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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #11

A Meeting of the Minds
(Dr. Sarah Jibril in conversation with Mohammed Jimoh Yahaya)

The Chinua Achebe Foundation

Nigeria needs what we call the rigour of an ethical system”


Dr. (Mrs.) Sarah Jibril,

Sarah Jibril

Dr. Sarah Jibril

hails from Pategi, Kwara State. She specialised in Educational, Social and Family Psychology and is today a consultant of repute. She is however more nationally known as perhaps the most consistent, and the first serious female presidential aspirant since 1992 to date. The devoutly religious and relentless social reformer says every aspect of life or success is rooted in ethics. She shuttles between Lagos, Abuja and her Kaduna base, and is frequently moving around the country with her ethical message for a new Nigeria.



Mohammed Jimoh Yahaya, a Nigerian reporter of Arts, Culture and Tourism with more than a passing interest in gender issues. He has worked in television  and the print media, including Newswatch, Sunray, and Post Express. Fluent in both French and English, he is currently interested in international freelance journalism and translation.





Corruption has long been the bane of our nation. What steps, in your opinion, can Nigeria take to tame this scourge?


We must be willing to recognize corruption as a serious crime, and legislate to clarify this

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in law. Corruption is a social, philosophical and economic disease of the mind, and
Nigeria must address the minds and conscience of the people. The scientific understanding of the manner in which individuals develop moral values and ethical connections with others, and work according to the rules of human happiness and orderliness must be implemented in this.


The universal formula which Nigerians have neglected is this: corruption has paralyzed the nation’s development in general -- personal development, family development, systemic development, economic, and corporate development. And the antidote to corruption is simply ethical development. Ethics harmonises, unites people of similar values; sadly, we have been unable to establish the important structures with which to relate with others. Ethics – a set of moral practices – prescribes the way in which one deals with ones self and others. It cultivates trust, reduces risk and enhances skills. Thus, persons are delegated appropriate tasks.


The general opinion seems to be that we have legislated enough; what is truly needed is an enforcement of existing laws in order to punish those found guilty of corrupt practices?


Yes, I agree…partly; however, Nigeria cannot run away from rebuilding its foundation. That is why my political goal is to set up a therapy team. It is not enough to penalise and stigmatise corruption. We must, beyond legislating, ensure the productive services. Corruption must be tackled from the family and education sectors. Education is power for light. It is ironic and unfortunate that our educational system has suffered immensely.


This country must invest in the power of the human mind, in order to progress. If we are rated the third most corrupt nation in the world, then there is great need to re-evaluate our system. Centrally, the system must go through ethical salvation.


How does inept leadership play a role in this pathology?


The leadership

Sarah Jibril

Dr. Sarah Jibril

must set the right standard, and it seems to me that this is largely a question of language. This is why the content of our social, political and educational systems must be integrative and not divisive.


The eradication of all forms of corruption…abuse of office is addressed in the Constitution -- chapter 2, subsection 5, and this is of great importance, because the abuse of office fuses into ethnic problems, nepotism, selfishness and religious bigotry. In a situation where the leadership has nothing significant to present to the people, and thus lacks goodwill, it proceeds to whip up ethnic sentiments to appeal to certain groups of people, or particular religions, to create confusion.


So, we must have proper legislation against abuse of office, as well; an ethical system, a statutory backing for what is in the constitution. We need to listen to the diversity of voices in our nation; it is highly important that the leadership listens to, and has a connection with the man on the street.


What role can our institutions play in solving this problem?


We need to intensify efforts to make our institutions more humane. These are the areas where we address how we deal with one another, understanding, and developing goodwill towards other human beings.


These are all lacking in our institutions…but when the foundation is flawed right from conception, subsistence becomes difficult. Our system does not recognise the fundamental role of the family in humanising society, the de-valuing of women and their place in teaching moral values, goodwill and love in the family. Unfortunately, the importance of women in the development of quality homes and citizens is severely overlooked; their role as a nurturer must not and cannot be limited to the home. Women must be involved in every aspect of our national development; to ignore this is in blatant disregard of female capabilities, and a sheer waste of a valuable section of the workforce. The non-moral foundations such as polygamy or serial monogamy, I do not hesitate to point out, create these problems. This is not a problem unique to certain ethnic groups; it is a particular mind-set that cultivates fear, suspicion and hostility. The solution is to clean up the political leadership, the mind-set of Nigerian citizens, and those occupying positions in the public sphere and in private enterprise. If knowledge is power, then individuals must employ their knowledge constructively; thus, the power of the solution lies in their hands.


Some believe that the pervasive pathology of corruption is the reason behind the collapse of the educational sector. The view is that successive governments compound this problem by appointing mediocre “shepherds” - ministers of education. The recently sacked minister, many believe, is an example.


I’m not sure that I completely share that view. My question is this -- was the sacked Minister sufficiently briefed as to his proper responsibilities? The appointment of representative leaders must be aimed at what the people want, and how to accomplish this. Whoever appoints an Education Minister has the duty to inform all the civil servants working with him to enhance, and not stagnate, said minister’s role.


The Minister met a murky system, and was, perhaps, too naive to out-smart the system, thus falling victim to the quicksand. That is why sometimes, when academics are involved in the political process, they require proper briefing, and encouragement to understand that they are expected to make a difference, change the system for the better, and not to float along with it. In an ideal world, perhaps, they do need to be told this; sadly I find that ethics are quickly tossed aside with the lure of power and its attendant perks. If the system is sick, then there is the need only for those people who are genuinely invested in administrating a cure.


How could this mess have been avoided?


What is required? A suitable budget for the particular ministry should have been agreed upon…and this goes for all ministries. If what was agreed upon was followed religiously, then there would have been no need…no one can quarrel with a minister over a budget administratively approved of by the Ministry. In a situation where there is disagreement, some misunderstanding, then proceed to draw Mr. President’s attention to it. Why was it necessary for the said minister to handle the money personally, to make his unfortunate decision? It begs the question, if ministers feel pushed to do so -- are they fending for themselves? If there are no hidden intentions, there will be no need to bribe anyone.


Why, in your view, is it so difficult for Nigeria to celebrate its ethnic diversity and view this gift as a strength?


It is not difficult to appreciate the beauty of diversity in creation. All of the various

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groups were created by the Almighty God and are good in His sight. It is entirely up to us now to meet the challenge of the gift we have been provided, with the positive attitude it requires.


It is not tribalism, really, but the lack of good leadership that continues to hurt this country. It is the sad neglect of successive governments that were supposed to enlighten the nation on how to handle diversity, and to judge between unity and disharmony. It is the duty of any government, from the Local Council to the Presidency, to first of all ensure the positive, harmonised perpetuation of the country. A workable formula from all possible quarters must be produced. When leaders are not committed, or are dishonest, when a system produces a hypocritical leadership from bottom to top, the tendency is to have similar followers, with the inherent flaws, even wickedness, multiplied.


You mentioned wickedness…could you expand on this point….


There is so much wickedness in the minds of the political, appointed and corporate classes. This wickedness is in the form of insensitivity to the diverse and peculiar needs of the people. There has to be a fundamental way of dealing with these people for there to be equity and good will. Equity in the development of the natural resources, skills, and in the distribution of resources and personnel.


In a way, you need to follow the example of the Almighty God, who provides sunshine for each and everyone. Even with weather and other climatic variations, God ensures a means of harvest of human needs. Leaders must therefore seek to have a mind similar to that of God, caring for everybody and having compassion.


You seem to be suggesting that Nigeria needs an ethical and spiritual awakening?


There is the tendency to trivialize the effect of a moral and spiritual outlook in politics. But with a leadership conscious of a Supreme Being that demands accountability, a moral disposition towards its role as role model/model will be developed.  The fear of God and his supreme power will surmount covetousness for money, and masking this with religion. It is such leadership that we need in this country. When we take the oath of office in this country, it is either with the Bible or the Qur’an. If anybody wants to swear in the name of the Devil or juju, then the nature of such a declaration must be revealed to the public, so that there is an understanding of its implication for the citizenry. A lot of our leaders are working, not towards our unity, but to kill and destroy our goodwill; and this is the devil’s work.


Forty years after independence Nigeria is still a mono export economy. Despite our “oil wealth” there is great poverty in the land. Why do you think this is so?


This problem is related to everything we have discussed so far. If your social sector is sick, the economy becomes sick. This is because it is the social mind-set that ultimately informs the economy. Money is an object. When we have dedicated leaders with open and positive minds, then we will have the real environment for economic development and revitalisation. It is sad that those who have the gift of invention in this country are marginalised and forgotten, because they might belong to a particular ethnic group or the other that has no “godfather” in the system, at the top. But, the system is not right. Without moral reflection, we only succeed in placing the cart before the horse, and so, the cart cannot go anywhere.


What can we do to revitalize the agricultural sector?


The business of government

Sarah Jibril

Dr. Sarah Jibril making her speech, flanked by Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti & Chief Enahoro

is to
facilitate activities of the citizens. Local and State governments are action points. The objective of NALDA was to help in clearing land for people in order to farm. With a failing economy and severely low standards of living, individuals are unable to afford tractors needed for farm work. Get back into large-scale irrigation for goodness sake. Look inwards, all of us, act in good conduct, and look towards the best possible solution or action for the present time.


I have said this before…there is so much wickedness in the minds of the political, appointed, and corporate classes… They think good food on our tables, basic amenities, is a luxury, not our right. There is a poverty of spirit, in this group, that matches the financial poverty of the ordinary man


I certainly hope and pray that we apply our minds to the right things, the right actions, and the right people to move the nation in these difficult times. This is my prayer. Class, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, should not play a role in choosing the right person for the top job in our nation. However an individual with a good and proper education…well rounded… academically, spiritually, and morally…that is paramount!


We all know that the National Electric Power Authority [NEPA] has been a catastrophic failure. What do we need to do to fix this perennial problem?



All over Nigeria, it is the same group of people at work. Does money go to work by itself? It is what the human being does with it that is important. The citizenry, rather than feel the prick of conscience -- that work is to be done with honesty, integrity, faithfulness, commitment – would rather deviate from this…


In the energy sector, there is clearly an over centralisation of the generation and distribution of power. We need more private sector participation, too. One would have thought that, blessed with tropical weather, successive governments would invest in solar energy. Who killed the ideas that began cropping up about the use of solar energy? Or the participation of private sector in generating power?


Some states have already initiated steps, if they haven’t already begun to do so. We have the Atlantic Ocean, and we can do it through the River Niger, as well. The River Benue is there too. There are ways of harnessing these energy sources. We have gas, coal, and so many sources of energy. I mean…where is the thinking that informs the way we run things in this country? Do not forget that we have moved into the 21st century...


Look at China, Kuwait; the whole world has left us far behind. Listen to all the global debates; Africa has become insignificant in the scheme of things.  The only thing we hear in relation to our continent has to do with scourges – failing standards, corruption, diseases, extreme malnutrition of children due to inefficient governments. Who are these leaders who have no vision, no plan for moving the countries they lead, forward? We keep supporting people in government who refuse to open their minds to the natural resources that we possess to make meaningful lives in this country. Why do we elect saboteurs, not resourceful and courageous ones to follow up, and follow through an idea for all?


So the political pathologies that plague other sectors are crippling the Energy sector?


Yes, when your political sector is sick, is wrong, you will have a lot of these ethnic

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and economic problems. Get public officers, civil service in place…and of course they must balance out. If one takes the statistics of appointments in this country of over 400 ethnic groups, it becomes glaringly clear that they are not adequately represented.


Which ethnic groups dominate NEPA? Do they represent a genuine spread? But even the ones in the majority; is it not unfortunate that they do not even have the moral conscience to say -- look we have always dominated this organization; so why does NEPA continue to fail in our hands?


The leadership of the Labour organization, too, must also take responsibility. Why must I destroy the source of my daily bread? Can this be ethically right? Is it right from a religious point of view; even from one of common sense? What of the leadership of the downstream agents of NEPA?


Finally, what in your view, does Nigeria need to have in place to be successful in the 21st century?


We all need what we call the rigour of an ethical system. This must happen in Nigeria for it to be successful.


Thank you, Dr. Jibril.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.

Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #11: Dr. Sarah Jibril in conversation with Mohammed Jimoh Yahaya