The ancient city of Rome was the epicentre of the Roman Empire and its civilisation. It was a great centre of learning, arts and culture (including religion) as well as military might. At the head of the empire at Rome were great emperors referred to as Caesars, who conquered and reigned over vast territories that occupied much of the then known world. One well-known emperor was Julius Caesar, popularised by no less a person than the famous author Shakespeare, who lived many centuries after.
Apart from Shakespeare’s works and Roman roads that were built to last 2, 000 years, one long-standing testimony to the greatness of Rome is deducible from a well-known if overused saying – ‘Rome was not built in a day.’ Though usually used to sue for, or stress the value of, patience in any undertaking, endeavour or process requiring steady effort to produce a desired result, it is a statement that by inference holds up ancient Rome as a model of a great city that was built. It also connotes that great effort was put into the building process – great effort meaning long, hard, steady and consistent work, not crooked short-cut measures requiring little or no effort. With the benefit of hindsight from our own experience, we know with certainty that no roads built through fraudulent substandard (or ‘microwaved’) methods can endure a few years, let alone 2,000 long years.
A deep reflection about ancient Rome and the great effort put into building it into a great city will undoubtedly help to imbue the thinker with feelings and values that are critical to nation-building. Hard work, commitment, determination and staying power are some of the essential values that are noticeable in that effort. Other values such as selflessness, unity, patriotism and vision among others, can also be gleaned. Unsurprisingly, these are the same positive values we find at play in the development of great civilisations and empires that were before the Romans’ and all the empires that followed theirs.
On the other hand, what we find as apparent replacements for those positive values when we examine the empires and civilisations in their sunset years or collapse are the exact opposite. We see complacency, lackadaisical attitudes and atavistic tendencies that put self above nation. Disunity/division, self-indulgence, indiscipline, illusion of invincibility, pride, etc. usually abounded before the decline and demise of long-gone civilisations and empires.
It is really unfortunate in Nigeria that the same negative attitudes and values that brought down great civilisations and empires are the ones we have chosen to embrace at a stage when nation-building should be our number one agenda. It is ironic that negative attitudes and values that showed up only long after those great civilisations, empires and nations had been built and the people and their leaders had become complacent, are here with us when we are yet to seriously address ourselves to the task of nation-building.
While not making any attempt to build the nation, our compatriots in government continue to sue for patience as though our waiting will ever get rewarded. Nothing helps patience as knowing that concerted efforts are either being made or stepped up to ensure you get and achieve what you are being asked to wait for. But to expect that people will continue to exercise patience when they can clearly see that those in government have no intention of ever letting them have what they are being asked to be patient for is tantamount to the self-delusion of being able to fool all the people. Like the late reggae legend sang, ‘You can fool some people some time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.’
Suing for patience by reminding us that ‘Rome was not built in a day’ does not help the case political office holders make for our patience when it is evident that they not only lack the basic values and attitudes that built the ancient city of Rome, but they also lack the will to take any meaningful steps in that direction. ‘When there is a will, there is a way,’ the saying goes. It easily follows that ‘when there is no will, there definitely will not be a way.’ Rome was built, we believe, because a firm decision to build that city was taken one day. History has not bequeathed us any record of that day but we believe that starting one day, that ancient city began a journey to unprecedented development that made it the cynosure of all eyes and the reference point for the value of steady effort in any worthwhile task. That is the commitment we are still waiting to see in our political elite.
There is very little or nothing in the attitude or actions of the people in government to suggest that a new Nigeria is being built. On the contrary, everything on the ground suggests that past gains made by the nation’s founding fathers are being eroded and traditional Nigerian values of hard work, honesty, patience, brotherly love and tolerance are quickly being replaced by diabolical values such as the get-to-power-by-all-means attitude we see in our politics. This manifests in assassination of political rivals, ritual killings and electoral fraud including ballot snatching, results falsification, vote-buying and rigging. As a concomitant to the win-by-all-means attitude in politics which ensures that things are never done properly nor due process followed, we are seeing a rise in other vices – corruption, greed, tribalism, nepotism, cronyism, armed robbery, kidnapping, religious extremism, etc.
The height of the promotion of the unhelpful do-or-die attitude was when this negative value was reinforced by a former head of state that was once considered an elder statesman because he had also presided over Nigeria decades before. He had the unfortunate fate of being recorded while describing his political party’s bid to win the last general election in the country as a do-or-die affair. His statement and position was condemned then and will forever be condemned in Nigeria’s march into the future.
There is however one redeeming feature in that episode. The ex-president’s position is the attitude we ought to adopt in the epic battle to reclaim and salvage our Fatherland from those who seek to destroy it even before we have made any success of the effort to build Nigeria into a great nation. It is very obvious that winning this battle is a precondition for commencing any meaningful process of nation-building. Otherwise, those who seek to keep Nigeria in perpetual bondage to backwardness will continue to throw a spanner in the works. Our quest for deliverance from perpetual underdevelopment and march to a future of greatness ought to be a do-or-die affair. Like the Romans of old, we should approach nation-building like a do-or-die affair. History will not be kind to us if we adopt a carefree attitude and fail to act decisively now to save Nigeria from collapse.
We all have a responsibility to demand from one another including political office holders attitudes, values and efforts that are critical to nation-building, if we are ever going to build Nigeria like ancient Rome. So when next compatriots in government tell you that ‘Rome was not built in a day,’ remind them that it was eventually built, but you fear that Nigeria may never be built with the way they are carrying on.