We forget that legacies must be built in the present moment with every choice we make, every decision we take and every action we carry out.
In a few days, I will be 81 years old. A few weeks ago, the thought crossed my mind that my age, the end of year activities and the fact that my entire family of kids and grandkids would be home to celebrate the Christmas holidays may affect my ability to prepare articles for this weekly column as the festivities get into full gear. This prompted me to put a call through to the chair of the editorial board of The Sun newspaper to discuss my weekly contribution and also to find out how much longer the newspaper was prepared to tolerate my writings. His answer was astonishing as he said forever.
I felt very elevated and flattered but still aware that I was not just writing for the newspaper but to an audience and they would determine if they wanted to still hear from me. So, I decided to make another call to a reading club that meets every Thursday to review my writings, headed by a Dr. Dike Okweulum, and their reviews have been extremely critical. They echoed the editor’s wish by pleading that, though I could have a break, I must not stop writing, as my pieces have been a good source of inspiration for the club’s many in-depth conversation, especially the younger members who were usually full of questions. I am moved by this as I clearly remember and have shared in previous articles how my weekly writings started and how much of my inner thoughts I have been able to share to the thousands of readers that have contacted me, commented and contributed to my inspirations.
For all these, therefore, I must not forget that I must continue to share the wonderful experiences and education I have acquired from all my travels around the world and on the eve of my 81st birthday, I have decided to reflect on some of my writings in the past one year.
A favorite of mine was centred on leadership and legacy, a theme I had gotten from a graduation lecture with the same title, which I delivered at a University in Paris. I was very close to tears when the university director dramatised my citation just before calling me to the stage and it was met with an astounding level of cheers and applause from the students and parents in attendance. They applauded my achievements, especially during mentions of my explorations.
I have never prepared a citation for myself before, so I did not know what was contained in it until I heard it in that graduation hall as well. One thing I found particularly interesting during the Q & A sessions with the students at dinner afterwards was that 95 per cent of the questions I was asked in those moments were not on my achievements but rather on my beginnings and my early life, especially on some humorous instances that were culled from my book, Hunger for Power. When I got back to my hotel room, I reflected on the questions and it made a lot of sense to me that young people did not dwell too much on my achievements but more on my early life stories, some slightly painful but diluted with a bit of humour that made people laugh. This made me glad as to make people laugh is something I enjoy often.
On the issue of leadership and legacy, I will include an excerpt from the article I had written to express what still holds true to me till date. You see, there is hardly any human being alive that does not desire to be remembered positively as one who made an impact. In other words, there is hardly anybody on earth who does not desire to leave a legacy, preferably a positive one – except you are Hitler. However, not many are prepared to pay the price that such a feat demands. We forget that legacies, although retrospective, must be built in the present moment with every choice we make, every decision we take and every action we carry out.
For many currently in position of leadership, they seem to have forgotten that legacies are not about building monuments to be remembered by but by the impressions we leave in the minds of those we lead on the basis of our achievements, not promises. People remember ‘what’ but they also remember ‘who.’ We remember that infrastructures were built across the North from the revenues reaped from the groundnut pyramids. We remember how revenues from cocoa were used to facilitate free, quality education in the West. We also recall that the proceeds from palm oil and coal were used to build landmark infrastructures in the East. We remember ‘what’ but we also remember the men who built them. All over the world, young people are at the centre of societal interactions, especially in this age of globalisation and modern technology, where people are connecting worldwide as never before.
At this stage, allow me again to invoke another popular saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Did we learn nothing from the generation that explored space, the moon and set us on a course to conquer Mars? Have we forgotten so quickly the lessons passed on from the generation that triggered the women’s liberation and civil rights movement? That was the generation willing to risk all for a nation they believed could be.
Do we still have leaders who can inspire change and cause a revolution? Sadly, I don’t see any standing among my mates even though they seem unable to relinquish power at the 11th hour. Yet I wonder if those they will be relinquishing power to also have what it takes to lead right.
My queries take nothing away the amazing feats that young people have accomplished all over the world and particularly in my beloved country, Nigeria. Despite comments to the contrary by leaders I cannot recall at the moment, we keep seeing how many young people continually counter such claims with their innovations and hard work.
However, leadership demands that, in all our innovations and hard work, we work towards something that will do more than line our pockets but also benefit many.
If I may say this, my writings and lectures, the calls that I have received from readers, some critical, most very positive, are part of the legacy I would like to leave behind. In my subsequent writings, I will be sharing a lot of my early life as much as I can remember and also about those that saw me grow up. This I hope will buttress my point about the importance of knowing where one comes from so as to better understand where one needs to go and how far one has gone or not gone. Something my country can benefit from.
In this 44th column, I would like to once again thank the publisher and the editors of this newspaper for providing me with the opportunity to share my stories, thoughts and passion with millions of people. I also thank my critics, the readers and all those that have contributed in one way or the other to this journey. Finally, permit me to take the opportunity to wish everybody a merry Christmas and a happy new year.