The More We Call Nigeria A Great Nation, The More It Fails To be – Oladapo Akande

Akaolisa Emmanuel

Akaolisa Emmanuel

In an exclusive interview with Emmanuel Akaolisa of The News Chronicle, Mr Oladapo Akande, founder of MINDS Reform Initiative, an NGO that focuses on Manners, Integrity, Neighbourly love, Discipline, Success; author of two books “Shifting Anchors” and “The Last Flight” and a weekly columnist, throws light on issues in Nigeria, ranging from leadership, to education, parenting and others.  


TNC: Nigeria is undoubtedly a great nation, both in human and material resources, yet it has not lived up to expectations as a nation and as the acclaimed GIANT OF AFRICA.  We have consistently blamed poor leadership; do the masses not have any role to play?

Oladapo: Forgive me for stopping a little short of calling Nigeria a great nation. If you said it has the potential to be, then I would readily agree with you. And that’s what makes it so sad. We have been talking about Nigeria’s potential greatness for decades and the more we talk about it, the more the country seems to recede from fulfilling that potential.

There is no getting away from the fact that poor leadership has put us where we currently find ourselves as a nation, unfortunately leading the pack in so many global indexes that connote retardation in socio-economic development – the second highest unemployment rate in the world at 33.3%, highest out of school children at over 18 million (close to 10% of the nation’s population), ranking 157 out of 158 countries in human infrastructural development and with a total population of approximately 200 million, still managing to have more of its citizens living in extreme poverty than in China and India combined (with a combined population of over 2.4 billion)! None of these makes one proud of one’s country, but like you rightly inferred in your question, we cannot lay all the blame on leadership.

After all, our leaders did not fall from the skies, they emerged from amongst us. Some people may go as far as saying our leaders only reflect the aggregate character of all Nigerians while others may see this as a classic case of “the chicken or the egg”. Which came first?  It would be helpful to ask ourselves this pertinent question though. Would the average Nigerian behave differently if he was suddenly thrust into a position of power? Your guess is as good as mine but if we look at how we Nigerians treat each other, I think there can only be one answer to that question.

Jonathan Schulz, an experimental economist at Yale University co-authored a study which examined the theory that in societies where high level institutional corruption and fraudulent conduct persists, the citizens will likely toe the same path. His discovery was that, “what individuals justify as honest seems to vary according to their environment”. Therefore, when all is said and done, the bulk of the blame must still be laid at the feet of leadership because that is where the tone of any society’s behaviour is set.

TNC: In your book, Shifting Anchors you wrote that “Every parent owes the nation a duty to bring his or her child up well, by inculcating them with the right values”. Now we are asking, with the current state of the nation it seems parents are abdicating this responsibility, maybe because they themselves need help on several fronts or they were not well trained (as globalization continues to tweak civilization), is this not a dead-end with the so-called Gen Z?

Oladapo: No, it’s not a dead-end for the Gen Z but we would be deceiving ourselves to believe any meaningful change can occur by itself. Very intentional and deliberate steps must be taken just like we saw in the days of Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore. Certainly, a hungry man will spend most of his time and energy in trying to keep head above water and other considerations, less urgent, will fall to the wayside. It would therefore be easier to perform this important parental duty in a more buoyant economy.

However, looking at Lee Kuan Yew as an exanple, my honest belief is that once we have leaders we can trust and who sell us a positive vision for the future that we can see their actions align with, hope will be restored. When hope is regained, Nigerians will become far more willing to make personal sacrifices for the sake of their society, believing their own actions will contribute to things getting better. Now, one of those sacrifices will be to create the time to indoctrinate their children with the right values. Lee Kuan Yew did not wait until Singapore had already joined the league of the world’s most prosperous nations before starting to work on the people’s mindset; hence why he said that a nation which has the ambition of becoming a developed nation one day must first drop 3rd World habits.

Nigerian parents of yesteryear were renowned for the efforts they made to retain their good name. “Remember whose child you are” was a common refrain back then and still is in some households. It is not a coincidence that as the economy has gone on a free fall, so have family and subsequently, societal values.

So, yes you are absolutely right, it would appear as if parents have altogether abdicated their responsibility of training their children to become good citizens. You are also right to observe that the harshness and daily grind of the Nigerian life has left many parents with very little time to focus on inculcating good values in their children. Worse still, a large number of parents feel that once they have struggled to pay their child’s school fees, “they have tried”. The school can do the rest; abdicating this crucial responsibility to the school. So, instead of the school playing a supporting role, it is now expected to lead. That in itself is a major anomaly affecting this society. Then there are still some others, cutting across all classes of society who look at how some Nigerians seem to be “making it” despite the harsh economic environment and because of that, consider ingraining values in their children an unnecessary luxury.

Whichever way we look at it however, parents who fail to play their own part of inculcating good character in their children automatically lose the moral right to complain about the state of the country because like I said in my book, Shifting Anchors, once the children of such people grow up, their behaviour will only compound the problem. My parting words in the book – “It behoves you to do your bit. But first, you must lead in the way you would want to be led.”

TNC: For more than 3 months now ASUU has been on strike. These  incessant ASUU strikes have unfortunately become a continuing part of the Nigerian story, just like elections are held periodically, it appears ASUU and the government must have their own unholy tango without any benefit to the society. What in your opinion is the way out?  

It’s simple. The Federal Government should lead in the way that it would like all other Nigerians to go. It should do the honourable thing and fulfill its end of the agreement – pay ASUU what it owes it, plain and simple. There’s a school of thought which says the height of corruption is when you excuse yourself from something you prescribe or claim you subscribe to. The meaning of corruption is not limited to a situation of unlawful pecuniary gain but can also extend to behaving in a way that corrupts a system and that’s what happens when a government professes one thing and does another.

Like most Nigerians, I find it difficult to swallow the excuse that there’s no money to pay ASUU when I hear sickening allegations of government officials stealing N80 billion today, N47 billion tomorrow and federal lawmakers telling their colleagues to “off the mic” during a public hearing that was ironically meant to expose the rot in a government parastatal.

It all comes down to whether the federal government considers education a priority. If it does, it will not toy with the future of our children by idly watching while the students spend months on end sitting at home, when they should be taking lectures and getting on with their lives. And it would certainly not apportion a measly 6.3% of its national budget to education while other African countries such as South Africa and Kenya budget 18.1% and 23.7% respectively, taking them much closer to the UNESCO recommendation of 26% of a country’s budget.

The bedrock of any society is its educational system because that’s what will determine what sort of society its citizens will produce. Its capacity or lack of it, to nurture intellectual acumen and leadership traits, will determine the quality of policies future leaders will churn out and this sets it up as a most critical foundation. Lee Kuan Yew, the iconic founder of modern Singapore once pointed out how the quality of the nation’s policies improved when he appointed better educated government Ministers.

Quality education is key. The pivotal role it plays in determining the caliber and moral standing of both future leaders and the general populace, from which the leaders will emerge, makes it the first pillar of excellence upon which other pillars must be built. The federal government needs to recognize this fact and accord the sector the attention it deserves. We need to put ASUU strikes behind us once and for all. It’s just unfortunate that strikes seem to be the only language that our government recognizes and brings them to the table.


 Oladapo Akande



* The second part of this interview will be published on the 10th of June, 2022

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