Baffa Saleh is a firm believer in the Nigerian dream and sees corruption as a problem that has eaten deep into the societal fabric; found everywhere from the upper class elites to the peasant farmer.
An architect by training, restaurant owner, entrepreneurial consultant, social commentator and activist; Baffa is passionate about eradicating corruption in all areas of the Nigerian society.
He sees corruption as more than just about financial crimes. It is also in the little things which may be considered unimportant such as breaking traffic rules, jumping queues, or failing to report corrupt activities. It can also be found in instances when a parent goes to talk to a lecturer to help his child secure University admission where the child hasn’t made the right grades. Those are clear examples where corruption takes place without money exchanging hands.
The task of eradicating corruption in Nigeria is not a job for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC) or Code of Conduct Bureau alone. Every Nigerian has to be involved to bring about change in the society.
Baffa is an Executive Director of the Initiative for Transparency and Accountability (a non-governmental organisation that aims to promote transparency and accountability in government) and Deputy Secretary-General of the Northern Reawakening Forum (a non political organisation whose objectives are the restoration of peace, stability, core values and economic development of the northern region). We talk to him about his anti-corruption crusade and how young people can live as more responsible citizens.
What challenges do you face in this fight against corruption?
There is always a difficulty running an NGO with personal funds. One has to be very careful about who they collect contributions from in order to maintain independence & integrity.
On the part of the media, there is a distinct lack of investigative journalism. Until an issue blows up, no one asks any questions. For example, in the recent case of the missing 2.1 billion naira from the mint, no one had said anything about it and no one is asking any questions either. Legislation such as The Freedom of Information Act is there to enable interested parties ask questions and get answers about the way things are done in this country.
What do you think is the way forward for our nation?
We need a re-orientation in Nigeria, social re-orientation that is. We are not patriotic; the national anthem is going on and people are making calls. Some of us don’t even know how to recite the national anthem or pledge. Nobody talks about Nigeria but about tribe, religion and other divisive categories.
You cannot bring about change on your own. Unfortunately, the society is not ripe for change.The National Orientation Agency needs to go into our villages, place jingles on radio, print pamphlets and tell people why peace and unity is important. The average man on the street does not even know his rights.
A governor who builds a hospital or a school with public funds is not doing anyone a favour but the average citizen feels obliged to the governor for providing social infrastructure. He is merely doing his job, serving his people and nation. Political offices should be less financially lucrative to its occupants.
What is the Northern Reawakening Forum and what does it hope to achieve?
The Northern Reawakening Forum (NRF) is a non-political organisation, made up of professionals, bureaucrats, and business people. We do have politicians in our midst but it has been made clear that we would not venture into politics. The NRF breaks barriers in ethnicity and religion. It’s open to people of all religious beliefs. As you know, northern Nigeria is made up of nineteen states and these states are made up of several ethnic groups and are representative of the major religions practised in the country.
Nigeria’s problem is so big that you have to start tackling it from somewhere. We realised that the North has the highest percentage of population according to the 2006 census. It also has the highest illiteracy levels and is the most backward region in the country.
A couple of years ago, the country was threatened by the Niger Delta crises. Today, the threat is from Boko Haram, poverty and illiteracy in the North. The North cannot be holding the rest of the country down from reaching its potential! Nigeria is destined for greatness and we have to work hard for its unity and progress.
The Northern Reawakening Forum aims to offer ways to empower the masses economically and to bring back the core values of our traditions. We stand for the values that Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sir Abukakar Tafawa Belewa stood for; honesty and integrity, religious tolerance, ethnic unity, education and so on. The NRF seeks to empower the masses, educate them on their civic duties and responsibilities and re-orientate them and by so doing, these issues of corruption and laziness might disappear in time.
The NRF was the first Nigerian group to meet with stakeholders in Jos and discuss the issues leading up to the Jos crises. We held a meeting with the Christian Association of Nigeria(CAN) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam(JNI). All other groups who had attempted to hold discussion were international bodies.
You are also an executive director at the Initiative for Transparency and Accountability. Are there any events or lectures planned in support of the goals of the organisation?
We are planning some lectures to hold around the country in conjunction with other NGOs; one of which is www.egunje.com which my good friend Soji Apampa set up to aid in the fight against corruption through social media. We also give speeches on radio and television, take part in debates and write articles in the newspapers.
We are currently working with the ICPC to create a curriculum for civic and ethical education in our schools. The curriculum will cover the rights and responsibilities of citizens as well as the values embedded in our culture and traditions.
How do you feel about the employment situation in the country today? And what can be done to resolve it?
We can group youth unemployment into two; the educated and unemployed and the uneducated and unemployed. The latter group is simply the ‘devil’s workshop’. The tertiary institutions churn out thousands of graduates every year, yet a lot of them are half baked. I am always sad when I meet graduates who cannot read and write or construct a single paragraph. The education system has failed in general and corruption has eaten it up which is why we have the sort of graduates we have these days.
The youth are the ones who can bring change in the nation but we lack the will to change. Every sector depends on the youth to thrive but there are no opportunities for him to shine and to give back to his country and his people. The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions were spearheaded by the youth. People are now heavily involved in social media so there is so much information out there.
The unemployed should think about acquiring technical skills and not waiting for anyone to hand you a job. My plumber earns about 300,000 naira a month but that did not happen overnight. He started with small jobs and eventually got bigger opportunities and contracts. People were willing to give him a chance because he was dedicated, trustworthy and good at his job.
You are involved in other initiatives spanning several sectors of the economy. What motivates you?
My father is my role model. He retired as a diplomat, spoke seven languages and believed in doing things the right way. He taught us to have faith in God that things will change for the better. One of my proudest moments in life was after my father passed way, when I came across an official letter from the Head of Service of the Federation commending him for returning a surplus of 64,000 naira paid to him in error as part of his pension.
I love Nigeria so much that all this bigotry and ethnicity upsets me. Our parents did not know about federal character; it was all on merit. I believe in the Nigerian project and I also believe that if I don’t fight hard to make things right, my son may not even get some of the little things that I got growing up.
While we wait for the National Orientation Agency to educate us on our rights and duties as Nigerians and for the new curriculum which you are working on, what can we as individuals do to change our mind set?
Every Nigerian should think about his future and that of his children. Stop thinking of how to make fast money rather think of how to better the society. Getting an education is very important but your aim should not be to work in government; consider entrepreneurship and acquire technical skills.
Do you have any last words for young people?
As long as you are doing something that is legal and right, be committed and you will succeed. Be patient, optimistic, dedicated, and focused. Have the fear of God in whatever you do. You will definitely face challenges but with perseverance it will work out.