When Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, delivered the Convocation Lecture at the 38th Convocation of the Federal College of Education (Technical) Akoka, Lagos on Thursday ,27th April 2023, he admosnished the students to change their orientation from what the older generation had. They should aske: Why should I be an employee, when I can be the employer?
Ladies and gentlemen, Members of the Academic Community of the Federal College of Education (Technical) Akoka, let me commend you all for another convocation ceremony, the 38th that this institution is undertaking.
It bears testimony to your patriotic commitment to nation-building by undertaking to produce and shape the quality of our human capital.
To the parents and guardians of graduating students, I commend your labour of love. I share your sense of relief and your sense of pride on this auspicious occasion, the graduation day of a child or ward. I have walked this route before. I know how good it feels. May your labour not be in vain.
Most especially and very deservedly, I congratulate all the graduands of today. I doff my heart for your achievement, I salute the industry that you have invested in order to be here today.
When the Provost, Dr. Wahab Ademola Azeez invited me to be the convocation lecturer, I accepted because of you. Because you are the next set of Nigerians who will occupy the frontlines in the process of building our country. That in part is why the school was set up. A place to prepare the next set of leaders of Nigeria.
Make no mistake about it, your leadership responsibility started from the day your education started. You are not just leaders of tomorrow, you have become leaders already. With your training here, how far you go on the leadership ladder is now a matter of your own choice and how you react to opportunities.
This brings me to the topic of my lecture. Dr. Azeez in his letter informed me that the theme of the convocation is “VOCATIONAL-TECHNICAL TRAINING AND SKILLS ACQUISITION AND THE YOUTH IN WORLD OF WORK AND EMPLOYMENT MARKET. WHAT DOES NIGERIA HAVE TO OFFER?”
Then he says in his letter “…you are at liberty to approach the lecture from a perspective suitable for you…”
I intend to do just that. I believe that the Nigerian developmental agenda has been organised around a question of what the country can offer or do for her citizens, which is okay, without necessarily demanding from her citizens a corresponding discharge of their duties.
It seems to explain why many Nigerians know their “rights” so to speak and perhaps why not enough of us know that we owe “duties” to Nigeria, or even know what those duties are.
Therefore, my approach to the lecture will be to depart from the question what does Nigeria have to offer? And discuss our duties to Nigeria.
But in doing so, perhaps I will try to orient you differently from the way my parents and I were oriented, which is to graduate and look for employment; and instead orient you to ask the question: Why should I be an employee, when I can be the employer?
It seems that, the place to start is to give you a teaser of what Nigeria has on offer, and still is offering.
Let us start from your very illustrious school, whose colours you wear today and from which you graduate. Nigeria has given you this, by the vision, and action of many who came long before you and their decision to set up this school.
They did a great thing and performed a public duty and laid a block of development from which you now benefit. That is nation building and service to the fatherland. That is the mindset I want you to leave here with in addition to your certificate.
The other mindset is that of a creator. This is what your technical and vocational training has been about – using your minds to visualize things and using your hands to make those things happen.
The greatest nations on earth are those whose people make the most of what they need with their hands. You are the production powerhouse of Nigeria who will build, maintain, repair, re-purpose, fabricate and invent all the assets that will propel Nigeria to her destined greatness.
In terms of what Nigeria has to offer, let me give you examples – she has roads, refineries, airplanes, gas pipelines to build, she has scores of minerals in massive quantities to process, millions of tons of agricultural produce to process, preserve and package, buildings, machines, equipment and assets to develop, rehabilitate, maintain, repair and preserve.
These are all the things that require people who can use their minds and hands, in other words vocational and technical skills. This is not a demand for those who talk. Talk is cheap. This is a theatre of dreams for those who can DO.
The global economy including that of Nigeria is changing and in need of those who are creative and creating. That is why talent is now so highly paid for today more than 30 years ago.
I spoke earlier about mindset along with your certificate. The additional mindset you must take from here today is to see Nigeria’s challenges, needs and her TO-DO-LIST, as your opportunity for prosperity, not an opportunity to emigrate.
And if you choose to migrate, there is the possibility that once you present your certificate wherever you go, the job they are likely to offer you is one that asks you to do in a foreign land, what you refused to do in your motherland.
The illogic is manifest if you ask yourself the question: whether you will go to build another person’s home, when your parent’s home is in need of rebuilding.
But let me deal with another thing Nigeria offers you apart from this school. President Muhammadu Buhari signed Executive Order No 11 of 2022 on 6th April, 2022 for the implementation of a National Public Buildings Maintenance Policy.
In his short remarks at the signing event, the President said:
“…Maintenance of assets is more than a culture, it is an economy from which many can prosper and we must nurture and water that economy by policy and actions that create opportunities and inclusion for people. It is my hope that this order will open the door to this treasure of opportunities for young technicians, for artisans, for vendors and suppliers and for small businesses and cottage industries…”
I am unable to guess how many people in this gathering are aware that such a policy exists.
I am equally curious to find out how many of you graduands see yourselves as possibly being among those that Mr President was referring to when he mentioned: “…opportunities for young technicians, for artisans, for vendors and suppliers and for small businesses and cottage industries.”
How many of you know perhaps that there are about 40 million micro, small and medium businesses in Nigeria, and that these are our largest employers of labour and also the largest number of self-employed people as is the case all over the world.
How many here still want to look for employment and how many want to start their own small business.
Indeed, how many of us know that when governments all over the world talk about “the private sector” it is to the small businesses that they refer and not to the few conglomerates.
While this policy of national maintenance was approved in on the 4th of January 2019, and before the President signed the executive order in April 2022, the Ministry of works had started to give effect to it, by commencing the maintenance of public buildings, roads and bridges.
In the building maintenance sector, we currently have 28 federal secretariats under maintenance contracts to small businesses. We pay between N20 – N40 million every quarter to each company depending on the nature of works they are contracted to undertake. Each of them employs at least 40 persons who do various things from plumbing, heating, ventilation and cooling, to masonry and carpentry, security and Horticulture to mention a few.
Houses in 35 states constructed under the National Housing Programme already have facility managers.
We have contracts for the periodic maintenance of bridges across Nigeria including the Third Mainland Bridge, Eko bridge and Apongbon bridge all in Lagos. These people are using their hands and skills to build Nigeria, rather than wait for what Nigeria can offer them. In 2021 we had 42 Bridges under repairs and maintenance.
There is more that can happen, and many more of us can find inclusion in these and other spaces, but our mindset must change from asking for our rights alone, and transition to recognising our duties to Nigeria and performing them.
Perhaps the most important message I wish to pass to you in this lecture is to invite you to acquire the mindset along with your certificate that you owe duties to Nigeria as a citizen.
Those duties are enshrined in Section 24 (a)_(f ) of the 1999 constitution as amended.
The section provides that:
Section 24 (a)
It shall be the duty of every citizen to –
abide by this Constitution, respect its ideals and its institutions, the National Flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, and legitimate authorities;
Section 24 (b)
help to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render such national service as may be required;
Section 24 (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;
Section 24 (d)
make positive and useful contribution to the advancement, progress and well-being of the community where he resides;
Section 24 (e)
render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order; and
Section 24 (f)
declare his income honestly to appropriate and lawful agencies and pay his tax promptly.
How many of us know that we have duties that we owe Nigeria, what our duties are, and how many of us perform our duties?
I think that all these duties are clear enough and need no further explanation.
For those who want to read about them after this interaction, I implore you to either get a copy of the Constitution or use search engines on your smart phones to access it.
But I cannot conclude this lecture without speaking about a few of them. I will do so in no specific order.
Let us examine the duty in Section 24 (e) to “render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order.”
What can be more lawful in the face of corruption and insecurity than the battle launched by the Buhari administration against the illicit narcotic drugs and psychotropic substance trade through the Buba Marwa led Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
This agency in the last two years has arrested no less than 38 criminal minded drug barons and seized over 2,000,000 kg of illicit drugs.
Just imagine what has slipped through before Buba Marwa came on board and the damage to the future of human capital especially young ones, whose minds have been damaged by drug abuse.
Why is this relevant you might wonder?
It is because I came across a report in the news a few days ago that “THUGS attack NDLEA operatives, FOIL ARREST OF SUSPECTS”.
If those so-called thugs were Nigerians, they were in tragic breach of their duty under Section 24 (e) of the constitution.
They should have provided support to NDLEA if they are patriots.
Unfortunately, they are not.
They let themselves down and they let Nigeria down. You must never copy their example.
Our duty as patriots is to help lawful agencies like NDLEA in their noble tasks. Providing useful information that leads to arrest and seizure is an example of how we can perform this duty. A drug free society is one that has a future, a promise of prosperity and renewed hope.
Let me also quickly deal with Section 24 (c) about the duty to “…respect dignity of other citizens and the rights and legitimate interests of others and live in unity, harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood…”
Not a few of us have fallen short of the constitutional expectation in respect of this duty.
Sadly, the evidence is easy to gather on public platforms especially on social media. We have carried on as if we are at war with one another only because we disagree with the views that others express.
If we were looking for who to blame, there are enough people who should cover their faces in shame.
I have held the view and still do so, that our disagreement should not make us disagreeable. I can disagree with you without calling you names or trolling you on social media or worse still manufacturing lies against you or addressing you in words that should never be in print.
Let me remind us that the world wide web and Internet has a long memory, if at all it forgets anything we put there; and the whole world will relate with us on the basis of what we have said about ourselves and to ourselves.
You will observe that I have included myself in the conversation by the words I have used such as “our” country instead of “your” country.
This is because I have ownership, and it is because this is my country, although some Nigerians speak of Nigeria in the words “your country”, “your government”, “your problem.”
I respect your choice not to take ownership. I also appeal to them not to compound the problems if they have no solutions to offer. I am also convinced that the problem are man and woman-made; and they can be solved by men and women with the right resolve and the right mindset.
As somebody once said, a life without challenges is a life perhaps not lived at all. And I might add that adversity is the foundation upon which all successes I have read about or heard about have been built.
In this respect, I urge you to take another mindset along with your certificate. That mindset is that Nigeria is your country, it is the motherland, it is the place called home and we must show love and affection to her in order to get the best out of her.
And this takes me to the duty in section 24(b): “… to enhance power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render such national service as may be required…”
Some of our brethren who perhaps may have been disappointed by the conduct of public officers or government as a whole have equated the government with their country. Sadly, this is a grave error around which I urge them to reflect.
Nigeria may be reflective of its governments, but they are not one on the same. Their disappointment is no excuse for the denigrating and unprintable things they have said at home and abroad about our country.
Some of them, (and I am not one of them, because I will never speak ill of my country, but I will criticize its governance) have pointed the darkest picture of the country to the whole world.
They have described our problems in deficit without basis, magnified our challenges to the world in hyperbolic proportions, one of which is the statement that we are the poverty capital of the world.
The bigger the problem of Nigeria, the happier they seem to be without offering any solution.
Nigeria is understandably facing a challenging time, as indeed most parts of the world are. But she is investing in rebuilding, replacing and upgrading her public infrastructure assets.
This is the road to prosperity, accepted by the whole world since the Marshall Plan of 1948.
Our human capital, such as those of you graduating from here today, must never lose hope, must never accept to be defined by these unpatriotic statements.
You must instead find inspiration in the actions and conduct of our contemporaries such as sportsmen, artistes, Nobel laureates and scientists at home and abroad who have used their craft, their talents, their hands, minds and their skills to positively “enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria at home and abroad.”
My concluding statement is to urge you to do your duty to Nigeria and adopt the mindset of patriots.
I always see Nigeria’s glass as half full not half empty.
Congratulations once again, thank you for listening and may your future be prosperous.
*Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN CON, Honourable Minister of Works and Housing
delivered this Lecture at the 38th Convocation of the Federal College of Education (Technical) Akoka, Lagos on Thursday ,27th April 2023