The Great Relay: Analogy for Nation-building Ikenna Ezealah 


Anyone who has been fortunate to participate in a relay race in track and field will, through personal experience, understand the operation of a great universal principle that applies to nation building.  

 A relay race is tense and exciting! What exacerbates this feeling is the understanding that your own speed is insufficient to bring victory to your team. Consequently, this sensation of being interdependent, of relying on the collective performance of your team to be successful, causes a certain intimacy and trust to develop between you! Since you need each other, a type of “humility” develops wherein each person understands the limits of their ability in that only the whole can bring victory…not one person. 

Here no one is dispensable! Even the slowest person is equally important because his precise reception and transfer of the baton can maintain or derail all the momentum generated by the faster runners!  

And so, we arrive at one of the crucial points on which the long-term success of a nation is based: the correct transfer of the baton between each leg of the generational relay.  

Why is this? Because the negligence caused by a failed handoff will open a gap that another will have to exert more energy to try and makeup. But even if the said person is a faster runner, despite his painstaking efforts, the gap might prove too much to close…as it often does. In relation to nation-building, the handoff is the educational (broadly speaking) and mentorship system that takes the knowledge and expertise developed by one generation and seamlessly transfers it to the next, so they continue and then further the activity.  


As there are four people in a relay, so are there four stages in life: childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. Each is part of the same team and should work together, not compete against each other. In childhood is the carefree life of the moment and the building of a foundation; in youth this foundation is mounted to dream and envision the future ahead, which is characterised by great longings; in adulthood the time of action and manifesting the envisioned future arrives; then in old age all the accumulated experiences should deepen the insights of the human spirit. Furthermore, these refined insights can provide guidance to the activity of adulthood, who would encourage the dreams and visions of youth, and further ennoble the foundation of childhood. Not without reason do the leaves of a mature tree return to the soil and nurture it by decomposing. In this way, the nutrients of the mature tree can be transferred to the soil to support the development of new trees (next generation).  

Where do we stand in Nigeria in relation to this Law of Nature?  

 The analogy stipulates that knowledge (insights of experiences, vocational mastery, and inner refinement) is a baton that man should not keep to himself. The bearers of real knowledge should be occupied with discovering ways to externalise and impersonalise it into systems and processes, to institutionalise it in a way that will transfer it like a baton for others to continue. Of course, not everything can be transferred, but what is possible should be ‘systemised’ and transferred, built-out and bestowed to others. In this process, mentorship and apprenticeship is indispensable for the continuation of knowledge-momentum between generations. When a person has reached a height, the question, “who will continue and elevate this work?” should consume him. He should search and find those who, swinging in the same activity, he can mentor and bestow all that the Creator has given him. He must pass it on, for each generation should form a link in the continuous chain of nation building. Should he fail to do this then, despite the tremendous height he may have reached during his life, in a few short years following his passing, all his life’s work will run to sand!  

In the relay race of Nature in the handoff between seasons, it is always seamless. Here there is always the harmonious complement between individual parts and a refreshing sense of order. 

The momentum generated is always transferred without interruptions! Observe the transfer from winter to spring in the vernal equinox. How the peak of the day gradually gets warmer, while most of the day and night remains cold. Then more of the day gets warmer, and it continues step by step until the mornings are warmer, then finally the night is consumed in the warmth as the full strength of Spring breaks through. Such is the Will of the Creator in Nature, and such is His Will in the governance of human activity with regard to nation building.  

 Even Jesus exemplified this. Despite His power, He knew everything would fizzle after his death…unless he transferred part of his power to his disciples to continue the great work of enlightenment (in so far as the Divine Laws permit the higher species of Divinity to transfer power to the lower spiritual). 

Follow his life and you will observe that, close to his passing, he mentored more closely and spoke differently to his disciples. He cautioned them, motivated them, and prepared them for what would come. 

Then after his death, he even sent the spiritual tongue of flame during pentecost to help them. Do you see? He was fulfilling the law by seamlessly transferring power to his disciples (teammates) in the relay race of the great work of enlightenment. 

If the Son of God fulfilled this observable law and subjected himself to it in the process of a spiritual up-building, then for human beings it must be considered an indispensable principle in the process of nation building.  

 It is here we must admit failure. For our history is filled with a disruptive starting and stopping, coups, conflicts, power grabs, manipulation, graft, corruption, embezzlement etc.

The person who has gained knowledge and access wants to hoard it for his own benefit. He clings to power and does not want anyone to “overtake him”, so instead of building bridges to the future he either burns them or leaves them in disrepair. His personal vanity gives rise to the fear of being dispensable and overtaken should another rise. 

Next, this fear mixes with his lust for prominence, thereby forming a dangerous concoction that hardens his ego and, in the final analysis, causes him to keep everything to himself and oppose anyone with real ability. 

Here vanity, fear, and lust for power aggravates ego and makes a person hostile to serving his neighbour and opening doors for him.  

In short, his selfishness does not allow the welfare of others to be considered. Therefore, the only thing that flourishes in such an environment is the crudest type of competition. In this way, instead of one generation serving another, one generation tries to suppress and outdo the other. From this chaos arises the constant recycling of ‘leaders’ from one decade to the next, thus showing there is little desire to share this baton, but keep it all to oneself. Furthermore, even in instances when opportunity is gained and shared, most just transfer it to their kinsman, family relations, religious group, or tribal affiliates…ignoring all metrics of genuine merit, so it “stays in their circle”. But even this is selfishness, because he sees his inner circle as vault in which he deposits favours for the safekeeping of his own later benefit, to be recalled when needed! 

Nigeria, what type of nation building is possible in such an environment?  

 We should return to the basics and encourage indigenous creation, and a system based solely on merit and worthiness. How much of what we hail as progress today is simply borrowed from overseas? 

If we go further into this analogy, in order to move forward we should ensure we have the baton from the previous runner in our hands. That is: the real knowledge (not distortions or errors) our ancestors 

accumulated and expressed in different ways should not be discarded, but absorbed and ennobled!  

 Today we are the runner without a baton who is just running! He looks like he is making progress, but his hands are empty, for in his haste to “advance” he threw his indigenous baton in the grass and continued sprinting. Unfortunately for him, the only logical end is that he must retrieve that baton in order really to continue in the race. 

Basically, the present generation must not do away with what came before them, no matter how primitive it looks. 

We must seek within the knowledge of our forefathers what is beneficial and thus what we can improve and ennoble. In this way, the knowledge-momentum generated by the previous relay runners will be successfully transferred to us who, in the continual up-building, will carry it into the future.  

Ezealah, is based in South Carolina, United States of America