Hi. Welcome back to #DeMeStified. Hope I don’t owe any apologies? Let’s get to it, then.
“What a man can be, he must be” – Abraham Maslow
“Live long, live good. Above all else, live full” – Imisi
A few days ago, just as I started work on this post, the most tragic news came through. Scores of Nigerian students were murdered in their sleep by the usual ‘unidentified gunmen’. There was a #PresidentialMediaChat not long after but it failed to do the issue justice. It really makes one wonder. I just want to say my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased. Nothing one knows to say can soothe the ache.
Some reports put the number at 44, some say 50; others says 78. We can’t be sure – but this one thing is certain: even 1 is too many. No parent should have to bury their children. It’s just not one of those things one should ever experience.
I remember being posted up north for service in 2010. I had no knowledge of the terrain – only the risks. Media reports made it clear that the farewell I bade my family could easily have been my last. But, it was a stage of my life when I was learning to give up control and make the most of life’s seeming randomness. So, against very dear advice, I packed and left.
Tensions in the delicate region soon escalated and things got pretty dire. Still, through all the panic and chaos, it never crossed my mind to return home. I remember the near-misses, the weight of a locked, loaded and rampant ak47 against my head and countless other spine-chilling details. But, the thing I remember the most about it all was the look on my dad’s face when I made it back home. It was deep and unrestrained; nothing like I had ever seen before – not even in his wedding pictures. The message of his countenance was glowing; one of relief for sorrow spared, joy of fellowship restored – but above all else, pride over capacity fulfilled. He knew his boy had tested his capacity to excel outside the shores of comfort.
If you’ve ever had to drive through Lagos traffic, you’d understand why people generally prefer autos to manual engines. Still, there’s a tiny sect of people – a group to which I shamefully belong – with a fascinating obsession for manual engines. In spite of all the comfort automatics offer, the fastidious driver never quite feels like he has the final say. Somehow, it appears that not all effort goes into the result – that some capacity is lost somewhere. Most racers find this impossible to live with. They would rather sacrifice some comfort to ‘max’ the engine out. Different people have called this desire by various names. Maslow called it the fifth level in the hierarchy of needs.
I’ve had cause to ponder a lot of things recently; one of them is why Michael Corleone could never get over the death of his brother Freddo [in the GodFather movie]. This was the same Michael that ordered the execution of his own sister’s husband, without remorse. He thought long, hard and gave the order from the depths of his wit and grit. Freddo’s death was no accident. It was in keeping with Michael’s tradition: everyone who put the family in danger had to ‘go’. Yet, as time passed, the decision filled his life with misery and regret. I think I finally figured out why. You see, the mafia is built on the sanctity of family. Everything they thought or did was for family – and a family is weaned on forgiveness. So, Michael had an ingrained capacity to forgive his brother; it was incubated in him over the years as they grew together. The potential was there – but when it came time, he blatantly chose not to evoke it. And, some opportunities just never knock twice.
Many seasoned economists disagreed when Amartya Sen put forward the Capability Approach. It was unthinkable to contravene the norm of measuring national performance by sales and income. But Sen believed that people should be appraised by the fulfillment of their potentials and not relative affluence. His idea was to measure today not against yesterday, but against the provisions for today. He didn’t think that any country which grew by 5% when it had the potential for 10% had truly grown. But, potential and fulfillment are deeply personal; while they can be hard to measure from outside, each man knows deep within.
We’ve seen footballers leave huge cubs and salaries for starting roles in obscure clubs. We’ve seen others do the exact opposite, sacrificing cult-status in a small club for a fringe role and hefty pay in a bigger club. The first may find fulfillment in playing and the latter in the comfort of wealth. There’s no ‘right or wrong’ here – only the conviction of personal potential fulfilled.
There comes that time in all our lives when the line between living and dying becomes illegibly blurred – a time when we lose the ability to deceive ourselves. In those moments, many of us find that we were never truly free – that despite having enough within us, we hardly approached the limits of our abilities. That’s exactly how I felt during most of the near-misses I had before going to serve. But, I always resolved to live ‘fuller’ after each episode. So, when I told my parents I was indeed going to Maiduguri, they saw the fire in my eyes. They didn’t argue or cry [openly]; they just prayed that I’d return intact and fulfilled.
All this brings me to this one point: we’ve just clocked 53 as a[n independent] nation – but independence, much like potential, can be difficult to measure. It’s more of a feeling than a calendar count. Just as some pets never stray, not every prisoner flees in a jail-break. A person’s idea of independence, of freedom, may be premised on the ability to choose for himself. He may sincerely be more fulfilled within than outside confinement. The reasoning is complex but it can be simplified by going one at a time – each man checking himself against his abilities.
This post is, however, not for the ‘masses’ alone. At some point, our leaders would need to be reminded that individual lives count towards the fulfillment of national potential. Or, how do we shine if we keep killing the torch-bearers? In the end, we all just want to be free – as individuals and as a nation. Independence is freedom – but there’s no greater freedom than the fulfillment of potential.
Happy [belated] Independence. God bless Nigeria.