By Ikechukwu Amaechi
THE lecture theatre was filled to capacity as the audience was full of excitement. This was the second annual lecture of TheNiche newspaper, held on October 15 at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Victoria Island, Lagos. The NIIA also hosted the inaugural lecture last year.
This year, the guest lecturer was Professor Anya O. Anya, chartered biologist, Fellow and former Vice President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Fellow of the Institute of Biology of the United Kingdom, Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London, Fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, former President, Union of African Biologists, Nigerian National Order of Merit, NNOM, awardee and former Director General of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG
The chairman was Dr. Christopher Kolade, accomplished diplomat, boardroom giant and academic, former Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, former Chief Executive and Chairman of Cadbury Nigeria, and former Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
So, from the get-go, expectation was very high.
Anya, a transcendental intellectual influence, is one of Nigeria’s finest scholars. Despite his awe-inspiring accomplishments in the field of natural science, he is also at home in every other academic field. His knowledge of Nigeria, its politics, failures and triumphs, is encyclopedic.
But that is not all. We also tapped another eminent Nigerian, His Majesty Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha, to add royalty to the lecture. The three men have several things in common.
They are acclaimed intellectuals, boardroom pundits and patriots, whose faith in the Nigerian dream is unwavering.
Achebe, popularly called Agbogidi, is Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, alumnus of both Stanford and Columbia Universities, who attended the maiden senior executive course of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru.
Like Kolade, he is also a boardroom guru. Besides his long and distinguished career with oil multinational, Royal Dutch Shell, he is the Chairman of the board of directors of Unilever Nigeria, and Chairman of International Breweries, Nigeria.
With the lecture theme: “Business and Accountable Governance in Nigeria, the Obligations of Leadership,” our expectation when we tapped these distinguished Nigerians was that Kolade’s analytical mind and Achebe’s perspicacity will gel with Anya’s erudition to create an environment for a healthy debate by professionals – scholars, experts, and stakeholders in the Nigerian project – who came in their droves from all works of life. Did TheNiche succeed in its mission? The jury is still out. But one thing is not in doubt: Anya didn’t disappoint. The standing ovation at the end of his lecture proved that he delivered on his mandate.
Nigeria is in dire straits, he moaned from the outset, saying: “This is not an auspicious time to be asked to give a talk on any aspect of our national life.
“On a regular day we may find seven to eight separate stories on any page of any of the national newspapers and all stories would all be negative – filled with bizarre stories of piracy, insurrection, militancy, armed robbery, kidnapping, electronic manipulation, fraud and all kinds of weird stories of sexual malfeasance.”
When the difficulty of holding a civilised discussion on any issue of national importance or interest is thrown into the apocalyptic mix, the situation becomes even more bizarre.
Anya said Nigeria’s parlous condition paints the picture of a country “in a permanent state of moral and socio-pathologic malaise that has become endemic and has defied diagnosis.”
Nigeria is currently enmeshed in a multi-dimensional crisis, he lamented. “We are in a political, social, economic and moral crisis,” with the populace being “allergic to the truth and addicted to falsehood,” he added, quoting Cardinal Okogie.
This verdict may seem harsh. In fact, those who claim to be more patriotic than the rest of us will most likely dismiss it as a classical example of the paranoia which they insist has taken hold of a segment of the Nigerian society.
But Anya is not given to showboating and does not play to the gallery. So, when such a man makes such weighty assertions, those in leadership positions, and indeed, all Nigerians who care about the survivability of the country, should listen. Nigeria is at an inflection point.
And to those who may still be in doubt as to how precarious the situation is, Anya broke it down for them.
“With regard to the economy we are faced with two fundamental obstacles: while our economy is growing at the miserly rate of two per cent, our population is growing currently at 3.8 per cent, nearly double the economic rate of growth.
“So, there is a fundamental dissonance between our demography and our economy.
“Additionally, the Debt Management Office, DMO, tells us that our debt as of 2015 was a little over N12 trillion but is now over N25 trillion as of 2019. In other words, we have borrowed in three years more than we borrowed in 30 years previously! “Much of the extra loans have been applied to recurrent expenditure given that most state governments could not even pay salaries. Indeed it has been alleged that we spend 60-70 per cent of our total earnings in servicing debts i.e. paying interests (not re-paying loans).
“In spite of these, the fact is that the normal metrics of economics continue southward – unemployment, inflation, productivity are not giving us cheering news either.
“The empanelling of an Economic Advisory Council is a step in the right direction but we must remind ourselves that these brilliant and eminent economists are no magicians. We must face the gravity of our current situation.”
But more frightening is the social anomie. “The social crisis is as frightening as the economic crisis with tales of banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping, insurrection, militancy and the rampaging herdsmen. It would often seem as if the apocalypse has arrived,” Anya said.
When countries are at the crossroads of history as Nigeria is right now, what is needed is not a windbag of a leadership, too scared to dare but those who are conscious and also accept, in fact, embrace the responsibility and obligations of leadership.
Anya made the point most poignantly.
“The lesson is that it is possible to rechart a new course and there are Nigerians who have the capacity to steer us away from the brink if we are prepared to mobilise our best and brightest in a new challenge to rebuild and restore the dream of Nigeria.”
His optimism is not idle speculation. It is moored to some observable realities.
“What gives me confidence that we can face the new challenge to rebuild a new Nigeria are two facts of our present reality – as difficult as the circumstances are, our youths are doing fantastic things: unremarked and uncelebrated.
“Beyond the hordes of the unemployed and the uneducated are also battalions of brilliant men and women who do the unexpected that often challenge their peers in other nations …. The politics and economics of the new era need a new culture that sprouts from a new mindset of the leaders.” Anya said the current situation was beyond the political elite – “beyond the capacity of the APC as a party and government … beyond the capacity of the PDP or indeed any of the multitude of parties.”
What is required, therefore, is mobilisation of Nigerians beyond political parties, ethnicities, and other diversities that sorely limit our current situation. For those scared of revolution, Anya said this mobilisation will be through non-violent communication.
He beckoned the “wise elders”, “insightful statesmen”, and the “brilliant and industrious youth who are prepared to rebuild from the foundations,” to put their hands on the plow.
Yet, the elephant in the room remains the leadership. A leadership that blows with the wind such as we have today cannot do the heavy lifting required for a new Nigeria.
Anya agrees and talked about the uncomfortable truth, that “no one who has participated in the politics of Nigeria in the last 30 years should be allowed to participate any further in the politics that hopefully will usher in the new Nigeria going forward.”
The reactions the lecture generated indicate that many Nigerians – across many age stratifications – agree with that postulation.
The corollary which those afraid of being in the crosshairs of government are afraid to say is that a man of President Muhammadu Buhari’s unflattering capabilities, who lacks the leadership gumption, the get-up-and-go spirit, and the nous, cannot nudge Nigeria in the direction of our collective dream.