Talk delivered to commemorate Nigeria’s Independence Day at OFNC Newcastle
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, fellow Nigerians, I greet you in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ. I thank the leadership of the Newcastle branch of the Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians and my friend the Venerable Dr Ayodeji Fagbemi for this invitation. I rejoice with all Nigerians as we have attained 49 years of ‘age’.
That my name is Olu Ojedokun that am certain of, that I currently work for the ministry of Friends International is in no doubt. However, I am neither sure nor clear why you chosen me or think me apt or capable of speaking to you today on this auspicious occasion. I do not aspire to a false sense of modesty and I realise this, because I am all broken, every single part of me is broken, though I sometimes pretend not to be. I live a life of imperfections but cling to hope and promises of a perfect life because of my faith.
For the last few years of my existence I have committed myself to speaking truth to power. For the reality is that we as Christians need to “speak the truth to power” no matter which side of the liberal-conservative line God’s truth may fall on a particular topic in today’s culture and no matter which earthly power we are addressing: whether the power of government, cultural elites or of the masses.
The promise of a generation? I admit I chose this theme, but now it seems like a terrible idea: ‘The Promise of a Generation’? So difficult that I was going to start off with some anecdotes and fill the whole space with laughs and more laughs, probably plug my ministry and get more people to offer financial support to the Friends International’s ministry to 1 million international students.
However, I find the theme has got under my skin because the suggestion that every generation has promise and every generation fails that promise in some respects. How can we not? What is promise if not something that’s impossible to live up to?
Promise is inchoate and promise is what binds us. Some of our generation have died, some have got sick, some have got rich, some had bad luck and some of us were fortunate, more than others. But failed promise only truly fails when it leads to lowered expectations.
It was Kennedy, the American President, who said in 1962, “We choose to go to the Moon… not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
President John F. Kennedy reaffirmed America’s commitment to landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. He was dwelling on what seemed like a fairy tale and impossibility of monumental proportions but in the end it became achievable.
Some argue that as we celebrate Nigeria’s 49th anniversary, it is enmeshed knee deep in corruption and it is in danger of strangulating its citizens. Leaving the question of morality aside, corruption is horribly inefficient. It inflates costs, leads to poor decision making, and lumbers the bribed with unsuitable equipment and the bribers with legal and political headaches. In Nigeria we have a space where it is claimed that corruption is so intractable to the extent that it thrives, where the corrupt masters are protected by the, judiciary, the AGF, feted by the press, with their justifications and rationalisations splashed on a daily basis on the pages of print media and celebrated on the various electronic media. Corruption and avarice are now modelled for the generations yet unborn as if it were a virtue.
My concern today is that in the past few decades in Nigeria, many of the best and brightest of a generation departed (deserted?) the land and that includes me. In order to support my assertion I risk the mention of names gathered in this august venue, under the auspices of the Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians.
We escaped and emigrated abroad on different flights. It is suggested that we did this for a number of reasons; fleeing to escape economic hardships, to advance our studies and to enhance our skills while others like me dare claim it was simply a return to the United Kingdom, the country of my birth. Whichever way we left and travelled into the Diaspora, today, in this room, in this place and in this country, here and now, we are on the same boat, the same flight with the same destiny and encountering the same issues. Our future, I submit is inseparable. We have made remarkable strides in the United Kingdom and by and large we contribute significantly to the NHS.
However, the brain drain has led to deficits in many areas of Nigeria’s national life, where the absence of these best and brightest is noticeable. The governance of our land has suffered greatly and the vacuum left has been replaced by Goliaths of failure, corruption, ineptitude and lack of ambition in our body polity. In the meantime the Davids and the rocks, which should be the sources of inspiration, progress and the basis of renewal of society are simply scattered around the globe. Lying around, that is you and me in the Diaspora, frustratingly idle on the Nigerian front. Absent from the front, not being put to constructive use but developing the United Kingdom where we reside and live. Yet a few have trickled back to Nigeria but it still remains too insignificant to transform the landscape.
I submit that we must not just indulge in continual lamentation over what we have not got but to utilise what we have to achieve great things. Furthermore I quote Martin Luther King “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
We cannot be content at home and abroad, limiting ourselves to church planting and having mega conferences without a corresponding transformation of the United Kingdom and the Nigerian society. These activities must demonstrate their relevance by affecting the people around us.
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos has convinced me that rather than what obtains in President Yar Adua’s Nigeria today, government can and should be a place where everyone comes together and where no one gets left behind; an instrument of and for good. We have had bad governance in Nigeria by default, allowing the past and present rulers to operate on the margins of despair and apathy. They won power not because they were geniuses but because we were asleep and the coalition of the progressives was fractured. But today, I am convinced that the masses, the impoverished, the committed within and the educated out there, across the globe, our time has come. I am convinced that from Sokoto to Lagos, Kwara to Taraba, Borno to Imo, Cross River to Kano our time has come, from those in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham, London, Sheffield our time has come!
I remember the analogy Revd. Jesse Jackson tried to draw from the scriptures about little shepherd boy, David. He took the rocks that God gave him and a sling shot. Today, many of us are rocks simply lying around. It was with this improbable weaponry that David changed his generation; it was with his unlikely size that David defeated the giant of his age. We also, though scattered, in the Diaspora, are spectators to a confounding enemy called corruption, voracious in its appetite for the destruction of Nigeria. However, we can defeat the enemy by the margin of our promise inspired by courageous leadership. Now is the time to come together out of out of the spectator stands, the galleries, of course we will debate, deliberate, agree to disagree but whatever our positions, we will be on the same flight. The flight which destines us for progress,
meritocracy and the enthronement of good and a glorious future.
The promise of today brings forth a new course, a new coalition, a new way, a new leadership, the emergent of a new choice. From Sokoto to Lagos, Kwara to Taraba, Borno to Imo, Cross River to Kano, our time has come! We must gather our rocks (ourselves) our sling shots (our ideas) and slay the Goliath.
I further submit that Nigeria cannot continue to survive as a collection of competing special interests but only as one great special family. Many would argue with this submission and suggest some amount of naivety; however, I remain convinced and believe in Nigeria’s great potential.
Yes, many Nigerians were born daily in slum like circumstances but the slum was not born in them and together we can make it. Nigerians can hold their chests high, can stick their chests out and we can make it. It is dark now, but soon the morning will come for all the suffering our leaders had brought upon us has bred our character, made us stronger and with the many rocks around and the sling shots we will make it.
May I suggest today that in the midst of the global gloom, hopelessness and disasters, even in the most trying of circumstances, the ingenuity endowed with the Nigerian human spirit, the drive to overcome can shine through and there is the capacity that our maker has endowed us which constantly inspire one another through small acts of remarkable individual and personal acts of sacrifice and bravery that can transform our landscape. You may agree with Joel 3:16 that hope means hoping even when things seem hopeless.
For my personal story bears witness, my circumstance confirms this. Over 30 years ago, my family was plunged into despair, my father; a rising star of his generation was cut down at age 35. In our midst of uncertainty, want and poverty, under the shadow of sadness, through God’s grace, my mother’s sacrifices and the support of the extended family, we made it. Simple as this story is, the promise is: Nigeria is in the midst of despair and uncertainty today, with a clueless leadership, a confounding enemy and a people filled with apathy can and should make it. I say Nigeria, that with the promise of my generation our time has come!
We must never take a simple breath for granted, for it is a privilege to be alive. In spite of all cruelty and unfairness, life is beautiful, precious and an incredible gift. Let us as the Psalmist says in verses 3-6, make the best of it. For as stated in Lamentations 3:22-23, hope forever tells us that tomorrow will be better.
I end the talk today, the promise of a generation with the words of this song which I hope inspire some to believe that we can fulfil the promise of our generation:
“There’s a hero If you look inside your heart. You don’t have to be afraid of what you are. There’s an answer If you reach into your soul and the sorrow that you know will melt away.
And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on and you cast your fears aside and you know you can survive. So when you feel like hope is gone look inside you and be strong and you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.
It’s a long road when you face the world alone. No one reaches out a hand for you to hold. You can find love If you search within yourself and the emptiness you felt will disappear.
And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on and you cast your fears aside And you know you can survive. So when you feel like hope is gone look inside you and be strong and you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.
Lord knows dreams are hard to follow but don’t let anyone tear them away hold on there will be tomorrow In time You’ll find the way.
And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on and you cast your fears aside and you know you can survive. So when you feel like hope is gone look inside you and be strong and you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.”
Ladies and gentlemen, on this promise I stand, this promise I commend to my generation. Thank you for the privilege. May God bless you and God bless Nigeria.