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One Nigeria: Full Text of Governor Yahaya Bello at the Public Lecture and Award




I really like the topic I was given for this keynote address: ONE NIGERIA – A CRITICAL LOOK INTO THE FUTURE. It is timely and it is topical. It directs us to vision which is the starting point for all sustainable success. This topic admits that although One Nigeria is our desired objective as a nation we must start to critically examine what we mean by One Nigeria, both for now and for the future. In other words, it insists that we not only see the future we desire by having a VISION for it but that we map our journey into that future with a roadmap or MISSION. Clearly, the organisers did their homework well. Well done.

I start with the obvious. The starting place for any vision of One Nigeria is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). Section 2 subsections 1 and 2 of the Constitution provides for the indivisibility of the Nigerian State. They stipulate that ‘Nigeria shall be one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign State to be known by the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria‚Ķconsisting of States and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.’

This provision means that One Nigeria is a constitutional matter and everyone needs to accept that so we can look at the matter practically. I do not subscribe to the abstract thinking prevalent today which says that the Nigerian question can be answered outside of the Constitution we have inherited. It may be an imperfect document, and it actually is, but it is the only constitution we have and it is not only binding but Supreme across the land.

Since the constitutional amendment processes require a majority consensus across our state houses of assembly and the National Assembly which I do not frankly see us able to achieve soon, it does not appear to me that we can agree to amend these sections in the nearest future. This means that as far as overall organisation of the Nigerian federation is concerned, One Nigeria is it. Accepting that fact helps us to begin other conversations, especially how the Nigerian nation can work for everyone.

So, let us start with Vision. A vision is a statement of the best state or condition desired for the future. It is the most important long-term dream or mental picture, or a set of them, in the mind of a person, organisation or nation. When we talk of One Nigeria therefore, we must see something, and not necessarily with our physical eyes. Once Vision is properly articulated it must be broken down into action or mission steps. To do that accurately, we must see the country we want 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now and beyond.

A vital companion of Vision is MISSION. A proper mission recognises that there will be obstacles on the way of vision but it accepts the challenge to overcome them because to do otherwise would be to fail. After seeing our future through vision, we must design that future to transcend our generation. It is the sacred duty of those of us alive today to anticipate the welfare of posterity and to cater for them. Thus, after vision is set, we must embark on a mission to build the superstructures of our desired future.

Nations which have succeeded greatly have done so because they were able to transform citizens who lived in earlier generations into faithful watchdogs of the welfare of future generations. A most important virtue of true vision and the visionaries is selflessness. Nigerians alive today must become the wise man in the adage who plants a tree knowing that he may never sit in its shade.

I realised early in my leadership journey as a Governor that tenure, that is, the 4 or 8 years which the Constitution gives to a President or Governor is not for one to try and achieve everything in terms of social development. That would be impossible even if the time was not so short and the resources so limited. It is important for Presidents and Governors to understand that they cannot Build, Operate and Transfer a properly comprehensive national or subnational vision the way they can, and should, build infrastructure projects. This is because any worthwhile vision must be so huge that it will always remain an ongoing project. The one Term or two Terms which we get as political leaders is for us to serve the existing public vision (if any) as extensively as we can. More importantly, it is for us to prepare a next generation of citizens and leaders who have even stronger desires to safeguard the national vision than we ourselves. Achieving this transfer of vision would be our greatest success in office.

I cannot speak for other leaders, but I and my people always see a bright and colourful future for Nigeria every time I cast a critical look into the future of this great country. I am amazed at the potentials we have and the opportunities that are opening up to us. All we need is a little work in the area of leadership to harness our strengths and be unstoppable.

My concept of One Nigeria is a nation which must guarantee all citizens security, unity and peace. It must be equitable and allow everyone to thrive on his own merits. Tribe, religion and class must not be used to discriminate against or marginalise anyone and civics must encourage cooperation and integration as a cardinal tenet of citizenship. We have to start substituting place of residence for state of origin and find ways to punish corruption in the private and public spheres.

Our politics and leadership must transform into a service that ensures the quality of life is high despite social status while essential goods and services are affordable. Our local job markets must deliver jobs to people at their levels of learning, skills and experience. The nation must have economic stability and be a family-friendly place where parents can raise the next generation well. We will require income equality, especially across the genders. One Nigeria will thrive on political stability and social security. It also goes without saying that the quality of the public education system and that of the public health system must be high. Both must deliver free to affordable services.

Nelson Mandela once said as follows:

‘We understand it well that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign.’

The foregoing may sound idealistic to a generation that has been raised to see and expect the opposite. However, it is exactly because my generation did not receive these things from our elders that the vision of them settled in my heart as I travelled the world and experienced them in other places. I have called that Vision a New Direction Agenda and it is what drove me out of the comfortable life of a young and highly successful businessman into partisan politics in 2015. In my last 6 years as Governor of Kogi State I have been working to lay the foundation for them in the State while raising successors who have caught the vision and will hopefully run with it when I have left the stage and moved on to other things.

As the clarion call goes forth for 2023, one can easily discern by this event that the old Kwararafa Confederation which held sway from around 1500BC in the Middle Belt region all the way from the North East through the North Central to parts of South West, South South and South East is no longer content to keep quiet and let other parts decide its future. I am glad that we too have joined our compatriots in the brain work needed to crack the complex equation of who the next Nigerian President should be. All I can say is that in factoring our 2023 equations, we must allow yourselves to be guided by the National interest to input the following factors:

Youthfulness. Natural force and physical energy cannot be abated if performance is to be elevated.

Courage. A clear capacity to be zealously affected in a good matter and to lead with courage and foresight in the pursuit of the overall best interests of the people.

Security. Proven ability to enforce security, unity and peace in a large territory with a difficult terrain.

Diversity. Clear records in successfully managing diversity which is where most post-Independence leaders of Nigeria have failed. Today we have a Kogi State where the youth are predominantly the ones in office, the women have crossed the 35% Affirmative Action threshold of the SDGs and continue to rise and People With Special Needs have adequate representation in government.

Finally, and also very important, the inescapable point of equity, ie, that only the North Central and South East Geopolitical Zones of this country have not held the Presidency or Vice Presidency, the two highest offices in the land, since return to civilian rule in 1999. All talks of zoning must be the handmaid of equity or we are merely playing dangerous politics and healing the wounds of the country deceitfully.

Let me insist in closing that the more one bears the burden of leadership in the right manners, the more he realises that people, and not things, events or places, matter the most. With this realisation comes a demand to make your people and their welfare the heart of your leadership. However, because Things, Events and Places exert profound influence on the people, you also find yourself obliged to improve them for the benefit of your people. This means that as we plan long term for One Nigeria, we must work in the present for a Better Nigeria. To achieve this, leadership and governance must cease to be a popularity contest and become a life-saving vocation requiring the leader’s best efforts always.

Members of the Kwararafa Reporters, other members of the 4th Estate of the Realm, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, this is me, the essential GYB, and I welcome you all to this wonderful event. Let us put heads together and come up with workable deliverables for our dear country.

I thank you.

Governor of Kogi State

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