Forward Never, Backward Ever

By Bola Bolawole

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Bad news this week was the collapse in Lagos of a skyscraper under construction and the casualties are still being counted. From the news unearthed so far, negligence of the authorities and the greed, impunity and audacity of the developer cannot be ruled out as the causes of the disaster. If the authorities approved only 15 floors, how come no one intervened to stop the developer when his aircraft began to overshoot the tarmac? Or when the structural engineers withdrew with damning condemnations of the integrity of the structure under construction, why was nothing done to prevent a disaster waiting to happen?  To wait until disaster struck to begin to lay the blame at the developer’s doorsteps does not wash.  The authorities that failed to enforce building approvals and swiftly apply sanctions when infringements were noticed should be made to carry the can. The reason why people are so lawless here is because they know that laws are seldom enforced. People can always bribe their way around rules and regulations or drop names that will immediately and permanently silence the enforcers. And when laws are not enforced, everyone becomes a law unto themselves. What has happened to all the structures that have dropped in recent times? How many culprits have been brought to book? What is the latest news on the Synagogue church whose building came down, taking many lives with it, some of them foreigners?

Good news was that the PDP successfully conducted its national convention. Not many had given the opposition party any chance of pulling through with its national convention; what with its embattled national chairman, Uche Secondus, bent on scuttling the convention! The court saved the day for PDP but the party must begin to consider what is the matter with its choice of national chairman. First it was Ali Modu Sheriff and now Secondus. Sheriff inflicted incalculable damage on the PDP before they finally succeeded in offloading him. Let us hope they are not up for an encore with Secondus. This is also hoping that they looked very well before appointing new national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu. Ayu was of the progressive bent – if he has not changed. Who can trust the Nigerian politician! But Ayu creditably discharged himself for the short span he was Senate president in those turbulent days of military rigmarole and unending transition to civil rule programme when the dictators kept shifting the goal post. But I digress!

My major focus today is the saying made popular by the first leader of independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah aka Osagyefo: “Forward ever, backward never!” This is a quote from a man who looked into the future and actualized his dream of a Ghana free of colonial rule. Nkrumah has been described as the “prodigious leader (and) revolutionary” who led Ghana’s fight to gain independence on March 6, 1957, three-and-half clear years ahead of Nigeria (October 1, 1960). “Forward ever, backward never” was the motto of Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party; to emphasis his non-aligned posture on the world’s international stage, he was quoted as saying “We face neither East nor West; we face forward”

The “Forward ever, backward never” quote is attributed also to Maurice Bishop, a Grenadian leader and revolutionary, but because Nkrumah’s use of the quote reportedly preceded Bishop’s, many give the credit to the late Ghanaian leader. There are other “Forward ever, backward never” quotes that approximate Nkrumah’s vision, like Melissa Ambrosini’s “Just like a tree is always either growing or dying, as long as you are constantly taking action and moving forward, you are growing and evolving. It’s when we are standing still or going backward that we are dying”

According to Lou Holtz, “Nothing on this earth is standing still. It’s either growing or it’s dying. No matter if it’s a tree or a human being” Dustin W. Stout put it more succinctly when he said: Grow or die! There is no such thing as stagnant. Being stagnant is a lie that keeps you comfortable with not growing. Nothing in nature that is alive stays stagnant. Plants, vegetables, fruits, trees — they are either growing or they’re dying. The same is true with you and me. When we stop growing, we start dying. I’m not talking about physically, I’m talking about the very fabric of our being — the internal stuff that’s much harder to quantify and monitor. When you stop growing intellectually, creatively, professionally, spiritually or in any other area of life, that area immediately begins to die. The scariest thing about this, though, is that nobody intends to stop growing in the important areas of their life. Nobody says to themselves: ‘I’m really tired of growing intellectually; so I’m going to stop learning things’. No, what’s more likely to happen is that you or I will subtly and unknowingly fall into the trap of: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I hate that phrase. Everything about it makes my blood boil — aside from the lousy grammar. If something is working — make it better. If your results are incredible, improve them. If your success rate is as high as it can be, find a way to do more of that. Growing is an intentional pursuit and it’s very easy to slack off or put on the back burner. It’s easy to get comfortable where you’re at and think you’ve got everything set. If you want to grow, you have to be intentional about it”

Please note the last statement: You have to be intentional about it! I dare to say that it is not only when you want to grow that you need to be intentional about it; those who seek to be stagnant and or decay and die can also be intentional about it. Can we say that those heaping the problems of insurgency, insecurity, bloodletting, nepotism, corruption and inefficiency on the country are not intentional about it? Is there any problem whacking the country today that some people have not intentionally brought upon the country to serve selfish, primordial, ethnic, and religious ends?

In 1999 the power brokers were intentional about it when they went into the past to bring an old soldier, Olusegun Obasanjo, and foisted him on Nigerians. What was supposed to be a democracy thus got stunted, even scuttled, right from birth. It was a forward never, backward ever move. Twenty-two years after, rather than get out of the woods, we have sunk deeper in the miry clay.

When we say leadership has been the bane of this country, what we mean is that we have not been forward-looking in our choice of leaders. Neither have we also been forward-looking in the choice of programmes, policies and projects. Therefore, our glory years remain in our past. Every succeeding government gets worse than its predecessor and the prognosis for the future is frightening.

As was the case in 1999, so also did we march into the past in 2015 to dust up Muhammadu Buhari and heave him into office! Once so ensconced, he used the power of incumbency to elongate his horrendous reign in 2019. Those warming up for 2023 are also men of the past. Forward never; backward ever!

The moment decades ago when federalism was put to the sword by the Gen. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi military regime was when the country’s development suffered arrest. Ever since, government after government have built on the sordid “unitary” foundation laid by Ironsi.

One area where the country has managed a measure of success is in sporting events. And this is one unifying factor that has managed to defy all odds. Football especially has been one sport that has united the people across party, social, ethnic and religious lines. But, even here, the “Forward never; backward ever” unwritten policy has reared its ugly head again. When I first read that the Super Eagles coach was contemplating bringing Odion Ighalo back to the fold while sacrificing younger players making waves in their clubs in Europe, I concluded it was a joke. Some people must be flying kites or testing the waters, I said.     

The rumour, however, has proven to be true as Ighalo was invited to camp at the expense of some younger elements who should be the fulcrum of the current Super Eagles! What is the excuse? That the super Eagles need experienced players like Ighalo and, I guess, Ahmed Musa (the captain). These are players past their prime. They are players plying their trade in fringe leagues and second- or third-tier clubs, whereas there are younger players doing very well in some of the best leagues and top-rated clubs in Europe. What do we call this if not “Forward never, backward ever”?

How will the younger generation acquire the needed experience if we keep sidelining them for old horses and tired legs? Isn’t it said that practice makes perfect? The veterans, having put in their best, deserve their rest. Forcing Ighalo out of his well-deserved international retirement is not the best approach to development, be it of sport or any other aspect of our national life. Let Ahmed Musa also yield place for the younger elements available to the national team. Every day new wonder kids are being discovered and many of them are pledging their loyalty to Nigeria. We should not discourage them with any obnoxious “Forward never, backward ever” policy. If it ruins our politics; it will also ruin our sports.

Bolawole is a respected columnist and former deputy editor in Chief of The Punch 

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