(Being Speech by Prof. Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy – ISGPP, as Chairman, Fountain of Hope Society 9NG, Cathedral Church of Our Saviour, Ijebu Ode 34th Eucharistic Anniversary Celebration held on Sunday, 18th of August, 2019)
Friendship is one of those critical elements of a good life that keeps one going through all the existential challenges that life can throw our way. We often say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” This is one of our best idiomatic expressions of the significance of friends in pushing us through the difficulties of life. Friendship affects us all in different and differing manners. Our worldviews, attitudes, opinions and trajectories in life speaks to some degree of influence from those whom we hold dears as friends. Thus, if a friend in need is a friend indeed, it is equally axiomatic that a friend who is an achiever is a friend to be honored. A true definition of friendship is to know what one’s friends hold very dear and to use that as a point of celebrating such a friend. There are some friends that place a demand on you, and to refuse those demands would be to redefine the friendship. Thus, when a friend and a big brother, Engr. Korede Segun, President, Fountain of Hope Society 9NG, Cathedral Church of Our Saviour, Ijebu Ode, asked me to chair the FOH 9NG 2019 event, the decision was already taken out of my hand by the necessity and the joys of friendship. I was not about to take any risk that will jeopardize such a beautiful relationship.
And this chairmanship is not a hard but a worthy task for me. And this, for two reasons: The group celebrated is appropriately named. When a group is named “FOUNTAIN OF HOPE,” it sends those who hear the name multiple signals. There is first the imagery of a fountain that gushes forth refreshing water for patched souls. And when it becomes not just any fountain, but the fountain of hope, we immediately touch on the most fundamental existential element that sustains human life in the midst of even the most adverse provocations and predicaments. When we lose hope, we lose the very rationale for our continuing existence as human beings. Little wonder then that this brand has remained a worthy one. A valuable brand is known by the constant pronunciation of its essence by its proud members. Anywhere you meet Engr. Korede and Co., their conversation cannot escape the intrusion of the essence of this brand.
But there is a second reason why speaking at this occasion is a worthy responsibility. This is to pass the message to the members of the Fountain of Hope that this brand whose emblem they carried around speaks fundamentally to the time we live in. The Fountain of Hope is not just a church group, but a national metaphor. It is a fundamental metaphor that speaks directly to the signs of the time in Nigeria. Permit me to borrow a statement of wisdom from the English-born American philosopher and political theorist, Thomas Paine. In a series of pamphlets published between 1776 and 1783, and titled The American Crisis, Thomas Paine penned some unique arguments that would bolster the courage of those fighting for American independence. The first volume of the pamphlet commenced with a revolutionary statement: “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
When Thomas Paine wrote these timeless words, the United States was definitely undergoing turbulent times that would determine her fate for good or for ill. America was on the brink of a revolutionary uprising, and there was a colossal hesitation on the part of the American colonists. This is where Paine stepped in as a fountain of hope that eventually galvanized the soldiers into what delivered the American independence. There is no doubt that Nigeria is currently in her own trying period, and no one would further doubt that these are equally times that have tried our souls and our faiths in diverse provocative manners. Nigeria since independence has arrived at several historical junctures that have shaken the very foundation of her national destiny. The civil war was one such fundamental juncture. For four years, from 1967 to 1970, the very existence of this state with immense potentialities, stood at the precipice of dissolution. Whether or not we have recovered from that terrible strife is a question we need to keep reexamining, especially in the lights of recent circumstances and incidences that call to question our very unity as a people, as Nigerians.
At the moment, Nigeria is troubled at every side—from the Boko Haram insurgents to the worries about Fulanization. And from rampant kidnapping to widespread criminality, the Nigerian state has come under a massive siege to her nationhood. There is a serious despondency about the capacity of the political class and leadership to steer the leaking boat of state across a dangerous sea. Corruption has become the nominal identity of Nigerians everywhere across the globe. Good governance is something we cannot recognize because we have not experience it before.
Infrastructural development is so bad we just accept what we are given, however terrible it is. The very concept of “Nigeria” evokes deep contradiction. We are regarded as one of the most religious peoples in the world, but also as one of the most corrupt. Nigerians were rated as the happiest people in the world yet we are at the top of the misery index rating. This is why it is possible that some of our top citizens whom we consider to be most successful would end up in a suicidal plunge into the lagoon. And to make matters even worse, these are times that the church of God and the righteous have taken to minding their own businesses. These are critical times, yet we are gradually losing our identity as salts and lights of the world; the church itself is losing its crucial relevance as a beacon of righteousness. Indeed, there are those who will say that the church itself, as well as the other religious organizations, has become a tragic part of the Nigerian predicament. What with the daily news we hear about men and women of God doing things that are ungodly and unpatriotic?
What better times then to self-identify as a member of the Fountain of Hope? This is what makes this group a crucial end-time banner that stands very tall in flying the standard of God in a time of wickedness. This is what makes this brand an emblem of spiritual and patriotic responsibility. In the Scripture, the Bible talks about the Men of Issachar. And what distinguished these men? They understood the times, and what Israel ought to do. They were the fountain of hope for the ancient Israelites. For me, the Men of Issachar equals the Fountain of Hope. It is time for the members of the Fountain of Hope to heed the demands of their own brand and to stand as the beacon of hope. Unlike every other organization that we owe allegiance to, this group is not just a social group or a church organization. Its status represents a bit of both. Its profile speaks to individual character and collective responsibility that speaks to some larger frames of action. Fountain of Hope speaks both to our own existential challenges as members of the human society, as citizens of Nigeria who are buffeted in equal measure by the challenges of living in a tough place like this. But it also speaks to a responsibility that the name places on us as legacy bearers.
As members of this group, we bear a divine instruction to be fountains from which others around us can find succor and hope and comfort. We have a deep responsibility to write on the sand of time our collective successes in transforming the church and Nigeria as a group with a divine mission. We even have a generational task of passing the baton of good works and patriotic commitment to Nigeria to those coming behind. Because we carry hope, we become a reference point for those who have become hopeless as a result of the anxieties of life. We have become the haven that people run into when they cannot bear the challenges of life again. The Fountain of Hope translates a mission work for God and for humanity, at least those represented as Nigerians.
Permit me to end with the rousing words of the late American president, Woodrow Wilson:
You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.Woodrow Wilson
I believe this is what it means to be a member of the Fountain of Hope. I believe this is the missionary imperative that membership confers on you all. These are the objectives you willingly signed on for, as people of vision. I can only pray that you will not falter and you will not give up.