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Nigeria's Endangered Species: the Case of Salami Ibraheem (contd)

 

 

Ayodele Aderinwale  
Ayodele Aderinwale, MFR Executive Director,
Africa Leadership Forum
 

In another clime, another time, another place where positive values and virtues are the norm, what Ibrahim did would be ordinary conduct of an honest citizen. In that case it might not really be a big deal. However, this is not the case in Nigeria. In fact, I make a big deal of it for a couple of additional reasons.

First, the honesty exhibited by Ibrahim on this occasion was not a fluke. Reports indicate that on two previous occasions, he had found valuable items while discharging his duties as Cabin cleaner and handed them over to the appropriate authorities. In one such case, we are told, the security operative to whom he handed over the money he recovered ironically attempted to keep it hidden from the owner. Ibrahim revealed the matter to other authorities who recovered the money. With this latest act of honesty, Ibrahim proves his character to the world and should be very publicly commended.

Second, Ibrahim is an oasis in a desert of corruption. Honest, hardworking Nigerians of his kind are endangered species in a country where ill-gotten wealth is celebrated and people are given a feeling that they must make money by whatever means regardless of whether it is illegal or dishonest.

Third, we are a nation that is short of real positive heroes. We need to identify and celebrate ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We need to have our icons of hope. We need them as a counter to the burgeoning population of anti-heroes. 

In the course of my work, I constantly interact with the emerging generation of Nigerian leaders; the upwardly mobile generation of young professional leaders, on a regular basis through our capacity building programmes. What I find most disturbing in the course of interaction with our young leaders is that there are not very many publicly celebrated examples of honest Nigerians they can learn from. This is not to say there are no honest people in Nigeria. Instead, it exposes our failure to identify, celebrate, and promote people like Ibrahim who exhibit acts of honesty; who have the potential to give this country a better image than what is has now.

What amazes me is that despite the obvious lack of recognition and encouragement, people like Ibrahim keep being who they are. People may never hear of their honesty and transparency but they are honest and transparent anyway. They may be few but they are in every sphere of our national life.

For instance, in 2001, at the commissioning of the Africa Leadership Forum secretariat in Ota, one journalist displayed professional integrity. I was intrigued by his professionalism and probing further I found that this reporter had a track record of integrity. Previously, he had rejected money from a governor as well as other prominent personalities for which he was given verbal and written commendation.  Not many people would have known of this fellow at the time but his character stood him out. Today, he is the Editor of one of the leading newspapers in Nigeria.

There are several honest Nigerians who are hardly ever acknowledged and celebrated as characters and exemplars worthy of emulation. It would, therefore, seem that they are extinct. This is why we must make a big deal of what Ibrahim did until it becomes a well-known story in Paris, New York, Accra, Frankfurt, Beijing and elsewhere. Celebrating our honest citizens is the sure way our image can be improved and values preserved. It is the only way we can encourage more Ibrahims.

It is highly unlikely that our politicians will celebrate him. The Nigerian Civil organizations probably acting in concert with some of our development partners so inclined should, therefore, lead the campaign. 

I believe it is in our enlightened self-interest to identify, promote, celebrate, protect and multiply the several Ibrahims in Nigeria.  We must protect and encourage them and the values they represent.

As a first step in this direction, we should inundate the office of the secretary to the government of the federation of Nigeria with our nominations insisting that Ibrahim be given a national honour. After all he is probably more deserving of the honour than some of the people we have awarded the honour and will award the honour in the future. 

In addition, we should mobilized to celebrate Ibrahim as an icon of hope by erecting a massive billboard in front of the secretariat of his local government office. Similar billboards should be erected in his village and his state’s capital city. It may sound like overkill, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Such a reward for his action will inspire others like him who have the mind to uphold positive values but are afraid to because no one recognizes them.

For the long term, this civil society intervention should include an awards ceremony where credible Nigerians will be honoured and celebrated. Such awards must identify and celebrate the otherwise unknown citizens whose acts of integrity and honesty seem to go unnoticed.

Yes, they belong to a silent minority and it may even seem a bit unattractive to root for them but if we must repair this country’s image; if we must hope that the successor generations will have any values at all; we must urgently begin to give this minority group a voice. We must begin to build the movement of social change around them.

All over the world, national re-orientation is a slow and painful process. Some of us in the civil society have committed our lives to it. Sometimes hope eludes us and our optimism begins to wane. But at our dark hour, a person like Ibrahim comes along and shows us that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Nigeria will be great again if we find ways to inspire our young for greatness. In that short period between when he found the money and when he returned it, Ibrahim showed us the path we must take. But if we are to make our destination, we must set out now.

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