By Muyiwa Adetiba
The year 2019 and its baggage, came to a final, inexorable end this week. It was without a whimper. In fact, it was so seamless that one had to make an effort to notice its passage and an even greater effort to stop whatever one was doing in acknowledgement. Yet, with it came the end of a decade—some would say a momentous one—to make it two decades after the much hyped millennium.
It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the millennium. And harder to believe that I am 20 years older. Where have the years gone? A child born at the turn of the millennium could herself be a mother now depending on her religious or cultural disposition. Many could be graduates. Many who started work then as fresh graduates could be nearing the peak of their professional ladders. A fresher 20 years ago is now a veteran in their own right. Those visionaries who came up with ‘Vision 2020’ as the catchphrase for the reduction of global poverty, illiteracy and the provision of shelter and water for the world’s poor have been blind-sided. Everything they wanted reduced has increased. Those who envisioned a safer and better world in 2020, have had to take off their sentimental blinkers.
The world is anything but safer or better. Instead, populism and xenophobia are on the rise. Violence is on the rise. Brinkmanship is also on the rise among some world leaders. So is ‘ego tripping’ with the inevitable ‘ego bruising’ by world leaders. These could lead to unwholesome consequences.
The echo system has gone bonkers. Every continent, if not every country, is witnessing an extreme weather in one form or the other. Yet, some world leaders are allowing capitalism and mercantilism to becloud their vision on the need to seriously reduce carbon emission worldwide. Unfortunately, it is not only the weather that is going to the extreme. World’s main religions also are. The religions preach love, tolerance and peace. Most believe in monotheism. Most believe in the afterlife. In fact, they have more areas of convergence than divergence. Yet, the supremacy war goes on unabated; surprisingly more in the physical than the spiritual. Adherents prefer to win territories more than souls; by force if necessary. It is a constant fight for turf; the kind that often belittles the omnipotence of God and sometimes contradicts their own religions; the kind that makes the world less safe.
Coincidentally, Nigeria started a new phase of democracy shortly before the turn of the millennium. We have since had the opportunity to experience the two main political parties. Neither is anything to write home about. In fact, they are two sides of a very bad coin. In these last 20 years, we had gone through a whole spectrum of leaders; from ex-military leaders, to graduates, Muslims, Christians, Northern and Southern leaders. From young to old. From first timers to second timers. The difference in them is more in style than substance.
They all seem united by cant and mediocrity. We are yet to witness a leader who rises above the confinement of geography and class to think about the larger interests of the country. The current leader wished, just a couple of weeks ago, for history tobe kind to him. My belief is that we all write our own history one way or another by the things we do.
Twenty years down the line and the indices of a failed State loom large. Incidentally, Nigeria came up with a beautiful slogan around the millennium. It was called Vision 20:2020. The lofty goal was that Nigeria would be among the first 20 industrialised nations by year 2020. It seems laughable now given the state of the country where people fall into poverty every minute. Rather than hold people accountable for this tragic failure, they are actually compensated.
How have I fared in these past 20 years? I entered the millennium with a few ‘can do lists.’ How many was I able to achieve? How many are still achievable? It is a sobering thought to look back now and realise I sweated more on the little stuffs while I procrastinated on the big ones believing there was time. That time has evaporated. Though my mind is denying the distance between year 2000 and now, my body does not. The lines encircling my nose and mouth are now deeply etched. The lines on my brows have become ridges while those around my eyes have become crows’ feet.
The hair seems to have bleached itself. Pain attends to my waking up most mornings while my once sprightly gait has slowed. The waiting rooms of medical specialists are becoming very familiar. These add to the sober realisation that perhaps many of those goals are not achievable any more. But I am still lucky; a lot of my contemporaries have more dismal report cards, goal wise and health wise. Rare is a friend now who doesn’t have a health challenge in a country where the health care system is abysmal. Mine is a generation that is heading slowly towards the terminal. Not the departure lounge; not yet, but the terminal of an active and productive cycle. And every day that passes now is minus one day. We are in the season of seemingly endless 70th birthday celebrations—the last was Toye Akiode, my colleague, friend and a co-pioneer at Vanguard, who turned 70 in November. The millennium was our golden age. Whatever happened to time?
The way to go in this new decade is to be kinder to ourselves and take kindly to the counsel of the years as they roll by. We should savour the days, spending them with people and on things that make us happy. The days are not as limitless as they once were. We should stop taking things, especially our health, for granted.
The spare parts are hard to come by. If possible, we should focus on, and attempt one more project at least. One final roll of the dice. ‘Though much is taken, much still abides,’ to quote Tennyson. We can help in how history will remember us by actively contributing to the final chapters of our legacy.
Finally, we should spend a considerable time mentoring the younger generations and helping them navigate the labyrinths and contours of life. We should help them seek a fuller meaning to life that is not based on primitive acquisitions—either of power or wealth. We should mentor them on respect; for self, country, culture and time—many of our young ones have no respect for time. Before they know it, this decade too would slip pass them and they would be wondering where it all went.