By SENATOR BABAFEMI OJUDU
The life and death of Nelson Mandela will forever remain a challenge to all politicians, especially in Nigeria where greed is now masked as service and hypocrisy as patriotism.
By remaining uncomprisingly committed to the service of his people, Mandela showed that only through sincere service can one secure his/her place in history. He chose the path of service to the people and never for once wavered, so much so that he rejected several offers of freedom on the condition that he should abandon the struggle to liberate his people while in prison. He was so committed to the people that he gave up his freedom, and even his marriage. When he realised that his marriage was becoming an obstacle to his service to the people, Mandela sacrificed it as well, making his service to the people his most important to the people. In fact, Madiba was married to the people, to his struggle to free them from the clutches of apartheid. Beaten, jailed, taunted, enticed, rather than being weakened by all these, he continued to wax stronger until he achieved the South Africa of his dream.
The amount of tributes that have poured in and continued to pour after Nelson Mandela’s death is not just a demonstration of his greatness, but a strong indication that Madiba was on the side of the people throughout his adult life. In sickness and now in death, millions of people continued and have continued to give back to him the love that he gave humanity. They have continued to pour encomiums on the man who gave new meanings to freedom, struggle for freedom, equality, love, reconciliation, peace and selflessness.
It was this unfettered, selfless, gratification-bereaved love that made him reject an offer of freedom made to him by then South African President Botha, declaring uncompromisingly “”What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people [ANC] remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”
Even in death, the cries of Mandela for justice, freedom and equity for his people rings out loud like a lone voice that would not be quenched by force or hate. All his life, he stood up when it mattered on the side of the people, rendering true service.
We, Nigerian politicians, should borrow a leaf from this by realising that neither billions of dollars in local or foreign accounts nor tens of houses in Abuja or choice cities of the world can earn one the outpouring of tributes that Mandela received while alive and in death. Your commitment to the service of the people, your commitment to principle is the house that will not run down, the account that will not be depleted, the honour that will be remembered hundreds of years after you might have left. It is only true service to the people that can secure once place in history.
Though responding to the peculiarities of his time, Nelson Mandela courageously gave up his life for the fight for freedom for his people, having to let go of family and the pleasures of free living, not accepting freedom until freedom was assured for all. Spending a better part of his productive adulthood behind bars and battling diseases that often accompany such incarceration, Madiba’s firmness of purpose was never for once defeated and his mental fecundity remained as alert as ever.
In spite of the humiliation, dehumanisation and pains, Mandela emerged from prison his usual self – a man of love – towering above the usual pettiness characteristic of most African leaders and the corridors of power. Rather than being embittered and further deepening the whites/blacks supremacy battle, Mandela uncommonly rose above bitterness and fostered a united South Africa where whites and blacks now work side by side in bulding their fatherland, walking side by side in love away from an horrendous past to a future seeped in sincere love-inspired development and growth. This is the greatest achievement of Nelson Mandela which should be a lesson for all African leaders!
Nelson Mandela once said to a fellow inmate at Robben Island that fear had been part of his life ever since he took the decision to stand for his people, but that he never stopped. He allowed his fear to steer him rather than scare him. He let his fear inspire boldness in him and be his driving force to help create a nation where people would not have to fear for their lives because of repressive politics. Through this, Mandela showed that fear can be a source of courage.
Whatever tribute said or written for/about him, one thing stands true – that Nelson Mandela chose his path, charted a course for the path and never departed from that path till death. This is a lesson for all African leaders, democrats, pseudo-democrats, aspiring leaders and youth to let a people-centric sense of purpose be the driving force of their leadership. This does not only make one a good leader; it more importantly makes one an institution with a secured place in history.