When I was a very active Rotarian, one of the lessons I learnt is that Rotarians are not only men and women of honour. They are also very smart. Hence, they place a huge premium on integrity and character. Consequently, one cannot be a Rotarian but behave like a crook or idiot. In other words you cannot be a Rotarian during the day but a crook or idiot at night. Or vice-versa. !!
In essence, Rotary is a navigation juice/lubricant and magnetic compass as we chart our course through the minefield of life and living. Resilience is the watchword. Rotarians are very respectful of the poor and underprivileged. Indeed, they deliberately refrain from insisting that the poor, the homeless and the helpless should take the blame for everything.
Amongst us this evening are many who have watched aghast for several decades as our nation struggles to cope with:
· Financial quicksand
· Economic quandary
· And Political quagmire.
These huge challenges nevertheless offer tremendous possibilities for Rotarians who have been fortified with plenty of moral ammunition and superlative ethereal force.
Many would argue that for my own generation the defining moment was when (31st December 1983) the then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as Nigeria’s new Head of State and Commander-In-Chief and he promptly announced that if only they had known that the treasury was empty, the soldiers would not have bothered to stage a coup d’etat.
However, more discerning minds insist that the moment of our apocalypse was actually on June 26, 1986 when General Ibrahim Babangida who had overthrown the Buhari/Idiagbon regime on 27th August 1985 unveiled the blueprint of the “Structural Adjustment Programme [SAP] for Nigeria, July 1986 – June 1988”
I must thank Mr. Lawson A. Omokhodion for reminding us in his book: “Powered By Poverty” :
“The document which President Babangida presented to the nation, was approved on August 28, 1986 by the London Club of private creditors and the Paris Club of sovereign creditors.
In October 1986, the SFEM (Second-Tier Foreign Exchange Market) bidding system was born and, for the first time, the naira was officially devalued. At the first auction, the exchange rate was U.S.$1 = N4.00 (one U.S. dollar exchanged for four Naira)!! All hell broke loose !! There was panic and pandemonium over what was previously considered unthinkable as the US dollar and the Nigeria Naira had been at par.
With the benefit of hindsight that was a blessing (manna from heaven). Here we are, thirty-six years later and the current exchange rate is N440 at the official rate but N800 in the parallel market. The arbitrage is almost 100 per cent.
I have taken the trouble to scour the records in search of evidence that the Rotary Club took a stand on the vexations issues or participated collectively in the robust debates that lasted for ……………………months (……to …… .1986).
The point that needs to be made is that we are still living with the consequences of the decision we made (or did not make) and the choices we embraced (or junked).
The Rotary Club and Rotarians being exceptionally smart people missed a great opportunity to enlighten the rest of us – especially the rulers. Since then, our country has been at war. No peace. No gain.
The BBC has provided us with the following African proverbs:
(i) “When there is peace in the country, the Chief does not carry a shield.”
(ii) “The man who fetches firewood infested with insects, invites lizards into his house.”
(iii) “No matter how far an eagle flies up in the sky, it will definitely come down to look for food.”
(iv) “Birds sing not because they have answers but because they have songs.”
Perhaps I should add two more vignettes from the veteran Rotarian – 94-year-old Dr. Michael Omolayole (ex-St. Gregory’s College, Obalende; and Corpus Christi College, Oxford University) who is firmly in my corner in my campaign for presidency of St. Gregory’s College Old Boys Association:
(i) “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, all is lost.”
(ii) “In prosperity your friends know you. In adversity you know your friends.”
Bashorun J.K. Randle is a former President of the Institute of the Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and former Chairman of KPMG Nigeria and Africa Region. He is currently the Chairman, J.K. Randle Professional Services