And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)
Few weeks ago, returning from Church, and driving through Oshodi bus stop, my five year old son remarked on how dirty Lagos looked. ‘Why?’ He wondered. As I was pondering over his question, his brother, seven years old, replied ‘because of us.’ This got me further wondering, ‘what do you mean ‘because of us?’ I asked. He replied saying he had observed his aunty throwing a chewing gum wrap from out of the car the previous day. I thought this was strikingly true. The city is a mess, the society is a mess, the nation is a mess, because we all contribute actively to making it so. The truth is, individuals are functional representatives of a whole, be it of a tribe, corporation or nation. Individual restitution (return of stolen property and compensation) for crimes committed by the German state after World War 2, is an interesting example of this. The Philosopher Phillip Pettit puts it this way: “to refuse to ascribe collective responsibility to the grouping as a whole, on the grounds that the evil was done entirely by the spokesbody, would be to miss the opportunity to put in place an incentive for members of the grouping as a whole to challenge what the spokesbody does, transforming the constitution under which they operate.”
The truth is, we all have roles to play; from the man or woman at the helm to the street sweeper; from the octogenarian to the ten year old. We cannot stress this enough. Every great nation has been built on the strength of individual resolutions and actions. The foundation of America, with its lofty principles of human rights, separation of powers and equality before the law, was laid by individuals who were not officials of state in the strict sense of it. The agitators for Nigerian independence were not officials of state. Mandela was not an official of state. These were individuals, who fed up with the way things were, did something about it with what they had from where they were. It was Nelson Mandela who said “There are so many men and women who hold no distinctive positions, but whose contribution toward development of society has been enormous.” And individual actions do not have to be as lofty, it could be as little as desisting from throwing refuse out of the window, paying your taxes as at when due, making sure you register to vote and actually voting, making sure, as an electoral official, you cannot be bribed or compromised, to ensure credible elections, as a road user, being mindful of other road users while driving, and if you hold a position, whether by selection or election, handling your responsibility, however little, with all the integrity you can muster.
The mistake we have always made is waiting for some sort of top-down miracle to save the system. Whereas what we really need is the reverse; a bottom-up effort. The truth is, every leadership is a product of its environment, and if the general values of the system are warped, we may change leaders as often as we want, we’ll just keep recycling the same values in office and getting the same results. But a reevaluation and reorientation of the entire system will encourage individuals to do the best they can, where they are, with what they have, to salvage the system, and this will definitely provoke the change we are looking for. It is a matter of time.
The truth is, you are not powerless, and I am not powerless. Doing what you can to improve the society, and I what I can, will definitely create the critical mass needed to provoke the change we desire.
Matjidid Mokono was a primary school teacher in GaMagoa in South Africa when she spotted a huge problem. The children in the community were steeped in poverty. Many were living with their grandparents and susceptible to an environment of crime, alcoholism and drug abuse. Moved to act, Mokono decided to fill the gap between these destitute children and the government. She resigned her job as a teacher and started Mponogele Le Iterele Orphan Centre – under a tree.
The goal was to feed and educate the children. In a short while, the Centre’s reputation grew, and Matjididi Mokono began to receive support locally and internationally. Over a decade later, the center has moved from under the tree to its own fully equipped property, taking children off the street and empowering them to face the world with dignity and confidence. Matjididi Mokono’s action inspired similar commitments and actions in the different aspects of the community and that changed the face of GaMagoa. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who said “Citizenship consists in the service of the country,” a truth echoed by John F. Kennedy’s famous quote “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Think of it. Who blocks the drainages? Could it be the citizens that dump refuse in them or and the public officer who neglects his duty for which he is being paid? The truth is, it is both of them. We are the government. And this is the picture in every segment of society; from officials who give permits to build houses where roads, drainages and public parks ought to be, to individuals who give bribes to circumvent due process. ‘Democracy’ indeed; a government of the people for the people by the people. We choose public officials to run the government, the way we run our lives. This can change, and it will change, in the name of Jesus.
We just have to work in the reverse to straighten things out. You and I. Brick by brick. One commitment to ethics, principles and order, after another. It doesn’t take more than this really. We are here for such a time as this. We are Nigerians. This is our home. Let us do all we can, where we are, to move the country forward.
NIGERIA HAS A GREAT FUTURE