By Kayode Ketefe
Today, April 4, 2013, precisely, marks the 45th anniversary of the brutal assassination of one of the greatest social reformers of modern times, Martin Luther King Jr. This illustrious African American was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, United States. He was a thorough-bred human rights activist, Christian minister, social reformer and a pioneer in the African-American Civil Rights dynamics of the 20thcentury.
His philosophy of non-violent struggles stood out palpably as a phenomenal virtue in contradistinction to the then prevailing culture of hate, intolerance and racial bigotry.
He was the father of progressivism, and an ardent admirer of Mahatma Ghandi of India to whose school of non-violent resistance he belonged. Shortly after visiting India in 1959, his fledgling non-violent human rights dynamics became radically crystallized and he spoke of this pacifist orientation in the following terms “I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity”.
He was a great orator. A man singularly talented with uncanny abilities of leading a worthy cause that he profoundly complemented with his inimitable oratorical prowess, King was an embodiment of alluring virtues.
People would gather and listen to him and instantly become transported with the sheer powers of his diction. They would become enamored and inspired with his insightful rhetoric as he reeled out the immutable truths that penetrated all way to the soul.
You could not listen to him and remain the same. More importantly, he practised what he preached, unlike some god-forsaken, self-appointed hypocritical leaders that gallivant about in our society today.
Such was his talents that his “quotable quotes” ran into thousands of witty sayings, aphorisms, etc, all of which thematically revolved around his life-long preoccupation with egalitarianism and social justice.
It was through the foundations of egalitarian agitations and sacrifices made by human rights pioneers like King that ultimately procured a new America where it is now possible for somebody like Barack Hussein Obama to become the President.
Longevity of life has very little to do with accomplishments. Jesus Christ spent only 33 years and he accomplished his divine mission, becoming the greatest man that ever lived. Martin Luther King Jr spent only 39 years and he changed the concept of social relations in United States forever. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Conversely, there are still many Nigerians today who in their late 6os are still busy stealing public funds maddeningly and without compunction. What is the meaning of a long life spent exclusively on narrow pursuit of individualistic interests?
Every person who is so selfless as not to shirk from sacrifices bringing personal misfortunes in altruistic pursuit of self-assigned task of making the society better than they met it are in the same league with Martin Luther King.
We have had and still having such prophets in Africa, though they are regrettably in short supply. We have had people like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Ken Saro-Wiwa etc. Incidentally, the last mentioned hero, Saro-Wiwa, had a life with a lot of parallelisms with King.
They both led fearless lives devoted to the uplift of a particular section of downtrodden people – the Niger-Delta people and the American Blacks respectively; they both were great orators outspoken and irrepressible; they were both feared by the establishment; they were both inexorably committed to non-violent struggles; they were both prize winners –King won Nobel peace Prize while Saro-Wiwa won the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize. But alas, they were also both murdered in their prime at young age!
Nigerian society today would do well to imbibe the philosophy of King. It is tragic that our present society is one which has proven incapable of coping even with the slight tension. This is an era when our tolerance threshold has plummeted and every social friction or disenchantment blossoms into major crisis and pogroms, culminating into internecine terrorism and mindless carnage. We need the King’s spirit for a true national rebirth.