FOR many decades earlier, our parents and elders and those before them had had to learn to cope, mostly with annoyance, with the ways of the interloping White man who had invaded their space with his alien rituals, religions and institutions, his strange habits, his misappropriation of their property and lives, his bastardization of their magnanimity and gracious welcome, and his audacity in challenging their centuries-long culture and traditions.
We served as letter writers and interpreters as we managed the communications with other family and village members who had gone away from home, some to cities like Lagos, some even abroad, in search of greener pastures.
That sense of relevance, visibility and of having a voice which together gave us the inherent power and authority of citizenship also brought with them, the responsibility for pursuing and protecting the well-being of not just family and clan, but of the community, the state and the country at large.
The result of this was that many of us crafted our personal dreams and our dreams for our community and nation into one large dream. Our personal dream was woven into the fabric of our national dream, the Nigerian Dream, and soon we came to see and experience both as one and the same thing.
As a result, we dreamed for ourselves and for Nigeria in the same breath. The two were one and whatever affected one, positively or otherwise, automatically affected the other.
This was the Nigeria of our youth and early adulthood, the Nigeria that most of us carried and still carry in our hearts, the Nigeria that serves as an internalised reference point in assessing our contemporary history, experience and happenstance.
In such a Nigeria, public, communal and individual peace, security and stability were not an issue because it was an experiential assumption, a logical expectation and outcome of engaged and recognised citizenship. This was ensured by the fact that the political leadership, real and aspiring, took notice of, and paid differential attention to us the people.
Whether because they were just forming new political parties (or expanding old ones) and needed to mobilise followers, or because on the path they had taken to political relevance (most commonly in their challenge of colonial rule and domination) they were solicitous of the opinions and support of the people, and engaged them in serious dialogues on virtually every issue of public interest.
This unity of identity of self and community, this common voice for self and nation, would in later years come to be buffeted and challenged by waves of political hurricanes that would leave us, our communities and our nation embattled, uncertain, insecure, skeptical, now increasingly distrustful, cynical, disillusioned, incensed, touchy, restive and increasingly angry.
Open, free-wheeling, energetic public political disputation: The erstwhile hallmark of Nigerian politics.
In those days also, there was hearty public political disputation. There was an intellectual underpinning of the political process, aided and abetted by the brilliance of most of our early political leaders.
These disputations were based on clear and articulate ideas and visions each of them had for Nigeria’s future and which each one put out before the people in a concerted effort to gain their partisan support and party membership or loyalty. And because these ideas were fresh, relevant and refreshing, we sought to memorise parts of the speeches.
We formed memorable images of these leaders from the threads of the ideas and ideals they articulated. We knew the differences in their ideologies. We knew where they stood and what they stood for.
And because they engaged the public in these dialogues and disputations, we had the opportunity to form our own ideas and ideologies, and to decide which leader or political party we would support.
Being a seminar paper delivered by Dr. Okpaku, president & CEO Telecom Africa International Corporation, in Asaba, Delta State recently.