Six years before his death last Thursday, Nelson Mandela took a look at Nigeria and expressed sadness at the political, economic and social degeneration of the once touted giant of Africa.
He came up with a damning verdict. He blamed the leaders for abandoning the people. Mandiba, as he was popularly called by South Africans, accused Nigerian leaders of betraying their people in a candid interview with Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed in 2007.
In the interview conducted in his home, the former South African late hero blasted Nigerian leaders for lack of genuine interest in the success of their people. He lamented the poverty level in Nigeria and the bad education system.
Though he acknowledged Nigeria’s effort in the fight against apartheid, he accused Nigerian leaders of letting their people and Africa down.
Hear Mandela: “You know I am not very happy with Nigeria. I have made that very clear on many occasions. Yes, Nigeria stood by us more than any nation, but you let yourselves down, and Africa and the black race very badly. Your leaders have no respect for their people. They believe that their personal interests are the interests of the people. They take people’s resources and turn it into personal wealth. There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable. I cannot understand why Nigerians are not more angry than they are.
“What do young Nigerians think about your leaders and their country and Africa? Do you teach them history? Do you have lessons on how your past leaders stood by us and gave us large amounts of money? You know I hear from Angolans and Mozambicans and Zimbabweans how your people opened their hearts and their homes to them. I was in prison then, but we know how your leaders punished western companies who supported apartheid.
“What about the corruption and the crimes? Your elections are like wars. Now, we hear that you cannot be president in Nigeria unless you are Muslim or Christian. Some people tell me your country may break up. Please don’t let it happen.
“Let me tell you what I think you need to do. You should encourage leaders to emerge who will not confuse public office with sources of making personal wealth. Corrupt people do not make good leaders. Then you have to spend a lot of your resources for education.
“Educate children of the poor, so that they can get out of poverty. Poverty does not breed confidence. Only confident people can bring changes. Poor, uneducated people can also bring change, but it will be hijacked by the educated and the wealthy…give young Nigerians good education. Teach them the value of hard work and sacrifice, and discourage them from crimes which are destroying your image as a good people.”