A LECTURE BY
H.E. ERELU BISI ADELEYE-FAYEMI,
WIFE OF THE GOVERNOR, EKITI STATE, NIGERIA
AT THE 2018 PRESS WEEK ORGANUSED BY THE NIGERIA UNION OF JOURNALISTS, EKITI STATE COUNCIL.
ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2018.
It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning. I thank the leadership of NUJ Ekiti State chapter for their kind invitation to give this lecture. I am particularly pleased that I have been asked to talk about ‘Reclaiming our Land, Restoring our Values’ which was the theme of HE Dr. Kayode Fayemi’s electoral campaign and which resonated deeply with the good people of Ekiti State. The campaign theme did not need a lot of explaining. There was a broad based consensus across the State and beyond that something had gone seriously wrong, and that wrong had to be corrected before it was too late. I do not intend to use the privilege of this lecture to settle old political scores. What I hope to do is speak to the topic as a wife, mother and citizen of Ekiti who has been a living witness to all the events that led to drawing a line in the sand with regards to the destiny of our dear State.
All over the country today, online and offline, there are conversations going on about the decline in our values as a nation. Every other day, there is a convening such as this to talk about the issue of values, apportion blame or responsibility and then move on to the next venue to discuss the same topic. In 2016, HE Dr. Kayode Fayemi gave the WIMBIZ Annual Public Lecture. An excerpt from the lecture reads as follows:
It is obvious that all sectors of our national life are reeling from a crisis of values.
The definitive elements of the national moral condition include a raging culture of instant gratification that feeds short termism, profiteering, and fraud. Without making unsustainable generalizations, we can all agree that too many of us are given to cutting corners and trying to attain inordinately disproportionate returns on relatively small investments. We are not as averse to cheating and exploiting our fellow beings as we should be. In fact, it has been argued that our social, civic, political and economic relationships in Nigeria are defined more by mutual predatory exploitation than anything else. We have succumbed to a feverish individualism that prioritizes the desire and gain of the individual no matter how illicitly pursued at the expense of the common good. The sense of communal being that used to be a cardinal feature of public life has been diminished by the rise of an “every person for themselves” ethos.
In essence, we have become a people quite comfortable with compromising otherwise sacred things such as integrity, character, service and a good name.
I met John Kayode Fayemi in graduate school at University of Ife in 1986 and we got married three years later in London. The things that attracted me to him all those years ago are the same things that make him an extra special person today. He has a relentless, often brutal, work ethic. He has a mind that works like a clock, and his thirst for knowledge is insatiable. I knew, all those years ago, as I still do now, that people like him are very rare, and if given the opportunity, they make the most amazing leaders. The first inkling I had that all was not well with our value system was in 2005 when JKF first made an appearance on the political scene in Ekiti State. His hefty CV had been printed in the form of a pamphlet by his proud handlers and circulated to opinion leaders in the state. One of them, a PhD holder read through the CV carefully. The handlers were excited, knowing their candidate would receive a much needed endorsement from this person whose opinion they respected. After reading through, he said, ‘This sounds like a very impressive young man. However, why do you want to bring him to be Governor of Ekiti? He should go and run for President and leave us here. We will not be able to manipulate this one, he is too smart and has seen too much of the world. Why don’t you go and pick Chief XYZ, he is not that bright, we can work with him.’
In the aftermath of the June 2014 elections, a number of narratives emerged about the reasons why JKF lost, most of them tainted with half-truths, outright lies, and distortions. In every political contest, someone will win and some people will lose, and it is okay to try to identify reasons for political failure or glory. It is however hard to watch someone you love buried in an avalanche of lies and misconceptions. As Governor, JKF woke up at 6am and started his day at 7am, receiving people in the lodge before leaving for the office. At 12 midnight, I would place a call to him, which was the signal to start winding down. He would be back home at 1-2am in the morning and the cycle would repeat itself. Many times, if I had something important to talk about, I would write the points down and reel them off to him while he took his shower. The moment he dresses up and steps out of the bedroom, he is no longer available to me, he belongs to Ekiti State. So it is this same man who, after four years of back-breaking work with projects that touched the lives of people in all communities in Ekiti, a commitment to excellence, transparency, professionalism, merit and accountability, with hardly any breaks, was accused of being arrogant, disconnected and a political novice. And he was replaced by a system with a totally different set of values, grounded in demagoguery. In the soul searching that followed, it dawned on concerned people that it was not JKF who lost, it is our land, our State that was the real loser. And it needed to be reclaimed somehow. Key to this loss was the issue of values. How could this happen to such a proud, literate, God-fearing people?
In his words during his inauguration speech, JKF affirmed that ‘As much as today marks the beginning of a new phase in our history as a people, it also signals the end of an era, or more appropriately, the end of an error. Without a doubt, Ekiti has been through a horrible wilderness experience in the past four years. Our reputation as a people has been sullied and we have become the butt of jokes due to the crass ineptitude, loquacious ignorance, and ravenous corruption masquerading as governance in our State during this past administration……never again’.
He then went on to outline his vision: ‘My vision for our great State is that this is a place where people can thrive and live their lives in dignity. A place where workers do not labour in vain. A place where our young people do not roam the streets looking for jobs that are not there, a place where people are not so hungry they resort to pilfering food to survive. A place where the cycle of generational poverty can be broken, and in which our elderly can reap the fruits of their labours over their children. A place where people are safe, healthy and prosperous.
This vision for the growth and development of Ekiti under JKF2 is anchored on four cardinal points:
• Social Investments
• Infrastructure Development
• Knowledge Economy
• Agriculture and Rural Development.
This task has begun in earnest, and we all very optimistic that the promises made to the good people of Ekiti will be fulfilled, even beyond expectations, in spite of the tremendous challenges that abound and the meagre resources available. So, the land has been reclaimed, or is in the process of reclamation. How about the restoration of our values?
To be fair and honest, the erosion of our values did not start four years ago. The past four years just witnessed an acceleration of a crisis that had been many years in the making. Consider the following:
• A female contractor has a meeting with a Commissioner. In the course of the meeting, she makes it known to the government official that she is available for further services. When the Commissioner refuses to take up the brazen invitation, the woman ups the ante. She makes it known that she has a sweet young daughter, so should the official prefer ‘younger fish’ he has a choice.
• The proprietor of a school was caught in the bush with his pants down on top of one of his very young students.
• A teacher made headlines for stealing a pot of Amala from her neighbour. She was found with her children, eating the Amala with cold palm-oil.
• A traditional ruler was entrusted with funds for a community project. After months of back and forth, there was no project and no money.
• A group of market women leaders were given a sum of money to be used as a revolving loan fund. They refused to loan each other the money, claiming that some of their members might use Juju on them if they kept money in the bank. They shared the money with nothing left to save.
• An educated caterer who has fallen on hard times goes on a mountain to pray. She switches off her phone for one week. While she is away someone trying to get her two catering jobs is desperately trying to reach her to no avail.
The examples go on and on. A lot has been said about the dearth of values as a national crisis, and Professor Niyi Osundare spoke extensively about the Ekiti situation in his JKF Inauguration Lecture on October 15th, ‘Still, in defence of lasting values’. Beyond the endless bemoaning of the state of things, is the urgency of the actions that need to be taken. In his charge to the new Governor, Professor Osundare said, ‘You have an impoverished populace to empower; a swarm of jobless youths to engage; rundown education system to fix; the people’s psychological clock to reset’. This is where we all come in, this is where we have to find common ground, regardless of the spaces we currently occupy.
As journalists, you have a front row seat in the telling of stores, and the framing of narratives be they negative or positive. Over the coming years, as we all buckle down to address the restoration agenda, I am sure I do not need to spell it out that it is a task for every single one of us. We have to reset the clock together. There are plans to address this agenda through partnerships with schools, parents, religious leaders, traditional rulers, old and new media, popular culture practitioners, women’s networks, youth groups and so on. HE the Governor is also thinking of supporting a Values Academy in Ekiti.
RESTORING OUR VALUES: RESETTING THE CLOCK
1. IT IS TIME FOR OMOLUWABI 2.0.
A good friend of mine, Wale Ajadi, a scholar, activist and development practitioner published a book in 2012 called ‘Omoluwabi 2.0: A code of transformation in 21st century Nigeria’ . Wale’s analysis of the concept of Omoluwabi takes it out of the realm of a solitary, simplistic definition of the Yoruba Omoluwabi as a ‘gentleman’ or ‘good person’ and elevates it to the status of a full- fledged alternative African leadership paradigm.
An ‘Omoluwabi’2.0 is someone who is able to make use of a range of tools embedded in Yoruba philosophy and language as a road map for developing a set of core values, codes and relationships which enable the individual to function at full capacity on all fronts – emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally and professionally. There are several tools an ‘Omoluwabi 2.0’ should be able to decode and utilize. For the purpose of this lecture, I will focus on four. Ever since the publication of the book, with Wale’s kind permission, I have taken liberties with his framework which I have found useful in leadership discussions, especially the kind that call for an evaluation of the core values and principles we bring to leadership and governance. This is my own interpretation of Wale’s Omoluwabi 2.0 framework:
1.1: Embrace Positive change (Olaju): The concept of Olaju is linked to visions of transformation and change. Olaju is not only about westernisation or modernisation, it is about being a change agent showing the way for things to be done differently with positive outcomes for our communities. A change agent is concerned with the big picture. He/she embraces new ideas and innovative solutions to old problems, for example women’s empowerment and human rights principles. Someone invested in Olaju is forward looking, progressive and willing to learn or unlearn. The worldview of someone with Olaju is one that appreciates the role of science and technology in the world and the place of faith or organized religion and when to lean on each of these things.
1.2: Engage in Self-mastery (Oju Inu): This is to do with the adaptive skills of insight, reflection and self-discipline that all children, young persons and adults need. How well do we understand ourselves? Do we know our strengths and weaknesses? How do we make decisions? What process do we use? We are taught from a young age to understand terms such as ‘Laakaye’, and ‘Ironu’. Self-mastery entails utilising intuition, instincts, listening, and understanding non-verbal communication. The appropriate investments that we make in self-mastery would hopefully result in more wisdom, patience and understanding and better choices.
1.3: Teach and understand Good Character: (Iwalewa): This is Omoluabi 1.0. It is a familiar concept which is linked to character and personal virtues and attributes. The quintessential Omoluwabi is someone who is regarded as having an abundance of respect, humility, compassion, productivity, honesty, good manners and all the things which make it possible to relate to various stakeholders in public and private across divides. In Yoruba we would describe these attributes as ‘Oyaya’, ‘Iwapele’, ‘Irele’, ‘Iteriba, and so on. Good character is taught from a young age, with a commitment to life-long learning. It is not enough for us to teach our children manners and respect, we ourselves need to continuously check our own behavior and note changes based on our own readings or feedback from trusted sources. Good character is the currency that we use for any form of advancement in life, and should we get to certain places with a lack of character, it will soon be obvious that such a person has no business there. Eefin niwa – character, good or bad, is like smoke.
1.4: Build and use Social Capital (Eniyan laso mi): This is about the power of networks, and the capacity to draw on a wide range of human resources as part of an on-going support network. This is akin to the Southern African concept of ‘Ubuntu’, ‘I am because you are’ which acknowledges the humanity in every human being. Eniyan laso mi is a Yoruba concept of leveraging.
Through our relationships and networks which serve as our social capital, we can leverage (either for ourselves or on behalf of others) a range of things that will be required over a period of time – educational opportunities, employment, promotion, endorsements, and so on. An Omoluwabi knows when to make use of these networks and his/her obligations to the same networks at the appropriate time. This could be better understood through words such as ‘Mimo eniyan’ (Network) ‘Aduroti’ (Support) ‘Ilawosi’, (Generosity), Mimi Eto (Knowing the right thing to do). We all owe each other an obligation to build each other up and be there in times of need. Enia laso mi also takes into cognizance the value of support beyond the availability of financial resources.
2. WE NEED TO KNOW AND REMEMBER WHO WE ARE.
We have some of the oldest civilisations on the African continent, yet our languages are dying out. We don’t teach History any more. We are losing community and institutional memory. Most of our symbolic expressions have been hijacked or mediated by Christianity or Islam. For example, many Yoruba people avoid the rich symbolism of weddings, funerals, festivals or naming ceremonies, mostly written off as fetish practices. Granted, harmful traditional practices should find no place in the world we want to see, yet there are still many expressions of our culture that are positive yet we have perfected the art of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
3. WE HAVE TO BRIDGE THE INTER-GENERATIONAL GAP
One of the saddest things happening now is the crisis of confidence and mutual disrespect across generations. The older generation believe that young people are lazy, entitled, unimaginative, rude and intolerant. The younger generation believe that the older generation has failed them and denied them a decent future. Not only do older people not care about creating opportunities for young people to learn and grow, they shamelessly take up positions which ought to go to young people. As a result many young people are shut off from leadership positions. There are kernels of truth in these competing narratives. We need to have more inter-generational programs and dialogues, this will help minimize tensions and serve as learning spaces for old and young alike. The crisis of leadership, values and governance cannot be solved by one ‘camp’ alone.
4. WE SHOULD BE SELFLESS AND SELF-FULL
We cannot build healthy communities if we are not willing to serve selflessly and sacrifice when necessary. However, we also need to appreciate the value of caring for ourselves. We have to start recognizing self-care as a core value. Due to the immense pressures that abound around us, and our refusal to take care of ourselves the same way we take care of our material possessions such as our cars and homes, we place our lives at risk. There are so many sudden deaths around us. As if that is not enough, should something happen to us or people we know, there must be someone else to blame. We need to make a distinction between being selfless and self-full. Let us pay attention to our health, plan for various life transitions and do things that make us happy, not just because we want to earn a living.
As I close, I would like to go back to my knowledge of HE Dr. Kayode Fayemi as a leader at this moment in Ekiti’s History. A very important aspect of affirming the social contract between a leader and his people is the issue of trust. Without trust a leader finds himself/herself hamstrung and the people are cast adrift. Dr. Kayode Fayemi is passionate about his people and he will do his best to serve them as he has done before. The trust that Ekiti people placed in him when he set out to help reclaim our land is not misplaced. Together, we will all work hard to restore our lost values.
I would like to thank NUJ once again for inviting me to address this conference. I wish you all the very best in all your endeavours.
This land is ours;
with all its glory, beauty, danger and chaos;
This land is ours,
and we cling to it; even as we see the blood on the lips of the vultures who prod and peck at our throats, so they can suck even more blood;
This land is ours;
and we dance on it, to rhythms old and new;
with graceful limbs linked across generations;
all bound together with the promise of tomorrow and the hope of redemption;
This land is ours;
and we reclaim what is ours with our voices;
with our blood and with our souls;
This land is ours;
and the air we breathe on it is too sacred for those without souls to inhale;
This land is ours; and it shall be free.
Last modified: December 14, 2018