Monday, March 8, 2021 1:50 pm
By Tokunbo Awolọwọ- Dosunmu
It is a great honour and privilege for me to welcome you to the 2021 edition of the annual Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ Lecture Series. Chief Awolọwọ was born 112 years ago today.
As many of you may be aware, the 2020 event had to be postponed due to the then emerging global health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did we know at the time what a seismic effect that situation was going to have on the entire world.
We certainly had no idea that the relevance of our chosen topic then, ‘Whither Nigeria?’, would assume such incredible intensity one year later, even in the midst of the ravaging pandemic.
Yet, here we are…
It would not be an overstatement to say that Nigeria today faces an unprecedented threat to its very existence. The security situation throughout the country has brought into bolder relief citizen discontent with perceived governance deficits and with the apparent insufficient concern about their well-being by those in authority.
Ethno-religious tensions, irritations and rivalries, social justice practised more in the breach, and deep-seated inter-class resentment, all simmeringbefore, now threaten to explode into multi-locational theatres of conflict, in which no-one is in charge and no-one is safe. Increasingly, the perception by most Nigerians is that they are on their own. The country is, no doubt, in a serious crisis.
A famous quote by Mr Shastri, the second Prime Minister of India goes thus, ‘There comes a time in the life of every nation when it stands at the cross-roads of history and must choose which way to go…’. For Nigeria, this statement has probably never been more germane than it is now.
If, as a Chinese proverb says, ‘A crisis is an opportunity riding a dangerous wind’, then perhaps this time, dangerous as we deem it to be, is the opportunity for a ‘reset’ for Nigeria. This is why, in our usual way at the Ọbafẹmi Awolọwọ Foundation and in the tradition of the man in whose memory the institution was founded, we are seeking through this event, not to criticise gratuitously, but to actually provoke a national dialogue that will ultimately arrive at a consensus about the way forward for this country.
We are convinced that doing nothing or allowing the nation to drift towards a nebulous destination is not an option.
We, therefore, invited, and are immensely honoured by the acceptance of, today’s line-up of some of the most credible voices in the country today, to, hopefully, encourage those who have the power to do so, to initiate the process towards an all-inclusive national dialogue. None of our eminent guests this evening has been known to paper over or sugar-coat the many challenges that we face in Nigeria. We are also sure that they will dissect the Nigerian situation frankly, honestly and with characteristic courage. To the end that, whichever direction Nigerians opt to pursue ultimately, it will be one that is not only patently fair and just and, therefore, accepted and respected by all, it will also be one that will be applauded by future generations.
We are at a crossroads, and ‘demons wait at crossroads attempting to influence our decisions’ (April Smith). Demons of fear, self, greed and political dissimulation, to name but a few. But history will judge our generation most harshly if we fail to seize the moment, grasp the nettle and do the right thing.
Permit me to end this address with excerpts from the poem, ‘The Present Crisis’, written in 1844 by James Russell Lowell, an American scholar, poet and diplomat:
‘Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side… Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust… Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just…Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside… Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand…They were men of present valour, stalwart old iconoclasts…But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free… Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne… Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own…’
Once again, I welcome you all and I thank you for your attention.
-Ambassador (Dr.) Tokunbo Awolọwọ- Dosunmu, delivered this welcome address at the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo lecture, 6 March