A Noble Pedigree
I AM someone who has devoted virtually his entire career, prestige and intellect to the uncompromising commitment to see a people, a nation and a continent achieve the search for self-actualisation through strategic self-development to global competitive capacity while ensuring the preeminence of a profoundly healthy, wholesome, peaceful, creative, actively engaged, enthusiastic and at all times fulfilling life for all our people.
In pursuit of this dream, I have spared no effort to seek and articulate insights, postulations, strategies and engagements that hold the best prospects of the realisation of the great Nigerian and African dream in my lifetime.
Born in Lokoja when my father was a post master in an era in which civil servants were rotated around the country so as to have genuine national integration through shared lives and experiences, growing up in Sapele where, as with all of what was once Bendel and today Delta State and Edo state, we learned to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and strive hard to succeed because there were no godfathers.
I come from a pedigree of Nigerians who grew up conscious of our divine destiny and absolute confidence in our ability to accomplish it whatever it took. Our Nigerian institutions of higher education were renowned for their intellectual strength, their pedagogic excellence and their epic sense of tradition and purpose.
For those of us who went abroad to study, we left these shores with a simple and singular purpose to acquire whatever knowledge and skills we needed, and to redeploy them to build the great Nigeria of all our dreams.
So armed with a dream, intelligence and a profound determination of purpose, even though still in our youth, we took very seriously the message that we were ambassadors of our then newly independent country, Nigeria, and struck out to excel.
And excel we did as young Nigerian men and women continue to do to this day. In fact, studies continue to show that Nigerians hold the pride of place as being the best students in many countries in Europe and elsewhere abroad.
They are also amongst the best scholars, professors, researchers and experts in all fields they engage in. Even for those of us who chose to study the sciences and technology, despite not having had prior exposure to both, we took on our classmates from the West who had grown up playing with scientific toys and games, and beat them. There was a magic about it all. We were highly motivated.
A Sense of Relevance and Belonging
All of this came from the simple fact that we were raised privately and communally to feel that even as youth we were very important members of our society, with a significant strategic role to play in the fast-evolving development of our country, state and community.
That sense of relevance and significance, that quintessential sense of belonging with the potential, responsibility and opportunity to affect the outcome of the future of our society, was both reassuring and empowering.
Confidence and A Common Purpose
In those days, all families gave virtually all they had so that we might get the best education. Whole villages contributed money to educate “their child” whatever his or her direct parentage. The community was strong, coherent, integrated, and bonded and protected by a keen sense of a common mission, purpose and destiny.
That coherence and relevance at the family and communal level translated very easily to the provincial and state levels, and effectively to the national level. In fact, for Nigerians in particular, it went one step further to the continental level where Nigerians instinctively took it on themselves to be their brother’s and sister’s keepers.
This sense of self-assuredness though not infrequently dubbed “arrogance” by others who interacted with Nigerians, was nonetheless greatly admired by all and contributed immensely to the high social standing of Nigerians not only amongst Africans, but amongst everyone. We talked boldly and confidently about the future of Nigeria and of Africa as easily and firmly as we talked about ourselves and our personal dreams and ambitions.
Sense of Safety and Security: The Power, Authority and Responsibility of Citizenship
This imbued and internalised sense of relevance by right and not by concession by anyone, state or individual, this permanent sense of belonging, was at the core of the fundamental substance of Nigerian citizenship.
In turn, this served to build and sustain the sense of individual safety and security which under basic conditions of responsive and responsible political leadership, translated into communal and public stability and the sense of peace and equanimity that accrued in return to each and every citizen.
Under such circumstances, we predicated our being and led our lives and our pursuit of individual self-actualisation on the power and authority inherent in our citizenship. It was a right and responsibility of citizenship that we all took seriously and because it was palpable, we jealously guarded it with alertness and diligence.
Visibility and A Voice: Being Seen and Heard
As young boys and girls who in most cases would become the first or second generation to have university education, we were visible and heard. In other words, we grew up with both a face and a voice.
As long as we meticulously observed the clear (even if unspoken) rules of courtesy, protocol, respect and tradition (which often included never speaking English to our elders unless if they first spoke English to us), we were recognised for the promise of the family, clan and community for which we stood as flag bearers.
Our opinions were sought on many issues, especially those that seemed rather complex and incomprehensible as our elders sought to understand the dynamics of the rapidly-evolving political dispensation as Nigeria moved towards first, self-government and quickly thereafter, political independence.
Being a seminar paper delivered by By Joseph Okpaku, president & CEO Telecom Africa International Corporation, in Asaba, Delta State recently.