The character of a nation comes not from the character of its leader, but from that of the citizens. A nation falls not because of governmental atrocity, but because of the citizens’ indifference to that atrocity.”Abhijit Naskar
Just as a mobile phone needs updates for an increase in efficiency, effectiveness and/or speed, we have come to a defining moment in which a ‘reboot’ is pertinent in the nation. This time, the energy and actions required for rebuilding nations must be inspired, operated and sustained by citizens. In nation-building, citizens are the founders, builders, makers, users and engineers of the nation. One citizen might appear insignificant, however, in the words of Ralph Emerson, “…all history resolves itself easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.” Indeed, history is but the biography of great men.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.Margaret Mead
Nation-building is not always about the majority at the onset. It is about the influence that comes from an enthusiastic, informed, collaborative, determined, obsessive and unstoppable minority. When the minority arise, the majority will adjust their world, adapt to the status quo and submit their resources willfully to the obviously superior movement, even if it is to the end that they may be counted amongst a people who pushed a worthy cause.
Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing stories of citizens who set the world on the journey of newness, freshness, effectiveness, efficiency and speed when the world needed an update, a reset, a reboot. They are citizens who “hit the reset button.” I call them “Model Citizens.” In this episode, I will begin with Rosa Parks.
Rosa Parks, also known as “The mother of the civil rights movement,” was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1913. She worked as a seamstress and, in 1943, joined the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
According to a Montgomery city ordinance in 1955, African-Americans, the coloured people, were required to sit at the back rows of public buses and also give up their seats to Caucasians if the seats at the front rows of the public buses got filled up. Parks was in the first row of the section for coloured people when a Caucasian driver demanded that she gives up her seat to a Caucasian man. Parks refused. Although her refusal was spontaneous, it was not merely brought on by her tired feet, as is the popular legend. In fact, history.com says that local civil rights leaders had been planning to challenge Montgomery’s racist bus laws for several months, and Parks had been privy to this discussion.
Parks was arrested. Learning of Parks’ arrest, the NAACP and other African-American activists called for a bus boycott by black citizens on Monday, 5th December 1955. Word spread through word-of-mouth and fliers, and the activists formed the Montgomery Improvement Association. The first day of the bus boycott was a huge success! At night, 26-year-old Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a large crowd gathered at a church saying, “The great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for rights.” Subsequently, King emerged as the leader of the bus boycott. He received numerous death threats from the opponents of integration. At a point, his home was bombed but he and his family escaped bodily harm.
The boycott went on for more than a year, and participants carpooled or walked miles to work or school in the absence of other means of transport. Since African-Americans originally constituted 70% of the Montgomery bus ridership, the municipal transit system suffered gravely during the boycott.
On Tuesday, 13th November 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Alabama State and Montgomery city bus segregation laws as being in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On Thursday, 20th December 1956, King declared, “The year-old protest against city buses is officially called off, and the Negro citizens of Montgomery are urged to return to the buses tomorrow morning on a non-segregated basis.” The boycott ended the following day. Of course, Rosa Parks was among the first to ride the newly desegregated buses. So, Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent civil rights movement won the first great victory. Indeed, there would be many more to come!
Through her courage and by her example, Rosa Parks (An African American) helped lay the foundation for a country that could begin to live up to its creed. Her life, and her brave actions, reminds each and every one of us of our personal responsibilities to stand up for what is right and the central truth – that our greatness as a nation derives from seemingly ordinary people doing extraordinary things.Barack Obama
Park’s name became permanently etched in American history because of her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus. That was not the first time Rosa Parks refused to acquiesce to the racist system – the Jim Crow system. The same bus driver who had her arrested had thrown her off a bus the year before for refusing to give up her seat. Her solitary act of “civil disobedience” became a call to action. Her arrest led a relatively unknown pastor, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to organize a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. That boycott lasted 381 days but eventually culminated in a landmark Supreme Court.
We can tell from history that there is sense to rebuilding a nation one citizen at a time. Perhaps, this is the only lasting strategy for true reform. No wonder Nelson Mandela said, “It is not the kings and princes that make history but the masses…” This evinces that quality investment in people is critical to rebuilding the continent. People are the most significant resource a nation needs for its rebuilding. However, citizens must acknowledge that without them, a national dream is merely wishful thinking. People are superior to programmes, policies, and constitutions! As important as programmes, policies and constitutions are, they don’t implement themselves. They require the correct allocation of skilled, motivated, moral, patriotic, and healthy human resources for results.
That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.Neil Armstrong, on the Sea of Tranquillity, 1969
Transformation for a nation begins with the effort of at least one citizen such as a producer of goods, a farmer, an educator, a researcher, a cleaner, a conductor, a transporter, an artisan, a counsellor, an advocate, a policy-maker, a singer, a writer, a nanny, a thinker, a reader, a student, etc. at any given time. Today, that citizen should be me. That citizen should be you. In the long run, it should become all of us. It can become all of us! When the dream of one citizen becomes a reality, the entire nation benefits. This fact cannot be overemphasized. It is the critical idea of this episode – that rebuilding your nation begins with you!
Perhaps, the recent #EndSARS protests have propelled the drive for active citizenship in Nigeria. However, there are many steps beyond the first step towards the national dream. Lead Resources is one innovation hub that provides the knowledge and skills required to develop people and organizations for sustainable national development. For more information, insights and development programmes, contact Lead Resources here.
References: history.com, Citizen Shift by Elkanah Oluyori.
Elkanah Oluyori is a Digital Economy and Innovation Evangelist who is passionate about nation-building and community organizing. He has authored several relevant publications to this effect. Currently, Elkanah is an Associate Solutions Architect at Lead Resources, where he delivers Management and Development Consultancy to citizens, enterprises and the government. Owing to his vast experience in working with local and international development agencies, he leads Strategic Partnership at Reformers of Africa and coordinates West African Network on Peacebuilding (WANEP), FCT.
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