Annual Apostles In The Marketplace Dinner

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To Build The New Nigeria We Need A New Tribe



Let me begin by thanking our colleagues in the leadership of the Apostles in the Market Place, for the great honour and privilege of being invited to speak at this anniversary dinner of the AiMP. The Apostles in the Market Place was founded, on the incredibly insightful idea, of making change agents remain one of the most important thought leaders in the quest for national rebirth. We are of course being modest when we say AiMP is merely one of the most important thought leaders. The truth is that it is the most important, being as its ideas are founded on teachings of  the greatest change agent in Mankind’s history, the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church, which Paul described simply as the “Pillar and the Foundation of Truth.”

In terms of sheer focus, it is unlikely that any other group has examined and taught the theory and praxis of leadership with such profundity and through the contributions of such a diverse and talented faculty, as has the AiMP.

I, as many seated here today, have participated as facilitators or contributors to many of these inspired meetings. But somehow, it appears that one of the primary objects of our purpose as a group, our nation, especially the leadership of our nation, often seems to miss our voice at critical turning points in its history.  But we are not without a distinguished and revered company.

The first Apostles of Jesus Christ at some point in their evolution seemed to have been that way too. Despite all the seminars with the “fountain of knowledge,” they still missed the important moment of change. The good news though, was that there was a second chance after the resurrection.

Why did the Apostles miss the moment? Because they had a stereotype of the change they had been promised. The arrest, humiliation, and killing of Christ did not seem like the triumph of good over evil that they had expected. Certainly, it was far away from the Kingdom El Dorado of their imaginations.  The other reason was that they missed the point, they did not realize that they were the change agents that had been prepared through the many workshops with Jesus and that they were to influence their generation until the return of Christ. Indeed before the crucifixion, we are told that all the Apostles- to-be, forsook Christ, and immediately after the crucifixion, Peter told the others that he was returning to his profession. A man like Nathaniel typified the ethnic biases of some of that company, when in answer to the call to meet Jesus Christ of Nazareth of whom the prophets had spoken, responded famously: “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

It seems to me then, that a problem of change agents is that they frequently fail to realize, that they are in fact change agents, and so often, miss the moment or season of change.

The paradoxical story of our nation’s overwhelming human and natural resources and its underwhelming performance in providing a decent quality of life for most of its citizens is well known. We are familiar with all the statistics. We have interrogated those issues very clearly and proffered solutions at various AiMP sessions. We recognized that new leadership had to emerge, capable of taking head-on, the main problems that undermine inclusive growth and prosperity, the most devastating of which is systemic corruption. It would, of course, be good if one of us somehow found his way high enough to more effectively influence that change. We encouraged our members to join political groups and parties and be change agents there.

In one of the most unlikely scenarios, one of us, namely myself, was nominated as Vice Presidential candidate in the main opposition party. It would have seemed like a great opportunity for change agents (and as if to remind us that maybe the time we had been talking about had come, the party’s slogan was even “Change”!). But then as is always the case, when any kind of real change is to occur, there is a quirk. Something that may not quite fit our template. This time it was that the Presidential candidate was a Muslim.

Without much analysis, the ruling party’s divisive rhetoric gained ground and prevailed for a while. This was not about removing a corrupt regime that had compromised the national wealth and territorial integrity in enormous theft of public resources. It was a Christian versus Muslim battle.

To add color, the foreign press was fed the Muslim North and Southern Christian narrative. Ethnic sentiments were fanned, this was the Christian North, and the Christian South, battling the Muslim North and the Muslim South. Leaders of the church led the cry of an Islamization agenda. Boko Haram they argued, was actually the opposition’s ploy to undermine a Christian President, etc.

In the contrived confusion, the change agents maintained deafening silence. I was not even asked whether I thought this was an opportunity worth taking or how this could be the chance to change our nation for good.

The template just seemed wrong. From then, all we heard were prophecies. As it turned out, the people did not believe the rhetoric. For the first time after three previous attempts, Candidate Buhari won or gave a competitive showing in almost all the Christian dominated North Central States.

My thesis this evening is A NEW TRIBE. It is my view that the Nigerian elite, political, business and religious, regardless of ethnicity think alike, and are driven by largely similar motivations. The elite is self-centered, selfish and unprepared to make the sacrifices either in service or self-constraint that leaders of successful communities must make. Playing the religious card, or the ethnic card, when necessary, to get the masses in line, is the grossly cynical default tactic of our elite. However, the most poignant point to note is that when you look at any list of alleged perpetrators of a heinous case of corruption, all tribes, ethnicities, and religions are well represented.

In other words, high-level corruption knows no religion or ethnicity.  (Neither, by the way, is extreme poverty parochial in its incidence). The conspirators include Christians and Muslims from all the geopolitical zones. They are in governments, the legislature, the judiciary, and the press.  They are united, they protect each other, they fight for each other and they are prepared to go down together. They are one tribe, indivisible regardless of diversity. It is this tribe that confuse the arguments for change in society.

It is my respectful submission, that to build the new Nigeria, we need a new tribe. A tribe of men and women of all faiths, tribe, and ethnicities committed to a country run on high values of integrity, hard work, justice and love of country. A tribe of men and women who are prepared to make the sacrifices and self-constraints, that are crucial to building a strong society. Who are prepared to stick together, fight corruption side by side, and insist on justice even where our friends are at the receiving end. A tribe consisting of professionals, businessmen, politicians, religious leaders and all others who believe that this new Nigeria is possible.

I have had several long discussions with President Buhari, the key issue always is finding the right persons for any task.

A tough task indeed in a corrupted system. By that, I mean one where the norm isn’t corrupt behavior across all arms of the formal systems of governance. In such a system the private sector is a strong collaborator. The fight against corruption is then a fight against the system. The result is that the system can hardly deliver public goods. How many new roads has the Federal government of Nigeria managed to build in 10 years? Where have the billions of dollars in the days of the 100dollar oil gone? The shocking thefts of funds meant to procure arms to defend the nation demonstrate the moral ambivalence that pervades our systems. That system needs to be dismantled if the nation is to progress. Nigeria’s greatest battle is the one to bring integrity and accountability to public service and the private sector. This requires a new way of thinking, a new leadership corp, a new tribe.

The challenge today for us all, friends and colleagues, is to populate that new tribe. Thanks very much for your attention.











"The elite is self-centred, selfish and unprepared to make the sacrifices either in service or self-constraint that leaders of successful communities must make. Playing the religious card, or the ethnic card, when necessary, to get the masses in line, is the grossly cynical default tactic of our elite. However, the most poignant point to note is that when you look at any list of alleged perpetrators of a heinous case of corruption, all tribes, ethnicities and religions are well represented."