Nigeria: A country with 57 lives
We have clocked 57. And we are still standing. Given what we have been through these past 57 years, it must be a miracle. The lord’s doing, no less. Ah, yes, former President Obasanjo did say that God put us together and wants us to remain so; or words to that effect. If you want our nation to break up, as Nnamdi Kanu and his sponsors are committed to, know ye that you are challenging the almighty himself. The consequences would be unpleasant. Mark my warning.
So, never mind that we are swaying in the hot air generated by so much piffle and the hollow beating of hollow chests in a misguided show of bravado; never mind that our nation is buffeted by storms of challenges threatening its peace and security, Nigeria go survive, with apologies to the musician, Ese Agese. No, this house shall not fall. Shame on Karl Maier.
As we mark our 57th year as an independent nation, I find myself wondering about what independence really promised us. I believe only one man could have articulated that promise on Independence Day, October 1, 1960. That man was our late prime minister, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the golden voice of Africa, and the man who received the instrument of independence and had the Union flag taken down and the new national flag of two colours, green-white-green, hoisted in its place. I trawled the internet in search of his independence speech. It must have been his most important speech and the high point of his political career.
I found the speech but I did not find what I wanted. I expected the prime minister to spell out the promise or promises of independence, as in A, B, C and D. He did not. Was I being naïve? He rightly described October 1 as “our great day.” And he expressed “…my joy and pride at being the Nigerian citizen privileged to accept … these constitutional instruments which are the symbols of Nigeria’s independence” from Princess Alexandra of Kent, who represented her sister, Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.
I was intrigued by his assertion that “… history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace; it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations.” But even as he spoke, he could not have been unaware of our immediate post-independence challenges moving towards the new nation like dark clouds. Apparently, the house of our independence was not built of marble, impregnable against cracks; nor was the foundation laid on unshakeable rock. That house was built of mud bricks and prone to cracks.
Within only three years or less, the truth confronted the new nation, whose newly-won independence packed the hope of black people everywhere for a better future. Nigeria, given its size and population, was poised to lead Africa and black people in other parts of the world. And then those cracks appeared on the wall. Perhaps the Tiv riots were the first evidence that independence had not ended the feeling of political alienation in parts of the country. And then there were the trials and conviction of the leading lights of the Action Group, including the leader of the party, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, for treason. The riots in the Western Region that made Balewa characterise the region as ‘the wild, wild west,’ widened the cracks even further.
Only five years and four months after independence, the house of democracy itself collapsed when five young majors in the Nigerian Army showed us a bloody alternative to the quest for political power: the barrel of the gun. On January 15, 1966, they toppled the Balewa administration. Nothing has been the same. One thing led to another and the gun became an instrument for achieving personal political ambitions as well as settling ethnic, political, religious and social scores in the land. Young Nigerians, with the ambition to better their economic and circumstances and social standing, needed no one to convince them that the shortest route was through the barrel of the gun. Ishola Oyenusi and co walked the path and their pikins still follow.
In 57 years, consider these facts, in addition to what I pointed out above, of our independence and its promise:On May 27, 1967, the country faced a determined challenge to its corporate existence when the former Eastern Region seceded from Nigeria and declared itself the Republic of Biafra. The nation fought a bloody 30-month civil war to crush the secession and save itself.
For more than 13 years, the soldiers locked the gates against democracy and we experienced the inevitable trauma of the detestable banana republic with soldiers toppling soldiers or attempting to do so with some horrendous consequences for those who dared but failed. The ballot paper, the only symbol of people power, was thrown on the rubbish heap. With the jackboot placed firmly on our necks, the people were disempowered.
The generals, anxious, determined even, to prove that they knew more about politics and governance than the politicians in agbada, turned our country into a laboratory for political, economic and social experiments. These experiments left our nation both confused and confounded. Every such experiment created more problems than it intended to solve. To borrow the title of a MayFive Media Limited book, we have been moving in circles. We mistake motion for movement.
Thus for 57 years we have been engaged in the pretty tough task of either cementing the cracks or papering them over. But the more we try, the more cracks appear. So, here we are. 57 years after independence, we are still probing the depths of the stream for a foothold; 57 years after independence, we are groping for the light to banish the darkness; 57 years after independence, some of us still have problems with believing in the Nigerian project or in Nigeria itself as their nation under gods; 57 years after independence, we remain polarised by politics, ethnicity and religion; 57 years after independence, we still hail our country with forked tongues; 57 years after independence, we have regressed into ethnic champions, even if doing so feels like an axe at the tap root of our national interests; 57 years after independence, we have agreed on nothing and consequently, nothing is settled: not the structure of our federation, not the nature of our federalism and certainly not the best man or woman to rule the country. The tribes rule, therefore, we locate the locus of political power by the choice we make on which tribe should take the next baton.
All these landed us in this current sorry pass. It has cost us the leadership of Africa; it has denied us our birth right to be the beacon to oppressed black people everywhere and we are thus unable to prove that the black man is not mentally incapacitated by the colour of his skin nor does he have corruption wired in his DNA.If you look at our 57 years of independence beset with all the problems partially enumerated here, and if you consider that history has no evidence of a nation that progressed in spite of itself, you are bound to agree that our togetherness and progress are forged on the anvils of our weaknesses.
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