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…as we fight corruption, there is the need to hold our leaders to lofty standards of excellence. Then can we set the benchmark and raise the bar. I am almost certain that given the right leadership, I have the implicit confidence in the ability and willingness of Nigerians to return our nation to the heights to which our founding fathers originally intended.

The year 1985 will remain pivotal in the checkered history of Nigeria. That was the year when mediocrity was enthroned to terrorise the psyche of our nation. That was the year when Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, like a thief in the night stealthily crept into our national consciousness and reversed the course of history. That was the year the corruption index was catapulted to an all-time high and corruption was intrinsically institutionalised. With corruption came the inevitable by-product of mediocrity.

That year marked the beginning of the era of brain drain and capital flight. National institutions and iconic landmarks were stripped of their glory, and overall morale plummeted. Those of us who could take it no more or saw the ominous sign in the horizon literally fled the country in search of greener pastures overseas. And I was one of those who took flight. Not even the jejune government campaign aimed at discouraging abandoning the floundering ship could stop the mass exodus that took place in the period under review.

Personally, I was scandalised as I watched helplessly as the Babangida administration dismembered an organisation where I horned my journalism career and had become part of – the Daily Times of Nigeria. We watched with disconcerting incredulity as the government of the day cannibalised an iconic institution and supplanted excellence with mediocrity. Upstarts were recruited to take the position of professionals, and dedication to the craft exchanged places with charlatanism with such criminal indifference.

I had little or no choice than to elope. I headed to the United States to be part of one of the minority programmes for journalists with the Los Angeles Times, which was to be scraped for multifarious reasons ranging from lack of funds to America’s recurring racial politics. This turn of event was to lead to the founding of The African Times-USA and its sister organisation, the Africa Consult Group, which has been a 26-year endeavour between US and African media practitioners.

I still recall with fondness the Nigeria of our time that held great promise despite its many growth challenges as a developing nation. At that time, our nation was being touted as Africa’s answer to the emerging Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia. Those were the days when we were proud of our airports, hospitals, institutions of higher learning with a web of burgeoning infrastructure – roads, expressways, national edifices, such as the national stadium and the national theatre.

Hitherto, I still recall with fondness the Nigeria of our time that held great promise despite its many growth challenges as a developing nation. At that time, our nation was being touted as Africa’s answer to the emerging Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia. Those were the days when we were proud of our airports, hospitals, institutions of higher learning with a web of burgeoning infrastructure – roads, expressways, national edifices, such as the national stadium and the national theatre. I still remember with nostalgia that this is same country that successfully hosted the world during the 1977 World Festival of Black Arts otherwise known as Festac ’77.

Those were the days when we had world class night life in Lagos, with equally world class entertainment spots such as Phoenicia Restaurant and Night Club, Kakadu, The Ritz, Gondola, Soji Benson’s Faze-Two, Bobby Benson’s Caban Bamboo, Lords Club of Biyi Olafisoye, Ben Bruce’s Fantasy, Segun Shonibare’s Beachcomber and, of course, Fela’s Afro Spot which later morphed to become the world renowned Africa Shrine.

Prior to the emergence of the Babangida administration, our hospitals were well staffed and had requisite medications and equipment; our schools were yet to become the eyesore that we find today across Nigeria. And it was almost unheard of that workers were owed their salaries for months, which today is numbered as a feat of great accomplishment when any state governor meets this basic fiduciary responsibility.

Before the aberration that was the military interregnum of Ibrahim Babangida, our financial institutions had not been denigrated and had not lost their essence. Pay-offs became the order of the day. As far as the authorities of that era were concerned, every Nigerian had a price. And not a few Nigerians of note were financially compromised – journalists, social activists, academics, the clergy, among many others.

As an unapologetic supporter of the anti-corruption stance of the Muhammadu Buhari government, I posit that as we sanitise the country, there is need to restore meritocracy in all facets of our national life. Those of us old enough to remember longingly look forward to the days when mediocrity and sub-par standards will be behind us.

A piece published in August 2010 on one of the online platforms remains my best encapsulation of the incalculable damage that the Babangida rule inflicted on Nigeria: “The former Nigerian dictator did not spare anything while in power. He looted the national treasury, closed down universities for several months at a time, he murdered journalists and closed down several newspapers.

“IBB was so confident that that nothing would happen to him, so he admitted to a news magazine that his favourite alias was the “Evil Genius”. My only caveat to this apt characterisation of Babangida and his litany of sins against his fatherland is that he is still allowed to live and breath as a free man today, and is even allowed to feature in any discourse that pertains to the well being of our nation – a pathetic commentary to the decadent low to which Nigeria had been allowed to sink. What is ever so nauseating is the shamelessly warped defence of this fellow by his cohorts and flunkies, many of who were beneficiaries of his profligate abuse of our nation. And these are the same band of sick minds who today castigate the efforts of the new administration’s herculean efforts aimed at killing corruption, which I still maintain is more critical to our recovery than any other issue pertaining to the solving of the many problems that face Nigeria.

As an unapologetic supporter of the anti-corruption stance of the Muhammadu Buhari government, I posit that as we sanitise the country, there is need to restore meritocracy in all facets of our national life. Those of us old enough to remember longingly look forward to the days when mediocrity and sub-par standards will be behind us.

And as we fight corruption, there is the need to hold our leaders to lofty standards of excellence. Then can we set the benchmark and raise the bar. I am almost certain that given the right leadership, I have the implicit confidence in the ability and willingness of Nigerians to return our nation to the heights to which our founding fathers originally intended.

…And Now the Alex Otti I Know

Talking of eschewing mediocrity for meritocracy brings to mind the recent Court of Appeal decision to upturn the election of the incumbent Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in favour of Dr. Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). As one of the distressed states of the Nigerian federation alongside its neighbour, Imo State, I was one of those who believed that Abia State was fortunate to have an Alex Otti throw his hat into the ring in the election to determine who should lead his home state out of the unfortunate circumstances that has bedeviled it since its creation.

I must confess that at the onset, I sincerely believed that the Alex whom I have had the privilege of knowing at close quarters was venturing into a disastrous mine field. The Otti that I know is your quintessential suit. With a quiet exterior and a steely inner resolve, the Alex Otti that I know is a performer, a pragmatist and a leader of men whom I have had the opportunity to watch interact with the lowly and the high and mighty with the same measure of equanimity and humanness.

In the diaspora, I have not failed to engage Abia citizens wherever I meet them on the state of affairs back home, and a preponderance of them swear by Alex Otti. Some of them believe that a vote for Otti is a weapon for the dislodging of the feudalistic cabal that entrusted the governance of their home state in the hands of hirelings.

That’s why I was flabbergasted by some of the vitriol I have had the discomfiture to read in some sections of the Nigerian media about Dr. Otti. Talking to another senior journalist who incidentally hails from almost the same quarters in Abia State as the incumbent governor recently, he told me unequivocally that on any level playing field that Dr. Otti should beat Ikpeazu hands down in a free and fair contest. He alluded to the fact that Alex’s challenges to actualising his ambition stems from the collusion of some of the same forces in Abia that have held the state hostage who have vowed to deny Otti the opportunity to serve Abia on the parochial premise that Alex does not belong to the “old boys” club. He, however, told me of instances that point to the groundswell of grassroots support enjoyed by Alex Otti among Abians.

In the diaspora, I have not failed to engage Abia citizens wherever I meet them on the state of affairs back home, and a preponderance of them swear by Alex Otti. Some of them believe that a vote for Otti is a weapon for the dislodging of the feudalistic cabal that entrusted the governance of their home state in the hands of hirelings.

I have no modicum of doubt that if there is anyone that can rehabilitate Abia State and restore the dignity of her citizens who are some of the most dynamic east of the Niger, it is Dr. Alex Chioma Otti.

Based on my personal knowledge of Alex Otti, a man who will give the shirt on his back for his friends and the downtrodden, plus the meritorious style with which he transformed Diamond Bank from an average outfit to a first class financial institution in Nigeria and, I dare say, Africa, I have no modicum of doubt that if there is anyone that can rehabilitate Abia State and restore the dignity of her citizens who are some of the most dynamic east of the Niger, it is Dr. Alex Chioma Otti.

That is my story. And I stand by it.

Charles Anyiam is Editor-In-Chief of The African Times-USA.