The Timeless Lessons of Unity: A Reflection for Modern-Day Nigeria

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In 1958, a group photograph was taken in Harlem, USA, capturing a diverse assembly of individuals in front of a brownstone building. In 1996, a poignant recreation of the same photograph was attempted. Many of the original individuals had passed away, leaving vacant spaces where they once stood. These images, juxtaposed, serve as a powerful reminder of the transience of life and the enduring significance of unity. The moral lessons derived from these photos resonate profoundly, not just in the context of mid-20th century Harlem but also in the vibrant and restless landscape of modern-day Nigeria.

Life's Impermanence and the Call for Purpose

The first lesson we draw from these images is the impermanence of life. The faces in the 1958 photograph, full of vitality and promise, serve as a stark contrast to the empty spaces in the 1996 recreation. This visual reminder underscores the reality that our time on earth is finite. For young Nigerians, often caught in the whirlwind of ambition and daily struggles, it is crucial to remember that life can be fleeting. The call to live purposefully and meaningfully should be louder than the clamor for material success.

Nigeria, with its youthful population, stands at a crossroads. The energy and creativity of its young people are its greatest assets. Yet, this demographic dividend can only be harnessed if there is a collective understanding that our current positions and possessions are temporary. This awareness should inspire a sense of urgency to make meaningful contributions to society, to build legacies that outlast our mortal existence.

The Ephemeral Nature of Positions

Another salient lesson is the transient nature of the positions we hold. Just as the individuals in the photograph occupied certain spaces, we too occupy various roles in our families, workplaces, and communities. These roles are not permanent. Understanding this can foster humility and a sense of responsibility.

In Nigeria, where political and economic power can often lead to a sense of entitlement, this lesson is particularly relevant. Leaders and influencers should recognize that their tenure is temporary and that they will eventually be replaced. This recognition should drive them to serve with integrity, to uplift others, and to leave their positions better than they found them. The young and ambitious should be reminded that climbing the ladder of success is not just about reaching the top but also about how one impacts others on the way up.

Embracing Love and Rejecting Greed

The third lesson speaks to the futility of hatred and greed. In the 'school of life', these negative emotions are detrimental to personal and collective growth. The individuals in the 1958 photograph were part of a community. Their togetherness, even if just for a moment captured in time, is a testament to the strength found in unity.

For modern-day Nigeria, a nation rich in diversity yet often divided along ethnic and religious lines, this lesson is profoundly important. The youth, who are the future leaders, must champion the cause of unity. They must reject the divisive tendencies of hatred and greed, understanding that these only serve to weaken the social fabric. Instead, fostering a spirit of love, mutual respect, and cooperation can lead to a more harmonious and prosperous society.

The Legacy We Leave Behind

Finally, the vacant spaces in the 1996 photograph remind us that in 50 years, many of us will have passed on, leaving behind our accumulated possessions. What will remain are the impacts we made on others and the contributions we left behind.

Young Nigerians must therefore focus on building a legacy of positive change. Whether through entrepreneurship, community service, or advocacy, there are myriad ways to make a lasting difference. The transient nature of life should motivate us to work together now, to create something enduring. Our collaborations, grounded in love and mutual respect, will be the lasting monuments to our time on earth.


The story of the Harlem photographs is a timeless lesson in the value of life, the importance of our roles, and the power of unity. For Nigeria, a nation with a burgeoning youth population and immense potential, these lessons are particularly pertinent. As we navigate the challenges and opportunities of modern life, let us always remember the fleeting nature of our existence, the temporary nature of our positions, and the enduring power of love and unity. In doing so, we can create a legacy that will last long after we are gone, a testament to the strength and resilience of our togetherness.

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