THE world and South Africa was thrown into mourning since the passing of the Madiba, Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, who died at the ripe age of 95, in his country, last week, and will be buried on December 15, 2013.
World leaders, numbering over 54, will attend the funeral because it will be in essence the celebration of a life of commitment, sacrificial release of forgiveness under a special grace, and a spirit of reconciliation and respect for the dignity of man on earth.
A spirit that accepts that man, as of right, can make a wrong choice of actions and conducts which may afflict another with suppression, oppression, and segregation. It is the Madiba spirit, and is also the Tata spirit, which the world have found worthy of celebration as manifested by Nelson Mandela.
When such a ‘big tree falls’, as we say in Igbo land, certain categories of people emerge as mourners and celebrants. The first to arrive are usually those who come just to confirm that the man actually died. They want to see things for themselves because, to them, the dead man lived as if he was a god; they feared and loathed him when he was alive. They say to themselves: ‘ Let us go and see for ourselves that he is really gone’.
Many others will attend the celebration because they want to thank God for the life of a man who touched their lives, gave them a reason to live, and a source inspiration and encouragement to trudge on along their own path in this unpredictable world.
A world that once called Madiba a terrorist when it suited them, and later a Nobel Prize Winner, in their double standard games of exploitation and economic dominance. Yes, these ones know that when the world acclaims you, they have a plan to exploit, so they will come to the funeral in their thousands to see and evaluate, whether there can be any replacement to the Madiba spirit, a spirit which only God can give to a mortal being.
Another group will come to the celebration not because they really cared for the message from the Madiba spirit, or for the Madiba himself.
They will be at the funeral because, as eminent persons, it will be awkward if their absence was observed. These leaders, especially from Africa, have had direct contacts and dealings with Mandela, they ought to have contacted the Madiba spirit for which they had the calling, but they lacked the grace.
They saw the Madiba spirit, interacted with it, could have carried the spirit, but they lacked the courage. They will attend the funeral because they had to.
Yet many will attend because they need to improve their profile. They, like the group just before them, will not learn anything from the Madiba spirit. They were there just to be able to show off, losing out from the many lessons from the Madiba spirit.
Some in Nigeria have exhibited the characteristics of the Madiba spirit. Soon after the 1966 military coup, some army officers who lacked the Madiba spirit, executed a counter-coup, with threats to subjugate the Igbo race. The result was the civil war from 1966 to 1970. Biafra was defeated in that war, and hatred and anguish flowed freely on both sides, but the Nigerian leader, Gen Yakubu Gowon, rose up to the occasion, committed to the spirit of reconciliation and declared that there was no victor and no vanquished from the war.
Gowon had the spirit of Madiba and still carries it. While he toiled to build a reconciled, reintegrated Nigeria, as President, he was shoved out of power by some of his colleagues in the army at that time. By that singular coup, these men nipped in the bud, the growth of the spirit of true forgiveness from the Nigerian society.
When Nigeria was almost destroyed by some military leaders in the late 1990s, Gowon rolled his sleeves, took his Bible and started prayers for the nation under a programme called “Nigeria Prays”. Till tomorrow, Gowon remains accessible, humble, prayerful, kind, caring and loving, mixing with the poor, the comfortable and rich all the same, living a graceful life devoid of oppressive and manipulative politics.
The apartheid system could have plunged South Africa into a civil war, but because South Africans respected their leader, Mandela, they followed him. In Nigeria, he would have been overthrown in a coup d’etre, and the coup plotters would blame, malign, probe him, and hang trouble on the neck of his close associates. It takes the spirit of good and devoted followership to produce the spirit of Madiba among leaders.
Today people who are completely devoid of the spirit of Madiba are very much around, creating disunity among ethnic and religious entities in Nigeria. To them, a humble, calm and God- fearing leader is too weak, too compromising to lead Nigeria.
They woefully fail to imagine what could have happened to South Africa if Mandela died in prison, or if there was a military coup and counter-coups as we had in Nigeria.
South Africa would either have been split by ethnic wars, or it would be carrying like Nigeria, the burden and shame of poor electricity, bad roads, poor hospitals and the rest as we have them now, because most of our leaders lacked the grace for the Madiba spirit.
It is instructive that Madiba lived, treated himself in South Africa and died there. He chose not to travel overseas to treat himself because he built on what he met as first African President, left office only after a first term not allowing himself to be dragged into any bogus tenure elongation design.
His environment allowed him to create a society that is devoid of acrimonious religious bigotry that could have easily spiraled into terrorism. It is the absence of the Madiba spirit that induces politicians to stash money outside Nigeria, rather than invest in their country.
Mr. CLEMENT UDEGBE, a legal practitioner, wrote from Lagos.