Ladies and gentlemen, let me thank the Vice Chairman of Ikoyi Club, who incidentally is Chairman of the anniversary sub-committee, Tafa Zibiri-Aliu, and by extension, the management and entire body of members of the Ikoyi Club 1938 for inviting me to deliver this anniversary lecture.
Because it is an anniversary, felicitations are in order and I offer congratulations to all of you members of this club and to myself, being a member in my own right. As we say in Eko: “Mo yo fun e, mo yo fun ara mi”.
It is not easy to deal with my assigned topic which is Ikoyi Club at 81: The Youth and Leadership in Nation Building. In that sense, my host has not done me any favours by setting me this difficult task.
Firstly, 81 years of Ikoyi Club is eight decades of history entwined with the early development of Nigeria that features valleys and hills of segregation, war, independence, births, deaths, family tribulations and triumphs, consultations and confrontation with government, court cases and much more.
To undertake only a review of those eighty-one years will keep us here for a long time. Time that we certainly do not have today.
What is important is that against the odds, in spite of the passage of time, Ikoyi Club 1938 has not only survived, it has endured and prospered.
One of the reasons for this, and there are many, is the fact that it is a family club, where children can come with their parents and get exposed very early to the finest traditions of the club, mature to become youth (young adults), become members in their own right and ultimately rise to various positions of responsibility and leadership in their various sections and main management committee in a series of torch passing moments and generational regeneration for which Ikoyi club has been the beneficiary.
Secondly, the youth and the role they play in emerging leadership have been and remain a subject of long and continuing study that we cannot exhaust today.
Therefore, to make my task easier than my host may have planned, I will be speaking about youth and leadership within a context and I will come to the context shortly.
In the early days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary quarter of a century reign as Manchester United’s most successful manager, he decided to disband the old and aging players he inherited.
He fielded a team of mostly teenagers and a few players in their early twenties in the season of 1992. The British press was unsparing in their condemnations and criticisms.
The most memorable headline was one which read: “You cannot win anything with kids.”
Sir Alex Ferguson was famously later to reply by saying “You cannot win anything without them,” because those kids, who later and forever will be known as the Class of 1992 became so successful and have remained the gold standard for that club and many others.
It was on their backs that two decades of success and global brand building of the Manchester United colours was achieved and propagated to every continent and to millions if not billions of homes.
This is the context about which I want to speak about the youth and leadership because in truth and in fact, it is the youth who have borne the responsibility of leadership as history has shown us.
Whether it is the young men, mostly teenagers, who bravely charged at the German forces on the beach of Normandy in June of 1944, to free Europe and the rest of the world from a very mendacious leader; or the young Herbert Macaulay, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and their ilk, who in the prime of youthfulness, dared to ask, challenge and struggle for independence against British Imperial rule; or the Golden Eaglets who won our first gold in global cadet football in 1985 to be followed by the Olympic medallists of 1996; or those who battled adversity in the desert in the ‘Miracle’ of Damman to set an example of an unflagging and undying Nigerian spirit.
It is the youth who have projected the might, resourcefulness and the possibilities of their nations across the world.
History is replete with records of bravery, daring, decisiveness and leadership that the young people have provided everywhere.
In business, entrepreneurship and innovation, it is the youth and young people who have led the way and demonstrated leadership.
Brands like Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter are products of youthful endeavour, daring and innovation that have re-ordered our world. In Nigeria, brands like GT Bank, Thisday Newspaper, Zenith Bank, Dangote Group, Oando and many more are the products of the youthful endeavour and determination of the Fola Adeolas, Nduka Obaigbenas, Jim Ovia, Aliko Dangote, Wale Tinubu and many more of their type.
They may have needed government permits, licenses and other approvals, but they did not refuse to act because government was not acting.
If you under estimate what the generation of Chief Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, on one hand and the generation of the Dangotes, Obaigbenas and Adeolas have done (and their list is much longer than I can recount in this speech) perhaps a few points will help to remind us.
Let us all remind ourselves that in the period before independence, there was racial segregation in Nigeria and Nigerians could not use this club as members.
Imagine if that generation of young men and women did not act by agitating for independence, would the walls of segregation have voluntarily given way? Would Nigerians have become members of this club, would they have invited me to speak here today?
Imagine the days when it took a whole day to cash a cheque, and two days to get a bank draft or recall the middlemen who prospered on the back of ordinary citizens when we had to import cement; and remember the days when only government controlled the print and electronic media.
If you do, and you think banking is easier today, cement is no longer a dealer’s racket and the news and information are easier to access, we must salute the daring and the endeavour of that generation of Nigerians.
We must also acknowledge another generation who have started walking this path, who are now in their twenties, thirties and forties and who are building a new series of brands in medicine, industrialization, entertainment, agriculture and other areas too numerous to mention.
They are already acting to take leadership. They are propelled by the fire of youthfulness and the capacity to dare.
Presently, shortly, and in the imminent future, we are, we will and we expect to feel the impact of their efforts as they will change the way we live and experience life.
And this is the centre point of my address. The Duty of the youth and their Responsibility for leadership.
Every generation of young people must understand their duty, rise up to it, and discharge it not only for themselves, but also for the next generation.
It is that sense of duty and the responsibility to act, as distinct from rights and the sense of entitlement, that is the defining character of the youthfulness in nation building and it is about some of those duties, that I wish to speak.
Sadly, I say so, we have been more concerned about rights and less about duties and we have abandoned many of the traditional building blocks that helped to prepare children into dutiful young persons and adults.
Indeed, until recently, our constitution only first provided for rights without prescribing for the duties we owe as citizens to our country.
Between 1922 and 1999 we have had 9 (Nine) Constitutions.
But remarkably while all of them make provisions for Rights of Citizens, it was in the 1989 Constitution that provisions were made for duties of citizens.
The 1989 Constitution provided for 10 (Ten) duties but these have now been harmonized into 6 (Six) duties in the 1999 Constitution that we now operate.
Perhaps because of this omission, (which I think is grave), we have looked at our country and nation with a sense of expectation of what we can get from her rather than what we can do for her.
It is therefore not unusual to feel a sense of disappointment which is expressed in statements like “what is Nigeria doing for me,” as against a sense of obligation that propels us to be driven by an urge and sense of duty to want to do our best for our country.
We have a saturation of Human Rights Defenders and organisations without Civic Duty advocates.
Rights do not exist in a vacuum.
This is perhaps why we expect messiah-like leaders, when indeed the youth and all of us are the leaders we are looking for.
This is a mindset that has set us back and it is a mindset that we must urgently get rid of like a bad habit.
It is a mindset that sees what is foreign and imported as better than what is Nigerian. It is a mindset that seeks answers in prayers, miracles and spiritualism. It is a mindset that credits and ascribes every little success that our hands achieve to the realm of miracles, religion and the unbelievable.
It is a mindset that avoids responsibility.
This is the mindset that “thanks God” when we build a house instead of the architects and builders; when our children do well in school we thank God instead of the teachers, when our sportsmen excel we thank God instead of the coaches.
It is a mindset that leads us to deny our reality and say we are “strong” even when we are visibly ill. If you doubt me, please listen to conversations in our country and in other countries, on our media platforms and those of other countries and see how many times we talk about God.
This is a mindset that abdicates responsibility and it is a slippery slope from which we must turn around and embrace our responsibilities especially our youth.
Some of the duties we owe our country and ourselves are set out in Section 24 of the Constitution of 1999, as amended, as follows:
It shall be the duty of every citizen to:
“(A) abide by this Constitution, respect its ideals and its institutions, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, and legitimate authorities;
(B) help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render such national service as may be required;
(C) respect the dignity of other citizens and the rights and legitimate interests of others and live in unity and harmony and in the spirit of common brotherhood;
(D) make a positive and useful contribution to the advancement, progress, and well-being of the community where he resides;
(E) render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order;
(F) declare his income honestly to appropriate and lawful agencies and pay his tax promptly.”
I cannot but wonder if this is the mindset that has made the taking of “selfies” with almost every available camera a most consuming and disturbing pastime when that same phone can be deployed for other productive and developmental uses.
It is a mindset that places self above others and it is unhelpful towards the task of nation-building.
It is probably the mindset that suggests to many to flee Nigeria when things are difficult. For everyone that chooses to leave please remember that there are people also applying to be citizens of Nigeria.
Indians, Cypriots, Greeks, Lebanese, Chinese and other nationalities have chosen Nigeria as the place to invest and raise families and this cycle that started around the 1950s has not stopped.
Every year there are applications made to the Nigerian Government for Nigerian citizenship.
The hard work, the ceaseless responsibility of nation-building which started in Nigeria since 1914 will fall on no other than her citizens especially its youthful population.
The soldiers who would defend her territory must be her strongest and by implication her most youthful.
The men and women who will build her infrastructure, move heavy equipment, that will turn ore to steel, break rocks, transport them, mix cement, lay the bricks cannot be her weakest but her strongest and therefore her most youthful citizens.
The teachers who will teach the next generation cannot be her oldest but her most enterprising and youthful ones.
The policemen and women, that will protect her citizens from criminal acts must be her strongest not her weakest, and must therefore be her youth.
The sportsmen who have and will continue to protect her global image and sporting prowess cannot be her weakest but her strongest and fittest, and therefore must be her youth.
Those who will be joined in matrimony to continue the act of procreation; to produce the next generation of Nigeria’s human capital will be those largely of childbearing age and therefore her youth.
Those who will farm the fields, work the tractors, the factories that process food will not be the aging, aged and infirm, but the youthful energetic and virile members of our citizenry.
The list is long, but these examples show the burden of responsibility for nation building that rests fairly on the shoulders of the young and youthful members of any community. It is their destiny to fulfil or betray.
I urge all of us in this club, in our offices, our local Governments, in our states and in our country to acknowledge and salute the efforts of those who have come before us.
No matter how much is now left to be done, let us acknowledge that those who came before us have started the journey.
If we do so, we will appreciate the value of their contribution to the work which we now have to do, because nation building is a never ending responsibility.
The actors change but the duties and the nation endures.
On this auspicious occasion of Ikoyi Club’s 81st anniversary, and on the eve of Nigeria’s 59th Independence Anniversary, I say once again Happy Anniversary.
God will bless Ikoyi Club and Nigeria, but it is the members of Ikoyi and Nigerian citizens, especially the youthful ones that will build Ikoyi Club and Nigeria.
Thank you for listening.
Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, Minister of Works and Housing, delivered this lecture to commemorate the 81st Anniversary of Ikoyi Club 1938 on Thursday 26th September 2019