Text of the Keynote Address by His Excellency Dr. Kayode Fayemi, CON Governor, Ekiti State, Nigeria at the 35TH BIRTHDAY CEREMONY OF HAMZAT BALA LAWAL Saturday, March 12, 2022
- It gives me a great pleasure to deliver the keynote address at the birthday celebration of one the most passionate, cerebral and influential young peoplein our country today. I want to congratulate Hamzat on his 35th birthday celebration today. Hamzat Lawal has been phenomenal in his dedication to duty and has contributed noticeably to the advancement of humanity.
- He has been a big inspiration to many youths, while his passion and activism have continued to attract deserving applauses from far and near. One, is therefore, very proud of what he has achieved as a young man and at the same time optimistic about what the future portends. I pay tribute to his character and integrity which are the defining values that stand him out as a leading light in public advocacy and activism.
- Even though I came to know him when he took me on as Minister of Mines following the unfortunate lead poisoning incident in Kagara,Niger State alongside Medecin Sans Frontier’s Dr Simba Makino, his relentless advocacy on the plight of the victims of lead poisoning dated back to his efforts after four hundred children died of lead poisoning in Bagega Village of Zamfara state in 2012.
- Hamzat and I alongside the then Environment Minister, Ms Amina Mohammed worked closely on health and safety concerns of the mining communities especially in Zamfara and Niger States. His passion about the plight of the rural victims of poisoning burnt like a hot coal.
- As Frantz Fanon, in his famous quote says: “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it”. Hamzat is one of such guys that have discovered the mission of this generation and are passionately pursuing its fulfilment in multidimensional ways. He has not only demonstrated capacity, brilliance and integrity, he has also brought to bear on his activism, innovation and creativity.
- When he embarked on a solo campaign to draw attention of government to the human catastrophe that the Bagega and Kagara carnage represented, Hamzat, made what was hitherto an obscure incident a major issue for national action. It is to his eternal credit that government later committed at least, $5.3m dollars to address the plight of the victims.
- It is indeed true that leadership is a practiced act. It is also true that more often than not, history makes people than people make history. The heroes or the villains of history are however determined by the critical role the individuals plays in the historical time he or she exists. As Chief Obafemi Awolowo once said: “it is not life that matters, but the courage that you bring to it”. In every generation, there is always a thing to be of great concern. In this age, issues about transparency, poverty, environmental degradation and good governance remain themajor issues still confronting our country. And one is very pleased to see that some people like the celebrant have courageously taken up the task of pursuing societsl action against these challenges.
- So, I often think, in so many ways, Hamzat and I area kindred spirit and our trajectories are similar in many instances than few.
- As many of you are already aware, even though my involvement in student movement in the university was more known, I actually started demonstrating my interest in public affairs right from primary school. By the time I entered secondary school, my nick-name was “Current Affairs” due to my prodigious interest in national and global affairs. In no time, I became a constant feature in the School’s Quiz and Debating competitions. When I moved to Federal Schoolof Arts and Science, Ondo for my HSC, I was deeply involved in journalistic activism on campus as the Secretary of the School’s Press club.
- So, when I got to the University of Lagos, I found a conducive habitat to pursue my passion. I started out by joining a campus journal, The Watch and later became its production editor. Of course, I landed in several troubles on the account of the acerbic contentof the magazine which the university authority found extremely offensive and unbecoming but I remained undeterred.
- While campus journalism provided us with the required space for expression and a power to promote our ideological bias as at then, it did not give us the required political power of representation, where one could practically cause change from the front row. So, I started out my practical involvement in politics incampus politics. I stood election and was elected as the secretary of Eni Njoku Hall. The election automatically qualified me to represent the Hall in the Campus-wide Senate of the Student’s Union. In addition, I also edited the Hall’s Magazine, Alpha Magazine and was at the same time Secretary-General of ANUNSA and YUSSAN. All these channels provided me with the opportunity to hone my skills in leadership, activism, public life and strategic
- Very few people who knew me well as a youngster would be surprised at my career path as an adult. Asa university student who had been involved in political movements, including being a volunteer at the headquarters of African National Congress (ANC) and South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), I had developed a deep resentment against the military misrule of the day, and had joined several anti-military campaigns especially as the transition programme had become interminable and an outright deception.
- What however became a turning point in my political consciousness was the fallouts of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, especially, the annulment of that election and incarceration of the winner and many othersfor their agitation for the actualisation of the mandate. By this time I had finished my doctoral studies and was working in the UK. So, some of us young Nigerians in the diaspora came together to form the New Nigeria Movement; and to give us a media voice, we started the Nigeria Now
- At home in Nigeria, the military government of General Sani Abacha had become totally intolerant of those asking for the revalidation of the June 12 election; and thus began a severe clamp down on human rights. Many of theleading lights in that struggle escaped to exile, while many who weren’t lucky got killed or maimed. This inspired a genuine desire to lead a resistance So, many of us, young compatriots living in the UK organised protests to draw the attention of the world leaders to the plight of Nigerians back home. We also collaborated with many of the leading institutions and personalities in the democracy and human rights movement inside the country. Some of them eventually joined us in exile.
- Working with the likes of the late Chief Antony Enahoro andProf Wole Soyinka under the auspices of NADECO and National Liberation Council, (NALICON), I became the pointsman for the establishment of the Freedom Radio later known as Radio Kudirat International which provided a voice for Nigerians at a time that many journalistic outlets had been forced underground and brutally muted.
- We travelled almost everywhere in the world in search of diplomatic and technical support for the fight against the military misrule. We confronted several challenges including assassination attempts on our lives but we remain unfazed. In the end, civilian rule came in 1999 as a result of the collective will and demonstration of courage of many Nigerians even as we continue in our quest to deepen the democratisation project.
- Even at that, when the democratic order returned to Nigeria and many of the dramatic personae of the anti-military struggle offered to participate in the transition programme as active politicians, some of us, who were mainly of the civil society background thought it was unnecessary for us to seek to occupy political offices, rather, we decided to serve as gatekeepers and enablers of the democratisation process. This is because, from the experiences from other climes, democratic governance and culture is not just a switch from military administration to civilian government. You needed vibrant watchmen and women, observers and monitors on the sidelines to guide the process.
- Prior to the 1999 election, some of us in the democracy movement with a background in academia had come together to establish the Centre for Democracy and Development to serve as an independent, non-partisan bridge between ideas and action in the fledgling democracy and I served as the founding Executive Director. Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) focused on training, research and public policy advocacyof issues around democratic practice and good governance in West Africa. And it very quickly became the one of the leading think-tanks on the continent on issues of Democratisation, Constitutionaliam, Security Sector Governance, Civil Military Relations and Human Rights.
- My personal odyssey that led me from activism to partisan politics informs my sense off our democracy as a journey and a struggle. I had returned from exile in 1999 discerning that a new phase of activism required more direct engagement at home with the new dispensation. CDD’s work focused on building bridges of understanding between the government and civil society that would enable the national leadership benefit from the talents and ideas of citizens within the country.
- But that changed in 2006 when I was invited to contest for the gubernatorial seat in my state and the rest is now history.
- I have gone to this extent to tell this story because I know many of you could be inspired by it. My story tells you first how closely similar the trajectory of Hamzat and I, is. He started his leadership development from primary school as a Boy’s Scout leader and continued in secondary school where he served as a prefect. At the University of Abuja, he led a group of activists that demanded better services from the authorities. Even though he had a wonderful career working in an ICT firm, he chose to follow his passion for public advocacy. The second reason for sharing my story is for us to know that leaders are made from the crucible of experience, passion, courage and the readiness to sacrifice. The saying, Nothing ventured, nothing gained is very apt here.
- Our celebrant appear to have taken strongly to these lessons if we trace his trajectory from who he was and the focused, dedicated and inspirational young man he has become. He is the founder of Follow-the-Money, a civic tech advocacy platform that has helped in tracking government expenditure and service delivery. He was a key leader of the #Not Too Young to Run campaign that led to a constitutional amendment that lowered the age one could enter into political contest as a candidate. He has become a major voice for young people and an emerging leader of influence. I have no doubt that destiny awaits Hamzat to accomplish greater exploits and services to our great nation.
- Before I end this address I like to avert your attention to the fact that there are basic things to take away from my story and that of Hamzat and they are that: for one to succeed, one needs to imbibe certain virtues. They include:
- One of the most important things which the younger generation often takes for granted but, which will determine how far the individual can go in life is the set of values that define your life. You must value knowledge without which you cannot develop the right intellect, experience and skillset that will help to prepare you for a functional future. Those who depreciate knowledge, “Na book we go chop” mentality can only promote a quest for prosperity without productivity and this will only bring you to grief. Beyond the need for knowledge for the purpose of a vocation, the best form of education is the one that opens up the human mind. We need to pursue knowledge that can truly liberate us from our fears, biases and limitations. This is the kind of education that has helped Hamzat. He has liberated himself from the bondage of tribal and sectarian affinity to become a global citizen that sees humanity as a common brotherhood.
- We also need to develop skills that prepare us for selfless leadership through volunteerism, community engagement and mobilisation for collective causes. Similarly, young people should value such things as honesty, generosity of spirit, sense of giving than receiving, being solution providers than complainants, perseverance and delayed gratification. For you to succeed, you certainly need a huge dose of these virtues.
Passion and Action
- Like all public spirited persons, Hamzat is a very passionate young man. It is evident that he is self-motivated, confident and courageous to follow his passion. He is also a risk taker because you need a lot of appetite for risk taking to be passionate to the point of taking action on public issues for which you may not be appreciated, even by those who may be the major beneficiaries of your activities.
- Without discipline, knowledge is useless. In the world today, with the advancement in civil liberties, democratisation and freedom of speech, we operate in a freer world with increasingly fewer constraints placed on individual conduct. Now, anyone can do almost anything, at any time. The impetus is therefore on discerning individuals to self-regulate and be disciplined enough to do what is right, and at the right time, if they want to be successful.
- You have to have personal discipline to be able to go far in life. There are many distractions today to blur your vision no matter how lofty it is. I am sure Hamzat has gone this far as a young man because he has the staying power and focus, without which he could not been this relevant in his journey through life.
- As I conclude this address, I call on all of you to love this country and imagine it as a major world power in no distant time. Nation building is an unfinished business but for every generation, there is always a pressing business of the day that must be done urgently. These challenges that ail our country today provide us the opportunity to take a position and work for the resolution of such challenges. Nigeria belongs to those who are prepared to stand up, stand firm and take control of their destinies. As the late Senator Robert Kennedy once said, “it is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.” Like Hamzat has elected to do, we can all do our bit in our little ways to cause a beautiful change that will lead us to make our country and indeed the world a better place.
- We all just need to build a consensus around major issues of concerns and develop a national template for some irreducible behaviour in leadership positions. I am personally uncomfortable with the practice of our politics and political conversation. We should have outgrown bigotry, tribalism and ethno-religious biases. It is time to rekindle the candle of a new Nigeria and the coming transition provides another opportunity for us to take a new dive at making a new Nigeria of our dream.
- For Hamzat Bala Lawal, this is wishing you a blissful 35th May you always be a pride and an inspiration to your generation and to generations yet unborn. May you know the difference between fighting against and fighting for and when to switch from one to the other.
- Happy birthday and many happy returns.