Nelson Mandela Day: A Nigerian Perspective

Published on: July 9, 2021 (Updated on: April 22, 2024)

Nelson Mandela Day 2021 from a Nigerian Perspective
Nelson Mandela Day 2021 from a Nigerian Perspective

Mandela died on the 5th of December 2013. Although it's been almost 8 years since Nelson Mandela passed away, he left a powerful legacy in activism. Nelson Mandela is celebrated on the 18th of July every year (his birthday). One of the most popular events in world history occurred in February 1990: Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of incarceration. He had been sent to prison for his activities against the apartheid system of governance in South Africa. As the world celebrates Nelson Mandela Day in 2021, this article examines his legacy from a Nigerian perspective.

Brief facts about Nelson Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela was Born on the 18th July 1918 in Mveco, South Africa. He spent a total of 27 years in prison because of his activism against apartheid, a system of blatant racial segregation that favoured white people in South Africa at the time. He was released from prison on the 11th of February 1990. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa on May 10, 1994. On 10 November 2009, in recognition of Mandela's values and his dedication to the service of humanity, the United Nations declared 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day.

Nelson Mandela as a symbol of hope and freedom

Nelson Mandela as a symbol of hope and freedom

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in February 1990, his name immediately became a household name synonymous with hope and freedom throughout Nigeria. Though social media platforms weren’t popular then, the event was captured by many newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, etc. Most notably, I can vividly recall that his ordeal was narrated by several contemporary Nigerian music artistes in songs at the time.

Nelson Mandela and June 12

Usually when June 12 is mentioned in Nigeria, what immediately comes to many people's minds is the June 12 election (12 June 1993). A notable event however occurred earlier in history on a similar day. On June 12, 1964, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for his activism against apartheid. During his trial, Mandela gave a famous speech where he was quoted as saying:

I am prepared to die

Nelson Mandela

While phrases like Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty, or give me death” have become a rhetoric in the mouths of many human rights activists, “I am prepared to die” radiates such a powerful force that, though it might reverberate in the hearts of kindred spirits, it is seldom articulated.

Other notable events that occured in June in Nigeria's history

15 June 1998Nigeria's former head of state, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was released from prison.
5 June 2021TB Joshua, founder of SCOAN who reportedly prophesied that Nigeria will never break up, died.

Nelson Mandela Day 2021 from a Nigerian Perspective

In the past few years, there has been a significant rise in activism all over the world. The Venezuelan presidential crisis and France yellow vests are a few examples to mention. The rise in activism across the world was taking its toll but somehow came to a brief halt as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. The virus instrumentally reduced the number of street protests through government policies and self-imposed curfews by many individuals who fear contracting the virus.

Current activism in Nigeria

On June 27, 2021, a significant event occurred. Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was rearrested. A few days later, the Department of State Security (DSS) in Nigeria raided the house of Chief Sunday ‘Igboho’, a prominent figure in the ‘Yoruba Nation’ movement.

Chief Sunday ‘Igboho’ had been planning to hold a rally in Lagos State in support of the ‘Yoruba Nation’ movement before his residence was raided by the DSS. The DSS later disclosed that firearms were recovered from his residence during the raid. Despite the circumstances, Chief Sunday 'Igboho' still has the support of many people in his town of residence and beyond. Many prominent Nigerians have actually condemned the mode by which the DSS carried out the raid on the residence of Chief Sunday 'Igboho'.

Though activists might not admit it, I have no doubt that Nelson Mandela has a powerful influence on activism in the minds of many. As Nelson Mandela Day is celebrated this year, his name would once again radiate hope to the oppressed and freedom to incarcerated freedom fighters all over the world.


Michael Akerele