“…The general feeling in the air as independence approached was extraordinary like the building anticipation of relief of torrential rains after a season of scorching hot harmatan 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 possibility for us were endless, at least so it seemed at the time. Nigeria was enveloped by a certain assurances of an unbridled destiny of an overwhelming excitement about life’s promises, unburdened by any knowledge of providence’s intended destination…” Chinualumuogu Albert Achebe
Fellow compatriots! Let me quickly admit that it took great pains and interminable mental hurdles to articulate what would be the better title for this 55th Independence Day anniversary essay. At the end of that process however, I finally settled for that which now crowns it. The reason I think, is not farfetched. For me, those words are what aptly captures our pilgrimage as a nation since the Union Jack was lowered at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos and the green, white colors of our national flag hoisted at full mast; the greatest symbol of our Independence from her majesty, the Queen of England. This is because, I believe that ours has been the case of a soul trying endlessly to redeem itself. Of an airplane which has lost its coordinates and permeates rarefied skies without a direction; of a ship which has lost its bearing and continues to grope rudderless, buying time before its inevitable doom. In this consideration, the question that comes to the mind naturally becomes: at what point did this happen? Where exactly did we get it wrong that the cookies have continued to crumble without stopping?
An Igbo proverb tells us, that a man who does not know when the rain began to beat him, will not know where he dried his body. I think 55 years after independence from our colonial masters, the above apothegm lucidly captures our story. Little wonder then, why to this day, we still do not know the exact point where we got it wrong, so that we may retrace our steps and forge ahead again.
Could it be during the Pre-Civil war era of the Azikiwes, Ahmadu Bellos and Awolowos? Did we lose our tracks that very moment we settled for a genocidal Civil War whose ‘detritus’ of bitterness and acrimony between the Muslim North and Christian South , continues to this day, as evidenced in the bitter exchanges that are thrown up between the two major groups on certain ‘sensitive’ issues? Perhaps we finally lost it in the dark years of the military junta that saw political power change hands like the Russian game of roulette among accidental military characters bulldozing their way to power through barrels of the gun, with beautiful and near utopian promises, coupled with quixotic and romantic action plans, but end up raping and pillaging the nation at the end of the day, before it is sacked by the next regime.
If it wasn’t in any of the foregoing epochs, it cannot be in the 16 years of our fledgling and burgeoning democratic experimentation. It is so palpable therefore, that we know not where this rain that has beaten us to a cataclysmic stupor started. One is not surprised why we have continued to search ceaselessly for our re-awakening.
But here comes the Coup de Grace: this wave of doom will continue for even longer time as experts have predicted. I received a disquieting mail from a colleague last week, who wrote to me on the “State of the Nation”. He told me, that things haven’t started getting bad here. That whatever we are seeing are mere tips of the berg. That it was still “morning on creation day”. And that we must brace up for tougher times ahead, summarily. Was my friend being excessively pessimistic? I think that should be a homework for all us, but I didn’t take his submission with a pinch of salt. I think my ‘interlocutor’ was only being realistic as Nigeria has thought one not to be carelessly optimistic. So what happened to us?
At independence, as I have argued somewhere else, our Nationalists received the “Instruments of our Freedom” without understanding the responsibility that was concatenated and dovetailed with freedom, the discipline and tenacity that leadership deserves, and had no scintilla of the slippery slope of self-rule that they were to tread on immediately the white man left. Some have attributed this to the ease with which we rode to the cusp of independence; so much that what to do with power was lost on us. One man said, independence was handed to us like a bar of chocolate at a birthday party which we swallowed in sheer extravagance. Other people have said, it was served on a platter of gold, and so we wined and dined, toasting to freedom amidst the clings of glass cups in reckless profligacy. We were that stupid! Lord Acton said, Power Corrupts absolutely, for us, Freedom became a nemesis. A double-edged sword of sort.
Incisive leadership which ought to have followed almost immediately, was jettisoned and in no distant time, we found ourselves, horns locked against each other in a fratricidal Civil War that would change the history of Nigeria, and indeed, Africa. It’d take three years, before we came to a ‘settlement’, but unfortunately, the exact dynamics that led to that violent confrontation, continue to stare us in the face, unresolved.
Right from then up till this day, we have continued to go around a vicious cycle like koroso dancers searching for Change and Transformation that exists only in the figments of the mandibular ‘wackabouts’ who mouth them. At 55 years of statehood, Nigeria could be best described as an utter disappointment! A greatness that didn’t happen! A light that refused to shine! A salt that lost its taste and a city on a hill, that didn’t stand out. It should be our collective shame!
How can one begin to describe the mess that Nigeria is? Perhaps the greatest irony of our political independence, is the Economic colonization that her successive ruling class has foisted on the citizenry since they took the mantle of leadership for their selves and forebears. In his book, entitled: This House has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis, Karl Maier quoted Dr. Kurfi Bashir Usman, the Executive Director of the Network for Justice to have said, “The only difference between South Africa and Nigeria is that you have a group of blacks who don’t make up ten per cent of the population, but control the economy, while the majority are poor”. Couldn’t have been said any better.
At more than half a century, nothing much has changed in the core indices of measuring the growth of a nation. Our political process is constantly mired in pedestrian polemics bereft of sound ideologies that shape socio-political conversation. Our political institutions are weak and suffering. Stable power supply despite billions of dollars spent in the sector has only succeeded in bringing forth more darkness. We have the highest population of out of school children, pegged at 10.5 million kids. Our tertiary institutions are incapacitated to accommodate the millions of teenagers seeking tertiary education. We have a large swathe of unemployed graduates roaming the streets, and constituting potential threats to social peace. Pipe borne water do not run in our homes. The health sector is moribund with life expectancy at an all-time low. Agriculture is a mirage. The Naira has continued on its free fall with the economy nearing recession as estimated by the apex bank last week. Our roads look like those to Golgotha. We are yet to build a second Niger bridge. We are yet to build new ports. Our refineries are decrepit, hence we take to be refined overseas, what God has placed in our soil. These and many others have overtime, watered the ground for the thriving of an internal terrorism that leave each and every one of us potential victims of their wickedness and sits at the top of all our problems.
The cumulative and most painful consequences of these and more, is the birthing of a generation of people, who have lost hope in their country. Especially people of my generation. Despite these dire straits, all we have done has been ceaseless noisemaking and recycling of promises of Change by successive leaders through a vaudeville of government functionaries who promise heaven on earth, after big-stouting and pepper-souping.
Nigeria at 55, is the ‘locus classicus’ of an injury not properly managed at the early stages which grew larger than life from unrestrained neglect out of the negligence of the patient and the indiscipline of the physician and which has since defied pathological genius. This is why despite all that is been done to get Nigeria up again, it remains impotent.
What do you make of a nation whose citizens, cannot unanimously point to who exactly has been her best leader? Every accidental public servant who sauntered on the seat of power, resorts to self-help and retires back into recluse to enjoy the exalted office of the “Elder Statesman” in monolith and well-furnished condomiums where they are cocooned and sheltered from the odium and opprobrium of the citizenry. Why wouldn’t Nnamdi Kanu of the Radio Biafra fame, refer to this place as a zoo? The reality that is Nigeria must have led him to such demeaning and disparaging adjective.
Fellow compatriots! At 55, let no one massage our egos with sweet, flowery and romantic speeches of “How far we have come, and how well we are doing” that glide us into phantasmagoric realms, as that’d create the illusion for a further decline. Let us confess the mess and filth that we are and find the tolerance to tell ourselves the hard truths that we’ve always shied away from, as this hold vistas of understanding the true essence of our union as a people under one indivisible, indissoluble and sovereign entity under God.
At the root of our problem, I think lies our weak and non-performing structure which has encouraged a lazy citizenry and foisted a rent-economy. If we must be a Federal state, then let us do so in spirit and in letters by imbibing the phenomena of Fiscal Federalism, Resource Control, Devolution of Powers and the Repeal of section 1 of the Land Use Act of 1978, that vests all land on the federal government and all the other laws that clog and contradict our federalism. The present structure as has been argued severally, doesn’t provide the healthy competition among federating units that make a nation stronger.
Our independence was secured at about the same time with countries like South korea, Malaysia and Singapore to name a few. Today, those nations with considerably low endowments, have left us behind and are already big players in the global economy. We have wasted our time on inanities and a whole lot of gung ho that adds nothing to Nation Building.
Finally, in our unending search for Eldorado, it mustn’t be lost on us that great nations are not made from seeking foreign solutions to national problems. They are made from an infectious discipline and an uncommon determination to do things the way they ought to be done. While we must maintain a healthy relationship with our international partners, we must do so with tact, knowing that our interest comes least in their minds; as nations give their citizenry the first line of charge. So in essence, we must think home, and devise for ourselves workable solutions to national problems.
At 55, our scorecard is not looking any good. In another 5, may be 10, or 20 years, it may look better. But that would be premised on our actions and attitude towards governance and leadership within the period. Time is indeed running out on us, and the world is watching. Fellow countrymen! If we can think it, we can do it. Let us then fold our sleeves and get to work.
Happy independence anniversary!
Raymond Nkannebe is a Lawyer and Public Affairs Commentator.
He is on twitter @RayNkah