(A speech/paper presented by Aaron Akpu Philip to the members of the Nigerian Youth Parliament sitting at the National Assembly in Abuja, Nigeria.).
Good morning Mr. Speaker and distinguished honourable members.
On behalf of my Executive Director, Dr. Udy Okon and all staff of Youth Alive Foundation (YAF), I bring you good tidings of the new year.
It is an honour to be given the platform to address this assembly on a critical subject that speaks to our National integrity and safety.
Dear Honourable members, in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such as Nigeria, our division stems pre-dominantly from our religious and cultural undertones. Daily bloodshed along these lines have indeed divided us but we have one common denominator, a common thing which unites us in pain and hopelessness. This is indeed the heart of my few minutes on this podium. It is known by one name but cloaked in differing garments of torment for Nigerians. We all know it by the name “corruption” – it will be futile and a cliché for me to attempt to define corruption knowing how deeply read my distinguished members are. I will however positively distract us with a story which hopefully drives a definitional point.
In 2016, while working on an HIV/AIDS project, I came in contact with 45-year-old widowed Jamila (not real name) who was HIV positive. Jamila had 3 boys one of which suffered a learning disability. Jamila was required to go for her clinical appointments every 3 months where she will be given her antiretroviral drugs. Shortly after Jamila was diagnosed with HIV, she lost her job because the manager in a local organisation where she worked embezzled organisation’s funds and the organisation shut down. But this is where it gets even more depressing. Jamila struggled to find a new job and after a while, she became unable to fund her transportation to the clinic where she obtained her antiretroviral drugs. After several months of missed hospital appointments and poor nutritional status, Jamila’s condition deteriorated until she died leaving three (3) orphans without access to education, good health or a means of livelihood. Unarguably, corruption killed Jamila and left her children vulnerable. We can only imagine what their fate could be.
Distinguished members, I apologize if my story has evoked some memories of similar bitter experiences in your spaces. Although painful, there is no better way to define corruption than these personal experiences which exude only a pungent odour of pain.
When we are met with the effects of corruption, it leaves us in despair. It leaves us with a feeling of defeat. However, there is hope in despair and where there is a will there is a way. To put this in perspective, in the corruption survey conducted by YAF in Abuja, Kano, Lagos, and Rivers States, 11.91% noted that corruption negatively affects youth’s progress. This is in tandem with the 14.00% who posited that corruption causes a rise in poverty. Additionally, the NBS (2017) survey reports that about 400 billion naira were paid as bribes in the year under review. This means that someone paid bribes to avoid constructing a road or failed to build the industry that will employ young people. Why then do we get surprised when we hear on the news of how many people died through road accidents or even robbery? A pitiable state which indeed needs urgent action. Laudably, that is what the YAF’s implemented “Strengthening Youth Participation Against Corruption (Y-PAC)” project has been doing in the past year, it has been engaging youths to become active advocates in the fight against corruption by mobilising youths and youth groups nationally through capacity building, social marketing, and civic engagement activities. Young people who seemed helpless and at the mercy of this cancer (corruption), through the support of Y-PAC have risen up in the North through a Movement Against Corruption in Tertiary Institution (MACTI) to challenge extortion and sexual demands from lecturers. This movement has led to the suspension of defaulting lecturers in an institution in Kano. Also, young people inspired by the project have risen up to identify and challenge a corrupt practice by a clinic staff in a Primary Health Facility (PHC); this action unarguably saved the lives of many women attending the clinic. In the south-south, young people have been inspired to challenge extortion faced by the police and some power holders through petition writing. This has caused some favourable changes in policies that have positively improved the livelihood of young people. In the South-West, the project has inspired young people to challenge corruption in the Aviation sector. Distinguished members, please note that these were young people who seemed voiceless but with a little push, positive changes became evident. Around the world, we are able to cite the Arab spring of 2011 which saw young people resisting and fighting corruption in Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain. This is the power of a potent and collaborative youth force. If these young people could do this, I submit to this honourable house that you can do more because of your proximity to the corridors of power.
In 2016, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) conducted a survey that x-rayed several countries, it was discovered that more than half of the countries sampled had Youth Parliaments but not all of them had any affiliation with the National Parliaments. Fortunately for us, we are in the National Assembly, which means we wield power in the political space. The Nigerian Youth Parliament is a key additive to the National Integrity System.
As stated in your mission statement, NYP seeks to provide a platform for the Nigeria youth through which their voices could be heard on government policies that affect them directly. To serve as an intermediary body between the government and the Nigerian youths. To champion the course of human development.
As members of the Youth Parliament, you can organize events, run campaigns, make speeches, hold debates, and ensure the views of young people are listened to by decision-makers as it relates to corruption.
To set the stage for fighting corruption as young parliamentarians, we must reflectively ask ourselves these questions?
· What are we as parliamentarians doing to support the fight against corruption?
· How do we mainstream anti-corruption in our advocacy visits to the government?
· What projects do we carry out as a house in alleviating the suffering of young people?
· Is corruption on the front burner in our sittings?
· How loud is our social media presence in discussing issues on corruption?
· How can we promote integrity among youths as a counterculture to corruption?
Imagine if all 109 members join forces in identifying corrupt practices and issues in their respective zones and deliberately face them. This will mean 109 anticorruption advocates with a platform to engage the government.
I am glad to understand that, although as Nigerians we may have our individual political affiliations, this honourable house is not partisan to any political party/government. However, I wish to plead that we remain partisan to the Y-O-U-T-H party. In doing this, we must remain with the clarity of vision and commonality of thoughts that young people are large shareholders in the effects of corruption.
YAF believes that the greatest assets and resources in Nigeria are Young people. Therefore, in combating this lethal cancerous enemy called Corruption, we must promote in our youths, the culture of integrity, transparency, accountability, democracy, service delivery, and good governance. This is what drives YAF and we are all urged to join the train.
YAF is committed to working with young people who are passionate about championing the anti-corruption fight. Therefore, the organisation will work towards scheduling a meeting with the leadership of the house to discuss furthering steps on how it can work with you to mainstream anti-corruption in your programs.
In your decision to take up the fight against corruption, please, expect a fight back and massive challenges but to achieve results, we must keep doing the right things within our remit.
Permit me to paraphrase the famous quote by the German Pastor, Martin Niemöller:
First, Corruption came for the Christians, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Christian.
Then it came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Muslim.
Then it came for the old, and I did not speak out – because I was not old.
Then it came for me, the youth – and there was no one left to speak for me.
I end my short talk with a short story of the hummingbird
(the hummingbird story/video here) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGMW6YWjMxw
In that spirit, as a young parliamentarian, your mantra should be, I will be an Anti-corruption hummingbird, I will do the best I can. (Imagine if all the other animals joined the hummingbird)
Distinguished members, please hang on to this mantra; “I will be an Anti-corruption hummingbird, I will do the best I can”
Thank you for listening.