Saturday, January 22, 2011

Service Beyond Self by Bruce Onobrakpeya

By Bruce Onobrakpeya
Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation

Bruce Onobrakpeya is amongst the founding members of the now famous Zaria Art School popularly Known as the Zaria Revolutionaries. He was also a member of the Mbari Mbayo Art Society in the Early sixties. In 1964 he became a founding member of the Society of Nigerian Artist. Since 1998, he has attempted to give back to Society through the Annual Workshop Series now in its 13th edition, which in part is geared at producing a new generation of art thinkers and practitioners through mentoring.He is also a trustee of the Western Niger Delta University in Nigeria.

Excerpts of Speech first delivered to the Rotary Club in Nigeria in 2006

Service beyond self must be viewed in terms of paying our tribute to people, who regardless of their stations in life, have through their deeds, clearly demonstrated actions, which oftentimes have been called leadership. They go over and above their regular call of duty, by placing themselves in the line of fire, at the risk of personal loss of fortune, reputation, incarceration etc and even loss of life in very extreme circumstances. They abound in our midst, and are those who are seen standing tall and even leaning forward on principles, which impact society positively. These servants have no thoughts whatsoever about personal gain, grandeur or deification. They tower above very many people of their generation as beacons of light, towering above turbulence, and showing the way to safe harbours. Service beyond self must therefore be seen as a rallying cry for good men to stand up in Nigeria to assuage the looming eclipse and crises that threaten to envelop the future of our development as Nigerians.

I will like to start with corporate bodies, NGO’s and associations made up of individuals who are providing services above themselves. We should pay tribute first to the individual who initiates the concepts and then those who tirelessly carry out the aims. I commend the Rotary International for their work in all parts of the world. Organizations like yours are what we need today to assist in meeting the needs of our various communities. Your support within the health sector is most commendable especially in the eradication of polio campaign. it is indeed a testimony to your commitment to selfless service to society.

We pay tribute to the organizers of SOS Motherless Babies Home, to Stella Obasanjo the founder of an establishment which educate physically disadvantaged children.
Also to Kano Nwankwo for the creation of Heart Foundation which cares for children with heart disease and numerous other groups which care for the visually impaired, AID sufferers, the blind, the widows, old people and the mentally ill who roam our streets etc. We must also commend Mrs. Akiuruli for her leadership of NAFDAC. This is a very sensitive position which is a constant fight against those who fake or import drugs that are dangerous to our lives. However, there is still a very big yawning gap to be covered in the health sector. What are we doing about the high cost of medicine, which has now gone beyond the reach of the ordinary person or the lepers that populate our highways? This is a call for more people to direct their resources and energies to saving our people from health problems and to rehabilitate the homeless in our society.

I am aware of an association of Lawyers, Legal Aid Council, who provide free legal services to those who cannot afford the fees. Besides there is the ‘Sunday Sunday medicine’ a NTA network programme on News line made famous by Frank Olise and Abike Dabiri which expose human rights issues and help the poor and oppressed people, including children get justice. Still on corporate group, I like to commend the efforts of the Nigerian conservation Society who are engaged in saving our forests along with the trees, and animals as well as providing parks where the people recreate by wandering through natures paradise. Apart from ecological balance, the forests provide tourist attraction which have high economic potentials.

The mention of tourism immediately brings to our mind Governor Donald Duke of Cross River whom we should commend for creating tourist havens. The Obudu Ranch and the Tinapa projects should serve as inspiration to other states of our beloved country.

We are highly indebted to individuals or groups who are involved in promoting Nigerian culture. To mention a few, Guinness Nigeria Plc, Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and Smithcline Beecham have all helped to develop visual art and literature, through exhibitions, art and literary competitions

Many Nigerian languages are at present under utilized and they stand the risk of dying out thereby losing the history, culture and wisdom of the people who speak them. However, visionaries like Architect Majoro have floated the Urhobo Foundation to arrest the loss. They run summer language schools in the country and abroad to teach the children the various languages. These people deserve our commendation.

I will now talk about some individual who are role modes in providing services above self.

Suzanne Wenger Popularly called Adunni Olorisha is now 90 years old. This Austrian born woman who has for 55 years lived and worked in Nigeria using her art to develop the spiritual tradition of the Yoruba, deserves our tribute as one who has rendered service above self. The sacred Oshun groves of Oshogbo with her architecture and monumental sculptures now stand under the protection of the Nigerian government and Unesco having been recently declared a world heritage. The Oshun grove become the center of attraction during yearly festivals which bring in many tourists from Nigeria and abroad to the ancient city of Oshogbo.

Next on my list is Lt. Colonel Francis Adekunle Fajuyi displayed a high sense of courage and selflessness and qualifies to be high on the list of Nigerians who’s service was above self.

In July 1966 when the counter coup d’ etat that ended the first military regime in Nigeria took place, Fajuyi was the military governor of the Western Region, while Major General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi was the Head of State. Ironsi was on an official visit the Western Region. It is on record that on learning about the coup, Fajuyi did not treasure his own personal safety over that of his commander in chief. When the hour came, he put his life on the line for Ironsi. According to Sen. Adesanya “the various nationalities in Nigeria could pick a lesson or two from the selflessness or heroes like Fajuyi by putting the common good of all above narrow, parochial and selfish interests.”

Another role model that devoted his life to serving his country selflessly was Dr. Tai Solarin. He was famous as a social critic and an educator, however, his greatest contributions to society was his relentless criticism of the Nigerian Military rule, as well as of corruption in the government and church. This inevitably got him in trouble with the authorities. Tai was often jailed for his public remarks. He established the Mayflower school on the 27th January 1956 as a model of an institution “for all children discriminating against none.” He chose the name “Mayflower” after the name of the ship sailed by the pilgrims in 1620, from Europe to America. It therefore evoked images of escaping persecution for a new life of freedom.

He believed that education must include technical skills in order for the nation to be truly industrialized. He made agricultural science a compulsory aspect of Mayflower education. The students once built their own dormitories and they also continue to learn to make cocoa from homegrown beans. They also breed their own pigs as well as plant and harvest their own corn. Affectionately know as “Uncle Tai” by his admirers, he was usually found wearing sneakers, shorts and a khaki hunting cap, leading some to remark that he looked more like a “village eccentric” than a great intellectual.

My next role model is a Scottish lady who at a very young age dedicated her life to bringing Christianity to the people old Calabar. Popularly called Mma Slessor, Mary worked with the communities along the Calabar River in what is now Cross River State of Nigeria in the 19th century. This was before the colonial period. She worked specifically in Duke Town and environs. What is however significant about her work is the fact that she took up a challenge to go to a land that was virtually unknown to the outside world. She did not consider the discomfort to her person, neither was she deterred by the inclement terrain she had to traverse to achieve her goal. According to her official biography, she constantly had to battle with her health as she was often hit by various tropical diseases “…there were many times when it seemed as though she were about to die, but she pulled through. It was a real temptation to forsake this unhealthy area and return to the mists of Scotland.” But Mary did not yield to those temptations. Rather she chose to intensify her drive to bring Christianity to the peoples along the Calabar River. In the process she also helped to bring peace and eradicate some of the unwholesome practices that were prevalent at the time. Other missionaries had come to work on the Calabar River before her, but she was the only one that made the effort to learn the language in order to build the confidence of the people she was anxious to evangelize.

Another person with a similar spirit was Mother Teresa, a nun of Albanian parentage. At the age of eighteen she left her parental home to be a missionary. She joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months training in Dublin, she was sent to India, where on May 24, 1931 she took her vows as a nun. From 1931 to 1948 she taught at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta, but the suffering and poverty she glimpsed outside the convent walls made an impression on her, causing her to request permission to leave the convent and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. Without any funds, she started an open-air school for the children of the slums. Voluntary helpers and financial support later came her way. Her work with these children became the bedrock on which the “Missionaries of Charity” was formed. This has since grown into an international organization. The significance of the life of Mother Teresa lies in the fact that she did not wait until she had the financial wherewithal before embarking on a project like this. The impact of her efforts is that even after she has gone, the work that she started is still going on.

In the same vein, Albert Schweitzer who was the son of a Lutheran pastor became aware of the desperate need for medical care in Africa. Born in Alsace, which is now part of France, Schweitzer graduated from medical school at the age of 37. as a medical doctor, he decided with his wife to open a hospital in Lambarene, Gabon, then a province of French Equatorial Africa. He there after devoted most of his life to providing healthcare universal principle of ethics. By stressing the interdependence and unity of life, he became a forerunner of the environmental and animal welfare movements. In 1953, at the age of 78 Albert Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

One can see how the work of one man can actually influence a people, a society, or even a nation, when one considers the life of Mohan K. Gandhi. He is perhaps one of the most remarkable leaders of the 20th century. Gandhi to the people of India is the Mahatma, that is the father of the nation. He earned this title because of his dogged fight to liberate India from political and economic oppression. He however never sought for any personal gain, except perhaps the freedom to live in peace with his fellow man. His concern was more for the emancipation of the Indian people. This he was able to achieve by persuasion rather than force. When Gandhi died, his home country India was a free nation, the disinherited had recovered their heritage and millions had found their voice. The disarmed had won a great battle and in the process a moral force had evolved that compelled attention and to some degree, the admiration, of the world.

Although Gandhi live, suffered and died for Indians, being an Indian himself, it is significant to note that he was essentially a moral force, whose appeal is the conscience of man and therefore universal. He was the servant and friend of man no matter the nation, religion or race. His genius was an infinite capacity for taking pains in fulfillment of a restless moral urge. His life was a continuous striving and relentless search for truth.

In paying tribute to the Mahatma, Albert Einstein wrote ”Generations to come, it maybe, will scarce believe that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” The importance of Gandhi’s contribution to humanity lies in the fact that he went beyond the call of duty to fight for the freedom of the Indian peoples in South Africa and in his native India. His Spartan existence in which he denied himself of any luxuries – his simple loin clothe, steel-rimmed glasses, rough sandals and toothless smile were his only possessions. He was an exemple of humility. More importantly however he advocated non-violent resistance. He was indeed a man with a strong sense of restraint and discipline. It is his courage to resist oppression in the face of adversity that has earned him the title of the Mahatma which translates to Great Soul.

In America it is said that you don’t change a winning team. That is probably why the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. adopted the principles enunciated by the Mahatma. He saw how it worked in India and so sought to apply the same principles in the United States. King was noted for his insistence on a non-violent approach to civil disobedience, even in the height of the civil rights movement in America, where others like Malcolm X, were more intent on taking “an eye for an eye.” In championing his cause he submitted himself to arrests, and personal abuse. His home was even bombed. This did not however deter him. Martin Luther King Jr. played such a significant role in the civil rights struggle that he rose to become a member of the executive working committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the leading organization of its kind in the United States of America

Between 1957 and 1968 King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action. He wrote five books as well as numerous articles. He led a massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the attention of the whole world. He also directed the peaceful march on Washington D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “I have a Dream.” In all this time, he was arrested upwards of twenty times and assaulted at least four times. More significantly the work he did to gain equal rights for the minorities in the US are now beginning to bare fruits.

Coming closer home, we look at the life of one of Africa’s greatest patriarchs whose “long walk to freedom” personifies selfless service. Dr. Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa remains a shining example of one who sacrificed his personal freedom, his private life and his youth, for his people.

Nelson Mandela who was born in 1918 was born in Qunu South Africa, and as a young man after qualifing as a lawyer, was accused of opposing the Apartheid regime which had become institutionalized in South Africa. As an active member of ANC, he revolted against apartheid with extra-ordinary vigour and resilience. In 1962 he was to spend 27 in jail in Robben Island, after he was charged with treason and sabotage against the government., in the process sacrificing his private life and youth for his people.

In 1994 he was released from jail after tremendous pressure from the international community. He became President of S. Africa, where he remains South African in which he was released and the society benefit immensely from a new government policy of racial equality, not only that, after becoming president in South Africa for a couple of years he succeeded in handing power to Thabo Mbeki, a new generation leader. Today he is celebrated as a cultural icon the world over and a compelling example of the power of unflinching faith in extreme situations and forgiveness.

Ken Saro Wiwa
10 years after Ken was put to death by hanging, his name still inspires hope and a spasm of vigour not only in Nigerian youths but, a teeming number of people around the world who clearly identify with his stance on indigence of an area controlling mineral resources produced in these areas.


Service beyond leadership is a clarion call for people to step up to the play in our society and by extension, put themselves on the line of fire, but more importantly inhabit the eye of the turbulent storms of our time.

In some cases there may be physical demise of the hero, but oftentimes the standard and principle which they stood for, and which was tested was never compromised, as they remained in the memory and psyche of the society in they impacted. They bestowed on society new standards in all cases of conduct, of awareness and consciousness which very often stood them out as enduring historical figures in our landscapes.

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