Speech delivered by Chief Arthur Mbanefo
Two years ago when Vanguard Group decided to launch this project, the Vanguard Personality of the Year Award, its proprietor, Chief Sam Amuka, an old friend of mine decided to visit and invite me to be the chairman of the event; an honour he no doubt believed as an old and trusted friend who should be relied upon to be obliging to a friend, no matter what.
Sam was visibily offended when I courteously declined his invitation. My reason was that I did not share his views regarding some individuals that share his views regarding some individuals that were being considered for such prestigious honour.
He seemed more offended and upset when his counter argument meant to convince me did not move me to change my mind. Sam literally walked out on me, angry and disappointed.
A few days ago, Friday 11 January, 2019, to be exact, Sam sent me an SMS and I quote: “Greetings Dear Arthur, just cant get you, please call back, Uncle Same.”
I knew he must have been calling me before 12 noon. I never told him that I do not open my phones before 12 noon and 1 pm at the earliest, on any given day.
I called him and he told me that his colleagues at the Vanguard want him to talk again with me and so he wants to come and see me. I asked him when, and he asked if he could come quickly right away. I said ok. Sam arrived at my home barely 2 hours after we spoke, no doubt apprehensive as to what my response will be this time around.
Sam, I wish to say to you and your friends at the Vanguard, that your persistence and candour truly humbled me.
I want to publicly acknowledge and thank you for the privilege and honour you have done to me by asking me to chair the event tonight. I and hugely humbled and I thank you.
Usually, occasions such as this would offer a chairman opportunity to share some important thoughts with those who have been lucky to be selected to be honoured.
But first of all, let me most warmly congratulate all you who have been chosen as honorees tonight. Well done. I wish you well.
The awardees tonight comprise an excellent mix of men and women cutting across the best and the desirable in the Nigerian society.
Above all, they are all leaders in their respective fields of endeavour.
Once again, please accept my congratulations.
Now, what should I share with you tonight as my most important concern? I have given deep thought to this question and so bear with me as I try to expouse same to you.
There is no doubt that our dear country Nigeria is facing a welter of challenges, particularly now that we are heading into the general election in a few weeks time. Some of our difficulties have been pushed to the fore front particularly by politicians seeking office.
For some odd reasons, we seem to be rapidly losing all the developmental gains we made since independence and immediately after the civil war; notably between the mid 70’s and the 1980s.
We have, openly acknowledged that we are facing serious challenges as a country. In most cases, some have been threatening the foundation of our precariously balanced federation.
Our political economy is hardly working; our education system is obviously not meeting its objectives; our healthcare delivery system is deplorable; our neglected water and food security threaten our future as a people; our physical infrastructure is broken; our ability energy sufficiently has overwhelmed our collective imagination. I can go on and on.
In short Nigeria is not working. Period.
An editorial in one of Nigeria’s leading newspapers on Thursday 13 July 2017 captured our present situation and I quote: “ It is clear for all to see, except the federal and state governments who have often seen the Nigerian federal system designed for inter-elite settlement and fiefdoms of control, that Nigeria’s expensive but broken federal structure is buckling and things are gradually falling apart.”
The rest of the world has called us corrupt. They have described us as a people lacking focus and unclear as to what our needs as a nation are or should be.
There are very serious and damning charges. The question is: what are we doing about it? How much condemnation do we require to make us decide as citizens of one country to start holding among ourselves civil conversations that will lead to finding appropriate solutions to our brokenness?
Nigerians are basically not corrupt. They just lack the basic quality of integrity; inability to speak the truth always, no matter what and be willing to accept genuine and constructive criticism instead of operating constantly in a state of self denial.
Now, here is my pitch.
I know that you are being honoured for the significant contributions you have made so far, but I know you can all do more to truly make a difference.
Some of you in my age bracket would say that they have already done a lot. To them, I will recommend the saying in the book of Proverbs: “Old men see visions and young men dream dreams.”
It is in our hands to amend the brokenness of Nigeria and make it work again.
Your mentees are looking up to you for practical leadership. So ask yourself tonight: how can I make a difference? Remember, to whom much is given, much is expected. Thank you and enjoy the evening.