Mandela on Nigeria’s crisis

However, using the revered name of the great Madiba has had a cooling effect on the boiled ink in the fiery pen of a seriously disgusted patriot. The name also serves as a fillip which tempers the anguish of disillusionment and puts a brake on the slide into a state of comatose resignation. It is on account of refusing to give up on the possibility of Nigeria as a prosperous democratic Nation for the benefit of all Nigerians that I approached the Madiba sometime ago for advice. The following represents our conversation via Skype.
Me: Greetings Madiba and thank you for agreeing to this chat, I was almost giving up when nothing was heard from my emissary for over one month, I am really grateful sir because I appreciate the demands on your time and moreover you are not getting younger.
Mandela: My friend, you can say that again, I am not getting younger and it saddened me when I was informed of your reasons for wanting to have a chat with me, if am still being consulted in this state it means we have not done well for Africa because the topic should have changed.
Me: I understand your feelings sir, but believe me, the topic has not changed. My country Nigeria is in dire straits, we are fast receding from any prospects of national harmony which is essential for progress and development. There is so much corruption and crude power mongering, which appears to have degenerated into a bizarre competition for who can steal the most, display the worst impunity, be the most outlandish and these politicians will say they are playing politics.
Worst of all to get ahead in their ‘playing politics’ they are succeeding in dividing the people along tribal, sectional and religious lines through various sinister propaganda and deceit. These are dangerous times for my dear country.
Mandela: I do not need a lecture on the Nigerian situation which unfortunately is symptomatic of the situation in most of our continent. I am very knowledgeable about the Nigerian situation and am very fond of Nigerians and I have been intervening in Nigerian matters since I came out of prison. What can I possibly do in my condition? honestly Nigeria is too important not only to Nigerians but to Africa and the World to sit by and watch it degenerate into a failed state, but what can one old man do?
Me: Sir, since you know Nigeria well and with the situation on ground what advise can you offer for reversing my dear country’s slide into self immolation.
Mandela: Okay I do not lay claim to a monopoly of wisdom but since you have asked, here are my thoughts – politicians play politics and as has been said, the business of governance and nation building is too important to be left to politicians.
So for any progress to be made you must bring in some patriots; and the people have to be mobilized to empower these patriots. These patriots must be the ones who represent the psyche of the Nation and give it direction. Of course you cannot have a democracy without politicians but the problem with Nigeria is that the politicians have been given carte blanche over everything and of course politicians will play politics with everything under their control especially as in your case where the people seem to have gone to sleep and the politicians even supervise their own elections – so why are we surprised?
Me: But sir if democracy is driven by politicians and they cannot be entrusted with governance, are we going to have an arrangement whereby governance is run by unelected people? That is confusing sir!
Mandela: No my son, be patient! Do not be like my good friend, Obasanjo! Listen to me. The bane of Nigeria’s problems is that it’s brand of democracy is driven by politicians. Democracy must be driven by the people themselves. The people decide what direction and the politicians follow. Let me use myself as an example, you will be surprised that left to politicians, it is unlikely I would have become president of South Africa, not that I particularly wanted it myself, but the people drove that process. The people set the national mood and had decided that at that point in our history, the best course was for me to serve as president.
Me: (cutting in) Sorry sir, you mean they are black politicians who did not want you?
Mandela: You are interrupting again and why are you Nigerians so interested in asides and intrigues, like my good friend Babangida? Of course there are many politicians who were asking in private whether I was the only person who fought for freedom or the only one who was imprisoned – that’s a typical politician for you, they have  a different calculus, usually selfish! So getting back to my point, at this time in Nigeria’s history a national mood needs to be given gravitas to envelope the whole system. The country needs to heal and determine to move forward as one nation before any progress can be made. A few good men cannot do it, what you need is the people getting solidly behind a few good men. These men must be people who the people either already regard or can be persuaded to regard as not prone to corruption, who are nationalistic in outlook and with a vision of utilizing your enormous resources for a better society for all. In a nutshell people that can be trusted to pursue the peoples agenda. Identify such people and sell them to the people, once the people set a national mood, let me assure you, that train will be unstoppable. Winning the peoples support is not going to be easy but it is absolutely essential for success. It is even a good thing that you have many political parties, so there is no shortage of possible platforms. The politicians cannot overwhelm the people rather it is the other way round and believe me the politicians will fall in line, they will still play their politics, but they will not set the national agenda and that is the difference.
Me: Sorry sir, I hear you but it seems so theoretical – I am not even sure we have the good man or few good men you are talking about? Everybody seems to have joined or waiting to join the band of characters ruining our country today.
Mandela: My son, (as Babangida taught me to say) this is not the time for pessimism; you are in a crisis so think out of the box. Expand your search. Have you heard of that young Colonel, Abubakar Umar? I got close to him during the June 12 1993 crisis. Whereas the politicians had reduced it into a sectional thing, this was a Hausa Fulani blue blood, I understand, in the army, who risked everything including his life to courageously fight for truth and justice. That is the young man who as military governor under his supposed godfather; Babangida resigned as governor and declared that he was doing so because the government had deviated from the agreed course when they took over.
Me: Sir, that young man is not so young anymore; he is now in his sixties! And moreover the politicians will rather die …
Mandela: Let me interrupt you, they will not die and you were not listening. It is not left to them! Sell him to the people! That is the kind of person you need to build the national momentum for a different kind of way of governance. What will any section have against him? Or will they say that he is  a greedy kind and will be corrupt? No way! Not with those antecedents! I had a chat with my friend Babangida last time he came to see me and do you know that in spite of Umar’s opposition and even allegedly plotting to topple him, he is one of the few people Babangida respects genuinely! That is what you get for being consistently straight forward and objective. You say he is no longer a young man; have his views or attitude to life changed?
Me: No sir he still airs his views regularly and is like the conscience of the nation.
Mandela: So what are you waiting for? That is your man! I am not saying he is the only good man or woman but the others are not as well known and as demonstrably ideal as the young colonel. This young lady, the due process lady, I forget her name, but she has been courageously vocal lately and from my sources she is honest and trustworthy.
Me: You mean Oby Ezekwesili!
Mandela: Yes that is the young lady, these two people I have mentioned; is a team not already emerging? You people should go to work and forget pessimism; nothing will be achieved by that. And if they are reluctant tell them that as Aristotle said ‘It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen’. They are good people let them now be good citizens and fight for their country! I have only a short time left on earth, If I am looking at Nigeria from heaven, I want a smile on my face not consternation.
Me: Thank you sir, you are a real father of humanity. God bless you always.
NB. All my ‘trigger happy’ learned friends should take heed that the above conversation did occur… in my dream!

 Ukpong is a partner at Consolex Legal Practitioners, Lagos <>;

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