Book Presentation Speech - Bringing down this house, in Vienna Austria on 10 December 2008
by Patrick Odionikhere
Good evening, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Sorry that we are starting 30minutes late. Well, I still expect the officials of the Nigerian embassy. Nevertheless, I am deeply honoured that all invitees have responded to my request. I welcome all of you to this public presentation of my book: bringing down this house. Today is remarkable for me in that, it has not only transposed me from the essayist to an author, but also from the unknown private person to a public person of necessity. Years ago, I could not have imagined that a moment like this would come in view of my beginning; because, I remembered entering Austria desperate, foolish and hungry. However, over the years I developed and defined myself. Even so, I think my biggest endowment was being able to think ahead and my focus. Equally, I realised the value of real education as a weapon of power, social change and responsibility. This empowered me to seek the truth and the essence of life. I couldn’t be happier than in this critical moment in Nigeria’s history for choosing the path of public duty of necessity to engage the bandit of individuals who call themselves political elites that are determined to turn Nigeria into a bankrupt and lawless state.
That small ideas have developed into a book has a history. I had thought that after leaving university that I was done with essay writing, which was an integral part of academic life. Unfortunately, life outside made me understood that my university education was simply useless if I could not use the information acquired to engage critical issues that affect the society; and not just for the pursuit of economic interest only. So, I became conscious of myself and followed any issue with keen interest. Initially, I did not consider taking on those whom I disagreed with even where I had a contrary view. Until one day when I read an article written by Professor Sagay on Nigeriaworld.com. The essay was titled Re: International law, governor Alamieyeseigha and sovereign immunity by alias Joe Washington. It was meant to shed light on the question of immunity in international law and a case for Mr Alamieyesegha; a former governor of Bayelsa state Nigeria, who jumped bail in 2005 from a London prison while standing trial for corruption on the UK’s proceeds of crime act 2002. After reading the essay, I had no choice but to engage him in an intellectual discourse with the view of elucidating the understanding of some core issues. The rejoinder I wrote on his essay generated some positive responses from readers that I became hungry for my pen for more critical writings. All of which were published by Nigeria’s online news media, which were already mentioned by the moderator and so, there is no point repeating them. However, the joy of feeling good afterwards made it difficult to stop writing even though it was having a negative effect on the quality of time for my family. At the same time, the internal pressure within me meant also that I had a limited option - follow your writing or remain in permanent captivity. That Wole Soyinka referred to as ‘’the deceptive silence of stolen voices” at a public speech to mark the 70 th birthday anniversary of Chukwuemeka Anyaoku, former commonwealth secretary general on 17 January 2003. Therefore, this book emerged as a natural consequence to reach a wider audience in dealing with those issues that are central to my ideals and struggle.
Much more for you to understand my mission requires us to examine some critical contemporary issues: For over one-and-a-half year running, a new man has been handed to rule Nigeria and yet, the country seems to be like it has no leader. You do not need to look far to see that Nigeria and its people are sick. For this reason our people accept anything like fools and the few Bushmen who call themselves political elite are taking a ride on us. We are easily fooled around hence President Yar’Adua, the man who took over from the evil Obasanjo has started with his so-called seven point agenda of: power and energy, food security, wealth creation, transport sector, land reforms, security and education. The same slough like his predecessor’s NEEDS programme, which was used in rewarding Obasanjo’s boys and for robbing our national assets to set Nigeria downhill. Our people are again deceived with another scam of seven point agenda. If you come to look at it critically, you feel sorry for our ordinary people and angry at its leaders. Otherwise, how could this be called an agenda and making news; needles the public finances that are wasted on Television advert in propagating the fraud? By the time you read my book, you will come to understand why we haven’t been able to produce a people’s leader; but our people’s enemy.
A critical look at the agenda, which has become a national anthem for public officials, should indeed not be making news. Since they ought to be seen as a must do necessities, which any responsive government should routinely implement as a purpose of governance. That we have professors and intellectuals who reminisces the nonsense is itself the problem with Nigeria. Otherwise, they ought to be alarming Nigerians and tell the President that our people need ideological focus now and not kitchen room policies. Our people look for leaders who can concept Nigeria along the tenets of intergenerational trust equity (make Nigeria better than they received), government’s social contract with its people to mitigate corruption, hardship and social cohesion; policy of national reconciliation to heal the politics of division that have seen our country fall into two halves – one in the past and the other seeking modernity. Nobody would have thought that we would so work against ourselves to vitiate the essence of self-rule.
The so-called seven point agenda are no novelty, it is a thing we have heard from our past leaders; yet, Nigeria and its people are worst off at the end of each regime. While the politicians and their cronies swim in wealth with our stolen resources. The cheaters are rewarded, while critics are blackmailed and hunted down. Why should anyone trust Yar’Adua bearing in mind how power politics are played out in Nigeria? We ought not to be complacent of the fact that President Yar’Adua does not carry the mandate of our people no matter the judicial certification of his supposed victory? So, how can he work for the good of our people? Remember, that those who do not forge root in the people will never understand their worries to defend their welfare. Yar’Adua has a mission to fulfil for those that trusted him with power like his predecessors. His kitchen policies so far point Nigeria in the wrong direction. Despite the fact that some of us disagreed with some of ex-President Obasanjo’s neo-liberal economic policies, I think the reversal or the pedal back policy of this regime is more dangerous. Nigeria cannot afford to live in the past where policies were pursued along ethnic sentiment rather than on national interest. Nigeria should not become another Zimbabwe to pursue a policy of economic annihilation, which neither serves our country nor the interest of a specific group. That a president comes from a particular geo-political zone should not give room for rewarding only the people from that zone with all the juicy federal appointments in overt disregard of federal character (affirmative action) defined in the constitution, which is meant to strengthen the unity of the people of Nigeria.
Again, if Mr President understands his so-called servant-and-leader’s code, he won’t be taking a different door from the people he pretends to lead. It cannot be right that there is so much secrecy about the state of his health even though the taxpayers have a legitimate expectation to know the true state of affairs. We have seen what manipulation has inflicted on Nigeria. We need an open government and a leader that understands the essence of governance. Our nation needs a healthy president because this is a difficult time; when the business of governance requires a president of a sound mind to tackle the challenges that our nation face. Inasmuch as we empathise with Mr President and continuing to wish him good health, it is a national tragedy and outrage that our President is resorting to foreign hospitals for treatment. If Mr President knows what leadership is about, then, he must understand what patriotism means. I am sure the behaviour of our president would have since generated uproar in the civilised world; and a call for him to quit. Whereas in Nigeria nobody will dare as it will come to a war between the political divide as if it is not an issue that affect all Nigerians. Can this happen in Austria that government officials or its president going abroad for overseas treatment without any political repercussion? This has been dealt with in the book. We want a president who has a good sense of judgement and knows how to protect our national interest and not those of his friends and their selfish interests. It is time our people know who is paying for our president’s medical bills since his ailment did not begin on assumption of office. Because, what is good for Mr President is equally good for all Nigerians, requires him to ensure that all Nigerians have the same access to first class medical treatment. Until this is done, there is the need to question his readiness to lead and puts doubt on his understanding of the word – servant and leader. Or else, we will declare him an enemy and the revolt.
A deep appraisal of President Yar’Adua’s policies would remind us that Nigeria has gone three steps backward. Many of us may have had quarrel with Mr Ribadu’s EFCC but not the way the present regime has gone in pursuing a personal score with Mr Ribadu. If we compare what has become of Mr President’s EFCC, you feel angry. How can we be fighting corruption when the culprits are the ones dictating the terms of justice? It is no surprise that all the various probes of the national parliament have deadlocked and corruption and treasury looting still on the rise. Yet, Mr Yar’Adua believes that his government is serious about ending corruption even though none of those caught so far have been prosecuted or convicted. How long will the EFCC and the courts need to get those that were indicted and charged to face the supreme price of their corrupt deeds? Until we get these bandits who have plundered our commonwealth behind bars and their loots seized or forfeited, so that there are no more incentives for unjust enrichment or corruption, I fear the danger that awaits Nigeria and its people.
I cannot understand the argument for the retention of immunity clause in our constitution since we have seen its impact on the war on corruption. I think, those who are against its removal are our enemies; as the fear of bogus accusation and the suppose time of defending any allegation are insufficient reasons to give blanket cover for office-holders to hold our people to hostage. After all, if they could find time going to court to defend their political mandate, so where is the problem, that challenging corruption allegation should be exempted? Whereas, governors or the president should be able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously; even then, they do not necessarily have to appear in person throughout the process as it can be handled by their lawyers. We cannot expect from those who benefit from immunity to be responsible if you have a law that gives them the license to behave like Bushmen and have seen how their predecessors are dictating the terms of justice.
How does President Yar’Adua want to achieve vision 2020 when no new radical approach has been applied to tackle corruption, decaying public institutions – civil service, the police, schools, colleges and universities and public infrastructures? How can Nigeria develop when a part of it, is still in the past and dragging the rest down? That Nigeria is in a mess is because the wrong people have taken charge to deprive our nation of its proper place in replicating the China of Africa. An exemplification of how a dedicated, pragmatic and patriotic leadership could impact on a nation’s growth. No wonder that China has joined the league of super-powers and racing to the top so that it can assert its influence for the interest of its people. Whereas, Nigeria shrunk from its pre-developing status to its underdevelopment fall. Who would have thought that Nigerians will be seeking economic asylum in Ghana, today. When in 1983, the then military government of Buhari rather than vexing our economic turmoil on Shagari’s corrupt regime took the fight on poor Ghanians who bore no part in our nation’s economic miseries. Yet, it waged the rage against migrants from our poor neighbouring countries, who were no enemies but became victims of mass expulsion propaganda of the political elite. If we put it into historical perspective, then, the South Africa rage in 2008 could be justified. Even though, most of us would agree that it was a shame that should never had happened in the continent of Africa. Even so, the West and China are still Africa’s biggest threat and to Nigeria in particular because of its natural resources. The international conspiracy to rob Nigeria of its oil rich Bakassi Peninsular can’t be forgotten. I am not in doubt that there are enemies within; who are on sabotage mission with exterior forces and exacerbating the Niger Delta crisis for their selfish economic interests like in the Congo. Since, oil wealth is the only thing, which is holding the artificial unity of Nigeria. This is why it is urgent that we sort our internal political affairs through our own sacrifice so that those who represent us outside will carry our mandate to protect our national interest.
More troubling is the utterance of the PDP chairman, Mr Ogbulafor that his party will rule Nigeria for another sixty years. Yes, he might be right since elections in Nigeria are merely symbolic. Equally, it is unlikely that he is indirectly telling us when the ‘one Nigeria’ would end; as it has been forecasted that our oil might last for the next 43 years according to its estimated reserve. We have causes to worry even though most of the current political elites including Mr Ogbulafor may not live to see the outcome of their work in progress. To be honest, I doubt whether Nigeria in its current state can survive another 10 years; and unless, the next general election reflects the will of the people of Nigeria. Even then, lets assume it is only hypothetical, has PDP earned our honour to stay in power for as long as its members would wish? I don’t think so. I guess this would have been unpalatable for the Ambassador to hear if he was here but I would have told him to take my words to those who have your ear; to make it clear to them that Nigeria has reached the boiling point for them to change their heart. Or else they will face our wrath.
The reason to blame only the executive organ of government for all the woes that faces Nigeria is borne from the fact that all policies of governance emanate from it even though we know that the other governmental organs and agencies are partners in crime. Yet, nobody seems to point the touch light to other sides. I am sure those of us who have been following the news have reasons to be angry that our parliamentarians are our worst enemy. Otherwise, the current speaker of the national assembly and his deputy wouldn’t be wasting our oil revenue in buying, a Mercedes 600 (# 55 million), Range-Rover and other exotic cars as official cars, and for their colleagues, each given a Peugeot executive car. If they are reasonable and honourable as they like to claim, they would have realised that Nigeria has other pressing needs. Such huge waste could have been useful in community projects such as for clean water for some 100,000 inhabitants that are suffering the lack of good drinkable water. And perhaps save them from the imminent water borne diseases. Or better, we could have given the total sum to the universities for a specific purpose, which might bring useful economic returns if the parliamentarians didn’t know what to do with the excess money received. Nigeria leaders have never taken examples from the good leaders around; except that, which is directed by selfishness. Angela Merkel of Germany doesn’t use Mercedes 600, which is in fact produced by her country. It is only Nigeria where you find politicians suffering from the disease of ‘Affluenza’ – an excess hungry for things that they don’t need; that is, the over-enjoyment of luxuries. This is why you will see them swollen in all parts of their bodies and radiating in freshness in comparison to their counterpart elsewhere. Since they have only come to chop and to serve their personal interests; instead of the duty of service and its burden. In my opinion, I think only governor Fashola of Lagos state make an exception. We have heard cases where Presidents and political leaders pride themselves for waking up at 3:00am to respond to national services. Can you ever imagine that happen in Nigeria? I guess not; because, a different rule apply to the big man in Nigeria. Hence, they carry horsewhip and sirens to harass the people they promise to serve and to protect. It is time to let them know that our taxpayers can no longer afford the waste in keeping hooligans in power. Or, how do you justify the logic behind bullet proof cars for office-holders, who should have no recourse to them if they are serving the people well? After all, why should a good leader be afraid of its own people? I am sure if my parents were still alive, they would wish for a white colonial rule to return since their lives were better during that time. Even though, they were chased around like idiots for taxes.
Today, Nigeria has failed; and our people are running anywhere and including to Ghana for survival because of economic downturn, which has been caused by corruption, the greed of our politicians and their lack of patriotism. They do not have their interest in Nigeria and as such care less about how to make it good for those they pretend to lead. Hence, our people have become the huer and drawers of water for the rest of the world, which has led to our people being treated with disdain and their loss of self pride. This is why my book is a must read for all because it offers the clue to the road that should be taken now for us to reclaim our respect, which would then enable our youths to live our dreams and to take their proper place at the international stage for the good of our race. Equally, it provides a new understanding of power to enable our people to develop their capacity to excel and to assert themselves. Remember, our collective guilt has led us being taken to the wrong direction by our politicians who have no interest in our corporate entity. There should be an urgency of action against our pastime politicians who are playing on our psyche with the so-called gimmick of vision 2020 that has no roadmap.
Even when I blame the woe of our nation on the political elite, I also think that the ordinary man bears the biggest blame for accepting the self inflicted captivity. Since, you cannot expect from someone who does not carry your mandate to defend your interest. It is difficult to understand the rationale why a people that no longer have anything to lose to unconditionally surrender to those who have more to lose? As Martin Luther King puts it “we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Today, If you ask our people about the state of Nigeria’ democracy, I guess only a few will be able to offer an affirmative answer, which is Nigeria has no democracy but a new form of dictatorship through electoral banditry. Otherwise, we won’t be having the scenario of imposed governors and officeholders of either by judicial law making or vote rigging. Either of the two scenarios is worrying but the former is more problematic because the courts have misunderstood judicial activism to mean law making instead of interpretation and not giving political decisions. Such as in the case of Mr Rotimi Amaechi, the present governor of River state Nigeria, who never contested election due to the internal political wrangling within the PDP, yet, the court ruled in his favour even without asking for such an order to be sworn in as the governor in violation of the constitution of Nigeria. Those of us, who understood its implication on our common law’s doctrine of judicial precedent since it was a superior court decision, have reasons to worry about the crisis that could arise in the future. What about the cases, whereby the elections have been nullified even when the facts indicated the contrary? Or the undue delay in hearing appeal cases so that cheaters gain unfair advantages over their opponents to steal electoral mandate, which ends up in extending the tenure for the office in dispute? In a way we are now having term elongation through judicial conspiracy that was denied ex-president Obasanjo. Despite spoiling our resources on those who pretended to be serving us yet were against our progress and did what were within their powers to silence our voices. We may never be able to stop election disputes; however, what we can do though is making sure that our people have trust in the integrity of the courts to make unbiased decisions, which goes to how and who we employ as judges. Unless, we employ only the best who have no godfather connotation, the mess in the judiciary and wrong application of the law won’t end. We need to put an end to this judicial chaos and abuse of power by judges, who must not only apply the law, balance the issues not based on their own perception of the law; but that which is directed by the notion of natural justice. We want our people to have faith in the wisdom of the court to do justice for securing peace and tranquillity. That is why we need to have those who have root in our people to lead us. Since the action of those we trust with power could have bearing on every aspect of our life, either positively or negatively and unless we are vigilant on them. They won’t work for our progress.
We have seen how a Thai court was able to proscribe the ruling party because of electoral fraud that was committed by its members. Whereas, in Nigeria, the courts have not been bold enough to punish the political parties or prosecute anyone for electoral malpractices, which are widespread in Nigeria. If our courts really mean the business of judicial activism, they ought to know that one of the dynamics of our common law system is not allow any gap or lacuna in law. That is what makes our legal system unique because of its flexibility and adaptability of solving any legal problem. I think our judges can get around the lapses created in the electoral act by way of creative and pragmatic legal reasoning to hold the political parties and their henchmen accountable for any electoral wrong – a cardinal benefit of the common law system even without an explicit enactment of new laws to criminalise election offences. If we are to end electoral malpractices in Nigeria, then the Nigerian courts must follow the Thai rule to give strict penalty to deter individuals and their political parties from engaging in any form of election cheat. It is hoped that our judges will learn from the Thai experience to sanction our fraud ridden political parties; in order to restore sanity to democracy in Nigeria. And end the after-election crisis like the recent Jos mayhem, whereby over 350 people lost their lives and the resultant economic losses.
Many nations have left us behind even though they have less of the resources of Nigeria. China and India have joined in space race. Regrettably, Nigeria is still struggling with the basics of everything needed for development. Pakistan is much poorer than Nigeria; yet, it is a nuclear power. Nonetheless, we should not support any argument for Nigeria to seek nuclear power no matter the compelling need in view of Nigeria’s safety standard and our level of environmental enlightenment. The hazards of a nuclear accident far outweigh any usefulness that we should be wasting our oil wealth to seek. Since, Nigeria enjoys a huge comparative advantage on other cheap and safe energy sources; such as: coal, wind, sun and gas to meet our power needs. The nuclear way of generating electricity or power is outmoded, unsafe and cost inefficient. Joining the nuclear race cannot be our symbol of technological arrival while we are unable to feed our people and poverty is everywhere. There are other ways we can excel to protect our national interest. Although at the moment, we are unfortunately competing with failed states; which is caused by our barbarian politicians. For this reason, I task all the progressives here tonight that we must engage in a new movement to end what is responsible for our backwardness in order for our people to the join the progressive nations in enjoying the meaning of citizenship. Bear in mind that “if we want to renew the perennial quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we must recall the forces that produced them in the first place.”
We have witnessed how a nation can change its past. The Obama’s triumph in the US’ election is a testimony of fact, which is not only important to the world but means a lot to every person of colour and especially to the Blackman. Because, it means that the struggle of the Blackman has been honoured. The American people have shown to the world that their country was built through the sacrifice of the people, and that power lies with the people in making America a great nation. It was a salient revolution that didn’t follow from a bloodletting. I am convinced that the people of Nigeria can reach this US’ model; and only if we make a turf sacrifice today. Obama’s reward is the outcome of the Blackman’s struggle to freedom in America. Nothing could be more evident that this. Hence, it is time for Nigerians to rise-up in challenging our corrupt and inept governments, in order to enable our children to reach any dream that is not defined by their colour but by the content of their characters. This is why I think no price is more worth than talking straight to our political elites whose acts have brought shame and humiliation on the people of Nigeria. The Obama’s change message has a direct ramification. That Nigeria cannot continue to dwell in Gowon’s understanding of federalism; or with Babangida’s instituted political system that was supposedly designed for the hegemony of a particular interest group. Yet, it turned out not to have helped any group or for the good of Nigeria. Nigeria is not short of the Obamas except that they have not responded to the duty of sacrifice and service.
In many lights, Nigeria is in the negative, hence Karl Maier titled his book on Nigeria – this house has fallen: Nigeria in crisis. Even though, I have not read the book, however I think that Nigeria is still standing but too damaged as a result of the actions of our political elites. This now demands a people’s action in restoring its structures for our wellbeing through our own blood. This is the ultimate price for freedom and for our redemption. Irrespective of the outcome of our struggles, we must never accept the Kenya or Zimbabwe compromise, as halfway solution is as worst as no solution. It was simply a surrender to betray a people’s struggle for self interest. Recently, another carnage of killings took place in Jos Nigeria on the pretext of religious strife; which was indeed instigated so that, the perpetrators of the electoral banditry that precipitated the unrest could be left off the picture. The fact that our political elite set us against ourselves whenever their powers are threatened makes it difficult to understand the real extent of religious harmony in Nigeria. You know, the unfortunate thing about the crisis will be that, no politician would have suffered any loses; whereas, the victims of the imbroglio would have to live with the trauma while the politicians reap from the evil so created. I would wish that we do no have to sacrifice so much of our blood like in any struggle to end oppression. Nigeria and its people have already gone through many daunting and difficult moments in its history – colonialism, civil war and military coups that caused pain and loss of lives. The peculiarity of it was that it all followed a selfish trait that those who died, died in vain. Therefore, my own make of our upcoming struggle should be directed on those that have made Nigeria land in the ditch and mess. Since we know the enemy, it should be the duty of the progressive forces to coordinate an uprising not borne on ethnic sentiment to liberate all the people of Nigeria from their hostage under the current political class for the good of the next generation. It has worked elsewhere and unless our freedom comes through our own sacrifice, I doubt whether the political elite will change their behaviour. They need to feel our pain. We do not have the luxury of time to watch bandits make mess of power to plunder our commonwealth, which is causing pain and the destruction of Nigeria. We must end our long match and sufferings. For this reason, I speak to you tonight not only just for the sake of celebrating the publication of my book but to ask you to stand against evil no matter the price for others to see light. The liberation of our people must come through our own sacrifice for us to appreciate freedom, which could then lead to the path of development and prosperity.
In summary, my book narrates the journey of Nigeria and its people from a critical view point. It gives an in-depth understanding of power politics and how Nigeria found itself at the crossroad. The book provides a good coverage on a range of contemporary issues. The author argues persuasively in this book why Nigerians should follow the road he suggested so that they can enjoy the meaning of citizenship. So, also, I would urge all readers not to apply ordinary meaning to any of the words used in my book but to use them in context.
Finally, as a food for thought, the west can’t be wining the war on terror simply by eroding our civil liberties for which they fought hard to gain. The Europe of Libertarianism cannot afford to row-back its cherished values of freedom because of a few extremists that have gone on rampage in holding those not like us as suspect. However, the west should adhere to its secular value and allow those of other faiths to built their places of worship the way if fits their religion irrespective of popular opinion. This is how we can create respect and social cohesion; because any injustice anywhere is injustice to all of us no matter where it takes place. Popular opinion can’t always be right. That is why politicians and leader should have the capacity of making good judgement no matter the backlash whenever the issue of justice is at stake.
Before closing my speech, let me express my gratitude to my wife and daughter first and foremost for making so much sacrifice in forgoing some of our cherished hobbies due to the times spent on writing. I know that without their unequivocal support, my book could have ended as just ideas. Therefore, I thank them immensely including her mum, who assisted during my parental absence. Also, I will use this opportunity to offer my appreciation to the following persons: Eva and Adlai Ogbonna for the design of the book cover, the publisher and especially, Mr Richard Kisling for making this event happen; my colleagues in the office for their kind advice, who travelled from hundreds of kilometre to be part of the event; and those that are not directly mentioned. Unfortunately, no member of the embassy is in attendance despite an official confirmation by the Ambassador that he would be coming as a guest of honour through an email entreaty. Irrespective of what informed his decision to avoid the ceremony, I think it is foolhardy to run away from a problem. Nonetheless, nobody can hide or prevent our people from hearing the truth, which has been succinctly laid out in my book in understanding what went wrong with Nigeria – a reason that Nigeria is now competing with failed states. I thank you for your attention and for bearing witness to this memorable day and for your coming. Before ending my presentation, I would like to take as many questions as time will permit. At this juncture, I am grateful to all of you and a merry Christmas in advance. Furthermore, your can order your copy of my book from any bookstore or from the internet, or directly from the publisher at www.lit-verlag.at