#50DaysCountDownTo2015 – Day 24. Written by @Oluwanonso_Esq

It matters not how strait the gate,How charged with punishments the scroll,I am the master of my fate:I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903)

Our African society is one bedevilled with a multiplicity of customs, traditions and beliefs. The focal point of this essay deals with the later class: beliefs. These are borne out of a matrimony between customs and traditions on the one hand; and the individual mind-set on the other hand. And no, this is not a philosophical attempt at ethnic dialectics. It is more like a perfunctory attempt to redeem lost hopes and falling dreams.

The above quotation by British Poet William Ernest Henley simply reinforces the medieval philosophy that each man is the master of his own destiny. Of course, extraneous factors play a not-too-subtle role in the determination of ones’ fortunes in life. But the actions and thoughts of a man, which are solely within his exclusive jurisdiction to control, are the major determinants of success in life.

Let us consider a pragmatic approach to the above thesis. A 27 Year old girl, who has written the Unified Tertiary Matriculations Examinations, popularly known as JAMB no less than 7 times with perpetual failure and rejection by the school of her choice finally gives up based on the belief that it is not her destiny to further her education. Or the 37 Year old graduate who, upon graduation and completion of his compulsory NYSC programme, finds it difficult to get a good job related to his course of study, and resigns to do menial jobs such as that of a bus conductor. Or a married woman who after vigorous trials still finds it impossible to get pregnant. Any typical Nigerian who finds himself in any of these instances would be quick to blame his woes on either the operations of witches and wizards, or the unseen hand of God working in his life.

This raises a barrage of pertinent questions: Is our life predetermined? Are we simply acting out roles already written on a script? Or do we, to a large extent, have some degree of control over our destiny and fortunes?

The Nigerian in me, with my insatiable love for Yoruba movies inclines towards the former. The Nigerian society teaches us to lay blame for our failures on the activities of witches and wizards, and also to give apposite thanks to God and the angels for our successes. All ethnic groups existing in this country believe in the existence and potency of supernatural forces. This rears a presumption of a corresponding belief in predetermination. That our actions and the subsequent results are controlled by peripheral forces. This singular belief in the influence of mystical forces is one which has shaped the prayer-points of many churches and mosques in the country. A great deal of time and energy is spent battling such supernatural forces which may have deemed it necessary to tamper with the destinies of Nigerians.

It is not uncommon for a typical Nigerian to first seek a supernatural cause and solution to his problems before resorting to the wisdom of rationality, science and technology. This is probably why native doctors, Alfas and prophets are smiling to the bank at the expense of our gullibility. This tendency was manifested when a salt-water bath solution was recommended as a cure for the deadly Ebola Virus disease.

If supernatural forces are indeed responsible for the destiny of each man, then one cannot but begin to find faults with this logic. God, in his infinite mercy cannot have sent us to Earth to face the challenges which we encounter, especially when He knows that we have not the capability to overcome. Indeed, the wisdom of God is foolishness to man, but there exists a pane of rationality in such wisdom. Challenges are meant to shape and mould us. Hence, we can safely propose that such challenges may have been predestined for us by the deities. However, it would amount to an illogical fallacy of the highest order for one who fails to overcome such challenge to claim that he was destined to fail in that particular area.

The rationale behind failure is the inability to actualize one’s freewill to the fullest extent. We have a freedom of choice, action, thoughts and conscience which we can effectively utilise in overawing what ill fortunes that may have been predestined for us. The moment one recognises his power of freewill, he is on track to overcoming his challenges.

Applying this logic to everyday scenarios, the candidate who has been constantly JAM-med by JAMB, upon realising the actual reason why she couldn’t pass the examination for such number of years- be it that she was unable to work within the time constraints of the exam, or that she lacks the capacity to understand the questions, or she is simply too lazy to pass the examination- is on her way to self-realisation. The mere act of accepting that our ill-fortunes were predestined by supernatural fortunes does not in any manner solve the situation at hand. Same goes for the woman who has failed to get pregnant for a long while. The sooner she accepts that there is a logical reason for her ailment, the closer she is to her breakthrough.

The onus is therefore upon us to stop blaming fate for our failures, and gird up to the task of setting our thoughts and actions towards overcoming such challenges.

It is not by spectacular achievements that man can be transformed, but by will.

Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright summed it up when he intoned that’ “It is not by spectacular achievements that man can be transformed, but by will.”


On a final note, let us not forget the dictum of the Great Oliver Wendell Holmes when he averred that “Every calling is great when greatly pursued.”

I am @Oluwanonso_Esq on Twitter.

For inquiries, send mails to or tweet at @elsieisy

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