Community & Gratitude

When I was invited to give a keynote speech at today’s important event here in Ogidi, the organisers did not specify any particular theme I should speak on. Perhaps, the assumption was that the event itself was sufficiently self-explanatory

and that as a journalist and former presidential adviser I should be at home with conjuring speeches for any occasion. They may have their point. So, clutching this “blank cheque”, if I may capture my delicate assignment with that label, let me first quickly appreciate the opportunity and honour of being invited to share your special day. 

With the latitude I was granted, I chose to entitle my brief intervention, “Community and Gratitude” as I hope to share with Ogidi people present here today a few perspectives that should reinforce the deepest belief in our shared humanity as well as gratitude for the many blessings we often take for granted.

By residing in a specific locality, sharing government, and having a common cultural and historical heritage, Ogidi Town in Kogi State meets the basic definition of a community. But to sustain the essence of being a community, there must be dynamic action and progressive human development. In the absence of these attributes, the community will stagnate and perish, just like the dinosaurs did.

In effect, community development is key to the continuing relevance and survival of any people. The pertinent question therefore is: What is community development? 
This essentially is a structured intervention that gives the people greater control over the conditions that affect their lives. Such intervention may not necessarily address all the problems, but it does build up confidence to confront common challenges as effectively as any local action can. Community development therefore works at the level of groups like the Ogidi Development Union rather than with individuals or families.

In preparing my speech yesterday, I googled Ogidi to see whether I would get any information that might provide insight into who the people of this community really are and I found it rather interesting that even while all the sites could only offer me scanty information, all of them refer to Ogidi as a community built on the tradition of self-reliance.

What that means in essence is that Ogidi has for long adopted this skilled process that is founded on the time-tested belief that communities cannot be helped unless they themselves agree to help themselves. As I stand with you today, I cannot help restating an obvious fact: Ogidi is blessed by geology, geography and human capital. The vegetation mix of forest and savannah has translated into a rich agricultural land.

However, building a sense of community is easy. The challenge is always about maintaining and nurturing such spirit in an increasingly difficult world. In this connection, I must commend the leadership and all the members of the Ogidi Development Union for the great work you are doing on behalf of this community.

Community building can use a wide variety of practices, ranging from simple events such as Ogidi Day and similar events that involve mobilising the people. The point to be underscored is that when the members of a community come together they can solve far more difficult problems. A good historical example was that by banding together, the people of this town successfully endured raids from Nupe imperialists in the late 19th century and eventually defeated them. This victory ensured Ogidi retained its deep historical ties with both the northern and western parts of Nigeria, a unique position that has served Okun people well over decades even though as a Kwaran, I feel a sense of loss that we no longer belong to the same state, notwithstanding the fact that we share so many things in common.

But a day like this also offers us opportunity to reflect on some of the contradictions of our country as well as the place of our community. According to a recent report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of the London-based influential magazine, Nigeria is the worst country to be born this year. The quality-of-life index used in the survey was measured around key indices like crime, trust in public institutions and government policies. 
For sure, Nigeria could be anything from any observer’s point of view, but to conclude that this country is the worst place to be born is simply unacceptable. My position is not just driven by patriotism, but rather because bad governance cannot make Nigeria the worst place to be born given our people’s resilience and determination against all odds. The point being made here is that Nigerians have learnt to depend on themselves and often carry on with their lives oblivious of government existence.
So using people’s mistrust in public policies as one of the indices for gauging the conduciveness of an environment to a child’s birth may have no meaning in the case of Nigeria and there is evidence of that in Ogidi which, despite criminal neglect by successive administrations in this state, has taken up the challenge of development and has excelled as a community of enterprising people. But as remarkable as these strides are, the situation is far from being ideal.
When I spoke to a prominent son of Ogidi early in the week, I learnt that there used to be a good road leading to this town. On my way, I passed through that same road from Kabba and I can feel what people of this town feel when they remember what used to be. Also, in this town there was a post office. It does not exist anymore; although I must be quick to add that this is a national malaise. In this same town of Ogidi, there was a dispensary which catered for the health of the people but that also is history just as the Divisional Court has given way to a smaller one and the Residency of the colonial officials have become mere relics.

Yet even as we bemoan all these things that used to be and no more, we must also be honest to admit that the Ogidi of today is not the Ogidi of old where there was a unity of purpose and where everyone was his brother’s keeper. Today, as I have learnt from my interactions with friends from this town, it is a different story because of a squabble over chieftaincy. Unfortunately, this is fast becoming the story of our communities, especially in Okun land. But I am confident that the eminent sons and daughters of Ogidi have the capacity to rise above divisive issues, including, if not especially that of chieftaincy, in the greater interest of our community and our people.

In a broad sense, community development, such as we are witnessing today, involves a process of people coming together to reach group consensus about difficult issues and collaborating in resolving the problems that come their way. This sense of community, shared by many of us in the old Kwara, has helped to shape our beliefs about what is right and just. It has also enabled us to appreciate our responsibility to care for others as we pursue the common good. But these days, there are so many frictions within our communities like the chieftaincy issue earlier identified. How we resolve those differences will test the strength of our unity and our capacity to make a difference within our community and in our world. 
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I need to point out here that it is not all gloom and doom as there are also several positive developments that have over the years defined our existence as a community. From this same Ogidi is a certain woman, an internationally acclaimed artist who has been promoting not only Nigeria’s batik and fabric designs but also our culture. I am talking of no other person than our distinguished daughter, sister, auntie and mother, Chief Mrs Nike Okundaye, who has done so much not only to bring development to this town but has also been a worthy ambassador for our country.

Her remarkable story brings me to the imperative of women empowerment, especially in our community. We live in a society where women are conditioned to be subordinated to men yet if we will be honest, notwithstanding the accomplishments of the prominent men from this town, and there are many that I know, the one person with a global name recognition is a simple woman who, by her own account, did not even have the benefit of formal education. But by dint of hard work, commitment to her craft and dedication to duty, she has become the face of this town…and what a face! Mrs Okundaye, we love and appreciate you.

Instructively, this simple story of an ordinary person with extraordinary exploits is what in the past distinguished Ogidi as a renowned agricultural community of valiant men. But today the farming generation is old while the younger ones, like it is in all our communities, want the easy money. I have a confession here: On my arrival here in Ogidi this morning, I was treated to a sumptuous plate of pounded yam by Mrs Ipinmisho but I cannot be sure of the source of the yam. It could have come from Abuja! Yet farming is not only part of Ogidi’s rich past, it should also be part of its future. That is why the event of today is rather significant.

Your Royal Highnesses, Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am aware that ceremonies like this also target generating critical funds with which to solve specific problems. But I want to take the liberty of my being here to ask some salient questions that are deliberately meant to help focus the development targets of Ogidi community after today’s event: What are the most pressing needs of this community? Will the raised funds specifically address these needs? When eventually completed, will the project or projects being planned have positive impact on the role and participation of women?
The last question is particularly important because while women form over half the world's population, they receive only a small share of development opportunities. I bring in that point to dramatise and stress the importance of empowering Ogidi women in any sustainable development plans and action the community envisions. It is unfortunate that we fail to appreciate the value of our mothers who influence a large percentage of the decisions made in our families as the real catalysts for change and if any development plan is to be successful in this community, it must be inclusive of Ogidi women. 
I will conclude my speech by touching on gratitude. Gratitude, thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation is a feeling or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions and has been considered extensively by philosophers.

The moral here is that despite the bracing challenges of life, we must always be grateful for the blessing we have received. In case, there is anybody who may ask me why gratitude is imperative on a day like this, here is the reason: As a community, Ogidi has survived numerous uncertainties, dislocations and even wars over the centuries. There is also a catalogue of shared blessings that the people can remember as a collective, even if some may not, at a particular juncture, feel them.

But because I come from a village though not as big as Ogidi, I am also aware that on a day like this when you see successful men and women who have come home fully loaded, if I may use that word, there are also people who cannot but acknowledge their lack. The beauty of it, however, is that if we explore the remarkable resources of our collective, there is no reason why any Ogidi son or daughter should be left behind in a celebration like this. Even at that, every family has something to be grateful for.

As I therefore end my presentation, I also want to extend my warm appreciation and gratitude to my brother, the President of the Ogidi Development Union, Mr Tunde Ipinmisho, on whose invitation I am here today and I say with pride that I feel like an honourary Ogidi son. I will always cherish today as I cherish the eminent sons and daughters of this town.

Your Royal Highnesses, Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we should always find a blessing in the moments that we enjoy and in the abundance that God has bestowed upon us as a community. So let’s celebrate the real essence of today with gratitude and appreciation to our God. To our spouses. To our parents. Even to our children as well as to friends and well-wishers. Because that is the spirit that defines communities that care. And one that should always be cherished by Ogidi people, home and abroad. 
I thank you for inviting me to share in the joy of your glorious day and for giving me your attention. May God bless Ogidi town and may He also bless all of us.

Text of the keynote speech at the 2013 Ogidi Day in Kogi State by Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman, Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers, on June 15, 2013

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