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Nigeria can be great, but it is up to us

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As Nigeria marks its diamond jubilee, there is good reason to celebrate. It has survived various types of stress and pressure – political, economic, religious, ethnic, and above all, intermittent leadership failure. It is gratifying that this country of nations has held together, somewhat. But this is not good enough.  Some may argue that 60 years is short in the life of a country. Ours, with so much endowment, can be far better than it is at age 60.

People talk, ad nauseam, about the great ‘potential’ of Nigeria. Pray, what good are a country and a people that perpetually live in the realm of the potential, but never converting this latent energy into active (kinetic) energy that move it forward?

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I regret to compare Nigeria (1960-2020) with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (1949-2020). In every index of development and progress, the gap between the two countries is so huge as not to be explainable by a head start of only 11 years. I think, as many do, that, in the words of Chinua Achebe, ‘the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership’. Modern China, came into its own, so to speak, with its declaration on October 1, 1949, of a hard won independence from foreign powers. This country of about 1.4 billion people in 56 ethnic nationalities benefited, and continues to benefit from a strong, patriotic leadership. This has created the conducive environment for human and other forms of development, in sum, the modern greatness of the PRC.

Nigeria too can be great but only if ‘we the people’ choose to work for it. There is no problem with Nigeria as a plural entity. After all, ours is not the only multi-ethnic, multi-religious country on Earth.  Nigerians are the problem of their country. Both the leaders and the followers have failed Nigeria, albeit in varying degrees.

However, if every Nigerian decides today to put the common good above personal interest, surely we will have less cause to complain about our country. Four centuries before Christ, the Israelites, under his inspirational leadership of Nehemiah, ‘built the wall [of Jerusalem]… for the people had a mind to work’. Three lessons from this are one, a trustworthy man offered to lead, two, the people trusted and followed him for the task at hand, and three the people prayed and worked. In our country, good men have offered to lead but the people rejected them, and too many of us forget that faith must go with work. If Nigerians – the leaders and the elite class on the one hand, and the average citizen on the other hand, have ‘a mind to work’ for the good of their country, Nigeria will quickly pick up and move into its deserved place on the global stage. It is up to us, Nigerians.

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To put our country on the path of greatness, first, we must declare upon ourselves, individually and collectively, what John Cardinal Onaiyekan terms a’ moral emergency’ whereby every Nigerian must commit to, and transform into a life of righteousness. This overarching value will inform all that we do in thought, word, and deed. The strength of a man, as of a people, flows from the spirit. ‘No nation can be really great’, said Theodore Roosevelt, ‘unless it is great in peace, industry, integrity, honesty… the rigid determination to wrong no man and to stand for righteousness – all these are necessary in a great nation’. Righteousness, ‘the quality of being morally right or justifiable’ ‘exalts a nation’ says the Holy Book.

How do we build great nation through righteousness? I have simple recommendations for Nigerians, be you president or parent, be you teacher or student, and be you director or janitor. captured in the words of Lou Holtz: ‘Do right.  Do your best. Treat others as you want to be treated’.

First, to every man and woman, do what you ought (a moral duty) and play by the rules (a legal duty), to the best of your ability, and for the common good. Second, according to the Golden Rule, treat your fellow man as you would want to be treated. Third, eschew judgment of others and simply concern yourself to do what you ought. Said Roman statesman Marcus Aurelius: ‘Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one’. Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’, and Mother Teresa posited that ‘If each of us would only sweep our doorstep, the whole world would be clean’.

Nigeria is a great country waiting to manifest. But it is up to us. On its diamond anniversary, I hope for and wish my country every greatness.

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