In training centres and cafes, Dimeji Bankole, Nigeria’s former House of Representatives Speaker, has been giving back to the society in a big way – meeting with young people across the nation and telling them what Nigeria needs the most at the moment and what it doesn’t.
Last Wednesday, November 11, he met a group of young professionals who had spent years like himself studying in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe, and had just returned to Nigeria hoping to turn a country in crisis around.
At a cosy restaurant, 355 Restaurant and Lounge, in Victoria Island, Lagos, Bankole, who became Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives at 37, told the hopeful youths that character, integrity and bold decisions were what Nigeria needed the most.
He said a few good men and women of integrity, who say enough is enough, can make a crucial difference where a horde of bad people cannot.
Bankole told young men and women who still had their British and American accent that they will need to get their hands dirty to solve Nigeria’s many ills.
“How many of you live on Lagos Island?” he asked, referring to Lagos wealthy area.
As a sea of hands went up, he told them, “this is not real Nigeria. You cannot change Nigeria from here. You will need to move out and meet real people to begin to fix Nigeria’s problems. You will need to solve problems, real problems.”
When one young man, who just completed his studies in London complained about the Nigerian Youth National Service Scheme he is undergoing, saying that it wasn’t related to his line of studies abroad, Bankole rebuffed him, and reminded him that the scheme was actually meant to give young people additional skills beyond what they studied in classrooms.
It is also, he said, normal to give one year to your fatherland, to give back to a country that has given you so much, at least birth.
“In any case, if you dudge NYSC, like they asked me when I became speaker, they will ask you one day,” he said.
That was in 2007, when, barely a week after he replaced Patricia Etteh as Speaker following a financial scandal, political opponents claimed that Bankole had not completed his National Youth Service Corps (N.Y.S.C), which is mandatory for all Nigerian university graduates under thirty years of age when they graduate, and called for his resignation over the issue. Bankole provided his N.Y.S.C discharge certificate, ending the rumour.
In Victoria Island, Bankole told Nigerian returnees who were gathered by an organisation called Young African MBA’s that they are the best Nigeria has and they need to be creative and use their knowledge and acquired skills to turn things around.
But, he warned them, they will need to understand Nigeria specifics and know that human beings are never predictable. They will meet Nigerians from all walks of life and with various educational and social backgrounds and will need to strike deals with them to advance their agenda.
Despite the challenges, if they are focused, they will realise that little good decisions can make fundamental differences, he said, citing as example his major decisions at the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011 when he left office that saved Nigeria about N1trillion in four years.
Under his leadership, the House of Representatives as a result of performance of its oversight function ensured that Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) returned unspent budgeted funds amounting to about N450 billion to the government treasury in 2007 while about N350 billion was again recovered in 2008.
In total, the House of Representatives ensured the return of about 1 trillion naira unspent funds by MDA’s as part of the annual budgetary process under Bankole’s speakership.
These decisions were unprecedented in the history of oversight in Nigeria’s legislature. Up until then, MDA’s did not return unspent funds. Also, the House of Representatives discovered that about N5 trillion generated revenue were never remitted by MDA’s for the past 5 years before investigation.
That little decision, to ensure that funds that were not spent by government agencies returned to the country’s coffers, has made a big difference, he acknowledged.
Bankole also delved into political matters, telling a few journalists around that it was too early to judge the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, including on the Boko Haram insurgency.
He called on Nigerians to come together and solve the Boko Haram issue, saying that it was a collectively responsibility.
27-year-old Gossy Ukanwoke, who studied in Europe and has returned to Nigeria to work at the BAU R&D company said he was grateful Bankole took time out to speak with them.
“I believe he has good intentions and coming out that evening to sit and speak freely with young people is a good start,” he told Simonateba.com.
Ukanwoke said he gained insight from Nigeria’s youngest serving speaker in history.
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