Today, I crave your indulgence to speak for a little longer than I have ever done in the past, before I yield the stage to my Lords and the choir who will lead us through this service.
I make this appeal because I am concerned, as many of you are, about our country, and if we were to look for direction and solutions to the challenges that we have to overcome, I doubt that we would look too far further afield than amongst you eminent Nigerians who gather here today.
There are many challenges that we have to overcome, but I wish to speak about only three, which have become the most resonant in the last few months. I also think that this is a most opportune time, because it is the season when some of us make New Year resolutions and I anticipate that it is possible to persuade some of you to make resolutions or add to those you have already made as they relate to what I wish to share with you.
The three challenges are our forthcoming elections, poverty and unemployment.
I have chosen to speak about elections because they have become a major prayer point in the last few days heralding a new year.
Many are afraid, and perhaps, understandably so.
While elections are moments to savour, and make informed decisions and choices about the way forward in most parts of the world; we seem to have contrived to deny ourselves of the pleasure and fun that elections should bring.
In my first election in 2007, I remember there was so much anxiety, similar to this. Pastor Adeboye gave a sermon that year which he titled “ALL WILL BE WELL”. And indeed it was. While we wait for his message this year, let me remind you about my re-election campaign of 2011.
It was a carnival of fun, a confident confrontation with the electorate and a family fiesta where even our children participated, because we worked hard and kept our promises.
The question then to ask is why can this not be the case every time and everywhere?
Why should we be moving soldiers and policemen in large numbers just because we are going to vote?
Why should we be scared and very prayerful every election year?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I have nothing against those who pray. What I quarrel with is prayer without effort.
It is written in the Scriptures in James Chapter 2: What does it profit my bretheren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Thus faith by itself, if it does not have work, is dead.
So let me say categorically that while we should pray, we must also do a lot of work to change the type of elections that we have into the type of elections that we want.
That work is not government work. It is work that you and I will do. The other matter that has been topical is poverty.
I have chosen to speak about it because while I agree that there is widespread poverty, I think that there is a lot of waste; it is waste of such gravity that on its own, deepens poverty, and also makes it difficult to locate or assess the extent of poverty.
It is waste of a degree that, if we curtailed it, will provide enough in savings to fight and reduce poverty.
I cannot categorize all of it, but we live through it every day and I will only refer to some examples to illustrate what I mean.
[How many aso-ebi do you buy in a year? How much do you use to sew them? How many shades of head-ties and shoes do you buy in a year? If your child’s school fees is delayed or unpaid have you asked yourself whether if what you have bought one shoe or aso-ebi less, whether you would have saved enough to pay the school fees]
Are you aware that each text message you send costs N5 on average?
How many text messages do you send to wish people a happy new year, happy new day, happy new week, happy new Friday, happy new Sunday and happy new month?
How many people did you send them to and how many days a week do you send them?
Please do the arithmetic and see how much it comes to in a year and how much food it could have provided for your family.
How many people did you invite and feed at your child’s wedding or the funeral of a deceased relative?
Could you really afford it?
How many of the people you invited are your relatives, friends or people you know?
Would the wedding or funeral still have held if you invited fewer people [SON OF AISHA]
Did you borrow money for the event or were you broke or short of cash after the event?
Could you fairly and honestly complain that the economy is bad if you make the choice to be extravagant?
Beyond a grave, coffin, shroud and officiating minister, what does it take to bury our dead?
How many of your cousins, friends, relations have come to seek assistance for as little as N100,000 to start a business from you?
Did you give them? If so how much?
How much did you give to those who came to ask you for money for birthdays, weddings and funerals? Do we value ceremonies more than work?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, these are some of the choices we have made as a people that reflect our values and priorities.
Let us ask ourselves honestly if they have prospered us or impoverished us.
I have nothing against parties, they are in fact necessary to keep our economy going. Tailors, musicians, artists, textile industries, caterers, security men, hair stylists and so many people benefit from them.
The first question to ask is if there is so much benefit, why is there so much poverty?
Is a stylist or make-up expert who earns N200-N300,000 a month poor? Is an MC who charges N500,000 per event and does four events a month to earn N2 Million poor?
The other question is whether if we party with moderation and consume any rice, drinks and food that we make in Nigeria, we will not be better off and create more jobs.
Does the problem lie with our taste for foreign wine, foreign rice, foreign flour and everything made in factories that provide jobs outside our country?
I can go on but I think the point is made and you know the examples more than I do.
Finally, I will talk about unemployment.
It is true that many of our young people are in need of work. It is also true that we still do not have enough basic infrastructure such as power to stimulate productivity and jobs.
But it is also true that we have made the best of the situation we find ourselves in.
How many of us have gone abroad to celebrate birthdays and weddings?
Which airlines did we board? Are they Nigerian owned? Do they employ Nigerians?
Was it Nigerians that made the food, supplies and drinks and those things that we used at those overseas parties?
Have you bothered to question the number of Nigerian caterers, musicians, transporters and other support streams whose jobs we took abroad and gave away?
Are these choices consistent with a people when unemployment is a major problem?
How many of us buy or rent property and draft agreements by ourselves?
Has it occurred to you that by their choices we take away jobs from our children who studied law or estate management because we took short-cuts.
How many of us have built houses without missing architects, builders, civil engineers and other professionals in the industry.
Apart from the fact that these houses may collapse, as they often do, because we side-track professionals, have we connected the choices we make with the unemployment of our children or those of our neighbours?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I have taken enough of your time and I thank you for your audience.
I only wish to conclude by saying that there is nothing wrong with our country.
Its size has not reduced except for the loss of Bakassi.
Its resources have not diminished either in quantity or value.
Indeed its human resource has grown to an estimated 170 Million people and its major trade commodity, which is crude oil, has been trading at over $100 per barrel.
The honest question I think we should ask ourselves is whether we are the problem.
Why do we have so much want amidst so much plenty?
Can we change our choices and our values?
Nigeria is waiting upon all of us to fulfil her promise. Are we ready to make the sacrifice?
Can we BELIEVE AGAIN? And if we do, are we ready to do the hard work and make the right choices?
God bless you all as you ponder these questions.
Excerpts of the opening remarks of Babatunde Raji Fashola, Governor of Lagos State at the 2013 annual thanksgiving held on Sunday, January 5, 2014.
By: Babatunde Raji Fashola