When I was writing my dissertation for the award of a master’s degree in Systematic Theology, I decided on a topic with a local context. In the first chapter, I made a lot of references to some Philosophers in Athens and many theologians in Europe and America.
I had two supervisors, Afin Mensah (A Ghanaian Scripture Scholar) and Luke Mbefo (A Nigerian Professor of Systematic Theology). The Ghanaian Professor was the first to read the chapter. He remarked: “Beautiful chapter! Go ahead with the second chapter.” Mbefo was my first supervisor. Here was his remark: “You have run well but on a wrong course. There are Socrates, Plato(s), Aristotle(s) and great philosophers in your village; go home and look for them.” I really travelled to my village and the locality to identify the sages of Etsako. I had to re-write the first chapter completely with the ideas I gathered from the wise elders. I discovered that even without Western education, these elders have the wisdom that it takes to announce a new dawn. This for me also confirms the adage: “uno’kpishia lu’kpe ozagbe” (It is the elders who announce a new dawn). In other words, it is the elders who announce the yearly festivals that bring everybody together.
The wisdom of the elders in Africa indicates the strength in our great continent. It is a popular opinion that civilization started from Egypt (Africa). The exportation of human labour, agricultural products and arts from Africa contributed to the development of Europe and America. Once upon a time, a black American preached a retreat to us at Brother Roman Centre, Ekpoma (Edo State, Nigeria). He made a statement that could be translated to be either an insult or a challenge. He said: “This is my first time in Nigeria. As I travel from Lagos to Ekpoma, I see green vegetation, well fed animals, healthy human beings. My God! Nigeria is rich with human and natural resources. With the news we receive about Nigeria, the impression is that if you tell every Nigerian to move to America and tell every American to move to Nigeria with the mandate to develop the new abode with the available resources, within ten years America will be impoverished like Nigeria and Nigeria will be developed like America.” The message was that Nigerians lack the capacity to develop their potentials. Rather, they would consume what they could invest to make a better tomorrow akin to the song of Bob Marley: “In the abundance of water, the fools are thirsty.”
Imagine the renaissance that would dawn on Nigeria if every citizen could resolve to key into the wisdom of our ancient ancestors who valued honesty hospitality and industry. The art of carving a canoe, weaving baskets, making bow and arrow, sculpturing, artefact, pottery and many local African products were not learnt from Europe and America. Foreign nations once depended on groundnuts, cocoa, coffee, rubber, fruits and many natural products from Africa for their industries. The art of trade was not learnt from foreign nations. African commerce started with trade by batter and the use of cowries before the era of colonialism. Manual labour of African slaves was used to build tunnels and castles in Europe. Some of the hospitals some Africans visit in Europe and America have Africans as the best doctors. Then, why do we still rank as a third world? The problem is not in our star but in us. We have been made to kill our brothers and sisters like the proverbial crickets who turn against themselves.
African nations can transform into world power if Africans selflessly, wisely and courageously unite their intellectual and political potentials to raise the communities from grass to grace. We must believe in our natural strength. Let us not be intimidated because God did not create us with inferior intelligence. We need courage and honesty to utilise our resources for what it is meant for. One day, I ask a friend who was my class mate in primary school: “When will you enable Nigeria to have uninterrupted power supply?” I asked because he was a manager in Nigeria Electric Power Authority (NEPA). Here was his response: “Uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria is not possible in our generation because the money allocated by the government for electricity goes into private pockets.” This type of stealing would be a serious abomination in the sight of our ancestors. In the past, many Africans feared to steal because they feared the retribution and nemesis that would befall them from the deities. If so, what has changed? Are the deities on retreat or the gods are to be blamed?
Do we call on the ancestors to bring down the rains so that we can be situated in the modern context? Do the ancestors understand that railways, refineries, iron and steel industries could rank Nigeria a first-world? Sometime ago somebody published in the newspaper that oaths to objects of traditional religion can stop corruption in Nigeria. I interpreted that to mean a return to our traditional conscience while still remaining good Christians and good Muslims. It was interesting seeing the past Heads of State and Presidents at the inauguration ceremony at Eagle Square on May 29, 2015. Some of them have seized power from each other successively in various coups. What a sacred opportunity for reconciliation!
When in his maiden address, President Buhari said he would not settle “old scores” one could imagine the feelings of Babagida who took over power from him and Shagari from whom he took over power. Now that Nigerians have started to eulogize statesmanship and change, let us pray that the past leaders in Nigeria will strive to play the role of elders while those in power now would work towards making indelible marks that would make them statesmen and women. We pray that those God has entrusted with authority to serve the nation would strive to write their names in gold in the annals of history. I pray that the present leadership of Nigeria will be allowed to build on the efforts of the good leaders and heroes who have gone before us. We can, if we are collectively determined since nothing is difficult for a willing heart.
What Nigeria needs today more than ever before is a Renaissance that flows from the heart! A heart that considers the other more than the ego (Me, I and myself) notwithstanding the popular belief that charity begins at home. This could produce the nostalgia to African cultural movement, innovative flowering of vernacular literatures, painting, and educational reform. The need for re-education today is imperative because the worst disease in the world is ignorance. Education goes beyond formal education because it goes with formation of character. This form of education gives the wisdom that is deeper than mere academic knowledge. This wisdom is the “ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action”. This would produce reverence for God and respect for human beings. This goes beyond keeping the rules and regulations that cannot cover all situations. It takes wisdom to know what is right or wrong in a given situation even without the written law. Wisdom understands the consequences of a particular action in terms of harmony between human beings and obedience to the will of God.
This Renaissance should start with the development of the vernacular literatures to express the African spirit, values and wisdom. This value could help the African nations to further understand that whoever eats alone dies alone. This would assist Africans to respect their elders. This would remind the elders, patriots, statesmen and women that they have the obligation to preserve the integrity of the communal life we inherited from the ancestors and the heroes past. This again, is our chance. We are waiting for the elders to announce the dawn with practical examples that will not disappoint the next generation.
Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City