AMONG the many sayings attributed to the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, there is one that best captures the totality of who he was: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

In that saying, Tutu touched on the main reason acts of injustice have persisted in our world – influential men and women who conspire to be silent over evils in the land due to what they stand to gain from the evildoers.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born on October 7, 1931, and died on December 26, 2021. Most famous for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist, Tutu was the Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986, and then the Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996.

He won many national and international prizes, too numerous to list here, including the coveted Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Weighed on the scale of prophets, Desmond Tutu belongs to the class of fiery prophets who stoutly stood in the midst of men as beacons of justice, equality and moral uprightness.

He was fearless in his confrontation with apostles of apartheid which was one of the greatest acts of man’s inhumanity against man in history. Like Mahatma Gandhi, Tutu stressed non-violence in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and in other struggles against other forms of injustice across the world.   

Despite being a leading religious leader of international repute, Tutu did not shy away from exposing religion as a major tool used by the Western imperialists to rob and enslave Africa. “We had the land, and they had the Bible,” he said in one of his parables. “Then they said, ‘Let us pray,’ and we closed our eyes. When we opened them again, they had the land and we had the Bible…” 

As Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, observed, Tutu’s position as the Archbishop of Cape Town placed him in the most strategic position to serve as a lighthouse. Tutu and some of his White colleagues “deserve commendation and tribute for their courageous assault on the foundations of apartheid and the risk to political ambition or safety in a system which they themselves were beneficiaries and had everything to lose and nothing to gain”. 

The life Desmond Tutu lived and the way the world is celebrating him is a big lesson to our political leaders and elite in Nigeria who prefer to look the other way while thousands of innocent people are dying either due to state-sponsored terrorism or the government’s crass inefficiency.

For many of our religious leaders who find it convenient to be visiting Aso Rock and other statehouses to dine and wine with the powers that be, while the country burns, the life and times of Archbishop Desmond Tutu is also a big lesson. As the Bible says, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this, the judgment.”

Vanguard News Nigeria

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