Public Integrity: A youth-led interaction can end corruption. Realism or sheer optimism?

A Reflective Essay By Michael Agada

In October, I had the opportunity to attend a student body’s Integrity Summit at the prestigious University of Jos. The summit was tagged “Paradigm shift” and it was organized by a Public Integrity Club, University of Jos chapter —A club which is an outcome of the #BounceCorruption Nationwide Public Integrity Debate organized by YIAGA AFRICA in 2018, and it has served as a platform for harnessing youth views in the anti-corruption crusade.

As soon as the organizers informed my organization about attending the summit (and I was told by the organizers that I was to give an address) I became very perplexed. Perplexed not because of lack of what to say, but because there was so much to say, and given such an opportunity, one desires to be able to pass a lot of messages across within the specified time. I was both angry and worried. Yes, worried about the student body generally and how inept to national development that sector has become over the years. As a matter of fact, student unionism and leadership during my time as a student, barely 10 years ago, as docile as it was then, had much of a purpose than what is currently obtainable today. I was angry because a supposed breeding ground for a chunk of tomorrow’s leaders had become the most flawed place to find youths with any iota of integrity and national hope. I was immediately petrified for the future of Nigeria with the kind of activities, led by youths, that go on in our campuses across the country such as issues of sexual abuse, cultism, exam malpractices’, drug abuse, prostitution and the likes, which have become uncontrollably rampant. If a huge part of the Nation’s fiber —the youths— has been so detached from any form of integrity, what hopes have we, then, as a Nation? This question and many more continued to bug my mind as I made my way to the podium on that fateful day. In the midst of all these perplexities, I decided, however, that I was going to tell them simply, not out of anger, but out of genuine concern, just where and how I felt we needed to have this paradigm shift.

It was another opportunity to reinforce YIAGA AFRICA’s consistent campaigns over the years on mobilizing young people in the anti-corruption crusade.

Speaking briefly on the realism of a youth-led interaction that can end corruption, I focused on youth-led interactions and positive actions that can force the entrenchment of accountability in our personal, student, and public life, thereby changing the course of governance in our immediate community and the nation at large. As I made my remarks, my days as a student unionist and how we were able to navigate through some pertinent issues of accountability in unionism came to mind. My experience was such that it even pitched me against some lecturers and students’ alike, all because I had insisted on doing the right thing for posterity sake. I remembered how I teamed up with a friend and advocate of integrity, who incidentally happens to be from Plateau—the same state I was scheduled to speak to a host of students on integrity. All of these recollections refuelled my passion and optimism as I spoke candidly on my thoughts to the audience at the summit.

Up until that moment, a lot of young people like myself, that I have met and talked to about being change agents and reshaping our future to be better than our parents could, often felt like life is some sort of coincidence and that things just happen independently, at their own pace. Some even just look at life, watching it passively, as it takes it course; they don’t realize just how much control they can actually have over the happenings around their lives and environment. But as opportunity availed itself to me that day, and like many other days, I was able to remind them that as young people, we have a responsibility to be different. And we must be particularly concerned with how student leadership and general conducts reflect the kind of society we envision for the future.

Having followed the activities of the Public Integrity Clubs in the few institutions where they’ve been established, and now at the University of Jos, it was impressive to see young people putting much effort to reshape the future towards accountable student leadership, with keen eagerness. I believe that as young people, when it comes to the anti-corruption question and youth inclusion in governance, we have just 2 options: make it or break it! Corruption has eroded and if left unchecked, will continue to erode our collective right today and tomorrow. Corruption, in simple terms, is dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in a position of authority or power. Let this be clear, however that the first point of exercising authority in anyone’s life, is in authority or power over oneself. The first point of interaction in our society is self-interaction. A man or woman, boy or girl who fails to learn and mirror honesty, and is untrue to self is a danger to the society at large. The society, being a broad space for interactions derives its power from the diversity of individuals, but most importantly, in its unity of purpose. This is why approaching youth interactions from the perspective of building a strong will and a formidable student union leadership must be done by people who have nurtured themselves to reflect cultures of honesty, integrity and transparency. Herein, lays the power to force a desired change.

With the way things are and how the country has fared over the years, it is clear to see what option some of our leaders and those before us chose, and how inconsistent these interactions were devoid of a unified purpose. We might not have been responsible for the unfortunate outcomes, but we must take responsibility for the future outcomes. As young people, in order to make this happen, we must consistently refuse to be victims of circumstances. We must realize just how much control we can actually have over the happenings around our personal lives and environment, and as a matter of fact, it is possible to end corruption in our immediate community and Nigeria at large. But to do that, we have to change ourselves first. We have to change our mentality, our habits, and our actions. We must take responsibility and effect the change that we desire. It is possible!

As I echoed those words, I remembered some very profound words attributed to Margaret Mead who said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

In viewing this statement from the Nigerian context, I asked my audience if they thought she was right or wrong. And while they pondered on the question I led them through some reality check with just a few examples. One of which was that just a few years ago, who would have believed that a group of young people could come together and push for a constitutional amendment to reduce the age limit to run for office so as to allow for youth involvement in governance? In order for this to happen, citizens who supported the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign strategically interacted and engaged federal and state legislators and executives, through all available channels to support/sign the bill into law. It was a positive action towards closing the representation gap, and it signaled a shift towards inclusive politics. Today, we have youth representation in elective offices, especially in state assemblies like never seen before in Nigeria’s history.

Beyond the choice to be different, I believe that innovation is the antidote to corruption. My take on the paradigm shift is to emphasize the impact of informed choices and technology in redefining leadership in our institutions, particularly as it relates to student union governance. We must continue to insist on innovations in student leadership across board. We must come to terms with the realization that acts such as exam malpractices, cultism, drug abuse, intolerance to diversity and the likes have been more or less responsible for a failed or faulty transition to younger generation of leaders. Take it or leave it, we must consistently continue to be the change that we desire to see, in our institutions and the country at large. This is, in the real sense of it – the paradigm shift. This is what it entails to be found worthy in character and learning, and most importantly, this is integrity.

I could not have ended my remarks without reverberating strongly to my audience my solemn belief in young people to lead generational change and ensure a paradigm shift in our governance architecture and civil space through various anti-corruption and accountability initiatives. It is possible!

Check out pictures from the Integrity Summit below.

Members of the Public Integrity Club, University of Jos chapter
Professor Nnamdi Aduba and Program Assistant, YIAGA AFRICA (Accountability and Justice Department), Michael Agada, and other Panelists
Event Poster of the Integrity Summit

Michael Agada is a Program Assistant for Accountability and Justice with YIAGA Africa. He’s an undaunted believer in Democracy good governance and an advocate of youth participation in governance process. He tweets from @MichaelAgada on twitter.

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