By Muyiwa Adetiba
Lunch at Ikoyi Club. I had just finished attending the 70th birthday colloquium of Ray Ekpu, an accomplished and consummate journalist and was in an upbeat mood. Ray was Editor of a Sunday paper about the time I was Editor of a Sunday paper.
He was part of team that pioneered a weekly news magazine barely a year before I led a team to also pioneer a weekly magazine, albeit of a different genre. As a matter of fact, he was with Dele Giwa, his late friend and buddy in that little restaurant on Allen Avenue on the fateful evening Dele ‘prophesied’ that I would soon follow them in setting up a magazine.
Given the fact that we both operated in a somewhat rarefied field in the 80s, it was inevitable that our paths would cross several times on many fronts—professionally and socially. Attending the colloquium therefore meant I would see old faces I hadn’t seen in years; it meant going back in time to see how the years had treated some of us. I was not disappointed. Hence my good mood.
This was the mood that carried me to Ikoyi Club where I went for a late lunch. My mood was enhanced when I ran into another old colleague inside the club. After the joy of seeing each other unexpectedly, I naturally moved towards her as she looked for a seat. This was when I noticed she had an escort so I diplomatically backed off respecting the old saying of three being a crowd.
She and her escort went into an inner recess which offered more privacy while I stayed where I thought I would catch a waiter more easily. Then she came and found me. She insisted I joined them. An offer I immediately accepted. Brief introductions were made.
It turned out her escort was a business partner. Please permit a little immodesty when I say it is common for me to have people of a particular age bracket say they know about me or read my articles, and it is uncommon to have any say to my face that they stopped reading me because I had become partisan.
This was his assertion and his allegation thrown at me. After over 40 years in this business of balancing facts and opinions, of sieving facts from fiction, and more importantly, of seeing how political actors interact on and off stage, it is very difficult for me to be overtly emotional or partisan in my articles. Just as it is difficult for me to personalise issues. He claimed to be an executive of a political party I had consistently written against. I gently told him the other party might also find some of my articles to be unkind. I have friends and contacts who are executives of the two main political parties. It hasn’t stopped them from reading me while criticising specific articles.
I still thought we could engage ourselves on national issues in a non-partisan way to at least pass the time we would be together. I gave up when his conversation took the line of ‘you Yorubas are fond of… you Yorubas say… you Yorubas believe…. I asked him if he understood Yoruba language. ‘Enough,’ he replied in a way that made me think he either grew up around here, or had been around long enough to understand the language. Certainly long enough to have integrated if he wanted to. His attitude and comments killed my mood.
I felt sad because I have seen it time and time again. People who make good in a place and refuse to see the good in that place. People who grow up in a place and spend time denigrating the very culture that gives the place its being. People who look for weaknesses to exploit rather than strengths to emulate. People who would rather curse than pray for the good of the land where they earn a living. Unfortunately, the curse is largely on them because the Holy Book which Christians regard as sacrosanct says: ‘Work for the good of the city to which I have sent you.
Intercede to the Lord on its behalf for its prosperity will be your prosperity’ (Jer.29). History has shown that cities which are inclusive; cities which welcome strangers and give opportunities to sojourners fare far better economically than cities that keep to themselves. It is the law of nature and therefore the law of God because God does not believe in discriminations of any kind. We must therefore not abuse the mind set of those who worked hard to make where we have settled conducive. We must not just reap what others before us sowed without tilling the soil and nurturing fresh growth for others to enjoy.
We have different skill sets that we can use for the benefit of the community and ourselves. On the national level, it is very difficult to build a nation when we don’t see ourselves as one. It is difficult to preach unity when there is no love for the fellow next door.
It is difficult to work together when there is mutual suspicion. Or achieve much when we see everything from the prism of tribe, religion or politics. Even at international levels, immigrants who refuse to integrate, who carry their culture, religion and idiosyncrasies as baggage into another country create problems for their host countries.
Back to Ray Ekpu’s colloquium. One of the speakers referred to a stanza in the National Anthem which refers to Nigeria as our motherland. This, according to him, makes Nigeria to be seen as a mother to be sucked dry by all. That explains why we see Nigeria as a cake to be shared, a nation to be plundered, a woman to be ravaged. According to this speaker, we should see Nigeria instead as a child to be loved, to be tended and to be nurtured.
For too long, we have wallowed in self-loathing rather than self-love. This we profess under the guises of a different religion, a different tribe or a different political affiliation. None of the guises we hide under preclude love and empathy. On the contrary, they thrive in an atmosphere of love and empathy.
Nigeria’s soil will yield bountiful produce if we can only learn to sow with love, nurture with love and harvest with love.