HM Queen Elizabeth's Speech: A Nigerian Perspective

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952 after the death of her father and she has reigned gracefully for 50 years. After all these years, Great Britain and the Commonwealth will be celebrating a summer of street parties in her honour. A celebration that is so well deserved because of what Her Majesty symbolises.

On the 30th of April 2002, she addressed the British Parliament with an epoch speech that defines Britain and the British people. My attempt is to annotate the text of her message with my reflections of Nigeria and her peoples.

Her Majesty started her speech by paying tributes to Members of both Houses of parliament by saying: “I would like to pay tribute to the work you do in this, the Mother of Parliaments, where you, like so many famous predecessors before you, have assembled to confront the issues of the day, to challenge each other and address differences through debate and discussion and to play your essential part in guiding this kingdom through the changing times of the past 50 years”.

Her Majesty’s reference to the ‘changing times of the past 50 years’ presents in itself an escape route for our Nigerian Lawmakers in the National and State Assemblies because they will argue that we have a nascent democracy and it should not be expected of them to demonstrate the maturity and dedication of decent Parliamentarians as expected by the Nigerian electorate. Arguably, there are long serving members and traditions in the British Parliament that make it unique but regardless of these advantages, most of the members of the British Parliament are in it to serve their country and her people whereas the converse is true for our country Nigeria. In as much as experience is a vital part of human endeavour, one cannot overlook decorum and decency. The crop of our present legislators and Executive both at Federal and State levels leave a lot to be desired.

When Her Majesty intimated that her parliament confronts the issues of the day and differences through debate and discussions, she ought to watch our legislators induce a frisson through obloquies and fisticuffs to settle differences. Most soi-disants in our legislatures and Executive offices consider the mandates of the electorate as a sinecure and this perhaps is the reason why debates are secondary to their purpose. After all, there is the culture of ‘settlement’: A system of paying off dissenters in order to buy their support. Do you remember the speaker of the House of Representatives once displayed wads of currency that he claimed was to be used to buy support of his members. You see, in a civilised nation, the perpetrators of such an act will be languishing in prison but in Nigeria, the story dies a natural death. By the way, what happened to the money and the allegation?

Nowadays, time, effort nor money is wasted in the adventures of buying the support of a motley of bibulous legislators who are intoxicated with power and ‘Ghana must go’, strange clauses of legislation that are not debated nor consented by the National Assembly are found in our legislations, yet no one pays the price for such misadventure. Perhaps, it is instructive particularly in our dispensation to abide “…La politique et le sort des homes sont formes par des homes sans ideal et sans gradeur. Ceux qui ont une grandeur en eux ne font pas de politique”. This translated into English Language means “…Politics and the fate of mankind are formed by men without ideals and without greatness… Those who have greatness within them do not go in for politics” (Albert Camus (French novelist, playwright and essayist). The postulation of Albert Camus, albeit archaic because modern politics is more suave than what obtained in his days, may be right because of the types of politicians in our country and their shenanigans at our National and State Assemblies.

It will be noble to have the type of men Guiseppe Garbaldi (1807-1882) in Gilbardi(1882) called upon when he said: “Men, I’m getting out of Rome. Anyone who wants to carry on the war against the outsiders, come with me. I can offer you neither honour nor wages; I offer you hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Anyone who loves his country, follow me.” The next set of politicians need to be different from the present Legislators and Executive, regardless of the assertion of Edmund Burke (1729-1797) when he wrote: “Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though for but one year, can never willingly abandon it.” We cannot but set higher parameters for the choice of our representatives when their parties adopt them for the next election. The party chiefs have the responsibilities of deciding our collective future in their predilection of selected men and women to represent their parties.

Her Majesty went further to say: “For if a jubilee becomes a moment to define an age, then for me we must speak of change, its breadth and accelerating pace over these years. Since 1952 I have witnessed the transformation of the international landscape through which this country must chart its course, the emergence of the Commonwealth, the growth of the European Union, the end of the Cold War, and now the dark threat of international terrorism.”

Even if the years of military administration taught us nothing as a nation like G.W.F. Hegel, German Idealist philosopher said: “What experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it” (Lectures on the Philosophy of World History), at least we can survey the last three years and consider them as a moment to define our own need to come of age as a nation and strive to build one that is devoid of suspicion of each other. At the stage of our existence, our politics is abjured of every hope of a co-existence in a greater Nigeria in which all men and women regardless of creed and ethnicity can exist in any part of the country like the Americans do in their nation: without fear of persecution.

It is time we consider: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in: to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations” (Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865, 16th President of the USA, second Inaugural Address). Our present battles across the nation and political divide are producing widows and orphans and so are the actions of the wastrels in our Legislatures and Executive across the nation. It is for this reason that it is incumbent on party chiefs to select candidates for the next election whose abiding principle will be: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right and if wrong, to be set right!” (Carl Schurz, 1829-1906, in his speech to the US Senate)(Congressional Globe)”.

The welcomed change that Her Majesty sees as a constant must apply to our society and our nation. If we continue with the myopic colourations of ethnicity, our fate is signposted to a form of destruction that posterity will not forgive each of us. In order that we may avoid our impending self-destruction, we must garner a collective resolve that must be masterminded for the common good and not in the name of setting the South against the North or Christians against Muslims. The resolve should be pivoted in rooting out Charlatans from participating in politics. It is for this reason that the manner we embrace a favourable attitudinal change will define our future. The ephemeral in our society is displayed in acreage of newsprint and attitudes towards each other. Our common focus is divisive and it is time we start to engage ourselves in a common purpose for which our nation will be as great as we allow it to be.

Her Majesty went on to say: “But there is another tradition in this country which gives me confidence for the future. That is the tradition of service. The willingness to ‘honour one another and seek the common good’ transcends social change”. Over the last three years, the periscope over our people and nation shows a divergence from what Her Majesty can see over her nation. In Nigeria, our common good is regional or creed based. Our leaders talk about ‘good appointments’, ‘juicy ministries’, ‘Shariah’, ‘Settlements’, ‘Marginalisation’ ‘South-South Presidency’, ‘Igbo Presidency’.etc. All of the preceding terminologies in our lexicon are emotive and are excrescent of a set of corrupt leaders whose pecuniary interest underscores each concept.

It is herein that the clear blue sea separates our nation and it ought no to be so. Her Majesty’s words: “Over these 50 years on visits up and down this country I have seen at first hand and met so many people who are dedicating themselves quietly and selflessly to the service of others. I would particularly pay tribute to the young men and women of our Armed Forces who give such professional service to this country often in most demanding and dangerous circumstances. They have my respect and admiration. I also wish to express my gratitude for the work of those in the public service more widely, here in Westminster or the corridors of Whitehall and town halls, as well as in our hospitals and schools, in the police and emergency services”.

Well then, our civil service and members of the Nigerian Armed Forces? These two bodies are the bastions of any nation. In our case, a look at this report indicts any civil service, be it a Banana Republic or not: Top government officials and retired public servants including the Secretary to the Federal Government, the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) and retired Permanent Secretaries yesterday literally removed the bureaucratic guards over their mouths and revealed how pubic service accountants perpetrate corruption and how the scourge can be curbed.

Disturbed by the general perception that public sector accountants aid and abet corruption, the Federal Government approved a weekend retreat for top civil servants at the Abuja Sheraton Hotel where the frank talks emerged. In his welcome address, the AGF, Mr. J. Kayode Naiyeju, declared that “there is no gainsaying that corruption is number one enemy of development and progress of any nation. As a cankerworm, when it eats into the fabric of any society, it retards both social and economic development and distorts political programmes. By definition, Nigeria is not an exception.”

Mr. Naiyeju, who noted that corruption is not just a simple act of giving and receiving bribes, said the scourge includes following:

  • Use of one’s office for pecuniary advantage;
  • Gratification peddling;
  • Insincerity in advice with the aim of gaining advantage;
  • Less than a full day’s job for a full day’s pay.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who was also represented by Mr. David Oyegun, Permanent Secretary (G.S.O.) in the SGF’s office, noted that “public comments on financial dealings with government vary but more often than not, they are uncomplimentary”. The SGF said that “we often hear of such allegations as:

  • Missing files that resurface immediately the desk officer is settled;
  • Slow moving files that get through the desk of officers once the interested parties have compromised themselves”.

He regretted that “it is very sad to hear of situations where officers expect or demand gratifications in various forms before they pay colleagues even their leave allowances, duty tour allowances or gratuities”.

Ekaette revealed further one of the ways accountants perpetrate evil in the service when he said that” even the remittance or release of statutory allocations to states and local governments is bedevilled by bureaucracy and unnecessary delays until fees are paid.”

The SGF, who retired as Permanent Secretary in the Federal bureaucracy, said apart from all the listed ways of corruption “other administrative toll gates are set up at varying points along the way and officers are rude and haughty to visitors and are only cheerful to those who have either compromised cherished values, have been known as ‘generous’ friends and customers of government establishment concerned.”

A former Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Mr. Samuel Chukwuma Nwokedi, in his paper “Accountability and transparency in treasury services delivery” listed certain corrupt practices in the treasury administration which need to be addressed urgently.

He canvassed that “before an AIE or warrant is issued, funds should be available for collection.” His reason being that “the practice which calls for repeated visits or negotiation cannot be accountable nor transparent.”

Nwokedi also mentioned operation of dedicated accounts as a source of corruption that should be tackled. He revealed that the opening and maintenance of special accounts which assumed prominence during the military era “have not been completely discarded”. The former Permanent Secretary noted that “such account’s are prone to abuse and may also be unconstitutional if they involve funds jointly owned with state and local governments.”

Nwokedi also revealed how accounting officers can abuse public funds via the malpractice known as splitting of tenders by incurring expenditures in small amounts that do not call for recourse to higher approving authorities. He said the solution to this is for each officer at the beginning of each quarter to be given a limit of expenditure, in terms of level of total sum for the period.

This type of meeting is purposeless and a need to hold it indicates a deep seated misunderstanding or ineffectuality of the rule of law. The questions that ought to be answered by the senior public servants ought to be how Law Enforcement Agents were invited to investigate corruption against the State. We all know how corrupt and fraudulent the Civil Service has become. Hence, there is no mileage in parading the art of fraudulent engagements as practised by its officers. There will be a lot of deterrence when senior Civil Service Officers are prosecuted and incarcerated. As for the Armed Forces of the Federal Government of Nigeria, need I say more?

In conclusion, here I am soliloquising. Your Majesty, there is so much that separates us because what you see in your country are the common decent principles that I hope for mine. I have a hope that one day, a Nigerian leader will give the same speech as yours as a true reflection of our Nigerian society. Nonetheless, I appreciate that no nation is perfect because I have lived most of twenty-three years in yours to know what obtains in your country. All in all, your speech represents your nation and I hope my dreams will one day become a reality in my nation where OPC, Ohaneze, ACF, Jihadists and 419ers will be ephemeral and what will endure is a Nigeria devoid of the Northerners, Southerners, Easterners, Middle Belt, Westerners and Mid-Westerners but a people that take pride in a common entity called NIGERIA!

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