"The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be a source of pride and confidence".
- Nelson Mandela
The above quote by Nelson Mandela is conspicuously displayed on the third page of Initiative for Dialogue & Development's (IDD) brochure. SoapboxNG was launched in Abuja by IDD in Abuja on 28th September, 2017. IDD is a non-governmental, non-partisan, non-religious organisation that seeks to create an inclusive and positive citizen engagement. Other programmes of IDD include the Student Internship Programme (SIP) - a national initiative designed to groom a replacement generation of nationalists and YX - a youth platform for inclusiveness and exchange of ideas.
The theme of the maiden edition of the IDD dialogue series was 'Re-inventing our nationhood'. There were participants from the academia, civil society, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Secondary school students, Professional bodies, etc. The Chairman was General Yakubu Gowon, former Head of State. The Guests of Honour were:
*Dr. Christopher Kolade - Nigeria's fmr. High Commissioner to the UK
*Alhaji Balarabe Musa (absent with apology) - Second Republic Governor of Kaduna State
*Prof. Anya O. Anya, NNOM - Fellow/V.P. of the Nigerian Academy of Science
The Lead Speakers were:
*Prof. Jerry Gana - Fmr. Minister of Information
*Nze Fidelis Chukwu - Politician
*Engr. Buba Galadima - Politician
*Ms. Ann-Kio Briggs - Human Rights/Environmental Activist
*Prof. Adebayo Williams - Scholar/Journalist/Novelist
Gen. Gowon's desire for Nigeria is a united country where citizens have concern for one another and the youths are adequately provided for. For Prof. Anya, the main attribute of a nation is a governing elite that shares similar values with the populace. Nigeria needs to 'harvest' her cultural diversity positively. 'We do not need our present generation of truant leaders who do not provide viable models for youths to emulate'. It is out of 'elder-ship' the fruit of nationhood can be harvested. In the Throne Room, God seats on the throne, but He is surrounded by 24 elders. That's why elders have a role to play in Nigeria.
Dr. Christopher Kolade said it is not an accident that we are all Nigerians. God gave Adam and Eve a place to live in (Eden). If they had kept to God's instructions, they would have remained in Eden - in peace and harmony. But they reneged on their promise to be of good behaviour while obeying Almighty Father. This analogy is applicable to Nigeria. We should note that justice is germane to peaceful co-existence. Nigeria was here before anyone of us, and will remain after us. Let's make a positive impact while we are here.
Then the Soapbox was unveiled by Dame Virginia Ngozi Etiaba, the very first female Governor in Nigeria (Anambra state). Prof. Adebayo Williams was happy about the unveiling of SoapboxNG on the eve of Nigeria's 57th independence anniversary. Williams recommends as follows:
*There should be structural un-bundling of an over-burdened centre.
*Strategic national dialogue by leaders of thought with a timeline for producing a document.
*With about 70% of the population below the age of 30years, there should be a consultative forum for youths to to find out what they really want/need.
* There should be a Commission for vertical and horizontal integration (VHI) in Nigeria.
In my intervention, I asked Prof. Williams what he meant by VHI. He said that HI is integration between and among contiguous entities/groups in the society like gender, disabled, ethnic nationalities, professions. Vertical integration is more difficult because it is across classes. 'Migration' from one class to the other is an uphill task in every society because the upper/elite class would do anything to keep the lower classes out. Quality education could however come to the rescue of citizens who wish to improve their lot by moving up the 'class ladder'.
Prof. Jerry Gana was worried about the following issues:
*Making our brand of federalism less centralised.
*Devolution of powers.
*Good governance. Gana advised citizens not to sell their votes.
*Focus on people's welfare and security because no Nigerian is more important than the other.
Ms. Ann-Kio Briggs wants government to review the reports of various panels/dialogue(s) with a view to implementing viable aspects of same. She also said that we need a 'constitution that is fair to all Nigerians'. Nze Fidelis noted that the amalgamation of 1914 was merely a 'merger' of north and south Nigeria and not a 'harmonisation' of the living conditions of the people of the north and south through their language, religion, economy, politics and social life. He noted that the dividends of democracy are not equivalent to corruption.
Prof. Dakas Dakas, SAN and Fmr. Attorney-General/Commissioner for Justice Plateau state was particularly impressed by the composition of the youth ambassadors chosen from various Secondary schools in Nigeria by IDD. He was delighted that more than half of the youth ambassadors are female. Dakas said that communities develop more not by virtue of their wealth, but by the wealth of their virtue.
Comrade Ibu Chukwu Ezike, Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), noted that IPOB is not the first Igbo militant group, MASSOB preceded it. Dr. Bashir Yusuf Mundi, MD, Altair Consult, Abuja was of the opinion that Nigeria's unity is negotiable. The believes the legislature has a key role to play in the process of restructuring.
Engr. Buba Galadima, a politician, said that 'all those crying marginalisation/restructuring want a Nigeria that favours their part of the country more than other regions'. He says we should be 'dispassionate' if we are sincere that we want a re-structured Nigeria.
For me, it was Daniel Akinyiwola, one of the youth ambassadors, and a student of Aquinas College, Akure, Ondo state, who was the star of the event with his inspiring poem titled: 'My Fatherland'. Here's an abridged version of the poem, though as a feminist, I would have preferred 'My Motherland' as the title of the poem (lol!):
Nigeria my fatherland,
A country fully bestowed with grace and splendour,
Like locust on a wild mission.
Its fortunes are depleted by the very people meant to sustain same.
Victors are now living like slaves.
What can the contribution of a mere mortal amount to
As regards keeping the economy afloat?
This is a clarion call to all...
North, South, East and West
Our culture might differ,
But the good Lord created us to live together.
Youths of Nigeria,
Shall we eat the National Cake or bake it?
Shall we create a Nigeria that promotes its vast potential?
These questions are my starting point in creating a 'prosperity plan'...
Let's transform the nation by making development sustainable.
It was indeed an impressive maiden outing for IDD.