Beyond Optimism – Nigeria Has a Great Future

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come 1 Corinthians 10:11

The month of January was derived from the Roman concept of Janus, which implied the notion of having two faces, one looking to the past, and the other looking to the future. This posture was particularly apt for symbolizing the beginning of the New Year, because it invites us to review the past with a view to improving the future.

The truth is, one of the greatest mediums we have for shaping the future is the past. The past provides lessons for the present and guides how we approach the future. Most of what we know about the world today was gained from studying and understanding the failures and successes of yesterday. Doctors compile their patients’ histories as a guide for making diagnoses and prescriptions; football teams watch past clips of their opponents and of themselves to gain better insight on how to approach future matches; military tacticians write post combat reports to better understand why they succeeded or failed. History is a source of individual and collective wisdom we will do well to lean on. It was the philosopher and Harvard intellectual, George Santayana who said “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The term Vergangenheitsbewältigung (struggle to overcome the negatives of the past) is a German word that describes Germany’s attempt to analyze, digest and learn from its past, particularly its atrocities during the Second World War. The concept was channelled through schools, churches, literature and culture, with lessons on the perils of Nazism and admonitions not to repeat the same mistakes. Today, not only has Germany managed to become a fully integrated member of the international community and friends with its neighbouring countries, it has also become a stabilizing political and economic force in Europe and the world. This is phenomenal when you consider that about 70 years ago the country was utterly destroyed. The bulk of its infrastructure had been devastated by bombs from the Allied air forces, more than 7 million Germans had lost their lives during the war and the country had become a pariah nation for its systemic extermination of 11 million Jews, Poles, Russians, and Gypsies. But Germany, in spite of this, has risen to become one of the most influential and most trusted nations in the world. How? By coming to terms with its past, and learning from its mistakes. As Angela Merkel once said, “We Germans will never forget the hand of reconciliation that was extended to us after all the suffering that our country had brought to Europe and the world.”

As we get into the New Year, it is important that we carefully review the past and consider what we would do differently to deliver a better future for ourselves as individuals and as a nation. The truth is, Nigeria has come a long way since independence, and if we are sincere with ourselves, not much has been achieved in the conception of a national vision or in the area of national development. We have gone through a Civil War, endured decades of military dictatorships, but we haven’t learnt much from our past experiences. Almost every government that has ever come to power has repeated the mistakes of yesterday, ideologically and otherwise. This explains why the provision and maintenance of basic infrastructure is still a herculean task; why food supply is still abysmal and why politics is still practiced at an infantile level.

For years the suggestion to restructure the country, based on the lessons from our history, is yet to be implemented. The eradication of corruption is still a huge struggle because we have not been able to summon the will to review our criminal code, which in its present state makes it almost impossible to successfully prosecute corrupt individuals. To use a relatively marginal example, ASUU strikes have been an almost annual ritual since 1997, the recent being in 2017, just as there have been petrol shortages almost every year since the beginning of the second republic. We have to find decisive ways of solving our problems by looking at what has worked and hasn’t worked in the past. It took Obasanjo’s privatization of the telecommunication sector to get the sector working as it should, because decades of government control had shown that a completely different policy direction was needed to make things work. We have to be students of our own history. We cannot keep doing things the way we have always done and expect a different result. This goes for leadership, at every sphere of our public and private lives, as much as it goes for the people, who also have to demonstrate better judgement in electing public officials to office by carefully looking at their antecedents, and this goes from the council offices, all the way to the presidency.

All the lessons, ideas and suggestions we need to move the country out of the doldrums is in our history. We will repeat our most devastating mistakes if we don’t learn from the minor ones. It is my prayer that as we huddle in our respective spaces of operation, public and private, to review the year, we will look to the past to learn from where we have failed, garner the will to do things differently, and improve on where we have succeeded. Our best is yet ahead of us.


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