Merry Christmas!! It is that time of the year when we send and receive so many cards, emails, WhatsApp and text messages, all wishing us a Merry Christmas!!! It is a time when Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (albeit there is a school of thought that Jesus was not actually born in December but this is not the point of this write up) and remember his main teaching on LOVE/Giving. We do this through the exchange of gifts, donations and gifts to the poor, motherless, homeless etc. So, yes we celebrate the birth of the Savior of man but the main message is what he taught and epitomized – the LOVE of neighbor as self and God above all.
So why and how is this message relevant to sustainable national development? Sustainable national development and spiritual development are two sides of the same coin. There is a strong correlation between the spiritual development of a nation particularly how the core values of love/compassion, tolerance are imbibed by the society and the level of development of that nation. It is difficult, if not impossible, to have proper development in a community or in a country without some level of spiritual development or awareness.
For the purposes of this write up, a nation is described as relatively spiritually developed if majority of the people in that country in particular majority of the leaders and those placed in positions of authority live and act in accordance with established spiritual virtues such as the love of nation and fellow countrymen before self, providing selfless service to country and fellowman, putting the interests of the nation first before selfish personal and the people are generally hardworking, patriotic and have integrity. These are also referred to as the moral values that underpin good societies throughout the world. In other words, we create such a society when our thoughts, words, deeds and feelings to each other are driven by that DIVINE LOVE – the core message of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. This is what determines the level of the consciousness of the society/people.
The fact is that no matter how much we pray, the quality of the leadership of a nation will always reflect the level of the consciousness of its people. It is like praying for peace when in your mind, attitude and action you are creating an atmosphere that will lead to war; how can peace come?
So what is the problem? WE, NIGERIANS are the problem. We have failed to live and act in accordance with the teaching on LOVE and this has had a negative impact on the consciousness of the people and the nation. The problem is certainly not our diversity as a nation, in fact that is a strength. The problem is us – YOU and I.
There is an absence of an effective values system which underpins a good society. It is our values that shape our attitude, our character. They define who we are, what is acceptable or not acceptable in the society, they determine the choices we make and our attitude to work. Let’s take the case of our laws. You need PEOPLE to make fair and just laws and PEOPLE to enforce the laws. If the PEOPLE do not have the right values, you will always have bad laws and of course the laws will not be enforced. Leadership, good Governance and Institutions can only be built and sustained from generation to generation on a strong Foundation and that Foundation is the values system combined with the right, cost effective governance structure. There are of course a number of values but compassion, which is the LOVE of your fellowman as yourself and God, above all is the heart of any effective values system. The LOVE of fellowman as thyself and God above all cuts across all religions and it is the timeless, ageless, tried and tested value on which a strong value system is built. Today, the foundation that was built by our Fore Fathers has crumbled and unless we put the first thing first by rebuilding a solid foundation on which the leadership, governance and our Institutions can be built, that search for quality, effective values based leadership, good governance and strong Institutions will continue to be a dream. All our efforts to build have failed because the reality is that no matter how much you try, you cannot build on a crumbled foundation. It cannot and will not withstand the storm and heavy wind. We must put first thing first.
What is Love you may ask?
Love is Life and Life is God. Therefore anyone who has divine love has received God. Christ is love made manifest to Man. Divine Love is without condition, without boundary, without change and it does not know colour, creed, tribe or gender. Divine love is selfless, it can never hurt, it conquers all and wants nothing for itself because it is already full. Divine Love is ALWAYS the answer and it is manifested through our pure thoughts, words, deeds and feelings to one another.
On the other hand, ordinary or physical love is selfish, rooted in desires and satisfaction and, it fades with time.
Why is this so critical for Nigeria?
First of all, “Love your neighbor as yourself and God above all is the greatest commandment to Man according to Jesus the Christ. It was not by accident that God created the Earth and Man and he gave us this greatest commandment that will ensure that we live together in prosperity and in harmony. As a US President once said “we are not defined by the colour of our skin, the figures on our pay cheque or the party of our politics. We are defined by our shared humanity – by our citizenship in this magnificent nation, and by the LOVE THAT FILLS OUR HEARTS”
Why must we love our neighbor as ourselves or think of them first before ourselves? It is simply because life is one and from the same source. We are all ONE people, with ONE Father, living in One Nation in One world. When the heart of your brother aches in pain, in agony, in want, your heart also should ache because you and your brother are one, from the same source, regardless of the tribe or religion. When you hurt your brother regardless of whether or not he or she is from the same tribe or sect, you hurt yourself.
Secondly, there is a strong correlation between the fulfillment of that law and the level of development of a nation and the living standard of her people. The chaos in our beloved country Nigeria and the world reflect the human consciousness. Unfortunately, we have set about trying to change the physical conditions in our country, instead of changing our consciousness or our mind set. But, those conditions we see and experience are only the reflection of our consciousness, our creation. Trying to change physical conditions without changing our consciousness is like trying to change the reflection in a mirror without changing the object causing the reflection. It is a futile effort. We must focus on changing our consciousness and show that unconditional and divine love to one another at home, in our communities, in our country and all those we come into contact with FIRST, BEFORE self. Acknowledge others’ rights to same things you wish for yourself. In other words, others have the same rights as you to good healthcare, education, regular electricity, good and safe roads, water supply, food, employment etc. That is why the level of the spiritual development of a society or nation determines how developed the society or nation is and the quality of life of its people. I must stress here that the level of spirituality is not measured or determined by how religious a society is or how many Christians, Moslems, Spiritualists, mosque or churchgoers etc. you have in a nation. No. It is about how many LIVE THE LIFE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THIS SPIRITUAL LAW – Love your brother as yourself and God above all. It is about how many people manifest the love and divinity of God in their THOUGHTS, WORDS, DEEDS and FEELINGs towards their fellow human being regardless of whether or not they go to church or mosque. That is the society, the country we need to build. A country that cares for its citizens, that will go the extra mile for its citizens, a country that will provide and maintain the basic facilities for its citizens and meet its obligations…… and in return the citizens will care for and love the nation.
Let’s look at some role model nations:
Many nations have set examples that we can learn from. Let me share a few examples with you:
Britain is not known as a highly religious country given that in a predominantly Christian population of about 65million people, fewer than 1 million go to church regularly BUT the British, in general, can be described as loving, caring and spiritual in nature. There is concern for all: able and disabled, rich and poor etc. and most live according to that spiritual law which requires you to love your neighbor as yourself. This is reflected in the governance of the country, its policies particularly the social security systems, the protection of human and consumers’ rights, provision of basic amenities for the citizens. For example, legal residents in the UK are entitled, in certain circumstances to a number of social benefits. These include: income support for people with low income, job seekers allowance, child benefits, housing benefits, disability living allowance, invalid care allowance, state pension, unemployment benefits, childcare costs support, National Health Service for everyone free of charge, free schools up to secondary and subsidized university education, free bus pass and medication for over 60s and more.
And yet in Britain fewer and fewer people are going to church, in fact churches are being converted to pubs and galleries
Lee Kwan Yew was about what works so Singaporeans can enjoy the good life. His reforms transformed Singapore from a Third World economy to a First World economy and it was not by accident that his reforms were based on some identified values and he started with the reform of the civil service. In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere used the concept of UJAMAA as the basis for his social and economic development after the country gained independence in 1961. Ujamaa means “brotherhood” or “extended family” in Swahili and as a socio-economic development concept, it asserts that a person becomes a person through the people or community. Nyerere attracted worldwide respect for the Ujamaa concept and for his emphasis on ethical principles as the basis of practical policies.
IT IS ONLY THE LOVE OF NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF AND GOD ABOVE ALL THAT CAN BE THE CATALYST FOR SUCH POLICIES. The same type of Government and policies are in countries like Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, US, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, Canada to mention a few. These countries top the Human Development Index (HDI) ranking confirming that spiritual development is a necessary prerequisite for National development and the quality of life of its people. These countries have also shown that the difference between a rich and a poor nation is not the size of the population, the demography or age of the nation; it is not the natural resources it has, but it is about the PEOPLE. Their values, their attitudes. History has also shown that the most successful businesses/companies in the world have strong cultures/values.
But Britain was once like Nigeria and was worse in some areas. It was around 1948 that the change began under Clement Richard Attlee who was the Leader of Labour Party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951. Under him, they established the NHS based on an ideal that good healthcare should be available to ALL regardless of wealth. There were reforms in the social security system also, to make life better for all and to address the aftermath of the First World War – high level of unemployment, poverty etc.
So, Nigeria still has that chance to be great and can leapfrog other developing and some developed countries. What do we need to do?
The Way Forward/Solution
We, the people must realise that there is a divine purpose for which we have been brought together as a people, that our diversity is the soul of our nation and must be harnessed properly, that our destinies are bound together. And there is more that we have in common and that unites us than what divides us…and that WE, the people, can only be stronger and better when we show commitment to each other, show love to each other and care for one another. Not only at Christmas but 24 hours a day. We, all of us, the individuals, Government, National Assembly, Judiciary, Media, Religious Organizations, Traditional Institutions, Organized Private Sector, the Civil Society, our Schools, Institutions etc. have a role to play and I will set out some of these below:
1. We need an effective Values Reorientation Program (VRP) which is properly institutionalized at least for some years. THIS IS THE CHANGE THE COUNTRY NEEDS. Common or shared values unite people, unite communities, unite a nation. We must seek a unity based on our common or shared values with LOVE at heart of the values system. We must define or redefine our values as a nation and let that be the Foundation on which we build our nation. Institutionalise the implementation of these values across the entire society – educational system, political parties/system and INEC, civil service, judiciary, national assembly, the private sector etc. Programs must be practical, embedded in the system, backed by law and policies, impact must be measured, monitored and reported regularly. And more importantly our leaders, right from the President and his cabinet, Governors and other members of the state executive, National and state legislators beginning with the President of the Senate and the Speaker, the Chief Justice of the Federation and the NJC, heads of Government agencies must live and be SEEN to live these values as role models and advocates. It should form part of the oath of office. It is on this foundation that we can now build our economy, institutions, welfare system, educational and health system etc. If the recommendations here are well implemented we will create a new society of Nigerians who are ready to serve and put country first (not personal interest), ready to serve their fellow Nigerians selflessly and with compassion regardless of tribe or sect and ready to fight corruption.
2. We need to reform our honours system as a nation based on these values and all institutions including churches, traditional leaders must be encouraged to only recognize and reward Nigerians who demonstrate these values. Wealth or Money should not be a prerequisite for recognition. There must be a transparent process for removing anyone found to be undeserving from the nation’s honours list. Ideally partisan politics should be kept out of this process.
3. We need an effective, AFFORDABLE welfare system that puts people first particularly the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged and that is focused on their basic needs. Only then can Nigeria and Nigerians achieve their full potentials. There must be adequate budgetary allocation to these causes/welfare system and procedures in place to ensure proper implementation, fairness and justice. Monies recovered so far can be used to finance this welfare system. For effective implementation and coordination, I propose that this comes under the new Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. The implementation and coordination of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) could be part of the responsibilities of this new Ministry. The Vice President and his team must be commended for leading the effort of the Buhari Administration on social investment.To reduce the cost of implementation and to accelerate the pace of national development, it is important that we develop and implement policies, programmes and strategies around the following priority areas; Job creation, Wealth Creation, Developing and empowering new consumers groups particularly the growing middle class (we and indeed Africa have one of the fastest growing middle class in the world) and those near the bottom of the pyramid. Brazil achieved some success in this area. According to the Economist in 2010 “since 2003 some 20m Brazilians have emerged from poverty and joined the market economy. These new consumers buy everything from cars to cookers and fridges to flights”. They implemented a program that moved the poorest to lower-middle class and then to the middle-middle class.
4. The NASS as a matter of urgency should as a matter of urgency (a) replace the HATE SPEECH BILL with National Values Bill which is more comprehensive and positive> It also addresses the causes of hate speech (b) review the relevant Sections in the constitution where national values and citizenship are addressed enact appropriate laws, after extensive consultations. This will not only identify the values on which our Institutions should be built on, but ensure that they are embedded in the educational system and across the Nigerian society. It will also provide a permanent solution to the issue of ethnicity which many have taken advantage of to create division (divide and rule) for their own selfish personal interest. They should clearly define what qualifies a Nigerian to be a citizen of a state regardless of the state of origin of the parents. This is one effective way developed countries have addressed this issue. Think of Obama at the State level and you will understand what I mean. But I must emphasize that citizenship is about Rights and Responsibilities. The person who acquires the citizenship of a state different from that of the origin of the parents must identify FULLY with the interests of the new State as an individual and NOT a member of a tribe or other affiliation. The law should include the reform of the national honours system which should be administered by independent and highly credible Nigerians.
5. Religious organizations need to become more relevant to nation building and the society by being true advocates for the teaching of the Love of Neigbour above self, the conscience of the nation, the voice and defender of the downtrodden, marginalized, poor, the custodians of the nation’s moral compass/values. Our revered and highly respected religious leaders must come together to develop and implement a comprehensive program that would raise the spiritual awareness, consciousness of Nigerians based on the “love of neighbor as self and God above all”. This must be a way of life – the way we live our life and interact with our fellow Nigerians daily. They should also live and teach the love of neighbor and God above all through the provision of affordable (cheap) quality education and healthcare facilities in the country. Almost 1 in 4 primary schools in England is funded or partly funded and influenced by the Church of England. Hindu inspired schools are now springing up as Avanti schools in the UK. The vision of the Avanti schools is to provide the very best in values-led education to the young people of Avanti schools focusing on three things: Educational Excellence, Character Formation and Spiritual Insight ….and they are delivering
6. The importance of the media cannot be over emphasized. In fact they are referred to as the fourth Tier of Government. The media have a major part to play as advocates and watchdog.
7. The reform of systemically important institutions and structures like the civil service,judiciary, political parties, financial institutions/system, educational system (make curriculum more relevant to the economy and development) and Governance structure must be prioritized. The educational system needs to be revamped completely to become more relevant to the economy and development, better equipped and funded and values led. The civil service is the backbone of Government. It is not surprising that Lee Kwan Yew prioritized the reform of the civil service when he started the transformation in Singapore. I mean proper reform not tinkering. The Government is only as strong as its civil servants/service.
8. Political party reform particularly the funding/financing of the party and elections. It is this Institution that produces our leaders; the Executive, Legislature and indirectly the Judiciary. I am aware that a Committee was set up to review and submit their findings to Government. This is a right step in the right direction but is it possible for politicians to effectively reform the political system? No. They should be part of the process but it should be driven and led by credible independent Nigerians who are NOT politicians. This requires urgent attention because it determines the quality of Governance.
9. The Government must proactively encourage organized philanthropy. Particularly in the areas of health, education, social safety net, poverty alleviation programs. This will complement the efforts of the Government. Donations or contributions to these causes should be tax exempt and organizations providing such services should be classified as non-taxable.
10. Now, back to you and I again. We must learn to give love and selfless service to our fellow Nigerians regardless of their tribe and religion. We must be part of the solution and be ready for the transformation. Enough of dwelling on the problems, enough of the blame game, enough of the excuses. Now is the time for solutions and action. We can all become advocates for this and live these values daily. Remember we are all leaders, stakeholders in this country and beneficiaries of the sovereign good will. Conclusion
Nigeria is destined to be a great nation. Nigeria has a place in the heart of God and it has a destiny in the future of the earth to fulfill. We have everything to make us a great nation.
We can achieve that greatness, that good society for all.. sooner than we think…If we start building today and we truly imbibe the message of Christmas. It is an opportunity we must not miss. We can do it. If Nigeria succeeds, we all succeed.
May the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the awareness of that Christ light and love within our heart inspire us to Live, Think, Act and Feel from the heart.
God bless you and Merry Christmas.
Lee is a Minister in the House of Truth