It was a balmy morning on Thursday, the 31st of May 2018 at Sheraton Hotels, Abuja. The guests began to arrive early, clearly filled with anticipation for the impending moment: the Grand Finale of the Bounce Corruption Public Debate Competition.
It had taken months of consistent traveling, preparations and logistics, short rehearsals and lots of enthusiasm in the drive to fight corruption in Nigeria to get here. Supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the Bounce Corruption Initiative has taken major steps in the persistent advocacy of curbing corruption not just at the corners already affected, but from the grassroots. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) have also been partners in this mission, prompting the need for more discussions and discernment of why it is necessary to address the issue from where it can affect gravely—our youths.
Various debates have earlier been held across select tertiary institutions in the nation’s geopolitical zones. The winners from those phases moved on to the Finale, which was held at the Sheraton Hotels, Abuja. Now vying for success as representative winners of their various Zones, and also as the overall winner of the Competition itself, it was definitely going to be sweat-inducing battle. As done as the former, the teams will have no pre-emptive idea of the topic to be debated on—they will only be told by the Judges at the grounds, and then given minutes to prepare. This idea is to enhance critical thinking and spontaneous ideas, and to give the students a chance to not feel monotony, as one would be if given the luxury of routine and earlier rehearsals. The idea of the Debate is to get the students think quick and more constructively.
As the Judges took their place at the stage, the atmosphere in the room became intense, palatable with expectations. The Judges made up a fine list: they were from reputable positions of offices; most were also already conversant with the program from its initial stages. They consisted of: Mr Kingsley Obi from the International Corporation Unit of the ICPC, Sam Amaddin, the Head, Enlightenment & Orientation of Public Affairs Unit, EFCC, Dr Funmi Olubode-Sawe from the Nigerian University Debate Council, Kimberly Nawachukwu from Nigerian Info, and Amara Nwankpa, Director of Public Policy, Yar’adua Foundation. The event began with the semi-final stage, which would garner further participation to the finale stage.
The semi-finals began with the topic of the present Anti-corruption crusade. Sectioned into mock groups that represented the Government and the opposing school as the other side, with titles of the first speaker as the Prime Minister, the speaker began her debate by stating that the crusade was misdirected. She began by arguing on the points that Nigeria’s fight against corruption has not changed. Little sums of money were being recovered in comparison with the vast sums that were looted, and recovered funds were not necessarily being managed transparently. The Leader of the Opposition countered that Nigeria had experienced over 100 years of endemic corruption, uninterrupted through independence and all subsequent civilian and military administrations. It seemed like a spar of words, but it was diplomatic and true, making options in-between for various speakers to individually raise questions and demand explanations of points that seemed too ambiguous. Soon the audience began to reel in, following in tandem with the conversation. Step by step, it was imperative to note how the speakers gave resilient points that addressed all aspects of the various steps already initiated to tackle corruption in Nigeria (such as whistle-blowing), how and if those steps have been working and doing enough, and if the Anti-corruption crusade was more of a novelty than an effective motive working to fight corruption. It is also admirable to note how the students were innovative, some using points of law, and even as organic as notable cultural references to buttress their points for better understanding. This made the debate more intriguing, and the audience were fully supportive in their response to every point made.
At the Final stage, the points were shortened, sticking to necessary inputs and imaginative ideas for the curb of corruption. Deliberations and decision-makings by the Judges were heightened, but finally there would be one overall winner, which emerged as the University of Ilorin. The Judges praised their abilities to raise points that garnered concrete establishments of their debates, and also by their tenacity to come up with incisive ideas in respect to the topics addressed. However, as this Finale stage was a hurdle that all the selected schools had been successful enough to cross, everyone was a winner in their light, as each school walked away with individual awards and certificates of memberships to acknowledge their participation!
It was indeed a memorable evening, one of joys and smiles as the schools gathered around for one last photograph. One thing that will definitely remain in the hearts of the students, the Judges and above all, the supporters (MacArthur Foundation), the organizer (YIAGA AFRICA) and the partners (EFCC and ICPC), it is that the BounceCorruption Debate Finale was not just a success story, but an example of what happens when hard work, endurance and creativity comes in play. A unified front to establish conversations that will drive the need to get youths engaged in the mission to end corruption in Nigeria.