I read a story of remarkable courage on the BBC website the other day. It was the story of Keisha Thomas, a black teenage girl, who saved the life of a white man from a mob that was trying to lynch him on the assumption that he was a KKK member. For those of you who do not know, the Ku Klux Klan members are white folks who believe that all blacks are inferior to them and have been responsible for the torture and murder of many blacks. For Keisha, a black girl, to have saved this man, who most people think deserved whatever he got, is truly an act of courage and forgiveness.
As I thought about Keisha Thomas, I wondered why no one made any effort to save those unfortunate four undergraduates we now refer to as ‘Aluu4’. It’s been over a year since their barbaric death. I remember how shocked we were (and still are) by their gruesome death, but perhaps what shocked us even more was the indifference of the crowd that looked on while they suffered.
I haven’t watched the video and do not intend to, but from all the stories I have read, the crowd that watched the gruesome killing were far more in number than the actual persons who committed the act. I don’t think everyone in that crowd liked what they saw. I believe some of them flinched when they heard the frantic pleadings and groans of pain from those poor young men. I believe some of them would have loved to end the horrible drama playing out in front of them. After all some of them had children as old as those four boys, or brothers or friends. Yet they did nothing.
Why were they so helpless? Why did mothers, fathers and other young people just look on? Well, based on some of the eyewitness accounts I have read, the ‘good’ people in the crowd were made helpless by fear. They feared they would be seen as accomplices if they dared to help, and thus suffer the same fate. Secondly they feared they were not strong enough to challenge the men carrying out the torture.
And guess what friends? The fear of consequences and inadequacy, which paralyzed the Aluu crowd, is in all of us. It is because of these fears that many of us find it difficult to confront bad situations no matter how sad and angry we may feel about them.
But can I just say that nothing great has ever been accomplished without fear? It was Nelson Mandela who said “…courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
I have no doubt he was speaking from experience. He knew too well the consequences that came with confronting the Apartheid government of South Africa, he also knew how limited he was in confronting injustice, after all he was not a parliamentarian or a lawyer. But somehow he found strength to confront injustice despite his well-founded fears. Today South Africans are so much better for it because the likes of Nelson Mandela refused to let their fears hold them back.
Another fear which often cripples people is the fear of doing good deeds alone. It is encouraging when people support us and appreciate us for sacrificing our time, resources and even life for a good cause. But oftentimes that is not the case. The very people we expect to understand are usually the ones who discourage us and belittle us and our dreams. All great heroes and heroines in our history books experienced that. But what made them famous is their refusal to let others hold them back.
The fear of waiting is the last fear we will look at. Most people hate waiting, especially Nigerians. One of the reasons why we go late to occasions is because we don’t like to wait. I know because I am guilty! But I have come to realise that nothing good ever comes easy or fast. Most victories we know of did not happen overnight. The Civil Rights campaign led by Martin Luther King Jnr did not happen in a day neither did the end of Apartheid occur in a year.
As Nigerians we have dreams for our country. It is sad that fifty three years after independence and with all the great resources we have, we are still behind many countries. Talking about our problems will not solve it; the newspapers have been doing that for ages. Neither will prayers alone. So why are we not doing enough? Why do we say things like “it won’t work? It has never been done before?” Why do we give up so easily?
I believe it is because we let our fears hold us back. For a religious nation like ours, isn’t it ironic that many of us fail to depend on God to help us confront bad situations? Or do we only call upon God and demonstrate faith in Him when it comes to personal blessings?
The Bible and Holy Quran are full of stories of ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things for their communities because they trusted in God. These people replaced their fears with faith in God. I think of the story of David who was an ordinary shepherd who had to face Goliath the giant. He was just a youth who was not even a soldier, whereas Goliath had been fighting for ages. No one believed in him, not even his brothers. What about his weapon of choice? It was just an ordinary sling or catapult whereas his opponent had a spear that was longer than David! Despite his inadequacies, and other fears, David defeated Goliath because he trusted in God.
Perhaps you are thinking this is irrelevant to Nigeria or Africa. This next example shows that with courage and persistence, we can do what has never been done before. In Botswana, four sisters aged between 68 years to 80 years, finally won the rights to inherit their deceased father’s property after a five-year long court battle. In a conservative and patriarchal society where women rights are unknown, according to the BBC correspondent, these sisters did something that “no-one thought was possible – they took on tradition and won.” What made these women hold on regardless of the fears they faced? One of them, Ms Mmusi said it was “resilience and courage.”
That, my dear friends is what is needed to confront and succeed in any battle whether it is personal or for a greater good. You will face all manner of fears, but if you will only hold on with resilience and courage and a trust in God, you will triumph over your fears and see your dreams achieved.
Some months ago I read about the tragic accident that occurred on Lagos-Benin expressway involving a fuel tanker and a mass transit bus. Over fifty people were burnt to death: men, women and children. Like everyone I was saddened but I decided it was time to do something about the frequency of such accidents. But I was afraid. I didn’t feel adequate or qualified to do the job. Here I was, a stay-at-home mum, living in a foreign country and not related to any politician. I certainly didn’t feel ‘important’ enough. What could I possibly do? How effective would my so-called online campaign be? Even my family members discouraged me telling me not to waste my time, that no body would listen.
But because I trusted God, I persisted, even when my emails to many influential people were never acknowledged. I persisted even when the DG of the Federal road Safety Corps didn’t reply. I was tempted to give up when people would say “didn’t we tell you?” Finally the DG of the FRSC has started replying my emails and seems keen to listen to suggestions. In due time, our roads will become safer.
I do not write this story to boast. Far from it! But to encourage all of us that we can make a difference no matter how ordinary and powerless we are. You don’t have to be old enough, rich enough, smart enough or ‘connected’ enough. Don’t let your fears hold you back from doing the right thing. If you are really determined and persistent enough, with the help of God, you can achieve extraordinary feats.
I believe each of us was born into this generation and country for a reason. Our purpose in life should not only be to make money and live comfortable lives. We should aim to be agents of change and leave our footprints in the sands of time.
To do that , each of us will have to make a choice: will you rather be like the fearful Aluu crowd or will you be like Keisha Thomas, the Botswana sisters and others who refused to let their fears hold them back?
‘Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.’ – John Wayne.
Photo Credit: dreamstime.com
Theresa Omoronyia is a trained business analyst and has degrees in Management Science and Computer Science. She lives in Glasgow, UK with her husband and son. Theresa enjoys being with people and her passion is to help those who are hurting. Please visit her blog for inspiration and motivation at http://thesisterskeeper.blogspot.co.uk