Without vision, the people perish. So said the ancient Hebraic sages of old. By vision I am referring to the fundamental picture that a person places in front of himself or herself that defines not only their self-image but also what they are about – their being, future and destiny. Vision is about ideals and moral purpose – of how you view your past, your present and your future.
The secret to true greatness – whether individual or collective – lies in the ability to enunciate a clear vision of what one is about. You are never quite a man until you have discovered our true life-mission. When the ancient Hebrews declared that “without vision, the people perish”, they were referring to the fundamental need for a people to know who they are, what they stand for and where they are heading as a people.
It all started with Abraham, when in an age when most people would long have retired, he hearkened to a voice urging him to leave his native land in search of a new city. Childless, he and his wife Sarah were told that they would give birth to a nation as numerous as the stars. Abraham entered into covenant with the one true God; a covenant of faith that he would fear his maker and would treat all creatures with righteousness and justice. In exchange he received blessings of a long life, prosperity and riches. Today, he is universally regarded as the Father of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims – the founding ancestor of the three so-called Abrahamic religions.
For the Jewish people, in all their millennial wanderings on the earth, their ideals were defined by the virtues of truth, righteousness and justice. The Western ideals of law, jurisprudence, liberty and constitutional government have been influenced not only by Greece and Rome but also by an illustrious lineage of Jewish thinkers from Maimonides to Spinoza, Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin.
How a nation defines its vision is shaped not only by ideas but also by historical experience and collective memory. Great men and women are the visioners of great civilisations. They are the dreamers who make things happen. Little men dream of small things; giants dream of big things. Great men and women live by the audacity of hope. Like the Greek hero Pheidippides, they have what it takes to run a great marathon.
The British people, for example, define themselves as “the land of Hope and Glory”. They have remained fiercely proud of the fact that their island home has never been conquered in a nearly a thousand years, basically since the Norman Conquest and the marauding band of Vikings that occupied much of the North, including Anglia. Britain prides itself in being a nation governed by law, in which an Englishman and woman could never be robbed of their liberties except by reason of the force of law or exigencies of war.
America is the first nation in modern times that was deliberately designed by men who possessed a unique vision regarding democracy and the ideals of free government: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men were created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain Inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. These are the immortal opening lines of the American Declaration of Independence 1776. The American people and their succeeding generations of statesmen from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Barack Obama have always harped back to these immortal words as the foundation of their national creed. The concept of the American Dream – of American Exceptionalism– is deeply embedded in this vision of being a city set on a hill; a beacon of hope for all the weary pilgrims of the earth looking for new horizons – for renewed hope.
For the French people, the Revolution of 1789 and its ideals of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité underlie their unique civilisation. Of all the nations of the earth, the French value liberty, philosophy and mathematics more than anyone I know. In French society since the days of Lamartine, Richelieu and Voltaire, the man of knowledge is an equal of the man of wealth and the inheritor of a dukedom. In their philosophy, in their poetry and in their love of mathematics and science, the French are an incomparable race. It is for this reason that France believes itself to be the mother and custodian of the Universal.
I give these few examples to raise the question of where we in Africa, and, particularly Nigeria, stand in terms of collective vision. The renowned French agronomist René Dumont famously lamented in the 1980s that Africa is largely made up of fictitious nations without any ideals whatsoever. What does Zambia stand for? Or Senegal or Madagascar? Or Nigeria?
Because we have no ideals as nations, we have virtually no standards of public morality or rectitude. Consequently, as happened in our recent past, anybody can literally pick up a gun and start a war in a bid to capture power. Taxi drivers, soldiers maddened by syphilis and all sorts of renegade adventurers have managed to seize power either by force or by chicanery and international complot aided by our Roman conquerors. The list is a long one: Mobutu, Bokassa, Nguema, Charles Taylor, Idi Amin and many others.
Where does Nigeria fit into all this? We as a country recently stumbled, in a feat of absentmindedness, into the rank of the largest economy on the continent. In another generation, our population will exceed the 300 million mark, placing us among the seven most populous nations on earth. Through our various ambitious development plans, we are hoping to be among the 20 largest economies in the world in the next decade. Beyond material ambitions, we have not thought through what our national vision is.
What do we stand for as a country? What are our unique ideals and selling point? What makes us quintessentially Nigerian?
I often heard our foreign policy experts repeat, like drones, that “Africa is the centre-piece of our foreign policy”. Any country that makes anything else other than itself “the centrepiece” of its existence is doomed. It was arrant nonsense then. It is arrant nonsense now.
My vision is of a Nigeria First Policy. We are the heart of Africa. The much talked-about renaissance will of necessity begin from us. It is from the Gulf of Guinea that it will radiate across the four corners of our glorious continent. All the races and peoples and religions of Africa are represented here in Nigeria. Some of our ancient tribes, like my own Nok civilisation, trace their origins to the Egypt of the Pharaohs. Because of our diversity and the rich tapestry of our various nationalities and cultures, we embrace democratic federalism as the fundamental framework of civil government, and with it respect for all faiths and for freedom, liberty and justice. We value respect for elders and revere the sexual mores that were passed to us from our venerable ancestors.
And let it be said in all truth: the destiny of all the peoples of African origin throughout the world – in the Americas and in the islands of the seas – is inseparable from ours. We have an immanent vocation as the leader of Africa. Without us the African people will never make it. It is us that Africa is waiting for – for the revelation of the true sons of God.
This is why the change mantra being espoused by the incoming Buhari APC administration means so much for the future of our country. We must walk the talk. Our national ideals must, of necessity, involve a love for justice, liberty, equality and African humanism. We must link these to a deep commitment to positive science as the foundation of social progress and public reason. Our vocation is to build a prosperous democracy based on science, technology and innovation. Nigeria must be a first class technological-industrial state or we would nothing at all. Like Rasselas, the mythical prince of the ancient kingdom of Abyssinia, I see a new land on the horizon, where every man and woman is happy.
I dream of a Great Peace after our decades of bloodshed and tumult; when Muslims and Christians live together as brothers as they once did in medieval Al-Andalus and Cordoba. I dream of magnetic levitation (MAGLEV) trains linking all our major cities; of prosperous and well-lighted villages and homesteads where no child goes to bed hungry. I see a new industrial civilisation emerging out of the morass and decay of the present. I dream of several of our universities being listed among the best 100 in the coming years. I see our women taking their rightful place with the menfolk as equal partners in our great national enterprise. I see our young men and women thriving as scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, poets and sculptors. I see hope rising where there was darkness and sorrow. I see all the heroes of my youths – Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Ali Akilu, Sa’adu Zungur, Akanu Ibiam and Simeon Adebo – rejoicing in paradise over the fact that our nation has risen from the ashes of defeat and will reach, at last, the promise of its destiny.
We must never settle for second best. Like Kwame Nkrumah used to say, nothing but the best is good enough for Africa. Arise, O my people, from your millennial slumber!