The Future Depends On the Strength of Our Differences, By Taiwo Odukoya

The true greatness of Nigeria is not in its topography or mineral deposits but in the hearts and minds of its people, all of them, unique in language and culture, in ideology and belief. Leaders from every part of the country, from the public and private sectors, from civil society and leaders of faith, need to seize the urgency of the moment to unite the people around a common cause…

And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body – 1 Corinthians 12:16

In 2001, four scientists and thinkers came together to form a company called InnoCentive. The idea was to harness the power of diversity in solving critical problems. The company takes some of the most difficult challenges from major companies and posts them on a virtual bulletin board, visited by 400,000 professionals and amateurs from 200 countries. Visitors are rewarded for the solutions they provide. According to the company, 85 percent of the problems are eventually solved, with 40 percent of these done by non-experts. The lesson here is crucial: diversity is greater than ability. The more people tackling a problem, from different perspectives and backgrounds, the more likely there is to be a solution. It was Tim Bernard Lee who said “We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” The British cracked the German’s indecipherable Enigma code twice during the Second World War, through the power of diversity, by bringing together twelve thousand people from different backgrounds to tackle the problem. The British, like every other nation or organisation which achieved anything significant, succeeded not by through individual brilliance, but by leveraging their differences to achieve much more than they could have if they were acting alone.

Some of the most successful nations in the world have developed structures and systems that allow for the equal participation, representation and contribution of people of different cultures, languages and religion, however imperfectly. Think of countries like Switzerland, and Canada. Speaking of the U.S, George H.W. Bush said, “We are a nation of communities… a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” To thrive, we must find a way to make our differences work for us and not against us. This is an urgent resolution Nigeria has to reach.

We are a nation blessed with rich diversity. But this same blessing has been the very bane of our existence. Decades after independence, it is getting clearer that sustainable development is unattainable without credible structures that give every group and region a sense of belonging and security. This is not something we have to do to appease any particular group, it is something we have to do for the survival of all. The last few months have seen renewed agitations and tensions. And it is very encouraging to see the government taking the lead, as it should, and making efforts to build bridges.

We can no longer continue to shy away from filling the gaps in our Constitution, needed to devolve power from the centre to the regions and to the people. There is no other way. Let us look across the continent, to nations who have been devastated by wars as a result of mismanaged differences, and draw lessons…

The South African law professor AJ van der Walt shares an opinion on conditions necessary for making a multicultural democracy like ours work. He said: “In a democracy that openly and consciously engages with the injustices of the past, that deliberately dismantles and avoids the creation of hierarchy, and that values and accommodates differences, and painfully, but consciously makes room for dissent, opposition and resistance, violence is unnecessary and vengeance is soft.” We can no longer continue to brush aside the grievances of any group or region. Resistance and agitations should not be met with violence but dialogue; a listening ear and an open mind. Everybody, regardless of tribe, religion or gender, has something important to contribute and should have the opportunity and platform to do so. Those who insist on the superiority of their ideology or tribe or religion to the detriment of others should realise that all humans are equal before God, and that humanity and the law of dignity and human rights is not on their side. They are just trouble makers. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “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.”

The true greatness of Nigeria is not in its topography or mineral deposits but in the hearts and minds of its people, all of them, unique in language and culture, in ideology and belief. Leaders from every part of the country, from the public and private sectors, from civil society and leaders of faith, need to seize the urgency of the moment to unite the people around a common cause and to resist and call to order those who seek to polarise us. We can no longer continue to shy away from filling the gaps in our Constitution, needed to devolve power from the centre to the regions and to the people. There is no other way. Let us look across the continent, to nations who have been devastated by wars as a result of mismanaged differences, and draw lessons; in fact, let us look to our own past, even as we keep an eye on the future we want our children to inherit. As it has been said, the best way to prepare for a future of unknown complexity is to build on the strength of our differences now. We can do this. We should. We must.

NIGERIA HAS A GREAT FUTURE.

Taiwo Odukoya, a leadership and relationship expert, is the Senior Pastor of The Fountain of Life Church.

PremiumTimes