Lanre Amu graduated at 24 and returned to Nigeria at 54 in 2015, after 34 years in the United States (US), and enrolled to serve the country under the National Youth Service Corps scheme. He explained why he took the action, sharing his experiences
Why didn’t you serve immediately you graduated?
I left Nigeria at age of 21 in 1982. I graduated in the United States (US) at age of 24. You have to undertake the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme on Nigerian soil. I stayed, schooled and worked in the US for 34 years, so the opportunity or the awareness was not there. I returned to Nigeria at the age of 54 years in 2015. All of my university studies were in the US.
I actually did not know I was not exempted until I approached NYSC, trying to get an exemption letter, and the official in charge explained to me that I was not exempted and that I must serve, because it is mandatory, so long I was below 30 when I got my undergraduate degree. He explained how unfair it would be for those Nigerians similarly placed who did not leave the country and had to serve. I got the message clearly and I served.
What made you want to participate in the scheme, years after graduation and having grown older?
I did not want to do it. I needed to enter into the professions and my NYSC certificate or exemption certificate was requested in some places I went to. So, I went to NYSC office in Maitama, Abuja.They asked me to go and bring my credentials. I finally did. When they examined my credentials, they computed the age at which I got my first degree and said I must serve, that there is no exemption certificate for me, because when I got my first degree, I was less than 30 years old. So, I enrolled and did the NYSC and passed out in December last year.
What were your experiences in service?
Interesting. I was posted first to the State House/Presidency, but was rejected outright. As far as I know, three of us were posted to the State House: Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s daughter, Dr. Tabiti, and I. The only person taken at the State House of all of us was Osinbajo’s 20 something year old daughter. I found that interesting. Mind you, Osinbajo and I were schoolmates at Igbobi College Yaba, Lagos as teenagers.
I then tried to serve at Osinbajo’s Simmons Cooper Law firm, but I was also rejected. Shortly thereafter, Osinbajo was on the front page of national newspapers urging MDAs to stop rejecting corps members. Should charity not start at home? More so, with the government of change? I wrote a protest letter to Osinbajo on that hypocrisy, but he never responded to my letter. I ended doing my primary assignment at the Supreme Court of Nigeria. It was a worthwhile experience learning a great deal about Nigerian laws.
Right from the orientation period, how were you relating with other corps members who were obviously much younger?
NYSC afforded me the opportunity to meet young people and young girls, but I know what you mean. If I had not left Nigeria, I may have had some of them as children. But the focus and preoccupation for many of us in the US is different. The priority is not amassing wives and making babies. For example, former US President Barack Obama said he has just two daughters, so is Presidents George W. Bush Jnr, Bill Clinton has only one daughter.
Osinbajo’s daughter getting better opportunity than those of us that had more to contribute to the country at the time reveals the mindset and orientation of the people in leadership, despite all of their hypocritical talk about ability to lead, change, etc. It boils down to putting self and self-preservation above national interest or selfless service to the nation.
Any particular experiences you would never forget?
The hypocrisy of the administration vis-à-vis posting to State House, and SCP Law firm are things I cannot forget. Talk is cheap. They do not live up to the good things they say and that we read in the newspapers when you approach them one on one.
From your experience, do you think it is better to serve immediately after graduation or after fulfilling some life dreams, as you are doing now?
I never served immediately, so I would not know for sure. For me, I feel that having spent 34 years in the US in high level professions of law, business and engineering, the administration should have provided an enabling opportunity for someone like me to get into the Nigerian system, learn what is on the ground and see where I can contribute to improve things to the level of the environment I spent 34 years. But it seems nobody cares. Nigeria is really an orphan child. Many people in high position in Nigeria act in self-interest, not national interest. They did not care what I have or what I can contribute. It is sad.
Yet, they will be quick to give flimsy excuse to travel out of the country, get estacode, travel voucher and hotel expense to go to the US, telling the Nigerian government they want to go and learn the American system, etc., but in actual fact, they are simply looking for vacation and do not learn anything on those trips.
The Nigerians that fully understand the system they are traveling to learn are not assimilated, as it should be, they are rather seen as threat to their fiefdom in Nigeria. In fact, Nigeria cannot develop quickly with that parochial view of things. For example, when you look at Johannesburg, South Africa and compare it with Chicago, US, they are almost at par developmental wise, but that is because some “white people” are transferring technology/information between those two places.
There are quite a few Nigerians in the US and Britain who make the system work there. When they return to Nigeria, unless they are prepared to compromise integrity to join the corrupt godfathers, they will be relegated and seen as a threat to the establishment, a corrupt establishment.
If you were not considering public or private employment/office, would you have undertaken to serve?
I do not know, because I have an interest in public service/office. I am a Nigerian. I am passionate about the future of this country. Given the knowledge I have acquired overseas and seeing what is on the ground in Nigeria, I believe I can make contributions, immense contributions, if given the opportunity. We must fight those who are holding this country down and liberate it from the strangle hold of corrupt people masquerading as pastors, politicians, Godfathers, etc. Not to do national service will not be consistent with my make up in trying my best to be law abiding.
What do you make of the cases of former Finance minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, and Minister of Communications, Mr. Shittu, who were/are caught in NYSC controversies?
The case of Mrs. Adeosun is a familiar one, because like her, I was out of Nigeria for 34 years and I am from her state, Ogun. But the real thing I saw is that it exposed the hypocrisy of Nigeria and how things work. The ‘who you know’ syndrome above commitment, loyalty, faithfulness and honesty to the country is bad. It is the children of the masses, who are supposed to do NYSC in their hundreds of thousands every year, while the children of the connected people, like the Adeosuns, do not need to do anything, they can just fly into Nigeria, take the best job and fly out of Nigeria.
We cannot develop this country with that mentality. There is so much talk about her education, training, skills, what she has to offer to Nigeria, but I beg to disagree. This concept of who you know and anything is possible, any legal obstacles can be sidetracked by the children of these so-called ‘elite’ is what is exposed.
There is no real loyalty to Nigeria; there is simply an opportunity to exploit it for self-advancement. If Nigeria has a sound educational system, what is it that Adeosun learnt in Britain about finance that an average Nigerian cannot acquire from an average Nigerian university? Where is government’s obligation to develop the human capacity, which is more profitable than oil and gas? We tend to overrate things that are not important.
The real edge the West (Britain and America) have over Nigeria is not in addition and subtraction of finance; it is in technology and how to acquire it, own it, replicate it and propagate it for development for our self. Adeosun cannot add a cent to Nigeria on that. It is about time we decolonise our thinking and take the development of Nigeria’s human resources seriously.
A finance minister who never stepped out of Nigeria, but who is faithful, loyal and honest, when appointed, will do a better job for Nigeria than those who were taken from the ivory towers of the World bank, IMF or the best institutions in the West, because their loyalty is divided between America and Nigeria or Britain and Nigeria. That has not sunk in into the heads of those who seek after these people abroad.
The reason those who are selecting these people are acting the way they are doing is because their thinking is warped, semi-illiterates and they are not the right leaders for Nigeria. Compare and contrast: Ms. Adeosun and I are from Ogun State. When I arrived in Nigeria, I went to Abeokuta, the state capital, like her, and asked what is on the ground, what can I participate in and how can I learn what is happening. I could not see the governor. The letter I wrote the governor introducing myself has not been responded to till today, almost two years after.
Adeosun went, they embraced her and waived even the requirement of NYSC and took her to the topmost job in the state. That is Nigeria for you and that is what her debacle with the NYSC brought out to me and many people I spoke with. I would have expected that with the scandal, she would have resigned and immediately enter the NYSC service, but no, she resigned and immediately flew out of Nigeria. Americans do not do that. She should simply have stayed in Britain and taken the top job they will give her in Britain and let a committed, faithful, honest and loyal Nigerian take lead in the Finance ministry of his or her country.
Americans and Britons love their country more than flying out to another country. If she is Briton, what was she doing being a minister of Finance in Nigeria in the first place and displacing another Nigerian in a matter the Nigerian is totally committed to?
She has an option in Britain, but many Nigerian similarly placed to her in age with the same basic education do not have any option inside Nigeria and outside Nigeria. You mean of the 180 million Nigerians, you could not find or train Nigerians capable of handling the finances of this country and not stealing?
With Shittu, if the ministerial screening form asked is he did the NYSC service and he honestly answered no, how did he move beyond that point to be a minister? Why is that just coming out now, three years later?
If he did not answer honestly, that is an entirely different matter. Then it is deception and he needs to address that.
What is your take on NYSC? Do you think it should be scrapped or retained?
I learnt a lot about the Nigerian legal system and the courts from my service at the Supreme Court through the NYSC. Without the NYSC, I may not have had such an opportunity to be immersed in the vortex of the Nigerian court system. Many law firms would have seen me as a threat. The experience made me realise that the legal/court systems in Nigeria can be improved in countless ways to make it more efficient, accountable and transparent, but the resistance to change is very real and is not healthy for the rapid development of this country.
Would you have served if you had been posted to the northern part of the country, for instance?
I do not think I would have had a choice. I thought Abuja is as far north as possible, given the fact that I was born and raised in the south (Lagos) and had never been to Abuja before in my life until 2015 when I arrived from the US.
How stressful or otherwise was it?
I like the stress, and the fact that as a new comer, it just gave me an opportunity to interact with a lot of young people. I had a message for the youth of this country on bringing some reality to this trend of checking out of Nigeria on the mirage that the grass is greener in the West. I spent a lot of time interacting and sharing my message with fellow NYSC members. It was a worthwhile experience for me.