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Professionalism and our Nation

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We owe a great debt of gratitude to Chief Dapo Bailey the indefatigable promoter of the Professional Excellence Foundation for his unrelenting crusade for professional excellence in all spheres of our nation’s affairs.   We cannot hold him responsible if the nation either deliberately or by default prefers to consign professionalism to the back row and eventually to the dustbin as we reel from one financial crisis to another only to lurch into yet another blaze of allegations of outright stealing of public funds otherwise known as looting the treasury (or “deduction at source”), blatant incompetence, misplaced priorities; wasteful expenditure; diversion of revenue that should legitimately accrue to government; and criminal misappropriation / misallocation of public funds etc.     The generic term for all these abuses is corruption.  However, we are sometimes tempted to break the components into various categories – scams, sleaze and of course “419” which is the common parlance for obtaining money under false pretences which is a criminal offence under Section 419 of Nigeria’s Criminal Code.

I suspect that it is this backdrop and litany of shenanigans in both the public and private sectors of our political economy that have prompted the Professional Excellence Foundation to assemble us here this evening and selected some of us as worthy of special awards during the Investiture Ceremony.   Perhaps it is a consolation prize for those who missed out on the Centenary Awards which were recently conferred on the 100 most outstanding contributors to Nigeria’s fortune (or misfortune).

Alas, if any of you feel dejected about missing out this time round, I plead that you exercise patience.   Just hang around for another 100 years and you may be lucky when our beloved nation, Nigeria celebrates its 200th Anniversary in 2114!!  Amen.

As professionals, what we owe to our nation is never to surrender to despair, depression or despondency.  We must remain the steadfast reference point for hope, optimism and self-fulfillment.   We cannot afford to give up.   Indeed, we are like the currents of the ocean – forever rolling even though we should be mindful that not all that is washed up by the high tide will necessarily be retrieved by the low tide.   Whatever is left is marooned until the next cycle.   Perhaps that is where professionals find ourselves in Nigeria.   We may be marooned but surely we are entitled to know where we are; how we got here and where do we go from here?   Besides, could it be that we have set our expectations too high thereby making disappointment a foregone conclusion?

Regardless, it is not excusable to keep moaning about the state of affairs in our nation without accepting the challenge to fix it not necessarily for ourselves but for future generations.  It behoves us to publicly acknowledge the selfless sacrifices of the generation that preceeded the current crop of professionals – doctors, engineers, lawyers, bankers, insurers, architects, surveyors, chartered accountants etc.   I had a rough time at the dentist yesterday so I am not inclined to add dentists to the list.    However, if there are any dentists amongst us this evening, I shall do so most reluctantly.     I believe that it is fair to declare that our predecessors who took over the mantle of leadership from a professional class that consisted largely of expatriates (under the Colonial Government) were   by and large conscientious, upright and accountable for their deeds or misdeeds.   Sadly, what now confronts us are glaring deviations from the ethics, ethos and traditions of our various professions further compounded by outright abuse of public trust and enthronement of impunity as the reigning culture.

There is no doubt whatever that our nation is in the grip of a monumental crisis.  Unfortunately much of it is self-inflicted-fear, hunger, terrorism and revenge.   Indeed, it is most unfortunate that since the present government assumed the reigns of power, it has not had any respite not to talk of honeymoon no matter how brief.   Hence, we as professionals have a solemn obligation to ensure that we do not keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Only a fool or buffoon refuses to learn from his/her mistakes.  Professionals are by definition not fools, our real challenge is to make sense of the situation we are confronted with.

Perhaps, we should avail ourselves of a snapshot of our nation as matters stand now.  Thankfully, the press has heeded our call to provide a rescue ladder by documenting and reporting on the state of affairs in our beloved country, Nigeria.

Here is a report carried by “ThisDay” newspaper of February 9, 2014 under the headline: “WOEFUL PERCEPTION”

“Nigeria remains one of the most corrupt nations in the world, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2013 released by Transparency International, a global watchdog.

In the last survey released on December 2, 2013, Nigeria ranked 144th out of 177 nations in the world, scoring 25 points out of a possible 100 points.   Her corruption performance in 2013 was worse than 2012, when it scored 27points.  The regional giant was ranked alongside crisis-torn Central African Republic and Cameroon.

In December 2012, Nigeria was ranked 139 out of the 176 countries surveyed on public sector corruption perception by Transparency International (TI), the global civil society organization leading the fight against corruption.

From that ranking, Nigeria scored 27 marks out of a possible 100, where zero (0) denotes the worst form of corruption perception in the public sector, and 100 signifies the highest form of cleanliness.

From past survey results, the West African giant was ranked 143rd in 2011 out of the 183 nations surveyed by TI.   She was ranked 134th out of 178 surveyed nations in 2010; 130th out of 180 nations in 2009; 121 out of 180 in 2008; 147 out of 180 countries in 2007, and 153 globally out of 180 surveyed nations in 2006.

Denmark and New Zealand were the cleanest countries in the world in 2013, sharing the first spot in the index, with scores of 91.   Afghanistan, North Korea and strife torn, Somalia were the worst, with scores of 8 points.   Finland, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia and Canada emerged in the top ten of least corrupt nations in the world.

Transparency International said the 2013 report underscored the global reality that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery have continued.

Leadership is about character, but if you don’t have the right leaders, who have the right character, the right backbone, then, it won’t work.   He won’t have the qualities to bring out the best in people who would work with him.

At this juncture, perhaps we need to ask ourselves a few tough questions starting with the lawyers.   Suddenly, we are hearing about “the Association of Ibo lawyers in Lagos”; “Omo Olofin lawyers” (lawyers from Yoruba speaking areas); and all sorts of connotations and fragmentation – “moslem lawyers in Lagos”; “Christian judges” in wherever; “moslem doctors” and to crown it all only the other day we came across a bus with the inscription “Catholic Youth Corpers”!!  Where are we going; and where will all this end while professionals fold their hands?

Excerpts of the address delivered at the Professional Excellence Foundation on  22nd March  2014 at  Hotel Victoria, Victoria Island, Lagos

J.K Randle