I was yet to be born. In fact the woman that would later bore me was still a baby of just about two years and still held under the clutches of the Freudian psychoanalytic theory when our first generation of leaders the people whom have earned the sobriquet ‘Heroes- Past’ or Nationalists marched to be liberated from the strangle hold of the British colonial rule although politically, as this writer do not think we have been economically emancipated. Not in this ‘dollarized’ economy of ours at least.
It was the first of October 1960. Something great was about to happen. Our hungry nationalists couldn’t wait to take over the reins of power and call the shots themselves. One can only but imagine how much the cold of anxiety took over chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Sardauna and all other generation of Nigerians who with their ‘fela’ trousers, a tight fitted shirt, black boots that was in vogue at the time, well manicured Afro hair-cut and bespectacled eyes as they awaited the very moment when the union jack will be lowered and the Nigerian flag hoisted and also a subsequent handing over to Jaja Wachukwu, the speaker of the House the instruments of our Independence or what is also known as ‘Freedom Charter’ on that eventful day from Princess Alexandrian of Kent, the Queen’s representative at the independence Ceremony .
Mayhap, no description of the atmosphere and anxiety in the air on that day has been captured better than those of Chinua Achebe in his War Memoir, ‘There was A Country’ and he puts it thus: ‘The general feeling in the air as independence approached was extraordinary, like the building anticipation of the relief of torrential rains after a season of scorching hot harmattan winds and bush fires. We were all looking forward to feeling the joy that India- the great jewel of the British Empire-must have felt in 1948, the joy that Ghana must have felt years later in 1957. We had no doubt where we were going. We were going to inherit freedom that was all that mattered. The possibilities for us were endless at least so it seemed at that time. Nigeria was enveloped by a certain assurance of an unbridled destiny, of an overwhelming excitement about life’s promises, unburdened by any knowledge of providence’s intended destination….’
The day soon came and ended. Nigeria joined other states like Ghana, India inter alia to be enlisted as an independent nation and the green-white-green colors of our national flag flapped it wings into the air as the winds tossed it before all National establishments. Nigeria has been liberated from external forces. She was to a great extent free and by freedom I mean the freedom to design and fashion out her own destiny. But not just that, but also the freedom to make mistakes and also face the consequence of whatever choices or actions she elect to make. In no time, the British left us even though they somehow regulated our affairs from outside the shores of the country by ‘stooges’ they have merely implanted as they made sure; power was handed over to the weakest and least educated part of the country which played trifle or no role in the struggle for her independence.
A new child which was illegitimately born out of the wedlock of the Northern and Southern protectorates way back in 1914 by lord Frederick Lugard for some economic and administrative convenience, was made a legitimate one and left to be attended to or to be brought up in the best of ways its new guardians or parents deemed fit. These parents- the Sardauna, Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe among others. But what did they do? Did they take good care of this new Child? That was not to be.
In no time, they bungled it all. They somehow both by commission and omission forgot to realize that a greater responsibility has just called- they forgot that the new child handed over to them deserved all the care they could muster, they failed to clothe nor feed her well nor get her all the necessaries that every new child needed to grow well. After fighting for independence as a people, they soon built walls instead of bridges between themselves. In lieu of attending to this baby Nigeria, they were more interested in seeking and wielding onto power and left Baby Nigeria almost impoverished and unattended to and haven been brought up under such inhumane manner, she couldn’t help but to grow wild such that it has been difficult if not impossible to contain her excesses.
The negative impact of the madness that took centre stage between 1960-1966 has continued to be felt even to this day. The people, who collectively fought for our independence as a people without ethnic interests, soon found themselves plunging deep into the waters of tribal and partisan politics and forgot that the original dream was to put the Nation first before any other interests. They just gave lip service to the idea of a one and united Nigeria but never had it in their hearts. They didn’t think it, sleeps with it nor wake up with it in their hearts. These sad developments led to differing and opposing interests and so the polity was thrown into a furore while the British from afar celebrated, knowing that her bidding has been done. The bitter years that will follow was not the best not for this new toddler of a baby.
The so-called Nationalists (I am sorry to say) failed to form a team and work like a unit. They failed to realize that they held on to a common goal and a common task during the struggle days and on the contrary, sought for personal aggrandizement and relevance. Within six years of this tragical manipulation of Nigeria by the British, Nigeria was a cesspool of corruption and misrule. Public servants helped themselves freely to the nation’s wealth. Elections were blatantly rigged. The subsequent national census that took place to ascertain the Nation’s demography was outrageously state-managed as history books will tell us, judges and Magistrates were manipulated by the politicians in power and the latter themselves were pawn of foreign business interest. Call it is state of Lawlessness and you won’t be thought as needing a medical attention as that is the word that captured the politics and society of 1960-1966.
It led to the noble birth of Corruption which has today outgrown all of us and permeated every nook and cranny of our national life and which will still be here for a very long time (let’s not deceive ourselves). The social malaise of the 1960-1966 was the phrase ‘political corruption’. The structure of the country was such that there was an inbuilt power struggle among the ethnic groups and those who were in power wanted to retain same and the surest way became to appeal to tribal sentiments, leading to the birth of ethnic/tribal politics in Nigeria.
The original idea of one Nigeria was shoved and the political big guns then, Awolowo and Co. watered the ground for the seed of ethnic politics to thrive by creating political parties that reflected or captured regional interests. Awolowo formed the Action Group (AG) in the west, the Sardauna who was seen as a political messiah in the north came up with the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) which was a replica of the defunct CPC before the recent merger. The Zik of Africa was appalled by the whole nasty development. He had played a pivotal role in the struggle for independence and didn’t like the turn events were taking but couldn’t turn the tides all by himself. He had won the leadership of the western House of Assembly only to be sent scampering back to the east by Awolowo from ‘whence he came’ with his NCNC. Suffice it then to quote here to the reader Chinua Achebe’s reaction to this very disdainful act of Awolowo in his lean book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’. He said: ‘ Someday when we shall have outgrown tribal politics or when our children shall have done so, sober historians of the Nigerian Nation will see that event as the abortion of a pan-Nigeria vision which however ineptly, the NCNC sought to have and to hold. No matter how any one attempts to explain away that event, in retrospect, it was the death of a dream Nigeria in which a citizen could live and work in a place of his choice anywhere and pursue any legitimate goal open to his fellows; a Nigeria in which an easterner might aspire to be a premier in the West and a Northerner become the Mayor of Enugu. That dream Nigeria suffered a death-blow from Awolowo’s ‘successes’ in the Western House of Assembly in 1951. Perhaps it was an unrealistic dream at the best of times, but some educated men and women of my generation did dream it’ one cannot help but to agree with this erudite writer albeit that is if a sentiment does not come into confrontation with logic.
With a convolution of the foregoing, Nigeria set to decline as though the Economic theory of ‘Diminishing Returns or Diminishing Marginal Utility’ applied to it, the Military haven had enough of the people they called ‘bloody civilians’ taking their country for a ride, were forced to move to salvage the situation even though they lacked the skill of administration. And when the Five Majors led by the ‘no-nonsense’ Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeowgu struck on the 15th of January, 1966, the ethnic walls already built by the Nigerian Nationalists led people to conclude that the coup even though quite unsuccessful was a clearly thought out plan to exterminate Northern elements as the Sardauna and Many other top politicians of northern extraction were killed in the coup and the inability to explain Zik’s absence from the country at the time saw the Northern leaders soak the pains for some six months before leading the bloodiest coup that targeted Eastern Military officers. Some 200 of them were killed in what was seen as a reprisal or a revenge for what was mated out to the Northern big wigs. This was enough to create the ethnic divide that to this day, is the hallmark of our politics in this part of the world.
The military who had come in to salvage a situation, tasted the wine of power, saw how well it tasted and in no time got drunk and intoxicated with same and within the space of a Military dispensation that lasted some approximately 30 years, Nigeria was dead and buried. Everything that could happen to a nation happened to her. Nigeria became a laughing stock to some people in the outside world and to some, an object of sympathy.
In the 30 years of military madness in the name of leadership, the nation lost more than it had suffered earlier on between 1960-1966. An avoidable civil war broke out that almost wiped off her nationals in the hinterland which even till today, continues to rob on her. A war that showed or drove home the point that we didn’t fight for our Independence as India had done under Mahatma Karamchand Gandhi. It was instead handed over to us on a platter of gold and hence we didn’t know how well to consolidate on the gains and spent it lavishly just in the way a little boy who doesn’t know the beads of sweat it takes to earn a coin, spends wads of currency notes handed to him by his uncle. The Nationalists so-called failed to pay back in their own coin the good fortune which smiled at them for Independence to be handed to them without much strain and so the Independence they had won, turned out to be without content and like the head of the Biblical John the Baptist, this gift to Nigeria proved to be most unlucky.
Billions of Naira was siphoned outside the shores of this country by the military ‘gods’ without any confrontation forgetting that roads, bridges, flyovers, Hospitals, Schools, Power, Industries, Housing ( e.t.c) all needed to be built and developed. They were lacking in foresight and forgot to look into the future but merely saw within the government of their own days and not beyond that; eyeing so many visions that were more or less a ploy to deceive the overwhelmed masses.
When the Nation was almost over flooded with crude Oil in what media houses branded ‘Oil Boom’, a certain Head of State now an Elder States Man, threw logic to the birds of the air and made the most stupid political statements I ever heard Saying: ‘Nigeria has more than enough money that it can spend’ and therefore, increased the salary of public servants in what became the Udoji Commission which in no time, sent our Economy crawling on its knees. How much more visionless can leadership be?
And did it end there? No. we were just getting started. The Then military Heads set out to make the nation even richer than the Nation itself and even as I write, some of them still haven’t claimed all their loots stashed away in foreign accounts. Nigeria became a country where everything seems to be allowed. Crime, theft, Mother Corruption, Indiscipline, name them all and no one gives a hoot. The slogan of the nation became ‘The end justifies the Means’ even though it wasn’t crested in the coat of Arms. They all became the first and last articles of our faith and creed.
And then when the Child-Nigeria haven been prostituted from birth and grown up as a prostitute herself, she now became a thing that must be abandoned and you begin to wonder how that could ever be possible but for exceptional miracle which I cannot wager my last kobo that it can come from TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of all Nations. How much more neglective can parenting be? As an antidote, many thought and fingered Democracy to wipe this Nation of her tears but she has seen more to be checkmated, appealed or satisfied by Democracy. Be that as it may, it was given a trial.
And in 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo haven been led from the kiri-kiri maximum prison to the seat of power, sought to repeat history by seeking for a tenure elongation after 8years of what could pass as a bastardization of the spirit and letters of the tenets of Democracy. An administration that saw Corruption taken to a shopping-mall and asked to select the finest of aprons that suits her. Though few gains were made, but the Nation lost even more than it gained. Only clear eyed pundits will agree to this. And when his tenure elongation couldn’t draw our sympathy or sell his 3rd term bid to the masses, he single handedly selected who will succeed him and the ‘sick’ Umar Musa Yar’Adua found Favor in his eyes. He had shared the same prison cell with the latter’s father and somehow wanted to appease the soul of his friend and cell-mate Shehu Musa Yar’Adua post-humously. It was the worst election ever conducted in the history of a democratic state that even the president in whose favor it terminated, confessed to haven been brought to power through the most shady of democratic process.
Despite the benevolence and Magnanimity of Obasanjo in selecting the former Katsina state governor, Umar Musa Yar’Adua, as his successor, it is still rumored in some quarters as a well calculated and orchestrated attempt against the North to bring a southerner to power since somehow, Obasanjo knew Umar, Yar’Adua has limited years here and constitutionally, his vice- Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, would take over from where he will stop. Only Olusegun Obasanjo can but say the gods that revealed such to him, as flesh and blood couldn’t have been responsible for such. And when his bidding was done, providence smiled at the lucky ‘boy’ Goodluck Ebele Jonatan and to this day, the Man with the Fisherman’s hat, who at a time made us to understand he never had shoes, still stirs the ship of a tottering Nation that seems to have lost the grids of its destination but only waiting for the storm to sink it.
A concomitant of the cluelessness and parochial interest of our heroes-past so-called and those of the generation of leaders that succeeded them, no doubt has brought this Nation tottering and staggering like a drunk man after 53 years of directing and managing her own affairs with her own hands. It has finally midwifed the birth of terrorism which continues to kill our people every now and again, threatening the unity of this country and heating up the polity to its tentacles. One need not look too further before it becomes clear that the recent wave of terrorism poses to be a wind which might give birth to the whirlwind of a final disintegration of this country. It might end up dealing a coup de’ grace to everything this nation stands for. I just hope not; but the symptoms are just too glaring to gloss over.
53 years after independence, Nigeria and Nigerians are confused, miffed and obfuscated but her leaders are even worse off. True, they may have the economic power, but never has a polity been so hot for technocrats. There is a disconnect between the leaders and the led, dividends of governance are lacking. 53 years after independence I am highly disappointed that we are still building roads, we are still building schools, our youths are jobless, our security is jeopardized, employment is lacking, our homes are without light, our tertiary institutions under lock and key! Holy heavens! What was our sin or the sins of our ancestors to deserve all these?
As much as I do not want to play the blame game, I cannot help put the blame on our first generation of leaders. The people many now call- Heroes-past but a sentiment I do not share with them. We have merely harvested on their behalf, the seed of bad governance they sowed on our farms before they left for the dark world. They set a ball of corrupt and ‘unselfless’ leadership rolling of which the present generation of leaders quickly trapped but have failed to put the ball behind the goal post. After 53 years of independence, what we have had over the years is more blabbing, more motion but little or no movement. But in all of it, is there any hope of lightning at the end of this tunnel of ours? Is there any hope for this comatose of a nation? Are we going to be better off tomorrow?
To these questions I shall answer in the affirmative but not without certain conditions precedent. Nigeria is without exaggeration the one true giant of Africa. Her people constitute nearly one half of the black people of the continent and two in five of all black people in the world. The resources concentrated within her borders would be the envy of most countries in Europe and the Americans. Her landmass is huge, her climate largely benign. All this should have made her not only the most powerful country in the Black world, but among the dozen most powerful nations on the globe. Alas, it has not. Why?
Before a nation can become influential or powerful in the councils of others, she must first become mistress of her own destiny. To do this, Nigeria must do three things:
Achieve peace within her own borders, and this can only come from the kind of true unity that is observed in a good marriage; two separate people living and working together. It cannot come from the unity that is observed when an animal consumes its prey. From the first union comes production, from the second, only waste. We must as a people, embrace the former.
Evolve a leadership which is itself truly and enlightened. Free from the fetters of recent history, enlightened by a keen perception of the true aspirations of all her people. Only a leadership thus free, can ever lead a people.
Organize, really organize her own society. Without such organization a society is destined to seize up, choke and eventually die. A state where the services do not function, where the citizenry is not disciplined, where crime at every level runs unchecked, where leaders are not accountable to the led, and where justice is available to the highest bidder-such a state cannot inspire in others outside that confidence needed for leadership abroad.
All of these, we must take to and imbibe to stand us in the positive light. The task of a better Nigeria is both of the leader and the led and not the exclusive preserve of either. Nigeria will be better but definitely, not with our current attitude towards her. All of us at information Nigeria wish you all our readers, a wonderful and eventful 53 independence Anniversary. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The writer is a law student and a public affairs commentator. He is on twitter as @yung_silkly