pay attention to what is happening in Oyo State. In 2016, Governor Abiola Ajimobi visited the ‘Music House’ of popular musician, Yinka Ayefele in Ibadan where he made a confession: “When we contested the first election and won, a lot (of people) told us to demolish the radio station because your programmes and broadcasts are against my government. Your boss, Yinka Ayefele, was also using songs to insult us. I didn’t see any reason why I should demolish the studio. If Ayefele is not for us today, he (will) support us later in future. Ayefele is beside me now and I pray the business will keep flourishing. Without any equivocation, I must confess that this radio station is the best in Oyo State”

    Since the “future support” by the “best radio station” has failed to materialise, Ajimobi last Sunday sent bulldozers to pull down the premises hosting Fresh FM in deference to the advice he got from his supporters two years ago. And it did not matter that an investment worth hundreds of millions was destroyed in the process. That is the full meaning of ‘Deservation’ as most Nigerian public officials abuse their powers to deal with anybody who as much as challenge their excesses or seek to hold them to account.

    As we therefore approach the 2019 general election, we must make it clear that the only thing that can untangle the multitude of problems we face in the country is for our politicians to be humble enough to admit that Nigeria has given them so much for so little contributions. Because, let’s face it, the distribution of opportunities in our country is not necessarily about merit, especially for those who are in strategic leadership positions, it is about other considerations. For that reason, those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit, to borrow from the eternal wisdom of Chinua Achebe, should not insult our collective intelligence with their ‘Deservation’ agenda.

    Unfortunately, the culture of ‘Deservation’ is now so pervasive that in Kano, the incumbent governor has decreed that his predecessor cannot campaign for the presidency in the state he governed for eight years. In Imo, the incumbent says only his son-in-law can succeed him. In many states of the country today, even the payment of salaries to government workers is now hailed as a big achievement for which governors now erect huge bill boards in the spirit of ‘Deservation’. To worsen matters, there are no debates going on anywhere about the challenges facing the country or how to proffer solutions at practically all levels of governance with the capacity to lead Nigeria now equated with the ability to walk 800 metres unaided.

    Meanwhile, in most advanced democracies, politicians spend at least 18 months on the campaign train during which they sell their ideas and have their temperament tested. The essence of the marathon exercise (during which the aspirants move from one town to another) is to subject the candidates to real scrutiny by the people they intend to lead (and in the process weed out the unworthy). But here, all it takes to aspire for office is for just about anybody to register their own political party and print some glossy posters where they make some outlandish promises they have no intention of ever fulfilling.

    To come back to Atiku, I hope his handlers realize the potential danger of their choice of the ‘Deservation’ campaign slogan which echoes both a sense of entitlement as well as an offensive condescension. If his ambition to be president of Nigeria is therefore because he wants to offer service to a nation that has evidently given him so much, and not because we owe him our votes, then somebody should have the common sense and decency to remove the pompous billboards that dot some street corners in Abuja.

    20 Years for Just 115 Seconds

    Jamaican athlete, Usain Bolt won nine gold medals in three consecutive Olympic Games, amassing stupendous fame and fortunes in the process. Yet, the entire time he spent on the track to win those medals at the finals of three Olympics was no more than 115 seconds. But behind those 115 seconds that catapulted Bolt to sports immortality were about 20 years of hard work and rigorous preparations.

    That was how the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara simplified the message for the teenagers who attended the 2018 edition of the RCCG TEAP Teens Career Conference last Saturday. To succeed, Dogara told the hundreds of teenagers who were at the session, they must imbibe the virtues of hard work, self-discipline and sacrifice. Above all, they must also develop their character.

    On his part, the Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Mr Robert Young advised his audience to read books. According to Young, the only way by which dreams could be inspired, nurtured and actualised is by reading widely. In an age when teenagers spend most of their free time on mobile phones and social media, that is instructive. Borrowing from ‘How will you measure your life’, an article by Harvard Professor Clayton M. Christensen, Young asked the teenagers to ponder three questions: What are you going to do in your life to be happy? How are you going to ensure that your relationships are a continual source of happiness? And lastly, how can you stay out of jail?

    In her presentation, the Executive Vice Chairman of Famfa Oil, Mrs Folorunsho Alakija defined dream as a cherished aspiration and an imagination of that which one would wish to happen. She then identified three categories of dreamers. The first are the wishful dreamers otherwise called day dreamers–people who indulge themselves in mere fantasy. The second are the night dreamers who sleep and remember that something that does not necessarily bear any semblance to the reality of their existence happened in their subconscious. Mrs Alakija then focused on the last category, comprising action dreamers. These are people who stretch their horizon beyond every conceivable limitation. They are most often considered unrealistic, eccentric or erratic but they know where they are going and nothing would stop them from reaching their goals.

    Citing her 12-year legal battle with the federal government over OPL 216, Mrs Alakija said a certain level of tenacity is needed for those who dream big. “Dreams motivate, inspire and improve us. Dreams are important because without them, life would be meaningless”, she said before admonishing that for dreams to be actualised, they must be S.M.A.R.T: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.

    In his intervention, Japheth Omojuwa posed several questions but the most profound was asking the teenagers why is it that the man who expend so much energy, digging everywhere in the process of constructing a road, would end up earning only a small fraction of what another man, sitting in a nice office somewhere earns because he designed the road? The difference of course is knowledge.

    From the breakout session for three groups of about 250 each where the discussions were lively and frank to the presentations by the invited guests, we had a successful conference. That much was reflected in the feedback forms submitted by the teenagers last Saturday. I therefore thank Speaker Dogara enough for honouring us with his presence and staying to the end. Perhaps the person I need to commend is his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Turaki Hassan, an unassuming young man and thoroughbred professional who– unlike many of the spokesmen we have around that behave more like errand boys–has the authority of his rank. When I sounded him out that I would like the speaker to attend the programme, he simply replied: “He is your friend so he will come, just do me a formal letter to him.” I took Turaki’s word for it and never had any contact with Dogara throughout yet the speaker made himself available last Saturday for almost four hours.

    I also thank Mr Young of EU office in Abuja who I practically conscripted a few days to the conference and he also stayed till the end. My aburo, Japheth, who arrived Nigeria around noon last Saturday missed the allotted time for his session but he agreed to come back the next day to speak at the Sunday morning service in the Teens church. Surprisingly, many of the teenagers who attended the previous day still turned up to their delight.

    However, it is Mrs Alakija that I owe the biggest gratitude. All I did was Google her company’s address, DHL a letter of invitation where I introduced myself and then asked whether she would agree to speak at the conference. About two weeks later, her office got back to me to accept the invitation. I met her in person for the first time last Saturday at the airport where I received her and the large entourage numbering about 20. Of course, they came in her private jet!

    Why what Mrs Alakija did is significant is because most prominent Nigerians have not imbibed the virtue of giving their time to mentor others as they consider themselves too big to do that. I am on the governing board of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship instituted by the Kaduna State Government. After drawing up a list for the Speaker Series (successful people who will come and share their experiences with the Fellows) expected to run throughout the calendar year, it was reported that only the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, has responded positively while some said they would send representation, an idea that we rejected outright.

    It is sad that philanthropy for most prominent Nigerians does not go beyond dolling out some miserable cash, mostly at public events where they expect generous publicity. Yet, real philanthropy is creating time to share ideas, especially with young people who have no means to pay back. That is why I consider what Mrs Alakija did worthwhile and we need more of such civic engagements from people like her if this society is to develop and thrive.

    Meanwhile, to successfully host the conference where everything is free with snack-break and lunch afterwards, I also called on a few public-spirited individuals for financial support and they responded. My appreciation goes to all of them. The idea of the conference was borne by the need to bring together teenagers to listen to expert advice on career choices in today’s dynamic and challenging world. The objectives include teaching the teenagers to take responsibility for their future; having their imaginations fired through interaction with accomplished professionals in the society; making them to realise that no matter the odds, they can reach their goals and finally, letting them know that God still intervenes in the affairs of men.

    However, aside my leader, Ms Elizabeth Ekpenyong, a meticulous event planner whose uncommon attention to details helped in making the conference a success, the overall credit goes to my pastor, Eva Azodoh, a retired colonel and medical doctor who, in his closing remarks, admonished the teenagers to make wise plans concerning their future and formulate the necessary steps that would help them in achieving their dreams.

    Ayisha Goes to Dakar
    Although I don’t know how they play the game called ‘Dominoes’, it was nonetheless fun a few weeks ago when I joined Jackie Farris and four other mutual friends at the residence of Ayisha Osori for the first in a series of send-forth ceremonies before she leaves for Dakar, Senegal. And while love may still not be enough to win elections in Nigeria, talented people will always be sought out for important positions on the global stage. Last week, the Open Society Foundations formally announced Ayisha’s appointment as the Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) with the office based in Dakar.

    A lawyer, writer and development consultant whose engagements have traversed both the public and private sectors in Nigeria, Ayisha resumes her appointment with considerable experience and exposure. An Eisenhower Fellow who holds law degrees from both the University of Lagos and Harvard Law School, as well as a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School, Ayisha has consulted for the World Bank, UNICEF and the Department of International Development on a wide range of issues, including projects on good governance, gender equality and women’s economic and political empowerment.

    Meanwhile, OSIWA, which has helped to deepen the capacity of civil society, improve transparency and public service delivery while promoting good governance across the world, works in Benin Republic, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Senegal within the sub-region that Ayisha will oversee. But she begins her new role with a deep knowledge of the organisation, having served as board chair for the past three years.

    I wish Ayisha all the best in her new assignment.

    • You can follow me on my Twitter handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com