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The Nigeria of my dream at 60:  It is up to us, now – Part 5

By Francis Onaiyekan
27 March 2020   |   3:30 am
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.’

Continued from yesterday
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 the of the nation’s influence and power’. Elsewhere, the sage advised that the leader must be prepared to grasp the nettle, to set worthy example 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 Nigerian [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 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 sit 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, Honor, 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 kilometers 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.

Onaiyekan is visiting member, The Guardian Editorial Board.
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