Madiba @ 90: Waiting for the Nigerian Mandela!

by SOC Okenwa

The former South African President Nelson Mandela is a living legend from all indications. Mandela has attained, even in his lifetime, the status of an icon, a world sage whose eventful history has many positivities, an uncommon history steeped in destiny, stoicism and large-heartedness. Mandela is the greatest example of leadership quality in Africa, a woeful continent struggling with petty dictators and politico-economic problems.

Mandela, with his fellow anti-Apartheid heroes, killed Apartheid after undergoing most harrowing of experiences. Apartheid collapsed because the likes of Madiba refused to compromise or trade off freedom for the black majority of their compatriots. Apartheid represented every shade of evil and it took the collective determination of a few good men to crumble its vested interests and entrenched infrastructures in South Africa.

Whilst the deplorable recent xenophobic violence in South Africa — which had sought to question the African big brother phenomenon and brotherhood — appears tamed or contained (with Mandela characteristically condemning it) the Thabo Mbeki stewardship leaves much to be desired. That is why many South Africans are ostensibly waiting on Jacob Zuma to come in with his kind of politics which appears more robust and engaging.

Today in Hyde Park in London some of the best entertainers in the world would be honouring Madiba who turns ninety in a great concert. Eminem, Robert de Niro, Annie Lennox, Will Smith, Oprah Winfreh and a host of other greats are already in London to pay musical homage to the great exceptional man whose statesmanship is beyond dispute.

The London event is tagged “46664”, a digit in memory of the prison ID badge Mandela wore in prison with that number of tickets sold out. The profits are to be donated to the HIV/AIDS global campaign. Africa has the greatest number of AIDS victims around the world and South Africa has the highest number of victims in Africa.

Great men and women from different fields of human endeavour including ex-American President Bill Clinton, British PM Gordon Brown, the Queen Elizabeth would be attending events celebrating Mandela @ 90. It is an honour worthy of extending to a Nobel laureate for peace whose moral interventions go with global attention.

Mandela himself, reduced to walking with the aid of a walking stick by old age, is in London to witness the birthday gig. Mandela is remembered in our prayers today for what he represents for Africa and Africans: hope against hopelessness, dignity and black pride. Our prayer goes to the Supreme Being for Him to grant this apostle of hope for mankind many more years amongst us.

As we remember Mandela in our prayers we remember the long-suffering Zimbabweans as they are forced today to go to the polls to ‘elect’ only but Robert Mugabe as their president for life. Against the background of protestations of the international community and the withdrawal of the credible opposition MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai from the sham presidential one-candidate run-off election slated for today Mugabe defies the world as he seeks to legitimise his disastrous reign for another five years.

The Zimbabwean socio-economic political situation could well be likened to an Athenian tragedy without the majesty of the Greek drama! Robert Mugabe wants to die (with impunity) in office. We can only ask God to accelerate this death wish of his sooner.

When we think positively about rare gems like Mandela we equally think about the many scoundrels who masquerade themselves as leaders in Africa. Mugabe is one of them, Olusegun Obasanjo is another. For Mandela what we are horribly witnessing in Zimbabwe approximates “a tragic failure of leadership”. Of course it is awfully!

As we remember Nelson Mandela in our prayers we also remember our compatriots back home who are still bearing the brunt of leadership failure: no good roads, no water, no light, no food, no shelter. We bemoan with them their fate made worse by the curse of the oil boom. There are no other nationals of other oil-producing nations facing societal difficulties as Nigerians. Yet Nigerians keep tolerating the political barbarism of the ruling elite!

Olusegun Obasanjo who imposed the present lack-lustre arrangement at the federal level at home has few things in common with Nelson Mandela. They both spent times in prison as prisoners of conscience. They were elected Presidents of their respective countries straight from prisons. They ought to share similar podium as international statesmen but Obasanjo, out of greed, vindictiveness and pettiness, has squandered his statesmanship.

As Madiba turns 90 this is wishing him many more years among men and women of peace and love in this planet we know better. As we await prayerfully the coming of our own Madiba, the Nigerian Mandela (one who may not necessarily need to suffer Apartheid or be elected President straight from prison) this is a toast to Madiba @ 90!

As we celebrate this courageous man of high intellect who had famously said when Apartheid was flourishing in his native land that he was ‘the captain of his soul and the master of his destiny’ let me quote him in one of his popular books: No Easy Walk To Freedom: “…it is always the oppressor, not the oppressed, who dictates the form of the struggle. If the oppressor uses violence, the oppressed have no alternative but to respond violently.”

Happy birthday Nelson Mandela! May your days be longer!!

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