Remembering Nelson Mandela and the lessons he taught us

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Today, the 18th of July is World Mandela Day, the day for the only man in the world so honoured. A year ago, during the United Nations declared day, I wrote a piece in this column entitled – In search of another Mandela: a mirage or a possibility? I had stated in the article that we must look north and south, east and west to find another Madiba because if only a very small percentage of Africa can be like Madiba, the world and our continent will be a better place.  Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was the epitome of bravery, the embodiment of courage, a great man that will be missed severely by the country he fought for, friends, family and well-wishers. A popular quote of his rings this way: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Madiba, as he is fondly called spent 57 years of his life fighting for the emancipation of his people. Out of those years, he spent 27 in prison. Before his imprisonment, he said and I quote ‘Freedom and the emancipation of people is an ideal I hope to leave and achieve but if need be, it is an ideal for which I’m prepared to die for.’ This was a man ready to stand for what he stood for to the very end. If there is anything Nigerians can take away from the life Nelson Mandela lived, it was in the way he focused on his mission to emancipate his people and didn’t stop until he successfully achieved that goal. There are many among us who have a coherent vision for Nigeria but are stifled by a lack of courage. Madiba is a man who started with virtually no one behind him and preached his gospel until he had a congregation of followers echoing his words wherever they can. Start where you are, and if your objectives are in the interest of the people, I have no doubt that you can have a movement as great as Mandela.

To remember the icon, the UN had requested countries around the world to build monuments that can be used to inspire, particularly the younger generation to emulate the values that Madiba stood for. There is a bronze statue in parliament square in London that attracts over a million visitors every year. There is also a similar statue in Washington. We have two in South Africa; Johannesburg and Pretoria. The fifth is in Asaba, Delta state and it’s called the Nelson Mandela Gardens made up of a life size bronze statue of Madiba, a children playground, a mini zoo, a semi-Olympic sized swimming pool, a sports area, a convention center and lodges.

For those Nigerians aspiring to lead me, my children and grandchildren; the monument should serve as a reminder that Madiba demonstrated leadership at a very early age and did so without much in terms of wealth. After 27 years in prison for fighting injustice, any ordinary man will come out of that ordeal with bitterness, anger and a taste for revenge but not Nelson Mandela; he walked out of prison with his shoulders high and a heart ready to forgive. In his own words, “I am working now with the same people who threw me into jail, persecuted my wife, hounded my children from one school to the other…and I am one of those who are saying, “Let us forget the past, and think of the present.” He served his time but maintained his party membership while in prison and on the 10th of May 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black President. He did all that with nothing in his pockets very unlike what is experienced now when everyone feels they need billions to make a difference.

Mandela did not attempt to have the constitution amended to remove the two-term limit – a move that many might have supported wholeheartedly; instead he only had the intention of serving one term, which he did and left office on the 14th of June 1999 with nothing again. On 1 June 2004, Mandela announced that he was bowing out of public life to lead a quieter life, issuing the now famous statement: ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call You’, to those who would require his presence at their functions.

This year, the theme for World Nelson Mandela Day is Action against Poverty. I am reminded that just recently, the president made a speech promising to lift about 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. He talked about the India and China. It took both countries decades to plan and execute, so we must not see the programme as a political or vote catching picnic, for that reason, I would refer the President to my 69th article which I titled, ‘The haves and the have nots.’

In that article, I stated that there was a widening gap between those that have and those that don’t have. This gap has been expanding for decades now. As the gap widened, the haves started removing themselves and seeking special protection from the have nots. They sought the protection of the security, the judiciary and even the executive arm of government. The average Nigerian could not afford to be protected so becomes easy prey to mischief makers. They also were unable to get justice because the law makers no longer followed the law. Equity was replaced with quota and then came marginalization. It became very easy for those wanting to destabilize our country to find willing and able volunteer.

I also mentioned to Mr President to publish the plan of taking Nigerians out of poverty when it is ready, so that all Nigerians can participate and scrutinize the same approach as the case in India and China. Some of us were grown men and women when Dubia was only a desert. Personally, I knew about Dubia when there was nothing but brown sand around it and in it, because the company I worked for participated in the building of Dubai with oil money. The plan was so well published that it attracted international partners as well. Many years ago, if Nigeria had copied the Dubai model, there would have been three or four Dubai in Nigeria as of today. The city attracts over 130 million visitors every year; it is a big hub and a gateway between the east and the west. But it is not too late. We can still build a few Dubais on the fringes of the Sahara, a few in the south-south and more in the west. This would bring development, open up the arms of the world to Nigeria which would create millions of employment and contain insurgency in the north and south. So Mr President and my dear readers, allow me to end this column with another of Madiba quote, “What count in life is not the mere fact that we have lived, it is what difference we have made in the lives of others that will determine the significant of the life we lead.”

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