Will Nigeria realize the nationalists’ original dreams? (INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT)
By CHUKS UGWOKE –
ALHAJI Tafawa Balewa’s emotional independence speech, precisely, captures the mood of the nation on that historic occasion when the green-white-green flag was hoisted to mark Nigeria’s attainment of Independence on October 1, 1960.
Nobody could deny this brand new country and its nationals the lavish ceremonies and emotions that trailed this accomplishment. Ecstatic Nigerians, of all classes, poured out and snarled traffic from the Race Course venue of the handing-over event to all other parts of Lagos. And so were the celebrations in other parts of the country because it was, indeed, a feat worth celebrating. Of course, it was one memorable occasion when Nigerians would not moderate their excitement at the accomplishment of the cherished freedom.
At independence, those foremost nationalists who had endured certain deprivations and sacrificed their personal comforts and risked their lives had a common dream to ensure better life for all the citizens, irrespective of origin, religion and/or status. Painfully, these aspirations of freedom fighters like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macaulay, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others, cannot be said to have been fulfilled.
Today, as Nigerians look back at 45 years after the British colonialists handed over the reins of power, there is no doubt that it is a moment for sober reflections and firm rededication towards ensuring that whatever impediments of the past cannot be removed for a smooth journey to the future.
Ordinarily, independence would mean freedom to enhance the quality of life of the citizens, strengthen the bonds of unity despite the diversities, break new grounds in sciences, education and technology and also to open up vast opportunities for the development of the populace. Thus, has Nigeria fared well in these and other challenges?
The answers to the questions will be as varied as they will be controversial and somewhat reflective of the inherent complexities in the polity. Millions would point to the fact that the nation had kissed the native dust in critical areas of nationhood. More people will gnash their teeth in frustration with the falling standard of education, while corruption holds sway in public and private offices to the detriment of all the citizens. Add to it the deteriorating security of life and property and it amazes nobody that people live precariously on the edge.
But that is not suggesting, in any way, that it has been a completely wasted era. Too far from that. Nigeria might have been at the crossroads of sundry distortions, which tended to cause a mortal rupture, but it always triumphed at last. The unity and stability of the nation had often been overstretched, but its elasticity ensured that the divisive tendencies often got eclipsed.
Also, the country fought a bitter civil war, killing and maiming the combatants and the hapless populace but it clawed back from the brink, exhibiting the staying power of a skilled pugilist who knows when and how to wriggle out of any danger.
Without doubt, this self-styled African Giant has attained great heights in technological inventions as in sports, media excellence and return to democracy from the period of military dictatorships with the attendant frustration and repression.
The sustenance of this globally-accepted and highly cherished form of government is the biggest challenge that stares at both the high and low today. The time, therefore, has come at last for all stakeholders in the Nigerian project to put other allegiances aside for the common good.
The time is ripe to discourage the exodus of the best brains in the land to other countries for greener pastures. The time is here for the authorities that be and their collaborators to repair the collateral damages already caused and give the nation a fresh breadth that will convince those outside our shores to return and contribute to nation building.
That has been the expectation since 1999 after democracy was enthroned. Of course, this system of government is not the only answer to all the problems confronting Nigerians, but it serves as the gateway to the Promised Land.
Legislators at all levels still bicker over personal than institutional differences. The executive arm is in no less disarray, just like the judiciary has been previously slammed for allegations of unethical behaviours by some of its members.
Corruption remains endemic in the polity. It has become that hydra-headed monster that threatens everyone’s existence. Currently, the Bayelsa State Governor, DSP Alamieyeseigha is cooling off in the Brixton Prison in London on allegations of money laundering after the Metropolitan Police intercepted him on his return trip from Germany via London.
And not too long ago, the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun, was arrested on anticorruption charges. Ditto for the Ex-Senate President, Chief Adolphus Wabara, and erstwhile Education minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji, who were both reportedly involved in the unholy plot to give senators money in order to pass the latter’s budget.
Yes, Nigeria’s 45th independence anniversary may not have come at a more appropriate time than now when happenings in the polity have begun to send wrong signals within and outside the land, and when fresh challenges abound to lift the country from its sorry state in many sectors to obvious achievements and prospects that foretell the positive things ahead.
First of all, the 2007 polls provide the ‘litmus test.’ The elections may be two years away, but the schemes and counter-schemes that precede the final voting may make, or break, the nation. From the opposition parties to the one in power, the limitless intra-party squabbles are only but pathetic symptoms of a country on crutches.
The present feud between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his vice, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is not a good example of a worthy leadership that is bound to command diehard followership. It serves equally as a foretaste of the arm-twisting that may occur before 2007. As Nigerians clink champagne glasses to celebrate this day, it is incumbent on the first two citizens to bury the hatchet.
Moreover, as we all trudge on in the spirit of that hard-earned freedom from the colonialists, the national leadership needs to rededicate itself to the fight against corruption than paying lip service to it. It must be total, unsparing of anyone no matter his or her position, and not selective as critics had claimed.
The citizens look up to December 31, 2005, to see how the bank consolidation programme initiated by the Central Bank Governor, Prof. Charles Soludo, will play out. Will the CBN stick to its gun? Or will Soludo bow to pressures “from above?”
In similar manner, will the Super Eagles go to the 2006 World Cup that will be hosted by Germany? Eight days away, this question will be answered when Nigeria host Zimbabwe and Angola travels to Kigali to confront Rwanda. A win for Angola denies the Eagles their fourth successive World Cup appearance. The Southern Africans would have to draw or lose, while Nigeria wins for the latter to make it to Germany 2006. Will the Eagles give their soccer-crazy compatriots a unique birthday gift as Nigeria clocks 45 today?
Cases of unresolved murders and the inability of the authorities to unmask those behind such killings spit in the face of claims by this and previous governments to safeguard the lives and property of the citizenry.
The ceaseless calls for the restructuring of the country may only be heeded to the benefit of the subjects and their rulers, because such will help to reduce tensions emanating from widespread complaints from different ethnic groups of marginalization and oppression. A restructured Nigeria is sure to heal many wounds and return the ethnic militia groups and warlords to the back benches.
At 45, every patriot desires to see Nigeria reclaim its lost glory and rediscover itself. But that, again, is achievable if the youths are empowered, if graduates and other job seekers can be gainfully employed, if the leadership is genuinely accountable and transparent to the extent that every national can say with pride and sincerity – like Tafawa Balewa did on October 1, 1960 – that, “our great day has arrived.” That should be the challenge for every Nigerian on this National Day!
Culled from SATURDAY VANGUARD, October 1, 2005