Questions From Qunu


When I was keenly watching the burial ceremony of Late first black South African President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela something caught my attention and in my wild imagination some questions cropped up. I noticed that Qunu the village where Mandela came from and was buried is till rural. I noticed that while the procession was also on-going, members of his family and guests from around the world were seated under a white canopy (a sort of tent) and I also noticed that there were no major buildings or edifice signifying government’s attention or presence in the village that produced the world’s most celebrated man ever. Not even Pope John Paul II got the kind of honour and attention Mandela received in death.

I started asking the following questions –does it mean that Mandela could not use his influence in office as President to attract huge government presence in terms of infrastructure to his village? Does it mean that throughout the 5-year period he spent as President of South Afriica, he didn’t travel home (Qunu)? Does it mean he does not visit home at all until his death? Is it that he does not relate with his kinsmen in Qunu before his death? So why is Qunu so local? Why did South African government fail to carry out a facelift in the village before Mandela was brought home for burial? My questions were numerous as my imagination grew wilder.

For once I was arrested by previous developments here back home in Nigeria which I tried to marry with the Mandela burial in his home town, Qunu. Before former President Olusegun Obasanjo retired to his country home in Ota where he also has his massive mechanized farm, he had built a Presidential library, helped in the establishment of a private university Bells which also has private primary and post primary schools. These edifices brought massive development in and around the environment as companies are springing up and small scale businesses are also increasing.

Those who go for the annual Shiloh Program of Living Faith Ministry (a.k.a Winners Chapel) under the leadership of Bishop David Oyedepo will testify that the axis has been transformed from a mere urban center to a city. That is what the abode of a former President could do to any environment. Today in Ota there is a full presence of virtually all the banks and telecom giants in the country, but in Qunu though watching from a television set I could not see a sign of MTN which is a South African telecomm outfit.

Today structures are spring up in Ota. From 5-star hotels and guest houses to estates own by top government functionaries and the look of things there will soon be replica of the kind of skyscrapers seen in New York in Ota. But in Qunu it was just a cold dusty atmosphere in a village with several foot-paths leading to hills and mountains that are visible. No 5-star hotels, no guest houses, no estates and no banks.

Unlike Ibrahim Babangida’s mansion which has over 1000 rooms and aptly called Minna Hilltop Mansion by the media, Mandela had no house in any of the several natural hills surrounding Qunu. His village (Qunu) remained a village before, during and after he left office as President. Talk about simplicity. In my wild imagination I thought of maverick politician Chief Arthur Nzeribe who has never been a governor or President yet built a mansion almost similar to Babangida’s in his Oguta country home. If Nzeribe was a President then, Babangida’s Hilltop Mansion would have a mere restaurant compared to what he would have built in the town harboring Nigeria’s most beautiful lake (Oguta Lake).

On the part of government, I know like millions of my countrymen that if Mandela was a Nigerian, Qunu would have had everything that qualifies a place to be called city overnight before his corpse arrived for burial. With our traditional fire-brigade approach, roads leading to his grave or burial site would have been constructed, hospital built behind the grave and university campus built adjacent the grave. Everything would have been rushed and put in place to transform Qunu from a rural settlement to a city. But that is not the same with South Africa. It is better to leave the village the way it has always been from creation to show the world the true and humble background of a man who taught the world what forgiveness is, a man who taught the world what peace meant and a man who taught the world that from a village like Qunu where he grew up without slippers or shoes until he became 16 he could rise to the highest seat and office in the land. That was historic and it was the real reason why Qunu was left untouched. Qunu was a lesson to the world.

It was here in our beloved country Nigeria, just some months or years ago that a church was refurbished in the village of President Goodluck Jonathan. In the midst of controversies that greeted the exercise, Nigerians were told that the man who gave the church which Mr. President attends whenever he travelled home did so just to show appreciation for government’s kind gesture in some of the contracts he has been carrying out. In other words, the government contractor was simply showing appreciation and not gratification. But what was key in his action is that he has a personal intention tom transform the clan of Mr. President because it no longer befits his office and personality for his village to have a church that looks like where Late Ajayi Crowder worships.

In the case of South Africans and Mandela we were reminded that Jesus was born in a manger. Perhaps after the burial of Mandela, Qunu can be transformed into a tourist center that will fetch funds for generation unborn into the Mandela lineage. When will they (Nigerian leaders) ever learn?

About Desmond Ekwueme

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