Pilgrims’ Progress

Ademola Adegbamigbe


By Ademola Adegbamigbe

President Goodluck Jonathan recently visited Israel. It was a mission that combined promotion of bilateral relations between Nigeria and that country with pilgrimage or, if one likes, tourism. Given his large entourage, Jonathan’s uncharitable critics compared what happened to Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage, a trip that caused the collapse of the price of gold along his trail from Mali Empire to the Middle East.

Apart from signing MoUs on security and other matters, Jonathan’s team did same on Bilateral Air Service Agreement. The President’s train visited and prayed at holy sites like the Wailing Wall, Golgotha, River Jordan (the portion where Jesus Christ was baptised), Mount of Olives, Gethsemane and the Upper Room where Jesus had his last supper. In all, it was great, seeing the photographs of these pilgrims, humble, sober and perhaps, transported right there, in their imagination, to the Pearly Gates where the righteous only could walk…

However, I believe that this kind of visit should, for the pilgrims, provide an opportunity for sober reflection on how to make our own country work like Israel, a country that is still expecting its own Messiah who would help them get even with the Nazis, their remnants and liberate them from their hostile neighbours. So, visiting Israel should not be an end itself but a means to an end of moral uprightness and good governance. Therefore, if there are lessons to be learnt, the Christians among the pilgrims could, at best, validate those stories in the Bible with concrete evidence on ground. There are bigger ideas to be taken away or which every right thinking person thinks that Jonathan and his fellow pilgrims should bring home.

First, the Israelis are good at keeping to the dreams of their forefathers. This is a big lesson for us as Nigeria is, despite criticisms, bent on holding another national conference and celebrating its centenary. Two examples of such Israeli leaders will suffice here. There was Theodore Herzl, the Austria-Hungary journalist, playwright, writer, and political activist who, between 1866 and 1873, helped to put fire in the belly of every Jew, even before Hitler unleashed the pogroms in Dachau, Treblinka and Auschwitz.

This father of modern political Zionism, Herzl, in his great book, Judenstaat (1895), writes: “We have sincerely tried everywhere to merge with the national communities in which we live…it is not permitted us…Palestine is our unforgettable historic homeland, and our dream is the restoration of the Jewish state.” He writes further that persecution was their driving force and that he and others who inaugurated the movement might not live to see its culmination. This was actualised in 1948 with the declaration of the State of Israel by David Ben-Gurion. He became its first prime minister, while Chaim Weizeman, its first president.

Whatever criticism may be hauled at Israel today, that dream is alive, without divisive tendencies as we have here. One interesting thing about that country or their leaders is that question of geographical background does not arise when talking about leadership. In other words, there is unity in their diversity. Examples: Ben-Gurion was born in Poland; Weizeman, Belarus, former prime ministers Menachem Begin, Belarus; Yitzhak Rabin, Israel; Golder Meir, Ukraine; Moshe Dayan, Israel; Ariel Sharon, Israel.

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Now come to the dream of our own forefathers. When Herbert Macaulay started, the old man did not think Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa in the choice of his lieutenants. In fact, the closest person to him was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo. What do we have now? Ethnicity, not ability to deliver, is read into everything, especially, political leadership and even the fight against corruption.

There is a quote of Macaulay’s that interests me. He derided the British for claiming that they had the true interest of the natives at heart. In Macaulay’s words: “The dimensions of the true interests of the natives at heart are algebraically equal to the length, breadth and depth of the Whiteman’s pocket.” The old man was ready to fight the political and economic enslavement of Nigerians. We may claim some independence now, but all our economic policies are tailored to satisfying the interest of the West. We export crude oil only to import it in its refined form. The list, including palm oil, is long. Another dream of our forefathers like Obafemi Awolowo, Zik, Aminu Kano and Ahmadu Bello, is true federalism, which we have thrown to the dogs.

The Israelis also know how to preserve their history through keeping and preservation of records and monuments. Such landmarks now attract pilgrims or tourists the way nectar would bees. Were it not for preservation of records, we would not have the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Torah. In the past, the Jews preserved their writings inside jars and kept them in caves with the hope that, even if they were ravaged by war or scattered into the four winds, future generations would stumble on them and make sense out of them. Before the Jews came together again, from Europe, Russia, America, Ethiopia, they kept their history burning in the minds of their young ones. If not that the Israelis knew how to preserve their monuments, pilgrims today would not have any Wailing Wall to kiss. This preservation of history is what makes the faction written by Leon Uris, entitled Exodus, a compelling read.

Ask Nigerians what they do to their own history and monuments. Not much. Our kids are not taught their own history in schools. I pray that in the next 90 years, the names of Shehu Shagari, Aminu Kano, Olusegun Obasanjo, MKO Abiola, Bola Tinubu, Muhammadu Buhari, even Jonathan himself, would not be forgotten by the coming generations. Worse still, the Zik mausoleum is always reported in the media as being overgrown with weeds.

Patriotism is another virtue we need to learn from the Israelis. While it is good not only to ask what a country can do for its citizens, but what the people can do for their nation, we must admit that patriotism is a two-way traffic. Government must invest in and deeply love its citizens for them to reciprocate in kind. We remember Operation Thunderbolt of 1976, when Israeli commandos in Hercules prop jets flew over 2,500 kilometres from Israel to Entebbe airport in Uganda to free 103 hostages, held by terrorists. Jews in Diaspora contributed money to make possible the return of their refugees back to Palestine, in the first, second and third Aliyas. Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organisation of America, is a good example.

Although the Israelis know that man shall not live by bread alone, it is equally fine that it is not possible to survive without bread. That is the reason the Israelis turned their desert land into an agricultural haven. Their agric settlements, the kibbutzim, became reference points in the world. They are now overshadowed by bigger and more complex agro-business concerns. Suffice it to say that Israel is not hungry. However, Nigeria, which has large arable land, cannot feed itself but depends on importation of rice, wheat, palm oil, vegetable oil, leather, dairy products and the like. We need backward integration in this regard.

If Jonathan and his train fail to learn and make use of one or two things from the trip, their pilgrimage becomes tourism. But if they do, it is only then that the pilgrims and their people can make progress.