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Umez Foundation (UF)

Addressing Nigerian African Issues Head-on

Leadership is action, not a position

Letter to President Bill Clinton 

by Bedford N. Umez 

Bedford Nwabueze Umez, PhD.
Box 818
Lee College Baytown, Texas 77522
August 1, 2000

President Bill Clinton
The White House 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I deeply regret that the vocabulary at my command is not adequate to better express my sincere appreciation for your scheduled visit to my country, Nigeria, between August 25 and 27. I could do better with my own language, Igbo, however, the nuances would be lost in the interpretation, apart from the fact that your fluency in my own language is very limited. Notwithstanding the language barrier, I believe the import of my appeal will not be lost on you.

I understand that you will have the opportunity to address the Nigerian National Assembly. This, I believe, provides a unique opportunity to address fundamental issues which touch on some of the major problems facing Nigeria, as these will help Nigeria become a true democracy. Consequently, the relationship between Nigeria and the United States will be strengthened and improved.

As a private, concerned citizen of Nigeria, and a resident of the United States since 1981, who not only studied in this country, but have been teaching courses in US Government for twelve years, I appeal to you to raise points in the following six areas, namely, democracy, education, health care, job creation, corruption, investment, to wit:

I. DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA

Mr. President, we all know that a democratic environment is more conducive to political and economic development than an environment where military rule or dictatorship prevails. For democracy in Nigeria to thrive and produce its desired fruits of progress and development, Nigerian leaders and elites must care for their own people. In a democracy, a leader is a servant of the people and not one for whom the purpose of democratic leadership is to rob his own people. Genuine democratic leaders must have a significant level of consideration for the people they represent; they must have compassion; they must be able to address the needs of the people. Therefore, Mr President, I am appealing to you to remind Nigerian leaders of the true meaning of the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I am asking that Nigerian political leaders practise democracy not only in words, but in deeds, as well.

Similarly, the maintenance of real democracy in Nigeria will provide a conducive environment for investment. It is obvious that democracy is the best form of government when its principles are enforced. All we know about the democratic process is that over a period of time, the institutions, the economic structure, and the whole business of laws, and law-making will be maintained according to the wishes and desires of the people. Mr. President, Nigerian leaders and elites should be reminded that this is only true if all other matters so vital to the success of a country (e.g., patriotism, commitment, great vision, investments on the part of the leaders and the elites, and genuine consideration for others) are taken seriously by those who are elected in a democracy. Indeed, it is pure illusion to assume that answers to any society's problems will be forthcoming by mere repetition of democracy (as if it were an incantation against the evils perpetuated by men against men). Therefore, the success of a democratic government depends upon the morally guided and sagacious leaders and the elites who are determined to work for the growth and development of every aspect of the whole country. Nigerian leaders and elites must recognize that a crime does not become legal because it is committed under the guise of democracy.

II. IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION IN NIGERIA

Education is a major area of concern for Nigeria and progressive Nigerians. So far, education has been neglected completely in Nigeria by the various governments to date. Institutions of learning, especially universities, are often closed due to teachers who go on strike because, in addition to being paid meager salaries, they are more often left unpaid for several months. Libraries are almost empty. Research is grossly neglected and under-funded. Several universities have no access to the Internet. Computers are miserably lacking in so many universities.

Mr. President, I believe your record of achievement should be an example to emulate. This message should not be lost on Nigeria's political leadership. I humbly request that you share your remarkable record on education with the Nigerian political leadership. For instance, it is on record that your administration enacted the largest investment in higher education in 30 years, by doubling student aid to nearly $60 billion. There has been increased access to technology, increased number of multimedia computers in the classroom, and technology training for teachers due to the creation of Technology Literacy Challenge Fund. The newly proposed $1 billion teacher quality plan to recruit, train and reward good teachers, and the allocation to hire an additional 100,000 well-prepared teachers to reduce class size in the early grades, are examples which indicate that, for you and your administration, the commitment to education goes far beyond political rhetoric.

When you compare all these initiatives in the United States against constant closure of schools in Nigeria, starvation of teachers due to little or no pay, and under-funding of institutions of higher learning, it becomes very clear why it will be highly appreciated by concerned Nigerians if you could remind Nigerian leaders and elites of the importance of education, by effectively supporting it with your excellent record on education in the United States.

III. IMPROVING HEALTH CARE IN NIGERIA

Mr. President, health care in Nigeria has long been abandoned by successive Nigerian governments. It is obvious that you are not going to see the REAL Nigeria; you will be shown the best and little part of Nigeria. In fact, every effort will be made to ensure that you do not witness the numerous and frequent interruptions of electricity each day in Nigerian cities and hospitals. You will not witness the numerous and frequent disconnection of telephone services which occurs almost all the time. You will most likely not witness scarcity of fuel in a country ranked number six in crude oil production. [In my town, as is the case with a very large proportion of the towns in the country, there is no electricity, pipe-born water, tarred road, hospital or clinic, not to mention ambulance service]. You will most likely not have the benefit of being close enough to seeing the pain and anger in the faces of so many struggling Nigerians, such as mothers carrying babies on their back, as they go about trying to make a living, or more likely just to make $5 a month in order to feed their families. Yet you will see a healthy and well presented Nigeria, painted for your benefit.

I am sure you know, or at least have read, that so many Nigerian leaders and elites travel abroad for medical checkups year round, when it is obvious that the national purse has more than enough funds to build good hospitals in Nigeria. There are many Nigerian leaders and elites with well over a dozen private cars, yet they would not, as public servants or politicians, take the initiative to build good roads in Nigeria. There are some of them with gold bathtubs, but could not think for a second how to ensure that there is clean pipe-born water or regular supply of water. And, of course, so many are still robbing Nigeria, as I write, only to pile up the loot in their private bank accounts in Switzerland, for instance, while there are millions of poorly fed, and undernourished children all over the country.

IV. JOB CREATION

The importance of job creation in Nigeria, or any society for that matter, can never be over-emphasized. Specifically, availability of jobs will drastically reduce negative developments such as armed robbery, poverty, preventable diseases, and other social ills. Nigerians need jobs; they need food; they deserve the right to enjoy life, liberty and pursuit of happiness because God gave them, like anyone else, those fundamental rights. Investing in Nigeria, and the resulting economic empowerment of Nigeria, are the number one medicine to improving the overall quality of life in Nigeria.

Once again Mr. President, citing your impressive record regarding job creation can be quite instructive in this regard. Nigerian political leaders should be reminded of your record in order to demonstrate your belief in providing service to the American people through good governance. My suggestion is not meant as a call for you to blow your own saxophone [trumpet], in a matter of speaking; rather, it is to impress upon Nigerian leadership that these are a part and parcel of public service and good governance. Specifically, they should be aware that your administration has created over 22 million new jobs since 1993, resulting from the fact that the US economy has added an average of 248,000 jobs per month -- the highest under any President. They should also be informed that unemployment is down from 7.5 percent in 1992 to 4.0 percent in June 2000. These examples are to emphasize that job creation in any country is paramount, and that employment will only come to pass in Nigeria when Nigerian leaders and elites start creating more jobs in Nigeria.

V. CORRUPTION

At this juncture, I would like to raise some questions: Why is democracy in Nigeria so shaky? Why has the neglect of the education sector in Nigeria become so rampant? Why is health care in Nigeria so poor, if not practically non-existent? Why is the rate of job creation in Nigeria so low? There are various answers to these questions, Mr. President. However, one major answer (among many others) to these questions is that Nigeria is a country where corruption has, at the macro level, become a way of life.

Conventional wisdom and common sense suggest, as a matter of course, that leaders of any polity should be patriotic, and invest in their society, thereby creating jobs for their own people. Leaders must have vision for the people they represent, and it is time some Nigerian leaders started being visionary. However, experience has shown, tragically so, that numerous Nigerian leaders have embezzled public funds for their personal use, rather than spend the funds for officially approved projects. Examples abound to buttress my point, but I believe a few will suffice: the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported on December 14, 1999, that "Swiss authorities have frozen $550m in bank accounts belonging to the late Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha, members of his family and his associates."1 On July 21, 2000, we learned, again from the BBC, that "Switzerland has agreed to hand over to Nigeria some of the money held in bank accounts linked to the late military ruler, General Sani Abacha."2 It is noteworthy that the word some is used to describe $66 million considering that "A judicial official in Geneva said $66m was being returned to the Nigerian authorities."3 This, most likely, is only the tip of the icebag.
Mr. President, I cannot help but raise some more questions for your consideration: how can Nigeria ask for debt relief while the available financial and natural resources are not well managed? Is it prudent for more financial assistance be given to Nigeria when previous ones are not accounted for within well-established financial guidelines? The Nigerian political leadership must be informed, in clear terms, that, instead of those funds being siphoned to private accounts in Swiss banks or used to buy gold bathtubs for personal use, they must be used to create jobs for Nigerians in Nigeria; they must be used to build and maintain better schools; they must be used to build better roads (instead of dozens of private cars); they must be used to build better hospitals and clinics (instead of being used to travel abroad for personal medical checkup). Therefore, I am making this clarion call that you appeal to Nigerian leaders and elites to have some compassion and mercy upon their own people, and work tirelessly to end corruption; again not by mere words, but by deeds as well.

VI. CREATING A GOOD ATMOSPHERE FOR INVESTMENT

Mr. President, needless to say that creating a good atmosphere for investment in Nigeria is essential. We can start establishing this desirable environment in Nigeria by ending corruption. Corruption has created a hostile environment for investment in Nigeria because instead of serving the people, corrupt officials have continued to serve their own narrow selfish interests. Just as some people were skeptical about investing in Nigeria during the military regimes, some prefer not to invest in Nigeria today because of rampant corruption within the political leadership. Nigerian leaders and the elites must rise above corruption; as a start, they must show commitment by obeying the laws of the land.
When this commitment is demonstrated by Nigerian leaders and elites, there will be more incentive for outsiders and progressive Nigerians to invest in Nigeria, thereby providing the engine for economic growth. The people will be well fed, and when they are well fed, they are more likely to obey laws, respect the rights of others, accept conventional means of political participation, and generally observe the principles and the values of democracy.

VII. CONCLUSION

One who does not understand the complexity of the Nigerian problem might wonder why I am writing to you instead of the Nigerian leaders and elites. Here is my raison d'etre. While some of the areas may appear to be an intrusion in the national affairs of Nigeria, no one can dispute that, since we live in a global village, what happens in Nigeria may have considerable and significant impact on the United States. The next question then could be, why would the Nigerian political leadership listen to you? Mr. President, I believe they will pay more attention to you than they ever will to any other world leader, or any Nigerian, because, given your record, they know it can be done. They can attest to what the United States of America has accomplished under your leadership. I say this as one who is not only a Nigerian, but also one who has studied and written extensively on Nigeria.

It is therefore my hope that some Nigerian leaders and elites, after hearing you, will think for one more split second - yes, even one split second - about investing in Nigeria, improving the quality of education, or health care in order for Nigeria to move forward. This would be a win-win situation because a truly democratic atmosphere, in which there are reasonably educated citizens, a decent health care system, jobs available for the citizens, and a reduction or elimination of corruption, would not only be good for Nigeria and Nigerians, but would also be a good investment ground for Americans.

Finally Mr. President, I thank you immensely for taking the time to read this letter, and hope that you will give serious considerations to my suggestions. I wish you a peaceful and successful visit to Nigeria, and may God continue to bless you.

Sincerely,

Bedford Nwabueze Umez, Ph.D
.

PS. I wrote this letter to President Clinton, August 1, 2000, before his visit to Nigeria. I got a an acknowledged response August 11 from the White House. I am happy that he touched on most of the issues raised in the letter.

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