This Year's Thanksgiving Food For Thought

by Dr. Wunmi Akintide

How Competition And Positive Role Modeling Can Change Nigeria

This year’s Thanksgiving Celebration in America is the 78th one. From July 4th, 1776 when America gained her independence from Britain up till 78 years ago, this very unique and thoughtful idea of setting a day aside to give thanks to the Almighty God for all His Blessings on this wonderful experiment called America did not occur to anyone. But once it was set in motion for the whole world to see and emulate, there is no stopping it. If you are still wondering why America still has the distinction of being called God’s own country, you have one clue to that if you reflect as I do in this article on the full import of today’s Thanksgiving celebration in the preeminent leader of the Free World.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt one of the greatest Presidents and World leaders of the last century who had the distinction of holding that office longer than any other American president, did, attempt to shift Thanksgiving Day forward or backward by one week without success. The brilliant concept was finally enacted into Law for the whole country thereby reserving Thanksgiving celebration from coast to coast and from sea to shining sea, for the very last Thursday of each year’s November. It has therefore become one of the important Public Holidays in America probably second in popularity and acceptance to Christmas. The Yorubas have a saying that if human beings know how to reflect and count their blessings, it goes without saying, that that they would know how to fully appreciate and thank God. We owe the free the air we breadth everyday and the good health we enjoy to the special grace of God. We therefore need to be grateful to God 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. This hypothesis presumes there is a supreme Deity at the mention of whose name all tongues must confess and all knees must bow. This rule does not only apply to Christians alone. It, surely, applies to Muslims as well because of their fundamental belief in one God like the rest of us. Even the pagan worshippers in our country did not fail to recognize the presence of one supreme Deity who is addressed by different names in our litany of cultures in Nigeria. The Yorubas call him “Olodumare” as amplified by late Dr. Bolaji Idowu in his best seller titled “Olodumare- God in Yoruba Belief” The Ndigbos call Him “Chukwu” or “Chineke” while the Rivers people call Him “Tamuno” and the Muslims in our country call Him “Allah” So we are all agreed on the concept of one supreme deity, and that consensus should make it possible for our National Assembly to enact the Thanksgiving concept into a National Law in our country that must be observed by all.

I don’t care what you say or how you view the arrogance and excesses of America as a nation. But when all is said and done, only fools will not agree that America is a breed apart in the committee of Nations around the globe. She has recorded again another first in the Judeo-Christian tradition of absolute faith in God as the Alpha and Omega. Nigeria as the fastest growing Christian nation in our Hemisphere or sub region today deserves to borrow a leaf from America on the whole notion and concept of Thanksgiving. I don’t know of any other nation in this World with greater claim to that truth, if you know what our country has been through since 1914 when the Protectorate of the North was forcibly merged with the Protectorate of the South for the administrative convenience of our British colonial masters. If an idea is fundamentally good, I don’t care who initiated or started it, it is worth emulating by all rational people. By the same token I strongly believe we have more things to learn from this great nation, and we should start to do so without delay in our own interest and the interest of the future generation of Nigerians.

Competition and the willingness to experiment and embrace change without losing face, or giving up mid stream, is one of the uncompromising attributes of America which we all must strive to copy or emulate where we can. Democracy which our country has embraced thrives best on competition and role modeling of what is good and endearing in our country. If we are satisfied with where we are as a nation, we would have little or no motivation to do better than we are doing.

I recall with nostalgia in 1962 when the immortal JFK first became the youngest American ever to lead the United States. America was, at that moment in history, several years behind the Soviet Union in the Space Exploration with Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in Space. The young charismatic President saw that disparity or imbalance between the two super powers, and was determined to reverse it by simply making Americans believe in themselves and firing their imaginations in ways that the old Soviet Union could not match. America had not only beaten the Soviet Union to a second place in less than ten years, America was later to become the first country on Earth to land the first human being on the Moon in eight short years. I guess our country can do the same, if we try. I recall the first batch of Palm trees to be grown in the Ivory Coast under Houphouet Boigny all came from Nigeria. Today the Ivory Coast is a major Palm Oil producer in our sub Region exporting Palm Oil to Nigeria, while our country has taken a back seat in an area where we should be the leading Palm Oil producing country in the world because our climate and soil has turned out to be the best for Palm trees. The great Awolowo of blessed memory had given expression to that when he made the Palm Tree (Igi Owo) the Ballot box Symbol of the Action Group. You cannot beat Awolowo’s calculation in making that move. if Nigeria did not have Awo, we would have had to invent him. He was simply, head and shoulders above his peers in Nigeria, all things considered.

Whether we make progress or retrogress as a nation is all a factor of the choices we make for our country. We stand to make progress if we embrace competition and change and work extremely hard to attain it. We can do it if we try.

The other observation I wish to address in this article is how great and grateful nations like America are using the best role models in their country to encourage and galvanize the younger generation of Americans to have something or somebody to look up to as role models in all facets of their life. Nobody does it better than America and the practice is working so well for America in all fields of endeavor.

I was privileged, this morning, to watch as I normally do at 7 o’clock every morning, the one and only Charles Gibson of ABC News, hosting the Thanksgiving edition of “the Good Morning America” show at the Central Park in New York and bringing a six or seven year old girl named Julia to come meet face-to-face her Music Idol in Alicia Keyes, the current musical genius and juggernaut entertainer who is currently taking the whole world by storm by the unbeatable top of the chart albums she has been reeling out in the last three consecutive years or more. Little Julia who is fired by her own fantasy or love of Alicia’s music and songs had rendered her own version of the thriller titled “I am Falling” in a duet with Alicia herself. Just watching the program brought tears to my eyes because I have never seen anything like that. Little Julia has not only shown she was up to par with her idol, by singing that song probably better than Alicia herself. Alicia Keyes herself in a feat of emotion and candid affirmation that has become the hallmark of American heroes, has described the little girl as “the Alicia Keyes of the future, great as a young adorable girl, but greater still in promise.”

It was a once in a life time experience, but one that demonstrated the greatness of America and her future That was America for you. You don’t have one or two musical idols dominating this country, the way Commander Ebenezer Obe and King Sunny Omo Alade have dominated Juju Music in Nigeria for years. It is just not possible. Other budding stars would have beaten them to second position longest time, if they were operating in America. Why? Because competition is the nerve center of the DNA of America. As a matter of fact, both Obe and Sunny would have gone out of their way to deliberately court, inspire and multiply themselves for the betterment of Music in our country. Other talents would have come on board to equal and surpass their record and legacy in Juju Music in the spirit of competition. Our country not only recycle politicians, we recycle musicians as well. I think we can borrow a leaf from America. All we need is awareness, and that is the main thrust of this article.

I cannot now recall how many young Americans were toasted by President William Jefferson Clinton for the eight epoch-making years he was President and leader of this nation. He always made it a point of duty to introduce at every State of the Union address some young or old Americans he has met in the course of his travels around the country or during his campaigns for the presidency. He has always tried to showcase for the whole country some Americans, young or old that have made indelible impressions on him by what they have done to lift up America in all walks of life. Winning Basket Ball Championship teams like the Lakers or the Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan’s era, are regularly invited to be honored at the White House by the young President.

I remember that Tiger Wood, the World best golfer was invited to the White House for the same reason. Even though he was not able to honor the invitation, because he claimed the notice was too short, the President, had nevertheless, made his point loud and clear, that he was aiming to produce more of Tiger Wood for America. The enthusiasm with which young American are embracing the game of Golf today has proved the President right. After all the President himself had gotten his greatest inspiration to run for the highest office in the land when he was only a 12 year old little boy from Arkansas having the opportunity to shake hands at the White House with the youngest American President in JFK. Can you imagine President Obasanjo taking his cue from that, and doing something remotely close to that today in Nigeria? One of the earliest recollections of Obasanjo that some of our young Nigerians would clearly remember was a picture of Obasanjo on Television with a whip (koboko) in his hands dealing raw justice to a Police man who was evidently overzealous in doing his job at a rally attended by the President during his first term. Another unforgettable memory was Obasanjo telling the stunned, emotionally drained and traumatized Nigerians who had just witnessed a bomb blast at the Cantonment Arms Depot in Ikeja, Nigeria that had killed hundreds of people. You compare that with George Bush or Mayor Ruddy Guiliani taking charge after the 9/11 Blast of the Twin Towers in New York, and you get a clear picture of what I am talking about here. You have to wonder if we are living in the same planet.

I am happy to observe the President has since learnt his lessons and finding a better way to manage his public image with ordinary Nigerians. I thought he did a little bit of that at the Donald Trump Grand Hyatt Plaza in New York when he came to launch the Global satellite transmission of AIT (African Independent Television) to the Americas a couple of months ago. Thank God. I was physically present at the occasion, and I noticed the sleepy president on that occasion has come a long way from the days when he used to tell his own people to “Shut up and be quiet.”

Some years ago in Nigeria, a young man in the Eastern part of Nigeria, I don’t recall where exactly, had put together some flying machine that was able to fly about half a mile or more propelled by the engine the young man had crafted. The news was widely reported in most newspapers in Nigeria, but it did not occur to any of our leaders in Government to go a step further to find out more about the boy and his motivation so as to possibly develop on his innovation just like America had responded to the Wright brothers in South or North Carolina who had invented the air plane. I also recall the story of a Nigerian Doctor who claims to have produced an effective Vaccine for the treatment of Aids in Nigeria. The then minister for Science and Technology was more interested in pulling him down, rather than lending a sympathetic ear to what the Doctor was saying. In America a man like that would receive a different treatment from the American Academy of Sciences and from the political leadership of America.

A few years back a Lecturer at my alma mater, the great University of Ife had invented a machine for making pounded yam, the staple food of most people in the Southern part of Nigeria. The lecturer was having a hard time obtaining a patent for the same product in Nigeria, until a Japanese business man bought the whole idea and took it to Japan to complete the job. Today in Nigeria, a Japanese company marketing the product is making millions of dollars marketing the same product to Nigeria and West Africa. How about the great opportunities we had blown in not following up on the impressive achievements and resourcefulness of the great Biafrans during our civil war from 1967 to 1970. Obasanjo who led the Third Marine Commando to finish the war is now leading our country for the third time running out of a country of 120 million people, and has never found a moment to reflect on the opportunity cost of the War and how Nigeria could tap into it to refine crude oil and petrol products in our country, and to make it cheaper for the rank and file of our country building on the crude Refineries of the “Biafran” people during the War. That was nothing but a disaster for a country like ours. How about the so much talked about “Ugbunigwe” Land mines that had caused so much carnage to Federal troops at the famous Abagana Disaster led by the late Murtala Mohammed. With the global War against Terrorism all over the World, if we not a Nation walking on our head, a responsible Federal Government should be out there fighting to honor and to further develop on what is good in the Biafran debacle or challenge. If Obasanjo, by reason of his emotional and physical involvement in that War cannot do something, now that he is Commander-in-Chief, one has to wonder which of our leaders, past and present, still have the fire in his belly to embark on such a project for the benefit of Nigeria? I say cry the beloved country because Nigeria does not appreciate or glorify what is good in our country. But I have seen a few lights at the end of our Nigerian tunnel and here they are in a nut shell.

I recall with pride one Ondo State Governor, Colonel Lucky Mike Torey going out of his way to lend his Government’s moral and financial support to this writer when he decided to give back to the Nigerian Society a little bit of the opportunities given him, as the first Nigerian child of the Second World War Veterans in Nigeria to be offered the British/Canadian Scholarship to pursue his Education at the University of Ife from 1963 to 1966. That scholarship was to be the foundation to my other higher Diplomas obtained from the Royal institute of Public Administration, Mabledon Place, London the Cambridge University Center for Management, the State University of Connecticut and later on at the Yeshiva Jewish University of New York. I happen to be one of the very few Nigerians to ever gain admission at my time to the Jewish Citadel of Learning in the greatest City in the World, and I am proud of it like hell.

I graduated from Yeshiva University among the class of 1993. I launched the Sergeant Akintide Foundation of Nigeria in 1994 in Akure, Ondo State of Nigeria, as a special tribute to my late father, Chief Samuel Akintide Gbangba of Akure, Nigeria who was demobilized by the British Royal West African Frontier Force that saw active service in Burma Celon and India. My old man had retired from the Colonial Army in the rank of a Sergeant in 1945 when the Second World war had ended. That old man was my passport to the British/Canadian Scholarship that I enjoyed for my first Degree at Ife University. I got the inspiration to launch the scheme to offer scholarships to bright but financially handicapped children of veterans like me in Nigeria, following my 2 year studies at Yeshiva University of New York. I came away from my Post Graduate Studies at Yeshiva, a totally different person in the way I look at the world and my place in it.

The Karl Ichan Fellowship I was offered for my studies in my two wonderful years at Yeshiva had come from a fund willed to the University by a Jewish Philanthropist named Karl Ichan I have never met in my life. I don’t care what anybody reading this, may think of the Jews as a people. In my book, the Jews that I knew at Yeshiva University of New York were among the best human beings you would ever know. It was out of respect for what the University had made out of me that led to the launching of the Akintide Educational Foundation based in Akure, capital of Ondo State in Nigeria. I am recalling the part played by Governor Colonel Lucky Mike Torey who was the proud Guest of Honor at the Launching, and the part played by Kabiyesi Alaiyeluwa, Oba Festus Adedinsewo, the great Osemawe of Ondo who was the proud Chairman of the Launching Ceremony in Akure, because it was an uncommon display of guts and vision by the Governor that I am proud to let the whole world know about.

The Federal Government led by Ibrahim Babangida as President at the time deeply appreciated the gesture, and did encourage the Ondo State Government to support the Launching, but my praise and appreciation, as the initiator of the scheme in Nigeria goes to Lucky Mike Torey who truly understood that the Foundation concept was a First in our country, and he did his utmost to make the whole effort a big success. My deep appreciation also goes to one Dr. Samuel Olusola Omobomi, the first Nigerian chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation, and Prince Adewole Adesida of Akure, the second chairman, and the late Samuel Akinola Osatuyi the pioneer Deputy Executive Director of the Foundation. Of course, the British/Canadian Legions who offered me the Scholarship in 1963 as the first Nigerian child of an Ex-Service to be so honored, would for ever remain my heroes for the rest of my life. Very few of our leaders in Nigeria ever demonstrate such a vision. It is far much easier to do evil than to do anything constructive in our country. That is the painful truth. I am recalling this event just to drive my point home, and not to just blow my own trumpet.

Our country is basically an ungrateful country with a depraved sense of value. The way we treat our heroes if we have any, stinks, I might add. You go to the Burial ground of the late Murtala Mohammed in Kano, you will be sorry. Same thing with the Sardauna Bello or the late Tafawa Balewa. If you ask our leaders why? the naive excuse you are likely to get is that the Religion of those leaders does not welcome or permit such showmanshipor adulation. They forget that these leaders have become the national heroes and symbols of our struggle as a Nation, and ought to be treated as such regardless of any faith they had professed in their life time. Building a national Cemetery like Arlington for our National heroes in Abuja is something that is totally alien to many of our poor leaders in Nigeria. A man like Tafawa Balewa, Sardauna Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and so many others of our leaders have long ceased to be local champions. They deserve such National Resting Place for a change. You go to South Dakota and see how the images of great American Presidents are carved out in stone for posterity. The man named Air Force Captain Ita David Ikpeme deserve a national acolade and recognition for his pioneering and selfless work in Ondo State. He was easily the best Military Governor to rule Ondo State So was the late Michael Adekunle Ajasin, our best civilian Governor. General Aguiyi Ironsi and the late Adekunle Fajuyi all deserve a national recognition even in their death to mention a few, if we have any worthwhile value in our country. How about our past Nigerian Presidents like Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Shagar, Momamadu Buhari, IBB, Abdulsalam Abubakar and now Obasanjo, building presidential libraries in places of their birth like American Presidents do, using privately raised funds to accomplish the goal. It can be a better way to spread the good things around our country. It will also demonstrate the merit in having the presidency rotate between the North and the South of our country. A situation where 90% of our Presidents come from only one zone at al times is certainly not good for Democracy. IBB who had built for himself a 64 Room Mansion in Minna does not need such a huge edifice to cater for his own creature comforts as one man. If he had used all his stolen wealth from Nigeria to build such an edifice in the University of Minna or any where in Niger State or the home state of his wife, that money should have been better spent, I think. The country don’t need a replica of Aso Rock at Minna for IBB to prove he has become the Lord of the Manor.

A taxi driver in Nigeria recently found a huge sum of money forgotten in his vehicle by a passenger. The same driver had taken the cash to the nearest Police Station without taking a penny from it. Such a man in America could end up being honored at the next President State of the Union Address as a show piece and a role model to other Americans. Deputy Governor Omisore was awaiting trial as a chief suspect in the murder of the Nigerian Chief Law Enforcement Office. While waiting to be indicted or discharged the greatest majority party in Nigeria, the PDP could find no better candidate to carry its banner to the Elections other than a murder suspect. Can that ever happen in America or Great Britain? Hell, no is your immediate answer. Because appearance is often misconstrued for reality in more decent societies, such a man would never have been allowed to run for election as a candidate of any party in Nigeria, talk less of a party led by the President himself who claimed he was the Messiah to put an end to corruption in Nigeria. Can you believe that? You better believe it. The same Omisore is today the Honorable Senator in absentia in the Nigeria Senate. Come on, give me a break.

One can write a book on the terrible indiscretion and poor judgments of our leaders and why the failure of our country to embrace competition and decency, and to honor or appreciate positive role models in our country, is holding our country to ransom. The man called El Rufai has recently broken out of the pack to constitute himself to a one man battalion fighting Corruption in our Country. El Rufai is like a man riding on the back of a tiger. He could end up in the belly of the tiger, if care is not taken because our current President is just too timid to call a spade a spade, for as long as he continues to condone corruption in high places by looking the other way when it comes to doing something about some of the activities of his known king makers. The mess in Nigeria is not going to abate until our leaders have the moral courage to face up to the challenge, and take the bull by the horn. As we thank God today and make turkeys pay the price all over America, I thought it might be the most auspicious time to tell ourselves some home truths. Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

I rest my case.

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