The world marked the 10th anniversary of Nelson Mandela International Day (NMD) last Thursday. The day commemorates the lifetime of service Nelson Mandela gave to South Africa and the world. It was launched on his birthday, 18 July, in 2009 via a unanimous decision by the UN General Assembly. He was the only human being to be so honored and he was an African making the point again that it is not the color but the virtues that define who we are. He became the first President of post-apartheid South Africa. Nelson Mandela died at 95 in December 2013. 2019 assumes a special importance for Nigeria. Nelson Mandela symbolizes democracy and struggle for freedom. Nigeria marks 20 years of uninterrupted democratic process. Of what relevance is Mandela’ s 67 years of service to humanity for Nigeria and Africa at times like this?
First is time consciousness. Mandela was a stickler to punctuality. Mandela decried the concept of “African time”. He achieved so much for SA in record time of just one term in office: racial harmony, reconciliation, hosting of the first World Cup in Africa. Mandela received more than 260 honors in his lifetime including the Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”. Africa must be time conscious like Mandela. Africa already lost ground in meeting the eight on Millennium Development Goals, MDGS of 2000. For Africa to meet up on the new sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030 we must be time conscious.
The relevance of Mandela day for Nigeria at this time cannot be overstated. President Muhammadu Buhari can be described as “another Mandela” of our time. Like Nelson Mandela, he brought moral authority, not money power to office. Mandela fought against apartheid for which he was imprisoned for 27 years. He was later elected as the first democratically non-racial President of Nigeria. Similarly president Buhari won election as the 4th democratically elected President in this dispensation because he was perceived as incorruptible.
Since his election, President Buhari has commendably exposed and fought corruption. However there is still a lot for Buhari to meet the standard left behind by Nelson Mandela. Nigeria needs urgently new statesmen and women. It is regrettable that most leaders have returned back to their defunct regions. One of the remarkable legacies of Nelson Mandela was his statesmanship. His 1994 cabinet reflected both the political and partisan diversity of South Africa just coming from racially motivated conflicts. President FW de Klerk, whose political party, National Party (NP) jailed Nelson Mandela was one of the deputy presidents from 1994 until July 1996. Mandela looked at the bigger picture to forgive even if not forgetting the atrocities of the past. Nelson Mandela has shown that there is “No Future Without Forgiveness”.
As the nation awaits his cabinet President Buhari must demonstrate the same statesmanship in his political appointments and allocation of the National resources. The President has commendably promised inclusive governance. The President must work the talk in including not just business men and women in his cabinet but tested members of organized labour, women group and people living with disabilities who must add value in the areas of economy, security and anti corruption. Nigerians look forward to a pan- Nigerian cabinet. President Buhari just like Nelson Mandela inherits a lot of conflicts of diverse society. It is commendable that Buhari has tried hard to tame the insurgency menace in the north east. However there are still serial conflicts that are claiming hundreds of lives such as the so-called farmers/herds men clashes.
President Buhari can learn from Mandela approach to conflict resolutions. In most instances, he personally intervened and even addressed the nation to douse tensions and restive confidence. I recall his role in saving South Africa democracy when Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) was assassinated on 10 April 1993. His criminal assassination fuelled tensions and violence. Promptly Nelson Mandela addressed the nation appealing for calm, in a speech regarded as ‘presidential’ and statesmanlike. Buhari should emulate Mandela and address the nation on series of avoidable violence rampaging the nation in recent times. The interior minister must also be seen to promptly intervene in the scenes of criminality. The recent attempt to politicize the killing of Funke, Chief Fasoranti’s daughter shows crisis of governance which only the President can dispel through bold engagement with the citizens.
I commend the recent directive by the President that all Nigerians to stay in any part of the country as envisaged by 1999 constitution. Indeed all governors and appointed state officials must compliment the President in ensuring that only them and those elected must speak for Nigerians not some self appointed, unelected and unelectable regional or ethnic chieftains. Mandela stood for reconciliation. President Buhari is in a better position to also reconcile Nigeria. But he can only do this based on comprehensive work plan for genuine National reconciliation. The only document close to that today is 2014 National conference. The President must relook at the report, take the useful ones with respect to economy and security in particular.
At times like this, South African leaders must move against xenophobia like Nelson Mandela did. Indeed the greatest threat against the realization of the objectives of the much celebrated African Continental Free Trade Agreement, (AfCFTA) is the unacceptable killings of other Africans by some few misguided South African criminals.
Issa Aremu mni