President Goodluck Jonathan’s speech on the occasion of Nigeria’s centenary celebrations is conveniently arranged. It reads like a wayside refreshment designed to tame and temper the stupor of an inebriate.
Nigeria at 100 represents the Babel of the ancient world that foreshadows our current situation. Languages still divide us, we’re still distrustful of and perplexed by one another. Nigeria at 100 is like a football game in which millions of Nigerians as spectators in need of exercise are watching a handful of players in need of rest.
Have you ever spent the night in a wilderness? If so, you will have little trouble identifying with the complaints of Nigerians as Mr. Jonathan celebrates the centenary. The wilderness is a hostile place. By day the sun beats down mercilessly, and the temperature soars. Food is scarce, and water is virtually nonexistent in a wilderness. This is the graphic picture. This is the metaphor of Nigeria at centenary celebrations.
Mr. Jonathan’s speech is not an encouragement for Nigerians who are down in the pits. It is not a discouragement either over temptation from lustful and corruptive thoughts. Surely, it is not a diagnosis for the purpose of living for the mistreated and ignored Nigerians. Excerpts from his speech show Mr. Jonathan lives in the bubble.
“I have often expressed the conviction that our amalgamation was not a mistake,” Mr. Jonathan declares. “While our union may have been inspired by considerations external to our people; I have no doubt that we are destined by God Almighty God to live together as one big nation, united in diversity.” The mere idea of amalgamation means we are unequal and separate – Yorubas, Igbos, and Hausas – driven by the selfish interest of the amalgamators “inspired by considerations external to our people.” Amalgamation has been instrumental in producing the Civil War and other justifiable rebellions within the context of a disunited and disjointed diversity.
Mr. Jonathan said he considered himself “specially privileged to lead our country into its second century of existence… But what I feel most is not frustration, it is not disillusionment. What I feel is great pride and great hope for a country that is bound to overcome the transient pains of the moment and eventually take its rightful place among the greatest nations on earth.”
Mr. President, how could you feel frustration and disillusionment when you are not one of the 99.9% shoeless Nigerians (no pun intended)? Speaking of hope, well there is no medicine like hope. However, it is one thing to speak of hope when things look doubtful, when the future of Nigeria and Nigerians are uncertain, when circumstances are crowding them in and when Nigerians have been crushed to the floor. It is something else to speak of hope when there is no doubt about the present, when the future is certain. Hope in the midst of utter turmoil and butchery of our children cannot simply be starry-eyed optimism, it must be built upon bedrock reality.
“While the occasion of our centenary undoubtedly calls for celebration, it is also a moment to pause and reflect on our journey of the past one hundred years…” says Mr. Jonathan. It is sad but true that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. The centenary should be an occasion for a sobering warning and an opportunity to learn from the past, and not a time for celebrations!
“We are a nation of the future,” Mr. Jonathan proudly asserts, “not of the past and while we may have travelled for a century, we are not yet at our destination of greatness.” A nation of the future? Which future? Hopeless future? Poverty ravaging future? Corruption infested future? Future of wasted generation of youths? A nation of future of army of brigands? A nation without vision for the future? Which destination of greatness is Mr. Jonathan talking about? Mr. President no one except you and your followers can visualize the future you dream of! From all indications and the compelling body of evidence before Nigerians, we’re a nation of the past. The future is grim and dire and scary and, and, and…
For Mr. Jonathan, the only visible achievement of the country in the past one century is democracy, the new capital city of Abuja and the uniqueness of Nigeria. Hear him: “We are a unique country. We have been brought together in a union like no other by providence. Our nation evolved from three regions to thirty six states and a Federal Capital Territory.”
“We have travelled from the Parliamentary system of government. We have moved our capital from the coastal city of Lagos to Abuja … Today Abuja stands as a monument to our national aspiration for greater unity; it symbolises our dream of a modern nation unhinged from primordial cleavages as melting pot of our diversity.”
“If in our first century, we could build a new capital city, we can surely build a newer, stronger, more united and prosperous Nigeria in the next century that will be an authentic African success story.”
I have never seen or read of a group of people whose prosperity, strength, and unity were dictated by their ability to build a new capital city. Mr. Jonathan must be a “unique” President of “a unique nation.”
Quoting the great Madiba – Nelson Mandela – Mr. Jonathan said: “…in line with the thoughts of that great son of our continent, Nelson Mandela, let us not judge ourselves, and let not the world judge us by how many times we have stumbled, but by how strongly we have risen, every single time that we have faltered.” Mr. President, Mandela was not referring to the manufactured, man-made, and self-inflicted stumbles and falls we brought upon ourselves in Nigeria. How many times do we have to stumble and fall as 100-year old nation before we learn how to crawl, walk, and run? The falls have been many, the falls have been unnecessary; the falls have been shameful, laughable, and ludicrous. And every single time we stumbled, we fall deeper and deeper into the abyss.
A lot has been said and written as to the wisdom that informed the President’s decision to celebrate the centenary. This administration in line with past administrations have ruinous infatuations with meaningless and wasteful jamborees that have no economic value to the people. Again, this circus of foolishness like others have not survived the disillusionments and disappointments associated with such infatuations. It’s no surprise men of character and conscience deleted their names from the list of dishonorable honorees that includes the blood thirsty dictators Abacha and Babangida.
But by far, the brainless and despicable part of the politics of the centenary celebrations is the timing. The centenary was being celebrated when the sour smell from the offensive odors of fresh blood of innocent children from the killing fields of Yobe by Boko Haram had hardly cleared out of the air. And to demonstrate the insensitivity and “I don’t give a damn” attitude of Mr. Jonathan to the horror and nightmare that have befallen the victims’ parents, reference to the victims was tucked away in the 37th paragraph of his 4-page 43-paragraph speech.
In a single climatic day, our civilization once again was assaulted and threatened. Take a look at the killing spree of the Haramists at the very month Mr. Jonathan was the chief host of a barren centenary. This past Saturday, back-to-back car bombs struck a market in Maiduguri at least 51 people were killed. On Feb 16, hundreds invaded Izge, a village on Nigeria’s eastern border, and at least 90 people died. Three days later, about 96 people were killed in Bama. On February 25, a boarding school in Buni, a town 100 miles west of Izge was burned and at least 29 students mostly teenagers died. Boko Haram has killed more than 215 people in the past two weeks.
It is a raw deal for us as parents and as Nigerians for Mr. Jonathan for daring our sensibilities by celebrating a centenary of no historical essence in the midst of death and funeral. History will judge Mr. Jonathan for letting loose the turmoil by given free rein to the terrorists and for doing absolutely nothing to finally corral the slaughtering of our children.
History will not be kind either to the legislators in Abuja. Their lack of initiative, their wavering posture, and their lackadaisical approach with content far away looks on their faces to national issues paved the way for the much deadlier violence and the collapse of our collective civilization.
Historians will remind us “Here lies the bodies of our children from the flames and smokes of Boko Haram cocktails and crackle of gun fire while President Jonathan and the National Assembly remain spectators in the face of devouring wolves.”
A century history of our nation is littered with death and funeral in all fronts – socially, economically, and politically. The Haramists have only tipped the scale by the extent of the regularity, severity, spontaneity, and callousness of their killings. The situation in Nigeria is a tinder box. Most of the history of our 100 years of existence as a nation has been dominated by protests and unrest which reflect mounting frustrations at a dysfunctional political system and a failing economy. Our lives have been miserable.
Nigerians live below the poverty line. Our economy is in decline. Pensions when paid are not enough. People are literally hungry. Young people have no future. Unemployment hovers all over the place. The oil, supposed to be a blessing is our biggest barrier to progress. We thought it would bring the greatest joy, it is our greatest undoing – a resource curse. Things have never been worse.
Political promises to improve the economy have never been fulfilled. Badly managed privatization policies continue to stagnate the economy. The same people are holding power all the time. They don’t do anything but they do get the largest salaries in the world. The political system has kept the country Balkanized and created restrained economic growth. Our political leadership is divided along ethnic lines. The many layers of government curb economic development because no one is in charge. Now, Nigerians are warming up to the idea that they have to take power in their hands. The political elite feels fear and insecure.
What a strange, upside-down world Nigeria is? We live in a country where those receiving the greatest public applause and financial reward are those who loot the treasury with no regard to their moral character or ethical conduct. By contrast, those fighting for the people are without recognition or reward – the humble, the merciful, those who work for the peace, progress, and fairness – are persecuted for doing right.
Meanwhile, the victims’ parents and the rest of Nigerians would have to cope with the shock of recent days. The biggest problem now is to come back to our senses.