Still marching on, at 80…. By Emmanuel A. C. Orji
Still marching on, at 80….
Special to USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, Houston
1929 is significant in Nigerian history as the year of the Aba Women Riot against British taxation. Internationally, it was the year of the great depression as well as the year that Vatican City became an independent state through the signing of the Lateran agreement between the Catholic Church and the Italian government on 11 February, 1929. It was also the year in which I was born, 80 years ago, precisely on Eke, Saturday, November 9, 1929.
I am exceedingly grateful to God for making today possible. That is why I went to Mass this morning and am here again to say thank you to God in the fashion of the one leper recorded in Luke 17:11-19, which I love to refer to as the rarity of gratitude, epitomised in the poem in the song sheet in your hand entitled WHERE ARE THE NINE? Because I am a great lover of music, may I crave your indulgence to sing those words:
WHERE ARE THE NINE?
Sadly ten men lepers afar off stood,
“Jesus have mercy upon us” they prayed,
Wondrously Jesus’ love made them whole,
One came back thanking, but,
“Where are the nine? (3ce)
Were there not ten made whole?
“Where are the nine?” (Words based on Luke 17:11-19, originally written in
German by P. B. Bliss and translated to English by my
friend Dr. A. K. Achinivu, sometime Head of Dept. of
Music, University of Nigeria, Nsukka)
I looked forward to celebrate this significant birthday at home in Imo state! But by an act of God, I find myself celebrating it here. Who knows what would have happened if I made an attempt to celebrate it at home; would the mere mention of it there not have made me a target of unlawful detention by kidnappers in Imo State?
It is not easy to attain the age of 80 in a country like Nigeria where life expectancy is below 50 because of harsh living conditions deliberately created by visionless leadership and lily-livered followership. Writing about the absence of statistics in Nigeria, an author once wrote a book with the title PLANNING WITHOUT STATISTICS: THE NIGERIAN EXPERIENCE. But we do not need official statistics to confirm that it is not easy to live up to 80 years in Nigeria in good health. The obituaries published in our dailies offer sufficient evidence that it is not easy to attain the age of 80 in Nigeria.
On a day like this, one is bound to recall old reminiscences and in the process one is tempted to tell long stories. That reminds me of the story of the pastor who went late to a synod meeting and could not find a place to park his car. So, he parked his car deliberately in an unauthorized place and left a message on the car for the police. When the policeman on duty came around, he saw the note left by the defaulting pastor which read “FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES.” The policeman in turn wrote on the reverse side of the pastor’s note the following message which he left for the pastor “LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.” Although I am tempted to talk extensively today, yet I will be brief realising that tomorrow is a working day.
I will like to speak on three things- my regrets, my successes, and my advice to young people.
As a young man, I took an active part in the nationalist struggle for independence, having been inspired by the teachings of Nnamdi Azikiwe called Zikism, based on five planks-
1. SPIRITUAL BALANCE, by which he meant respect of the opinion of others;
2.SOCIAL REGENERATION, by which he preached the jettisoning of all forms of prejudice, be they racial, national, tribal, societal, religious, political or ethical: the realization that an African is an African, no matter where he is born;
3. ECONOMIC DETERMINISM, which taught the realization that economic self-sufficiency on a sane basis is the ultimate means to the salvation of the Renascent African;
4. MENTAL EMANCIPATION, which states that the African must develop mentally, as he is not intellectually inferior to other races, for mental slavery is worse than physical slavery;
5. POLITICAL RESURGENCE, which assures that if the renascent African cultivated spiritual balance, experienced social regeneration, realized economic determinism and created a condition whereby he is mentally emancipated to appreciate his manifest destiny in the world, then he would expect political resurgimento.
Zikism inspired many Nigerians like me and many Africans such as Kwame Nkruma of the then Gold Coast (now Ghana), Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo of Zimbabwe, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya of Kenya, among others.
Through our efforts, some hazardous, because we were ostentatiously patriotic, independence was won. I remember that immediately after the declaration of independence in 1960, I travelled from Ibadan to Lagos to participate in a demonstration of students against the then proposed Anglo – Nigerian Defense Pact. And we had high expectations of independence.
Those hopes were justified because only few countries in the world are endowed with as much human and natural resources as Nigeria. But rather than use these resources for the benefit of the masses, politicians have embarked on massive looting of our common wealth to the extent that we are now a very rich country of very poor people. So poor are our people that many have fled to many less endowed countries as economic refugees. Thus, have our hopes at independence been dashed.
Something is wrong with us. In his book, THE TROUBLE WITH NIGERIA, the famous author, Chinua Achebe, explains that Nigeria is what it is because Nigerian leaders are not what they should be. In other words, he believes that the Nigerian problem is poor leadership.
I do not fully agree with him. I believe that the ordinary people of Nigeria have, through their docility and fear, allowed a few miscreants to take over the country and do what they like with the resources of the people as if the country is their private estate.
The situation has degenerated to the point where politicians loot public funds even with the active collaboration of the masses; students cheat in examinations; police mount illegal check-point and extort N20.00 from motorists; male lecturers trade marks for sex; police are not able to track criminals; elections are expertly rigged with the active collaboration of law enforcement officers and the electoral commission. The litany is endless. And most Nigerians are saddened by these negatives but do nothing about them. They just spend all their time talking about them. They will not even join in any demonstration against what is wrong but sit down believing that God will intervene one day and save the country.
What they fail to realise is that God only helps people who help themselves. Nigerians must realise that the real weapons of mass destruction are not toxic gasses or deadly viruses, but poverty and social injustice. So, we must resolve to fight the ills together, if we must recover and enjoy God’s gifts to us. One thing is clear to me – if Nigerians of today were to live in the 1940s and 1950s there would not have been independence.
It is a sad commentary that a people who fought and defeated British imperialism cannot fight native tyranny. So frustrating is the situation that I am often compelled to ask like Stephen Schwartz:
“Shall crime bring crime forever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will O Father,
That man shall toil for wrong?”
It is a mistake for our people to watch helplessly and do nothing because they think they can do little or nothing to change the situation. We must learn to say NO to exploitation and injustice. There is no power as freedom. No soldier is as powerful as the one who fought on the side of freedom. For the people to win, politics as usual must lose. We must stop dealing with bad people because we can never get good results from such dealing.
The 2011 election is yet an opportunity to correct the sad and unacceptable situation. The people must seize the opportunity with both hands by ensuring that the 2011 elections are transparently conducted and a credible government elected by the people is put in place.
To achieve this, three things must be done – 1. The present discredited Independent National Electoral Commission ( which is anything but independent ) must be replaced with an authentic one to be manned and led by Nigerians of proven integrity; 2.All eligible voters must come out to vote in 2011 and thereafter claim their votes; 3. The people must insist that the first act of the new government would be to ensure that each Nigerian bears responsibility for his/her action and that there are consequences for people’s action.
Regarding my successes, it is not my intention to state them because I cannot be a judge in my own cause. I may only refer to them by asking you to join me in singing the following poem I wrote to express my gratitude to my God for all His mercies, entitled PRAISE BE THINE O GRACIOUS GOD, which is No. 2 in the song sheet you have:
PRAISE BE THINE O GRACIOUS LORD
1. Praise be thine O gracious God,
For thy mercies numberless,
Thou bestowed on me my God,
Through Thy love, with tenderness.
2. Which shall I recall O God,
Which shall I leave out of all,
Thy mercy so great abound,
Around me my God and all.
3. Thanks for children as bright can be,
Thanks for brothers, sisters dear,
And a wife that is so kind,
Always loving, near and dear.
4. Thanks for parents loving, kind,
In-laws, friends in need, indeed,
And all that thou hast blessed me,
To you ever glory be.
(Words by Emmanuel A. C. Orji and sung to Handel’s Theodora, 1749)
Many people do not believe that I am yet 80 because they think that I do not look it. How do I keep my form, they ask? My answer is simple. First, live one day at a time. Do not be in a hurry. My father’s friend, a Sierra Leonean, once said that hurry, hurry broke truzis(trousers). Let me teach you a song (See No. 3 of your song sheet)
PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE
ALL: Patience and fortitude (3ce)
And things will come your way.
When you are hurry bound,
Resist the temptation,
Patience and fortitude,
And things will come your way.
SOLO:: Stop that hurry, take it easy,
ALL: With patience, fortitude.
SOLO: Slow and steady wins the race,
ALL: With patience, fortitude.
SOLO (Recitative): Now listen to me
ALL: Patience and fortitude (3ce)
And things will come your way.
Secondly, do not over do anything. Even eat with moderation. Many people are known to have dug their grave with their teeth. Thirdly, do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was. Fourthly, avoid procrastination because it is the thief of time –always take time by the forelock. Fifthly, conquer yourself. Sixthly, always pursue happiness by keeping the following seven rules- 1.never hate; 2. Love God; 3. Love all men; 4.Be merciful; 5. Be humble; 6. Don’t worry; 7. Always keep in touch.
Most problems of life start from a bad home. If all homes are good and stable all communities will be good and so will all nations. The family is the foundation of society and so each father/mother should bring up their children well, first by ensuring stable and peaceful marriage. As at today, my wife and I have now been married for 54years,9 months and 26 days. Based on our experience, may I advise all young couples here as follows:-1.You must develop blind eyes- do not constitute yourselves into investigators after each other; 2.you must develop deaf ears- do not listen to any gossip about your partner; 3. Should they occur, settle your quarrels yourselves and be ever ready to forgive and forget – TALK WITH , do not TALK TO each other – the one is dialogue, the other is confrontation. 4. Be one married person- thus, husband plus wife=one person and so, know that the worst crime is to cheat oneself, for all sin is easy after that, hence tell yourselves the truth always; 5. Fall in love several times but each time with each other; 6. Share all your problems together; 7. If the man is the head of the family, the woman is the neck. Unless the neck is well adjusted, the head will never be well positioned, hence there must be symbiotic co-operation between the two. 8. Take time with your children by (a)setting them good examples (b) giving them ideals for living (c) having a lot of activities planned for them (d)subjecting them to discipline (e) teaching them about God (f) and especially for men, loving their mother. Finally, do not forget that children become spoiled when we substitute “presents” for “ presence” and that parents should never make distinctions between their children.
While I was in the USA in 2007, I came across the following story told by a young successful lawyer:- “ The greatest gift I ever received was a gift I got one Christmas when my dad gave me a small box. Inside was a note saying, “my son, this year I will give you 365 hours, one hour each day after dinner.” My dad not only kept his promise, he said, but every year he renewed it and it is the greatest gift I ever had in my life. I am the result of his time.” A word is sufficient for the wise.
Now that I am 80, should I lie fallow waiting for the last day? My answer is an emphatic NO. So long as I remain alive I will continue to live a full life because I believe that life is where you find it. Indeed, I am 80 years young. About a week ago, Nigerians were witnesses to the launching of a book published to mark the 91st birthday of the famous author T. M. Aluko. Please God, I hope to learn from his worthy example. In this connection, I propose to respond to the call of those who read the articles I regularly contribute to THE LEADER, a bi – weekly newspaper published by the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, since I joined the apostolate of the pen after my retirement from the public service in 1993. The unfortunate thing however is that Nigerians do not read. And books are not published here but printed by their authors and launched! By the grace of God, made manifest through my friends and relations, I hope to be able to finance the publication, not only of my articles aforementioned but also the Local Government lectures I delivered over the years as well.
I could continue talking. But a voice inside me is warning that watches as well as persons need to be wound up. And so, I must stop.
Thank you all most sincerely for giving me so much of your time. I cannot thank you enough. May I thank in a special way, my son Ken and his wife Ukachi for this day. Earlier, on November 9, 2009, Engr. Innocent and Mrs. Nnenna Ukejianya (my second daughter and her husband ) gave me a birthday party in Holland. I have always been a beneficiary of filial love from my six children (three boys and three girls ), each of whom is more gifted than the other. If I may speak about them in their ascending order of seniority, I would say that with Ebere (Mrs. Chukwuezi ), who is a linguist, I can speak many languages; with Nnenna who is an insurance guru, I can live with confidence; with Chijioke who is a lawyer, no one can trample upon my rights; with Chioma, who is a textile technologist, I will always look spick and span; with Dr. Charlie, who is an organic chemist, I am knowledgeable; with Ken, who is an economist and who has shown demonstrable leadership ability, I am confident of a worthy successor. No one can wish for more!
May I also thank especially, Mr. Mike Ajukwu for making this venue available for the occasion. He has always been more than a friend to the family. Because I cannot find words adequate enough to express my gratitude to all of you, may I end by borrowing the following words of Shakespeare which say it all:
“I can no other answer make, but thanks
And ever thanks.”
May God grant all of you who are not yet 80 the grace to reach that age. And if there is anyone among you who is 80, I wish him/her many more years in good health. In acknowledgement of the assurance of God’s protection and guidance at all times, let us prayerfully sing the last song on our Song Sheet, GOD MOVES IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY, and reflect on the words as we sing:
GOD MOVES IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY
1. God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
2. Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never – failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
3. Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
4. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
5. His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
6. Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
(William Cowper 1731 – 1800)
Again, Thank You!
Emmanuel A. C. Orji, one of the founding technocrats of the old East Central State and Imo State of Nigeria, is author of several books and essays. He resides at the Mmawuru Court in the Aro village, Orji, Uratta, Owerri. He has promised to provide the musical scores of the songs with which the speech is punctuated. Email: email@example.com November 20, 2009.
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