The children of Israel should have entered the Promised Land less than a year after their epic deliverance from bondage in Egypt yet they catastrophically failed to do so.
Those who were supposed to lead the charge into Canaan lost heart at the prospect of having to contend for their inheritance by conquering the fortified cities. They were terrified at the idea of having to go to war against the giants in the land.
At the edge of the Promised Land, the multitudes revolted and began a protest movement aimed at going back to Egypt. The new nation was not ready for change.
Having wasted that window of opportunity, the Israelites were sentenced to wander in the wilderness for forty years until that generation of ex-slaves perished.
Within that period another generation would grow into maturity and later confront the challenge of Canaan, hoping to succeed where their parents had failed. Of the generation of former slaves that had been liberated from bondage, only Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve spies that had been sent to spy the land, were deemed worthy of entering.
These were the two who had issued a minority report affirming their readiness to invade Canaan when their compatriots balked at the idea. Of them, it was said that they had “a different spirit.” They understood the challenges of nation building and were ready to confront the issues that threatened to prevent access into their destiny.
We can take the biblical story of the children of Israel in the wilderness as an odyssey of nation building with several instructive lessons. Despite having been liberated from Egyptian bondage, the children of Israel still failed to seize the Promised Land.
On one level, this tells us that there is a difference between being delivered out of something and being delivered into something. There is a difference between deliverance and freedom. The Israelites had been delivered out of Egypt but they remained in bondage to fear and to a slave mindset. They were not ready to take responsibility for fully realizing their freedom.
The post-colonial experience of many African countries exemplifies this dynamic. After a glorious liberation from the colonial masters, the new elite soon proved incapable of leading their countries into their own as strong nation-states. It quickly became apparent that the skills required to lead liberation struggles were vastly different from the skills required to administer the new nation-states and manage their national economies.
On their part, the citizens expected a quick, miraculous transformation that would bring development but they were not mentally prepared to undertake the sacrificial labours required to conquer the gigantic odds against them and strengthen their nations. As a result, many of these countries stagnated, or fell into a wilderness cycle of coups and civil wars.
This is certainly true of our country Nigeria, which despite the discovery of vast quantities of lucrative crude oil is yet to actualize its full potential. Instead we have found ourselves lurching from one inept administration to the next, seemingly locked in a never-ending cycle of agitation, superficial progress and retardation.
The pro-democracy movement that won the struggle against military dictatorship and earned our democracy was unable to transit to a governing political movement, proving yet again that there is a difference between liberation and freedom.
As Nigeria transitioned into democratic rule, we celebrated our deliverance from martial music and the “fellow countrymen” monologue. However, the long years of military dictatorships and human rights violation had traumatized the psyche of the average Nigerian.
Military aggression had instituted violence as part of nationhood and made cynicism a national pastime. Our deliverance from military rule and oppression thus did not translate into our automatic arrival in the ‘Promised Land’ of democracy. Evidently, there is a difference between winning liberation by opposing a tyrannical political order and building a secure and prosperous nation by constructing an alternative social order.
This is the summary of our national conundrum. We have been delivered from the bondage of military dictatorship but have not marshaled the mental, moral and spiritual strength required to fulfill our national potential. Like the Israelite slaves of old, the current political elite has wasted the window of opportunity and like that generation with a slave mentality, they are unable to engage the principles of governance or take the giants standing against us.
Those whose parents failed must now lead us out of the morass of the political wilderness and spiritual confusion in which we are currently enmeshed. This new generation must shed the self-centered and slavish mentality of the old order and understand that the journey will be long and arduous.
2015 is not the Land of Promise. The question now is whether a new generation of Nigerians will be able to arise in the spirit and strength of Joshua and Caleb. Social media and our literary community are rife with “activists” who are experts on what is or isn’t right about our country.
To be sure, the social media activism has been instrumental in exerting pressure on government and focusing global media attention on the plight of the common Nigerian. The ongoing #BringBackOurGirls campaign is a good example. However we must go beyond armchair criticism and oratory, to develop the strategies, fortitude and discipline required to properly run the affairs of state and build institutions.
Our rhetoric should be to influence and persuade listeners to take action in the direction of freedom. We already have the diagnosis – we are in a remote wilderness.
A Joshua breed of leadership must now chart a path for a new Nigeria. New and visionary leadership must now emerge to take on the task of restoring our sense of national dignity and patriotism. The current crop of leadership represents a generation that is unable to go to war against the giants of ethnic rivalry, politics and religion that have consumed the land. We are once again on the edge of the Promised Land.
While the political elite jockeying for 2015 continue in their shortsighted attempt to impose ineffectual solutions on us that will still take us back to Egypt, those with vision have to strategically map out with clarity an agenda to build the new nation. Today’s clamor for national transformation must translate into a clear pathway for change. We must maneuver towards an endgame.
The Joshua people must understand that change will come only with a gradual shift in attitude and mentality of our citizenry coupled with a laser-beam focus on long-term goals, objectives and vision. A leader with a true Joshua paradigm must possess the ability to cast and anchor a vision whose dividends in the tangible sense might not even be enjoyed in his own lifetime. He must be able to rise above the self-centered desire for instant gratification by anchoring himself in a deep understanding of what it means to build enduring legacies and institutions. The good news is that Joshua was eventually able to lead a generation into their destiny. His example stands as a blueprint for the leaders of this generation to follow as they answer the call to take Nigeria into the Promised Land. The time for action is now.
Dr. Tony Rapu is senior pastor at This Present House ministry. Give him feedback via email at email@example.com. He invites you to follow him on twitter @drtonyrapu