I am delighted to be Guest Speaker at this colloquium to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Honourable Kudla Satumari and the great humanitarian work he has been doing with his Haske Foundation.
The people of his native Southern Borno have suffered a harrowing tragedy from the murderous insurgency that is looking more and more like a genocide.
It is becoming crystal clear that Christian communities in the north are the principal targets of the Jihad being waged by Boko Haram and the herdsmen of the apocalypse. It is a fact that our dishonest and jaundiced power elites prefer not to acknowledge.
Our brother Kudla has lost 19 members of his own blood relations in the conflagration. And yet, I see a man with a forgiving heart; a champion of peace — a true lover of humanity. He has made a great success of his aviation business. But he has never allowed success to go into his head.
Instead, his greatest hunger is to win souls for the Lord and to touch lives in a positive way. He has used his resources to help the downtrodden among his people.
I prophesy a great destiny for this hero of our time!
According to my dictionary, destiny is a noun referring to “what happens to someone or what will happen to them in the future, especially things that they cannot change or avoid”.
Destiny is thought to be synonymous with fate or a man’s portion in life. It implies, according to Merriam-Webster, “something foreordained and often suggests a great or noble course or end”.
Many of our traditional cultures believe that every human being has his or her own unique path in life. The ancient Greeks often consulted the Oracle of Delphi to know what destiny held in store for them. Among the Yoruba, the oracles of Ifa are central to the making of kingship and to shaping decision-making among the rulers.
At one extreme are the Christian Calvinists, who believe in pre-destination – in the community of the elect that are predestined for salvation; at the other, are the existentialist philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus who believe that man is the sole architect of his own destiny.
The post-war French existentialists thinkers were, of course, anti-religious in temperament; belonging to a long tradition of French anti-clericalism that goes back to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment – from Rousseau and Voltaire up to the leaders of the 1789 French Revolution.
Nelson Mandela was apparently a believer in this concept of self-determination. His favourite poem while imprisoned in Robben Island was said to be Invictus, by the Victorian English poet William Ernest Henley: “Out of the night that covers me, / Black as the pit from pole to pole, / I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul…. / It matters not how strait the gate, / How charged with punishments the scroll, / I am the master of my fate, / I am the captain of my soul.”
None of us chose the circumstances of our birth. We had no choice about our parentage, religion, community and even the country into which we were born. But it is also clear that life is ultimately what we make of it. Man is a creature of choice. We are born with conscience and with a sense of moral responsibility.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau proclaimed long ago that “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”. Rousseau was an apostle of liberty. He believed that fate is what we make of it. Perhaps his biggest contribution to the history of human thought is his famous theory of the social contract in which men are moral agents that freely enter into a social contract that must guarantee them a better life. Men are therefore morally bound to rebel against tyranny and usurpation of power wherever it rears its ugly head.
The greatest tragedy that can befall a young man or woman is to go through this life without having discovered their life-purpose or vocation. And happy is the young man or woman who knows early enough what they were born to do.
When a person discovers early enough his or her life-purpose, nothing can keep them down.
The Renaissance Italian artist and genius Leonardo da Vinci was the illegitimate child of a Florentine nobleman who never acknowledged his son. He never went to school because of his illegitimate status. But nothing could stop him. Through communing with nature and the sheer power of his imagination Leonardo became a universal genius. His paintings and sculptures are immortal and priceless. His engineering designs prefigured modern aviation and aerospace engineering. He is arguably the greatest genius who ever lived.
You could have been born in a log cabin like Abraham Lincoln, but you could still rise up to be a statesman of world renown. You could have been born into slavery and still be an inventor and orator like the African-American Frederick Douglass. You could have been constrained to a cruel island prison like Nelson Mandela for 27 years and still rise to the apex of nobility.
There is a noble line of men and women who overcame seemingly impossible odds to fulfil their life-purpose and destiny. They are the heroes and heroines of civilisation. Without their courage, our world would be a much poorer place.
Like human beings, every nation has a destiny under the earth. Alexis Carrel, the great French medical scientist, Nobel laureate and man of faith, strongly believed that every nation has a destiny. It is up to the leaders to discover that collective destiny and to fulfil it.
The French have always defined their place in the world as custodians of the universal values of civilisation. I went to school there and I should know.
It is only in France that the greatest scientists and intellectuals are arrogated the same status as royalty. In the 1960s, so the story goes, the great philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre was arrested by the police around the Quartier Latin district of Paris for drinking under the influence. The law required that he spend some days in prison.
President Charles de Gaulle, however, invoked his own right to exercise the prerogative of mercy. He gave the reprieve in full glare of national television. Sartre, he declared, is France. And France could not, under any stretch of the imagination, be imprisoned. Case closed!
Britain has always prided herself in being the mother of liberty.
Magna Carta is the writ that enshrined the constitutional principle of the supremacy of parliament and representative democracy. Only in Britain could an English judge such as Lord Mansfield declare, as in the famous case of Somerset v Stewart (1772), that every slave who sets his foot on English soil is a free man. Britain defines herself as “the Land of Hope and Glory”.
Brexit has entered the modern political lexicon today because the British voted to leave Europe. At the heart of it is the belief that English liberties are non-negotiable and cannot be usurped by a supranational body faraway in Brussels, however enlightened.
Nowhere has this sense of manifest destiny been so deeply rooted in the national psyche as in the United States. There is no denying that many of the Founding Fathers were slave-owners. And yet, they crafted a Declaration of Independence that is timeless in its universal appeal:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
The great African-American intellectual and pan-Africanist W. E. B. Du Bois famously declared that the problem of the twentieth century was the colour line.
Race remains an enduring blot on the American character. And yet, America managed to elect a black man, Barrack Obama, as its president. The American Dream resonates among all its inhabitants as the quintessential land of infinite opportunities for all peoples and races. Because of its commitment to the rule of law, liberty of thought and respect for property rights, however, American grandeur will endure.
America will remain unsurpassed in the dominant fields that matter: science and technology, inventiveness, creativity and sheer entrepreneurial energy.
Does Nigeria have a destiny? What are our national ideals and collective purpose as we enter the second decade of our twenty-first century?
(Being the Summarised Text of a Speech at the Haske Foundation Colloquium Held at Yar’Adua Conference Centre, Abuja, Saturday 21 March, 2020).