Seven years ago, I was to deliver a paper in US. I had prepared the paper and shared with the organisers of the event. But a day to the event, I had a change of mind. I had meant to speak to what, from the foreign policy perspective, I refer to as the ‘Giant of Africa’ fallacy. But somehow, I had this epiphany that I should not use a platform outside Nigeria, with mostly foreign audience, to talk down on Nigeria, but promote her.
So, I made a switch. I decided to talk about how Nigeria and Nigerians have made positive impact around the world in terms of her engagement in international relations – the fight against apartheid and support for the liberation of countries of Southern Africa – Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. I thought about Liberia and Sierra Leone and the role Nigeria played in bringing the civil wars there to end. I then switched fully to cultural diplomacy, zeroing on Fela and the impact Nollywood had made in Africa.
My presentation was well received and shortly after, a former Ameican Ambassador who was in audience, came over to ask me if I could come talk to her students at Georgetown University, where she was a Professor. I agreed and was there to again adumbrate on Nigeria’s cultural assets as tools in international diplomacy.
This morning, I was a guest on a South African radio programme with focus on Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary. I was one of 2 Nigerians on the programme. The other guest didn’t think there was much to say for Nigeria at 60, I didn’t think so. I couldn’t even imagine being on South African radio not harping on the role Nigeria played in the liberation of that country.
I noticed that my point about exploits by Nigerians in sports resonated with the host, as he mentioned he had spoken about that before we came on the programme. But my fellow Nigerian was not quite as excited about my choice to celebrate our successes, no matter how infinitesimal they might be, interrupting and talking down on the progress even the host acknowledged we had made.
Well, this is not about him or me, really. It is about the right to hold a different perspective. Some think there is nothing to celebrate. Some of us think that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging the gains we have made, internalise the victories, reflect on the missed opportunities and ride on the wings of our dreams to accomplishing more. One perspective should respect the other, I think.
We might not be where we ought to be, but we are not where we used to be. We are on our way and those little gains we take for granted here are obvious to even foreigners looking at us, from the outside. It is always up to us what we choose to project. Until a few days ago, I did not even know that there is a separatist movement in a neighbouring country some Nigerians love to cite as an exemplar of all that is good. I bet not many know about this.
To each country, its own challenges. The world has its mouth open seeing what is playing out in the land which claims to be God’s own country as she unravels before us all. Every country is a work in progress, even if the level of work that needs to be put in differs from one to the other.
Whatever our failings, whatever our challenges, what we choose to project is what will eventually project us. We can either choose to focus on what we are doing right or continue to amplify what we have not gotten right. What we project is what will define us, eventually.
Every country has a right to her dream. It might not look like we are a Giant now, but if that is our dream – to become a Giant in impact and accomplishments among nations of the world, then that is a legitimate aspiration to have.
Happy 60th Independence Anniversary, Nigeria.
Happy 60th Independence Anniversary, fellow Nigerians.