Public Officers Must Respect Public Trust –Owan-Enoh

Public Officers Must Respect Public Trust –Owan-Enoh

Being a keynote address presented by senator john owan enoh on the occasion of the “information week” organized by the students union government, university of calabar, calabar.

I stand here today with a great sense of nostalgia- a feeling of exhilaration to the effect that I am back home once again to the place where by divine providence my tertiary academic destiny and public service career was birthed. This campus will always remain a home to me and a place that symbolizes where the progress of my life was decided. I am one of your own in every sense. It is not a clash of fate therefore that I was invited to deliver this keynote address and I consider it a rare honor in my life to be so chosen to speak on this auspicious occasion.  I sincerely appreciate the current executive of the Student Union Government for inviting me.

We gather here today to celebrate the “Information Week”. We are gathered here to applaud the power of information. No human society can thrive and grow without a virile information mechanism. It was Newton Lee who once asserted that, “Information is power and disinformation is the abuse of power”. This statement cannot be more apt at any time in history than it is in our generation where at the click of a button you can access events as they are happening in real time. Benjamin Disraeli, the former British Prime Minister said, “as a general rule, the most successful people in life are those with the best information”. On that premise, we can safely draw an inference that success in different spheres of our lives is largely determined by the veracity of information we are predispose to.

To put it conversely, to succeed is to be informed and to fail is to be disinformed.  It was Kofi Annan, that veteran diplomat and former United Nations Secretary General who said that, “Information is liberating in every society and in every family”. It goes without saying that the power of information in our nascent democracy cannot be overemphasized. Apparently, information is the currency of democracy. It is in this vein that free press would remain one of the cardinal elements of liberal and constitutional democracy anywhere in the world. In Nigeria, the National Assembly added fillip and further empowered free press by the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill that was assented to by the immediate past president on 28th May, 2011. That Act has become a watershed in the history of press freedom and public information access in the country. The FOI Act contains far reaching provisions capable of transforming the clandestine system of governance which was the norm in our public institutions.

The underlying philosophy of the Act is that government is a social contract and public officers are custodians of public trust on behalf of the people who have the right to seamlessly know the operations of government. Particularly, the FOI Act sets out to unveil the aura of mystery and exclusion with which public officers had encapsulated the ordinary business of government and management of public records and information. The Act is a veritable tool for public accountability. This FOI Act is even more pertinent in view of the fact that accurate information is the key aspect for proper engagement with the government and more so because in the absence of accurate information we jump into the worst conclusions. I hold the personal conviction that in this generation, the most potent source of power is not money in the hands of the few but accurate information in the hands of many. Again, I have maintained that in this age of information, ignorance is a choice. To this end, rather than being unduly self-opinionated, let us try being informed on issues. Therein lies the power of self-liberation and the harbinger of societal progress.

This brings me effectively to the meat of our discussion here today. I've been asked to speak on the topic, “Restructuring and the Nigerian Youth”. I find this quite topical and a very good opportunity to lend my voice to the ongoing debate across the country. There is no doubt that the concept of restructuring is now occupying a prominent place in our nation's political discourse and the proponents of this concept have successfully etched it into the front burner. Restructuring has become a cliché in our political lexicon and a buzzword of some sort in our polity lately. Never in the history of our country has the idea of restructuring attracted such considerable attention like now. Both political and non political actors have been ventilating their opinions on this seemingly contentious issue.

To acquit oneself of over assumption, it is pertinent to explain what the term “restructuring” actually implies in our political landscape. In the context of our history as a country, restructuring actually connotes the idea that Nigeria's governance architecture should be reverted to regionalism or state autonomy which was how our founding fathers anchored the journey of our nationhood at the inception in 1960 when independence was attained. The idea for regional autonomy shaped and guided the struggle for independence which was achieved in 1960. The prevailing governance framework at independence was loose federation with very strong regions which was thereafter enunciated in the republican constitution of 1963.  Each of these regions had enormous powers in addition to the authority to control their natural endowments where funds were raised to finance themselves and contributions were made to the national government by way of taxes.

There was healthy rivalry among the three regions in their socioeconomic development at that time. For instance, each of the regions founded its own university- Ahmadu Bello by the Northern Region, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) by the Western Region and University of Nigeria, Nsukka by the Eastern Region. There made frantic efforts and achieved some good strides at industrialization and building of infrastructure.  It is common knowledge that Nigeria is a country that was founded by British fiat in 1914 when different ethnic nationalities with their diverse cultures, traditions and customs where foisted together.

The central theme of the agitation for restructuring by the key proponents is that there should be devolution of powers from the center to the federating or component units that make up Nigeria.  It is believed that since the military incursion into the political leadership of the country in 1966, Nigeria became a unitary state where there is so much concentration of power at the center. The broad consensus by those who are clamoring for restructuring is that the nation is only mouthing and priding itself as a federation but in actual sense there is no federalism. A close look at the current strident calls for restructuring at this time would leave no one in doubt as to the national discontent across the country. This national dissatisfaction which is borne out of the inability of successive administrations in the country to create a robust economic atmosphere and ennoble dissident ethnic groups despite the huge deposit of natural resources and massive receipt of foreign exchange, is also taking a strong political dimension.

Prior to this time, there were calls for true federalism and resource control which in my opinion does not differ from the present concept of restructuring. As plausible as the current agitation might seem, the issues I find very curious are: to what extent are these calls borne out of the patriotism for national development? Where do we draw the line between our fractured politics, inordinate desire for regional control, mere opportunism and the genuine crave to effect the desired change in our skewed national construct that would entrench the rebirth of our nation? These are fundamental posers that we must reflect on as we drive the argument for restructuring at this time. Because the tidal wave of agitation for restructuring blowing across our landscape is actually hinged on renegotiating our corporate existence as one indivisible country. We must understand that we operate a representative democracy with the constitution as the grundnorm-it is the supreme law of the land. To that extent, for restructuring to be properly effected, the constitution has to be amended and tinkered with any new arrangement.

There is no doubt that restructuring will create more opportunities at the state level for our teeming youths if development paradigms at that level are well thought-out. Ideally, if the rent economic structure we operate today where almost all the states are glued to Abuja for their share of the national proceeds from the sale of oil and tax collection is done away with, the ingenuity and creativity of states chief executives will be task to the limit. This is the essence of leadership after all. Truth be told, the greatest challenge we are facing as a country is the large army of unemployed youths. To my mind, this is a time bomb that is ticking by the day. Youths are the building blocks of any nation. The more productive the youths of a nation are, the more developed that nation will be. The youths constitute the bulk of the productive force of any nation. For a country like Nigeria with more than 65% youth population, it is clear that adequate attention has not been given to the youth that is why we are still at the low rung of socioeconomic development.

Henry Wardsworth Longfellow stated that, “Youth comes but once in a lifetime”. This is a statement we must ponder on very deeply. If you understand that you will live only once as a youth, then you will arise, awake and you won't stop until you reach your goal with every legitimate action. I believe in the infinite source of energy of the youth and I'm sure that the youth can deliver if he or she is given the proper environment with good motivation and the right support is extended. In my considered opinion, any agitation for restructuring that does not capture as its focal point the creation of adequate environment for the youths to thrive, then that is only a misguided struggle whose effort will end in futility. The clamor for restructuring should be geared towards galvanizing, harnessing and channeling the productive energy of the youths in the right direction.

 Franklin D. Roosevelt, the former President of United States of America during the Great Depression of the 1930s stringed this thoughtful lines when he said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. This has been my guiding principle as I've always dedicated more than 70% of my empowerment programs to the youths. My educational assistance program, entrepreneurial/skill acquisition programs, job placement in some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), ICT training programs etc are all focused on the youths. I believe that if our youths arise and act, they have the strength, numbers and dynamism to generate a huge transformation in the society.

The Constitution Alteration Bill No.3, 2017 in the ongoing process of amending the constitution made spirited attempt to deal with issues of devolving more powers to the states by getting some items in the Exclusive Legislative List into the Concurrent Legislative List. The idea was to alter Second Schedule, part 1 and 2 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by transferring some key items such as power generation, aviation, stamp duties and railway from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to the states to legislate on these which hitherto have been the exclusive preserve of the federal government. A further attempt was made to streamline the basis on which the National Assembly and States Assemblies can legislate on items in the Concurrent Legislative List. These strenuous efforts were made by the federal lawmakers to strengthen or empower the state which is in tandem with the clamor for restructuring. This attempt was unsuccessful because enough votes were not garnered to amend that aspect of the constitution. I believe in the near future the National Assembly will revisit the issue.

When such an aspect of the constitution is revisited and enough votes are mustered for its alteration, the youths will be well positioned to benefit more from their states in terms of job creation if the right economic frameworks are put in place by individual states. Again, permit me to repeat that in a constitutional democracy restructuring cannot be done by fiat. It has to go through a constitutional amendment process. I believe that youths are the major part of the engine room of our society and I daresay that any society that neglects its youths or loses them to social vices has lost not only the future but also the present because no society can sleep with two eyes close when the youths are neglected.

I believe that the power of any generation is in the hands of the youths. On that note, I will be leaving you with two quotes from two great men. Firstly, Robert Kennedy contended that, “This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” Secondly, Alvin Toffler asserted that, “For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.” Our youths must rise up to be counted, I started off in my early twenties as a lecturer in this great institution and I believe you can start from where you are and effect the desired change in our society. The time is now!

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