The Nigeria of my dream at 60: It is up to us, now – Part 4
Then leave the rest to the Higher Powers. ‘Duty is ours, event is God’s’. Mr. Segun ‘Mathematical’ Odegbami, exhorted recently in The Guardian that, in the new year of a new decade, Nigeria ‘must change its attitude to the past failures and eliminate the spirit of despair. [It] must journey into the future with renewed determination, a new spirit of fresh ideas, a new a new approach, new leaders with a new paint and brush in hand, ready to artistically create a new and better country’. I cannot agree more. As I dream of a Nigeria that is great in every consideration, I accept that ‘No nation can be really great, unless it is great in peace, industry, integrity, honesty. Skilled intelligence in civic affairs and industrial enterprises alike; the special ability of the artist, the man of letters, the man of science, and the, man of business; the rigid determination to wrong no man and to stand for righteousness – all these are necessary in a great nation’ said Theodore Roosevelt.
So, ‘we the people’ must ‘stand for righteousness’ as well as live by it. Righteousness? In this generally sinful world? Oh yes! For, it is righteousness that ‘exalts a nation’ says the Holy Book. I restate: the first step that Nigerians must take on the path to Nigeria’s greatness is a spiritual one, a spiritual awakening. Not a religious awakening; we have enough of religion and religiosity. Not to mouth righteousness from the religious pulpit, the political podium and the lecture room. ‘The test of religious belief is not in pious platitudes and cautious charity, but in positive and creative action’ says former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings. Nigerians must seek righteousness, live it and stand for it.
Our country is today enmeshed in a moral degeneracy rooted in the spiritual. Spiritual darkness envelops this country, foisted upon it and its hapless citizens by powerful forces that thrive only in the dark when, as Shakespeare would put it, evil is most free. The intractable shortage of electricity in Nigeria creates an environment of darkness and is, in fact, a physical manifestation of spiritual darkness. I have written on this in another essay titled ‘Light, the Bible, and Nigeria’ (see firstname.lastname@example.org). Nigeria’s ‘human quality problem’ manifests as spiritual emptiness, moral depravity, integrity deficit, unbridled materialism. If our country will be great, we the people must solve that defining flaw – spiritual debility – that holds us and our country down. But we can redeem it. If we have the will ‘to stand for righteousness’.
Both Roosevelt and the Bible rightly assert that righteousness is a fundamental to build a great nation. ‘The greatness and genius of America’ is explained by a writer thus: ‘America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great’. Toward a righteous society, Nigerians must declare on themselves a ‘spiritual emergency’. This is beyond religion and so it is the task of not only religious leaders. It is not a task for ‘the leadership’ alone either. In varying degrees, ‘all have sinned’ and all must be fully involved in the necessary atonement. Nigeria, – or more correctly Nigerians – need now, a spiritual renewal or re-armament. In specific terms, what is to be done? How can we begin to redeem ourselves and our country? I have three simple recommendations directed unequivocally at the individual Nigerian. First, do what you ought (a moral duty) to the best of your ability wherever you are. Second, treat your fellow man according to the Golden Rule – that unimpeachable, universally applicable rule for perfect social relations.
Third, eschew the judgment of others and concern yourself only to do what you ought. This is to say that every citizen should not at all bother about what the next person is doing right or wrong; just do your duty as well as you can. We can simplify our lives and be much happier by observing these tenets. Robert Fulghum (1988) in All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten explains, in his funnily simple way, what one needs to live simple, achieve a fulfilled life and build a happier society. A man should, among other things: ‘Share everything, Play fair, Put things back where you found them , Clean up your own mess, Don’t take things that aren’t yours, Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody’. I agree. To do what you ought, and ‘give it your best shot’, is the rightful expectation of society from its members, is the mark of a righteous citizen. To do unto other as you would be done to, is a willful act of a righteousness. To focus more on personal improvement, to not be concerned about ‘the ‘speck’ in another’s eye, is the attitude of the righteous. If we will just live by these rules, I am persuaded each of us will be much happier.
My second recommendation is ‘live by the Golden Rule’. The message of the Golden Rule has a long history across cultures. Centuries before Christianity, Confucius (551-478 BC) admonished, ‘Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself’. The Yoruba of western Nigeria would say ‘Ki a fi abere gun ara eni na, ki a to fi gun enikeji’ . This means that one should prick herself with the needle before one applies it to another man. In the wisdom of my Kabba people, we say ‘fa hi’ni wo fa hi r’are’ meaning that you should apply the matter to another as you would to yourself [in order to appreciate the effect]. To treat others as one would want to be treated is a precept that is also common to the major religions.
Even if not expressed in the same words, the intended meaning is the same across the faiths. According to Dr. George Kaitholil (2003) in his book We Are One, Jesus the Christ taught: ‘So, always treat others as you would like them to treat you… (The Jerusalem Bible)’. Hinduism is quoted to state that ‘One should not behave towards another in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality’; Zoroastrianism counsels ‘Regard the sorrows and sufferings of others as yours and hasten to assuage them’; Jainism says “A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated’; and Buddhism recommends ‘Comparing oneself to others in such terms as “Just as I am, so they are; just as they are, so I am”, he should neither kill nor cause others to kill’.
In Islam, Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 13 says ‘Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself’. My third suggestion is that every man should focus on doing what he ought instead of fretting over the failings of the next man. The following three quotes from great minds express this idea succinctly. In the words of Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.|). ‘Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one’. Mahatma Gandhi puts it thus: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. And Mother Teresa ‘If each of us would only sweep our doorstep, the whole world would be clean’.
If it is a bad omen that Nigerians live on the river bank but wash their hands with saliva, I am hopeful that all is not lost. Here, now, the situation is redeemable if, in the words of Nehemiah, Nigerians have ‘a mind to work’ (Neh. 4:6, NKJV). It is up to us. But this is where great leadership, skilled management, and a conducive environment (or ‘system’) matter. Leadership matters, indeed makes all the difference. ‘When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn’ (Prov. 21: 2, KJV). The making of a great country begins with a great leader who, John Maxwell posits, knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way. A great leader creates the environment that nurtures citizens who are integrated in spirit, mind and body. Thus equipped, they cannot but have ‘a mind to work’ for an integrated, progressive, and prosperous society.
Obafemi Awolowo, said, in a 1961 speech in London that ‘the influence which a nation exerts, the respect which it enjoys and the prestige accorded to it on the world scene depends on two important factors: the size of its wealth and caliber of its leadership.’ ‘Granting an incorruptible, courageous, public-spirited, enlightened and dynamic leadership, the wealth of a nation is the fountain of its strength. The bigger the wealth and the more equitable its distribution among the factors and agencies which have helped to produce it, the greater the outflow of the nation’s influence and power’. Elsewhere, the sage advised that the leader must be prepared to grasp the nettle, to set a worthy examples in probity, unselfishness and self-sacrifice. And the people will readily follow the good examples.
Alas, since the usurpation of political power by the Nigerian military class, ‘the trouble with Nigeria [has been] simply and squarely, a failure of leadership’ (Achebe, 1983). Agbese is of the view that systemic corruption is the ‘tap root’ of other forms of corruption. Even a good leader won’t do to free Nigeria from such entrenched evil. We need a great leader for such a correspondingly great task. The distinction matters. As explained by Rosalynn Carter, ‘ a leader takes people where they want to go, a great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but where they ought to be’. The great political leader we seek is wise, fearless, and patriotic; one who will institute a corruption-free system for an environment of transparency, meritocracy, personal, and national development.
If we want to make omelet, we must prepare to break eggs. The great leader we yearn for will not be ‘nice’ and Nigeria under him will be no ‘dinner party’. But he will be ‘true’. The wise, fearless, and patriotic leader Nigeria needs now will be, to adapt the words of prophet Malachi, ‘like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’ soap…he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify… and purge [the people] as gold and silver… that they may [live and work] in righteousness’.
Are Nigerians prepared to endure under a great leader, the ‘temperature, the pressure and the time’ to turn into diamond? Will some foreign-funded civil society organizations not protest against ‘the abuse of human rights’? Will self-styed, foreign –guided ‘pro-democracy’ groups not rise against an ‘assault on democracy’? Will the Media not editorialize against ‘draconian’ measures? Will paid and unpaid opinion writers not fill the pages and the airtime with specious arguments for ‘freedom’? Will fifth columnists in and outside government not seek to exploit pockets of discontent to their selfish-cum-foreign advantage? The lives of Lumumba, Nkrumah, and Sankara say much in this respect.
‘To everything, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens’ says the book of Ecclesiastes. If we would be a great people, Nigerians must prepare to pay the price of the prize. The making of modern China is an example. Nigerians must prepare for the tough times to sow for a future time to reap the reward. These are simple, unchanging laws of Nature. Are we prepared? It is up to us. To think up, think through, and follow the path to Nigeria’s greatness is completely up to ‘we the people’. Religion, prayer, and fast have a role to play in our search to be great. After all achievements are inspired and willed into reality by the force of the human spirit. Christians are wont to say ‘He is a miracle working God’. I agree.
But this is a sublime truth that has often been reduced to the level of the ridiculous. Apostle James is unequivocal that we must complement our prayers with the work of our hands ‘Faith without works is dead’ he said. Miracles do not exclude fulfilling our own duty, doing our own righteous part to realize the unique greatness in each of us, and together, our country. ‘Duty, Honour, Country.
Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be’ says US general Douglas MacArthur. Pray as we may, God won’t do for Nigerians what He has equipped us to do – including a nearly one million square kilometers of land variously endowed with vegetation types, minerals, and over 850 kilometres of coastline. It is said that God won’t give you speed unless you move your feet. He will intervene only when and where the task is provably beyond man.
Roosevelt’s people of righteousness build great nations because they ask every time “how may I serve?” Not “What is in it for me?” This country is greatness waiting to happen; the evidence is everywhere. The choice is ours, starting here, now, to set Nigeria on the course to its destined greatness, or to wait until God comes down to do a miracle. In the book of Nehemiah the author writes that ‘we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work’. And this in the face of serious spiritual and physical opposition to the project by their enemies. So, if, here and now, we have ‘a mind to work’ a great country is ours to make.
Imagine a Nigeria in which, without compulsion or external discipline, every man, from self-discipline, does his duty the best he can, asks ‘how can I serve’ before ‘what is in it for me’, treats his neighbor as he wants to be treated, and focuses solely on being a good man, regardless of the next man. No judgment, no criticism, no condemnation. Imagine what a country this will be. So, even as we live by hope, a reed will never become an iroko tree merely by hoping and dreaming, says a Nigerian proverb. A great Nigeria awaits only that every man this day, and hence forth, will do his duty. It is up to us. ‘The prosperity of a nation is real when the springs of the prosperity are contained in itself, in the hands of its citizens, when it depends on its existence upon its own resources; when it is independent’ says Pan-Africanist Edward Blyden (Omuabor, 1994).
We will not build a great country primarily with enticing and entrapping foreign loans, ill- motivated FDIs (foreign direct investments), or by dubious fly- by-night portfolio investors and consultants. No! At 60, ‘We the People’ of Nigeria must ask ourselves and answer some urgent questions: can we begin this decade with the clarity of a 20/20 vision? Can we develop, here and now, ‘a mind to work’ for a great country? Can we make this the Nigerian Decade? Can we? Of course we can! If we believe we can. And when we do believe, this Nigeria Decade will be the miracle that ‘we the people’ willed into reality. As Nigeria counts down to its diamond anniversary, I wish my country the greatness I dream of, hope, and yearn for it. But, it is up to us, now.
The full paper can be accessed at frankyekan.blogspot.com