To build a successful society and nation, there must be a deliberate effort to create unity, with equity, justice, the rule of law, and accountability as components.
And the onus particularly lies on the elites of that society, who must be prepared to make the sacrifices for the benefit of the people.
This was the summation of Prof. Osinbajo’s remarks today at the “Nigeria at 62 Independence Day Anniversary Public Lecture” at the Statehouse Banquet Hall, Abuja, where he was the Special Guest of Honour.
The guest lecturer at the event was the former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Prof. Oladapo Afolabi who spoke on the topic, Elites and National Unity.
In his lecture, Prof. Afolabi noted what he described as the “immense responsibility of the Nigerian elite” in resolving the country’s challenges and fostering national unity and development.
Also speaking on the topic after listening to the lecture, the Vice President noted that “the story of successful societies is quite simple. It is usually the story of how the society’s elite – its best educated, its political, and religious class, influence, direct and lead their societies to progress.
“Put differently, every successful society is the product of a conscious, elite consensus: the implicit and explicit agreements of the elite to change their societies for good. But the elite must be prepared to make the sacrifices for the benefit of everyone.”
According to the Vice President, even though elitism confers privilege, that privilege also comes with responsibility.
He explained that “we who are the elites are a privileged class. But privilege comes with responsibility. It is the French who describe it as “Noblesse Oblige”, the responsibility of privilege.
“There is a responsibility that comes with who we are as the elite. The first responsibility of the elite is sacrifice, the ability to make sacrifices on behalf of the communities that you represent.”
While the VP noted that there is that temptation for society’s elite – whether political, religious or intellectual elites – to seek benefits for self only, the greater good demands a higher sense of sacrifice and responsibility.
“As Prof. (Afolabi) describes it from the original etymology of leadership, it means, ‘go forth to die.’ People who are prepared to make sacrifices, even if it is the ultimate sacrifice, people who are prepared to sacrifice on behalf of their communities. That readiness to sacrifice is so important,” the VP observed.
Using as an example, the N-Power jobs programme under the Administration’s Social Investments Programme, which has engaged over 500,000 young Nigerians, the VP noted the fact that young Nigerians successfully applied wherever they are in this country with a fair chance of being selected for that programme.
He said the other alternative way to administer the programme “is for the elite, those in government, either in the Executive, Legislature, or perhaps even the Judiciary, to say, ‘let us give ourselves slots.
“When we give ourselves slots, it is because we are not prepared to make the sacrifice that will enable these young people to say, I belong to a country where there is equal opportunity. But we want these young people to believe in the country. We want them to believe that they belong to a country. We want a united country, but we are not prepared to make the sacrifice that is required.”
According to the Vice President, because of the urge to maximise so-called elites’ rights and privileges by, the basis of national unity and equal opportunity is jeopardized.
Recalling a relevant encounter with President Muhammadu Buhari on the success of the N-Power, Prof. Osinbajo recalled that “when we started the N-Power programme, one day, the President, President Muhammadu Buhari called me, and he said: “I was listening to the Hausa BBC service, and two young men called from Bauchi state. They said we applied for the N-Power programme, and we didn’t know anybody, and we were taken. And we have started receiving our salaries. Thank you, Baba Buhari!”
Continuing he said the President “told me this story…And he said, look, if this is possible, then all these young people can truly begin to believe in this country…
“So, the truth of the matter is that these things are possible, but they are only possible if the elite is prepared to make the sacrifice.
He observed that “every step of the way, in human civilization, the bringing together of societies, have been by the sacrifices that the elites have made. They’ve sacrificed their privileges and because they have sacrificed their privileges, their societies have moved forward. Where the elite fails in its responsibilities, the society itself eventually fails.”
The Vice President concluded with a recollection of a personal experience while he was working United Nations Justice sector expert in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1994.
Prof. Osinbajo recalled that “After several years of misrule, corruption, neglect of social justice and disregard for the rule of law, Somalia became effectively managed by warlords; area boys or whatever you call them.”
The VP observed that although “this was a society that had everything, with a proper system of justice, judges, as well as the elites, “(Somalia) eventually failed because the elites had not responded to the needs of their society.”
He added: “At that time, there was hardly any food, there was chaos everywhere in Mogadishu. In one of the camps where hungry men, women and children queued up for food in a long line with their bowls in their hands. On that line were, former university professors, former senior public servants, former Supreme Court justices, and former journalists, all hungry; waiting in line with their little bowls for food from the World Food Programme.
He then concluded that such a scenario occurs “when the elite fails to make the sacrifices that a nation requires to stay united and to believe in their nation enough not to destroy it. So, it’s our responsibility as the elite, not because we are nice people, not because we are men and women of great faith. No, but because in order to preserve, even our own privileges, to preserve this society, to preserve this nation, we must make those sacrifices.”
The event also featured remarks by both the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha as chair of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the 62nd Independence anniversary celebrations.
Also at the event were members of the Federal Executive Council; Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, Permanent Secretaries; heads of government agencies and parastatals; and members of the diplomatic corps, among other dignitaries.
In another development, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo later commissioned the new Secretariat of the Nigerian Governors Forum in Abuja, at an event where he represented the President.
The complex located in the Maitama area of the Federal Capital Territory will house offices for the chairman of the forum, the Director General as well as staff of the secretariat.
Speaking shortly before the commissioning by the VP, past chairmen and the current leadership of the forum, commended Prof. Osinbajo’s leadership of the National Economic Council (NEC), a constitutional body, the VP chairs, comprising all State governors, some members of the Federal cabinet and the Central Bank Governor.
They noted that his leadership of NEC impacted positively on the activities as well as objectives of the forum.
Addressing the VP, the former Zamfara State Governor and immediate Past Chairman of the NGF Dr. Abdulaziz Yari stated that “in the past, we know how NEC was handled, but the VP handled it professionally and not partisan, all governors gave equal rights. We thank you for that leadership.”
Shortly after the formal commissioning of the building, the Vice President undertook a tour.
Present at the event were the current chairman of the forum and Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, and other former chairmen of the forum, Mr Lucky Igbinedion of Edo; Senator Bukola Saraki of Kwara; and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers.
Current State Governors present included Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto; Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos; Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi; Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa; Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa; Muhammad Inuwa of Gombe; Bala Mohammed of Bauchi; Douye Diri of Bayelsa and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State. There was also the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Hadiza Balarabe; Moses Ekpo of Akwa Ibom and Mohammed Yakubu of Katsina.