Editor's PicksShared Strength: Leadership Lessons from the Red Wood Tree

Shared Strength: Leadership Lessons from the Red Wood Tree


Like many Nigerians, I read the embarrassing story of the 21st African Senior Athletics Championships held in Asaba, Delta State. I saw embarrassing pictures of Athletes sleeping on the floor at the airport in Lagos because they could not find connecting flights to Asaba for three days. I saw a picture of the collapsed overhead water tank in a newly constructed stadium. Yet, it took 4 billion naira to host the event.

I also read the defense of some people about why the things that happened were inevitable and their justification for the national embarrassment we all must have to live with. The point of my story is not why the situation happened or who is to be blamed because the incidence is only an effect of some serious cause. Even if everything went well something could have still gone wrong at another time. A one-time effectiveness is no effectiveness until effectiveness becomes institutionalized. Again the Asaba incident is a stack reminder of our attitude as a people.


The problems in every generation belong to the people living in that generation. Progressive societies understand this well. History has also shown that nations develop and prosper as a result of challenges and pressure.  Because pressures and challenges compel us to look inwards and find new solutions to problems that limit us.


We sadly live in a world where everybody wants everybody else to take responsibility for the challenges in society. There are more people motivated by their personal gain than the collective good. That’s the reason our government is not working and many are struggling. Because we magnify our personal interest above the greater good when elected or appointed into positions of trust in government, positions we should consider sacred, we focus on our personal benefits than the public interest. That’s why poverty, violence and poor infrastructure have lingered on.


Why does this happen?


On September 11, 2001, the United States was shaken by a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda. The attacks killed about 3000 people including the terrorist that hijacked the planes used for the attack. Over 6,000 people were injured and at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damaged. Additional people died of 9/11-related cancer and respiratory diseases in the months and years following the attacks.


The 9/11 attack is of course of the many terrorist acts reported around the world everyday even within the borders of Nigeria. We hear stories of churches and mosques being burnt down, of the killings of people in cold blood, many of them women and children, including pregnant women and babies.


The question then is why would anyone want to cause such damage and great loss? Well, the answer is because he believes it is right and just!


Our value system determines what we do and also what we do not do. We live our lives everyday in alignment with our perception of justice and truth. We feel hurt when we feel we didn’t live upto or defend our values. In moments of pressure and difficulties, at the times when we have to make hard choices, at the times when only hope and courage can survive, it is our values that guide us on what we must do.


Values, therefore, are at the very foundation of human progress or the lack of it. Terrorism, corruption, bribery, turgery and other vices that limit our freedom, peace and prosperity has persisted, not because they are insurmountable but because our values give them a safe ground to thrive. This must change. We must see ourselves in others and seek our common good over our personal interests. That is the definition of responsibility in a sustainable society.


The challenges we face as a people are real, they are serious, they are many and they will not go away on their own. They can only go away when we as a people, understand that leadership is a fundamental human responsibility, that we all have a role to play in changing the narrative of our society.


We must understand that our strength comes not from the number of oil wells found in our country but from the justness of our course, the tempering qualities of humility, truth, sincerity and restraint. We must understand that the path to our heritage is a strength and not a weakness. We must understand that we are not a collection of Hausas and Igbos and Efiks and Ijaws and Yorubas and Fulanis. We are one people, bound by one purpose and hope in the power of the black man to change the world.


We therefore must understand that nation-building is everybody’s responsibility. So building this nation must become our obsession irrespective of what we do. We must choose truth over falsehood and faith over fear. We must see beyond ethnic and cultural barriers and celebrate the beauty of our heritage. We must hold our hands and support one another. The weak among us, we must choose to see as our responsibility and the strong as partners.


This reminds me of the tree called the sequoia redwood. The sequire is the largest tree in the world. The one in California’s National Park is estimated to be over 3500 years. The interesting thing is that the redwood sequoia has very shallow roots. How then are they able to endure harsh conditions and survive for so long?


The survival of the redwood does not depend on the severity of the wind, it is serious, or the frigidity of the blizzards, they are very frigid nor is it about how devastating earthquakes can be. Their strength comes not from how deep their roots go into the soil, they don’t go very deep.


The success of the redwoods rests on their ability to support one another, to be there for one another, to be dependable. Their roots sometimes extend up to 100 feet from the trunk. The roots get intertwined with that of another redwood tree giving them a shared root system. This gives the redwood tree the strength to overcome hazardous circumstances. The trees rely on one another living and dead to thrive.


At this time in our nation, it is this very spirit that must inhabit each and everyone of us. The question is not whether we like Nigeria, but that we were born Nigerians. We share the same heritage and we have the ability to perfect it. I know there are some that may disagree, but such people have forgotten that anything is possible when a people of shared vision commit to a common goal.


So for those who disagree with me, know that posterity will judge us based on what we were able to build, not what we helped to destroy. We have within us what we need to change the narrative of our society. These are the same tools used by men through the ages. These are the same tools with which our founding fathers overcome the limitations of their day, ruled over their personal interest and gave us Nigeria trusting that in it will our potentials come to life, in it will we build a land of substance with equal opportunity for all. That vision is still possible.


Therefore, with the tools of mutual respect, hope, kindness, faith in one another, faith in the country we can change our nation and our world. These tools are old, these things are true, these things have been tested.


Let us now resolve to take the responsibility for genuine change, all of us. Let’s decide to see ourselves in others and choose our better history. To love one another and choose one another. Let us now here resolve to dissolve the ethnic and religious boundaries among us and choose to be humans first before anything else and realize that others are humans too.


Thank you.



Nobody chooses where and how he/she should be born. But when we come of age we can all make decisions about what our family and our home must be like. We, as a people can from this day cease this moment and make it ours.


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