Lessons from Madiba: In the Words of Awo and MLK

In my home, we keep three pictures of three somewhat unrelated yet ideologically cousins, from three different backgrounds and indeed three different countries. They’re complete strangers, yet like family we frame their pictures and discuss what they stood for from time to time. Three of them served jail terms or were sentenced to long prison terms and herein ends their similarity if you ignore their ideology; two were lawyers and one was a preacher; one served as President while the other two did not; one was assassinated and two died in their old age- the last of my triumvirate passed away yesterday. Oh Madiba! An Iroko has fallen in the African Forest!

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Chief Obafemi Awolowo and foremost of them all, Dr. Nelson Mandela had one thing in common though that irremovably made them my ideological guiding lights: they loved their people fearlessly and didn’t mind dying for it! The love the world has shown Mandela is not because they always loved Mandela: quite the contrary! In fact, many of his would be mourners once denounced the man as a terrorist, a trouble maker, an agitator – he was on USA terror list until very recently! He was a marked man because he refused to allow injustice to reign. His passion for freedom and his love of HIS people set him on a course of history that forever changed our world. He recognized like his counterpart on my wall Dr. King once said, that “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”.

Madiba though was somewhat different from any of my other heroes. For one, I had a little slight chance of meeting him. As I read more about this man and his philosophy, and developed a passion for him intellectually- I had this tiny ray of hope that one day I could meet him. Chief Awolowo and Dr. King were then long gone, but driven by “hope and not my fears” I reasoned that hope will one day make me meet this great man. That is not to be on this mother earth; but one day, I have no doubt in my mind that if there is an after-life, I will seat at the table of the heavenly pearly gates to dine with my three heroes.

Can you even imagine how that conversation will go at dinner in Heaven’s Great hall? Imagine Dr. King waxing philosophically and oratorically with the fervor of a Southern Baptist preacher? And Pa Awo dissecting Plato and Aristotle over her tantalizing bowl of egufe and eba that St. Michael will serve us all as we dine in Heaven’s great hall reserved for true patron saints? These three men were intellectual heavyweights, they had beautiful minds while on earth, and I can only imagine how the tranquility of heaven must have transformed the significant heft of their minds prior to such dinner engagement.

Oh my, I can imagine Madiba nibbling at life’s greatest lessons with the cerebral equanimity of a statesman as we introduce him to Ikenne’s delicacy perhaps declaring at the end of such sumptuous dinner, those sage words: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Papa and Dr. King will chuckle, because they both lived it with him. They loved their people, and strove to serve them even behind the prison walls!

Of this threesome, one has to stand in awe of Dr. Mandela however; for above any of these three – he taught us the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness might not have been a trait exactly associated with Pa Awo (quite the contrary), nor can one ascribe the power that Mandela had to mete judgment to Dr. King who died in the midst of the struggle (what will Dr. King in the White House have done?). But we know that Madiba forgave. He won the greatest battle of them all, the war against hate within his own soul. This is what sets Madiba apart!

As I reflect on the life of Mr. Mandela, few lessons come to light- and they will be lessons quoting from the mouths of his co-patrons whom I wish to induct to Heaven’s hall for their selfless service to their people: enslaved African Americans, undereducated Nigerians and oppressed minorities in her Eastern & Northern regions and oppressed South Africans. Imagine these words, as moving memoriam by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Nelson Mandela that was to follow these men, years later to the “Ages” -as described by an astute beneficiary of their struggles in his eulogy to Madiba i.e. President Barack Hussein Obama. These words:

  • “Violence never settles anything right: apart from injuring your own soul, it injures the best cause. It lingers on long after the object of hate has disappeared from the scene to plague the lives of those who have employed it against their foes”. – Chief Obafemi Awolowo
  • “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”- Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • "I will, more than ever before, subject myself to severe self- discipline. Only men who are masters of themselves become easily masters of others."  - Chief Awolowo My March Through Prison, 1985
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • "It is safer and wiser to cure unhealthy rivalry than to suppress it." - Chief Awolowo- Thoughts on The Nigerian Constitution, 1966.
  • “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • "Those who desire to reach, and keep their places at the top in any calling must be prepared to do so the hard way."  Chief Obafemi Awo (Autobiography). 1960
  • “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” -  Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • “Naturally, in the course of my long political activities, I have attracted to myself a sizeable crop of detractors and adversaries…This as it should be…It isn’t life that matters, but the courage you bring to it” – Chief Obafemi Awolowo
  • “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles” – Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "Any system of education which does not help a man to have a healthy and sound body and alert brain, and balanced and disciplined instinctive urges, is both misconceived and dangerous." - Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the People's Republic. 1968
  • “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • The Blackman shall be absolute and undisputed master in his own home, and shall enjoy unaffected and un-patronising equality with the other races of the world." - Chief Obafemi Awolowo- Voice of Reason, 1981.
  • I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “May God rule and guide our deliberations here, and endow all the …leaders with the vision, realism, and unselfishness as well as courage and steadfastness in the course of truth, which the present circumstances demand”. – Chief Obafemi Awolowo
  • History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” - Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • “Furthermore, the spirit of man knows no barrier, never dies, and can be projected to any part of the world. This being so I am confident that the ideals of social justice and individual liberty which I hold dear will continue to be projected beyond the prison walls and bars until they are realized in our lifetime.” - Chief Obafemi Awolowo
  • “If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. “– Martin Luther King Jr.

One thing that ties them all together has to be the quote which I used before in this essay and I will use to end:

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”- Nelson Mandela

Good bye Saint Mandela.  



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