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Knocking down walls, building bridges – Part 1

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Illegal migrants.

I would like to start by first giving thanks to God for the gift and preservation of life before I thank Rotary International Ado Chapter for inviting me to give this lecture centered on connecting the world through bridge building. In our country today, the need to emphasize those things that connect us is very important considering the degree of forces pulling us apart back into our ethnic enclaves. We are once again on the precipice somersaulting freely into space with only faith sustaining us that we will not hit the ground in pieces. Centrifugal forces are working to undermine the unity of the country by design and default sometimes with blatant impunity.

And the hegemonic grip on power at the federal level is deleterious to our body politic because all that we held sacred in interethnic cooperation in the last five or six decades is being ferociously decimated by a cabal of insensitive morons. They have continued to act like tribal leaders instead of men who embody the spirit of a national government. We thought, we hoped that we had somehow arrived at an unwritten consensus on how to govern the country, by being responsive to the sensibilities of the over four hundred ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria.  But alas we had credited some politicians with too much intelligence and respect for socio-political nuances!

Also, we know that the Western world is currently building walls to keep away migrants who believe that in that new world they would stand a better chance to live life to its fullest as designed by God Almighty. Apart from the physical walls there are visa restrictions, cancellations, reviews and outright deportations right from the airport. Thus, visas have become walls in the new world of Trumpism and the far right in world politics. If we know that 3.2% of the world’s population are international migrants, if we continue to have refugees fleeing persecution or fear of persecution, if we continue to have persons who are displaced by environmental factors, if we continue to have persons leaving their home country in search for employment, then the world cannot afford to build walls against these categories of vulnerable persons.

To be sure, the walls being built in America and Europe are the direct consequences of the walls of injustice, corruption and ethnicity which have encircled Africa in the last fifty odd years. Artificial walls which are created by the power elite in Nigeria have led to people seeking a better life elsewhere. As of now there is no data on the number of Nigerians who have died in the Mediterranean while undertaking the so-called desperate journey to Europe. It is a reversal of the slave trade when some of our ancestors and kinsmen were forced into ships and taken to the Americas as slaves. The hard truth is that we must build our country in such a way that migration would not be so attractive to anybody.

I also congratulate my long-time friend, Professor Olanrewaju Adebayo on assuming the position of leadership in Rotary International here in Ado, a city which is not Adebayo’s birthplace or state of origin. It has become his adopted home where has thrived as a man of academic distinction and commitment. Adebayo and I started our academic careers here in Ado sometime in the late 1980s though we were not indigenes of this town or of the state. But academia was and ought to be a vast land that accommodates excellent minds no matter the colour of their skin or the language of their tongue which they speak. That was the spirit that brought us and kept us here for six and half years under the late Professor Ifedayo Oladapo as Vice Chancellor before I left for the University of Lagos in 1994.

It is true that the late erudite Professor Peter Bodunrin as Vice Chancellor of then Ondo State University Ado Ekiti, now EKSU, out of frustration once told me as ASUU secretary to ‘go to my home state’ and that I should not come here to destroy their university. He saw me as a trouble maker and singled me out as a non-indigene in the academic staff union. Not long after that encounter, I left for the University of Lagos, an arrangement that had been ongoing anyway. But the spirit of the University was at odds with that form of reference.

The university idea ought to transcend ethnicity or racism. It should not promote mediocrity in any form, whether in form of quota system or ethnicity in admissions and staff recruitment. It is a home for bright minds no matter their skin colour, ethnicity, ideological persuasion or religion. If we build walls of ethnicity in the university system, we would be destroying the very foundation of the university system. Sadly, in Nigeria the narrative of indigene and non-indigene has gained extreme currency. This is a wall that must be brought down metaphorically speaking.

If from the outset mankind had succumbed to the pressure or restrictions of walls to determine the shape and form of human existence the world would not have opened up to the abounding possibilities of Mother earth. From the beginnings of the first civilization in 3000 BC in Lower Mesopotamia and Egyptian civilization along the Nile River through the conquest of the new world to exploration of the African continent, the operative word was migration, breaking down walls for economic and social prosperity. The seas which separated the continents as we know them today also connected all the continents. I do not think the world has fully acknowledged the role which ‘the boat’ played in the development of the world by serving as the official mechanism for intercontinental migration. And so, man developed boats by which the walls created by seas and oceans could be brought down. Those who dared to cross and explore ultimately conquered the world. Colonial conquests of nations and peoples were the result of migrations even though we query the adverse effects of this historical reality.

Migrations provided an avenue for breaking down barriers and meeting new cultures, new ways of life which have made the world a more intelligent and habitable place. Migration has taken man to the moon and Mars the red planet is currently being probed for life.

Migration made America, now the greatest superpower on earth, possible. It also facilitated the spread of languages that has made interconnectivity between hitherto disparate peoples and climes possible. It has also helped trade between nations and regional blocs thereby increasing the quality of life.


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