Today, I was privileged to attend a special screening of the Mandela movie with one of my daughters. Though I have read the book on which the movie was based, I was nonetheless moved by the Mandela story. It is generally believed that doing wrong can affect all your loved ones negatively, nobody said that doing the right thing can equally affect them badly. I was moved by the devastation visited on the Mandela family by the authorities and the human tragedies that ensued.
But I was especially captivated by Mandela’s show of leadership in the period leading up to and after his release from 27 plus years of incarceration. With his wife and many South Africans still demanding violence, he insisted that peace was the only way forward. He went on national TV to declare to his people that they were wrong to demand violence and that as their leader; he must show them a path that is right; that their peculiar history may not even rationalise. After all, an eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind. He preached forgiveness.
This then got me thinking about Nigeria. I have seen interviews by people like Asari Dokubo relying heavily on the history of his forebears to demand autonomy for his people. I have also read writings by many politicians equally calling on the force of history to canvass a world view for the nation as they see it. But how much can we rely on history? Should the grandson of a late slave owner in American south today rely on history to demand segregation? We cannot say simple because something existed in the past it must also be made to exist now. We in the present have to chart a new future based on present day realities and a forward-looking vision; regardless of our past. We are not our fathers, and they do not expect us to be like them.
The challenges they faced and the world they lived-in was in many ways different from our own. What we now know and what we have access to, they did not have access to them. So we should rightly love and cherish our esoteric histories, but we must base our actions on what is possible and best for our people now and in the future, not based on obsession to replay or repeat history. Events in our history happened within a peculiar context and the actors did what they thought was best. I want to learn from history and not live or repeat it.
So the pertinent question therefore is what future do Nigerians want? What future is best for our people in the 21st century? The response of many to these questions tends to be a history lesson. We don’t need that any more. We don’t need to be told how things were done in 1933 to determine how we should live together in 2013. It is intellectual laziness to only think the solution to our situation is always in history lesson of what the colonials did. Or what Chief Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe or Sir Tafa Balewa did. We cannot progress if all we do is repeat history.
Nigeria needs a new crop of leaders who, while appreciating history, are more focused on caving a new vision based on the future our people want and deserve; even if that is not a replay of historical precedents. In the context of current Nigeria; people saying that the nation should break up because it is an artificial creation of the Lord Luggard’s British colonial powers, is like telling a married couple to divorce after 70years of marriage (and several Children and grandchildren), because their original marriage papers were not fully in order. Who cares whether their wedding papers were in order on or not many will say. After 70yrs of living as husband and wife; certain realities and interdependencies would have set in. They are now married with or without correct papers.
Simply saying that because Nigerian regions were separate entities before amalgamation almost 100 years ago is a mute point in my view. 99.9% of Nigerians alive today, were born into an amalgamated country; hence do not know what it was to have lived in the pre-1914 Nigeria. We have to accept that Nigeria as a country is the only nation we all know. We have to accept that we have lived together for 100yrs. And we have to accept that despite our failings, we cannot make breaking a 100yrs old marriage the only viable solution to save it. We need more creative leaders, who will lead the people, just like Mandela did. We need leaders who will be more forward looking and less backward focused. Nigeria as it is now is what most practically all Nigerians know territorially. We have been played a hand by history; our job is to play it to the best of our vision and passion and not simply hand it back to history.
An acceptance of this thesis is evident in South Africa after Mandela became the first black President. South Africa became a Black-majority democracy; and not a Black-Only democracy. That is an acceptance of the reality on the ground. It is an acceptance that South Africa cannot simply return to black only pre-colonial era. It is an acceptance of the irreversible changes that life has enforced on the tapestry of the nation. It is an acceptance that while respecting history; we have to move forward based on what is possible now and the realities today.
I have a dream that such leaders will emerge in our nation and lead the people on the basis of the future possibilities and not just on the basis of the long gone historical architecture. What will Nigeria look like in 50years time? What will be our position in Africa and the world in 20years? These are the ambition-laden focus we need. Enough of these self-serving history merchants who do not at the same time give us a future vision we can safely rally behind. Life they say is for the living; let’s make the best of it folks.
I will continue my thoughts on this matter in a future instalment of this article.