The year was 1995, and it was the Rugby World Cup Final, the sport’s biggest game. But it was something more. It was a defining moment in the history of a fractured nation. Minutes before the game began, Nelson Mandela came on to the field wearing the jersey of the South African rugby team, the Springboks. Within seconds the chants went up from the fans packed into Ellis Park stadium in the heart of Johannesburg: “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” 65,000 white rugby supporters were joyously shouting his name. The Springboks were dear to the hearts of South Africa’s white Afrikaners and loathed by the nation’s black majority. By donning their emblem, Mandela reconciled a nation fractured and badly damaged by racism and hatred. 

Today we live in a fractured world in desperate need of unifying figures like Mandela; men and women with the moral and leadership authority to, in the words of Dean Williams, “Mobilize diverse factions to face reality, participate in interdependent problem solving, and contribute to innovative solutions with focus and speed.” 

The task of unifying an organization or nation around a common goal is never an easy one. Humans are instinctively sectional (tribal, racial, etc). People typically prefer their own kind and trust becomes an issue when they have to interact with those they consider significantly differerent. Politicians often play up this sentiment to create factions in advancing their own interest, even to the detriment of others. But it is the responsibility of leadership to remove the veil between groups in the service of a shared purpose. And Nigeria, more than ever, is in dire need of this sort of leadership.

The just concluded general elections proved to be one of the most divisive in the history of the nation. There are regions in the country who feel they have lost out. There are others who, riding the crest wave of triumphalism, feel regions who did not support this or that candidate ought to be tacitly punished. It is the responsibility of leadership, from the Federal down to the State and even the Local government levels, to guide and lead Nigerians out of the counterproductive silos of ethnicity and religion and douse whatever tensions may arise from our differences. We believe the incoming leadership, with the caliber of people it promises to bring to the fore, will harness the hope birthed by the outcome of the elections to unify the country around the shared goal of building a great nation. The creativity required to solve Nigeria’s multiple challenges demand the courage to embrace our differences and the wisdom to recognize the contributions of every group, tribe or religion.  

There is a resurgence of hope in the future of Nigeria and it is laden with a golden opportunity for building and reconstructing the Nigeria of our dreams. We can squander this moment in the coming months by succumbing to the push and pull of parochial interests or we can draw a line in the pages of history and progressively unearth our true potentials for the world to see. This will require symbolic and practical attempts to build bridges, make sacrifices, and hard work. I believe the best is yet ahead of us.


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