At 60, Nigeria is no longer young. After 60 years of Independence, this country ought to be competing with the best economies in the world. But she’s not. Only consolation is that we’re still together at 60; geographically speaking. In boundary terms, Nigeria is still woven into one loosely knit entity. Nationhood in its pure context is a far cry.
Perhaps, this is what inspired the 60th independence anniversary logo with the theme: 60 Together! But the togetherness ends there: at the juncture of geography and for the convenience of delineation of nationalities within the African context. Only just that. Otherwise, Nigeria is not 60 together. She might be sixty in self-rule, but she’s not together. The union is troubled. Like a couple in an abusive marriage, each party wanting out but not getting out. Nigeria is in an abusive union with its many units. The nation is fragmented by ethnicity; scoured by religion and puckered by sundry primordial sentiments all lashing viciously at her foundation and threatening her existence.
Granted, many nations as we know them today are amalgams of once-upon-a-time discrete nationalities. They are unions formed from fragmented entities. But once they became coupled into a country, they moulted their individual ideologies to embrace the ethos and creed of the emergent union. Not so here!
Were Nigeria a marriage, it’s obviously an abusive one. Husband is abused. Wife is emotionally battered. Children are in eternal torment, fearing for their lives and unsure of the next moment. Yet, even in such sadistic and monstrously distressing union, none of the parties is allowed to exit. They suffer in silent pain. They hurt in fitful anger. The union chokes them. They want out but can’t get out. They’re stuck in the muddle. Like gum-stick in a mud-pie!
And it’s been so for sixty years for Nigeria. The self-governing union cannot govern itself. The people choke in spasmodic pain. Fear grips the land. Faith takes to flight. Trust is betrayed. The animosity bites with vengeful vigour. Sixty years after Independence, you could hear the land seething with religious bigotry. Steeped in self-flagellating masochistic disorder. You could hear the baleful symphony of hate. Hatred along the fault-lines of ethnicity, religion. Distrust in discourses. Mistrust in the marketplace. The auguries get even worse and more worrisome.
Emboldened now like never before, a strange breed of nomadic herders, armed to the hilt, traverse the nation; killing, maiming and kidnapping for sundry ransom. Another breed of bandits emboldened by a collapsed national internal security system, plunder bank vaults in broad daylight; overrun our highways and byways, take commuters hostage. Their whim is a harvest of anguish. They inflict pain on the rest of the people. And the people, helpless and hopeless, seek solace in far-flung domains. Nigeria has one of the highest number of migrants seeking safety and comfort in Canada, America, Europe and Asia. They have become mortified migrants, reduced to a life of wandering and globe-trotting by elite misrule at home.
The centrifugal forces pulling to tear the union apart are only responding to a stimulus. They react to the reality that at 60, the vision of the likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe to birth a nation where merit is enthroned over mediocrity, where equity, justice and fairness are the norm, has been violated and aborted. It’s on account of these distortions that Nigeria appears not to be together at 60. The pockets of agitations from the Niger Delta, Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Independent Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, the Northern youth forums, Arewa guardians and many more, are all vestiges of a nation spooling wool over a sore and expecting it to heal.
But Nigeria can heal herself if she wants to. She can reset her national algorithm to accommodate the dissenting forces and douse the growing tension. And it’s not what President Muhammadu Buhari can do. It’s beyond him and far beyond his capacity. Buhari has divided Nigeria more than any Nigerian leader, living or dead. He has by his own hand destroyed the surviving ligaments that have held us together as a nation. Never in the nation’s history have we experienced this avalanche of federal appointments that favour the north over other regions. Never has Nigeria witnessed this culture of desecrating the altar of merit as we have under Buhari. This is at the core of the regional stirrings for secession.
Yes, Nigeria is 60 Together. But only just in geographical mapping. The union is crumbling. Ethnic identities are viciously expressed far and above national ethos. Citizen allegiance shifts more towards religious leaders and ethnic champions. Not to the centrality of the union. A nation dies when citizens ignore the voice of their political leaders but heed the calls of those who assuage the yearnings of their spiritual questing. A nation is imperilled when her youths lose faith in their leaders and resort to self-help. Take a census: how many Nigerians are happy and enthusiastically celebrate our National Day? Take a census: how many Nigerian youths would joyfully choose Nigerian nationality if they have other options in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea? Forget America, Canada and Europe. They are of another planet, the first world.
But what of the Asian countries? At Independence in 1960, Nigeria was ahead of Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea in nominal GDP and income per capita. Sixty years after, Nigeria cannot advantageously benchmark her GDP against the GDPs of any of these nations. Nigeria’s nominal GDP dithers at $504.57. That of South Korea, at a time in the mid-20th Century ranked among the poorest nations, is now $1.626 trillion. Malaysia and Singapore are looking down on Nigeria from their economic Olympian heights.
The difference is not in the people. It’s in the leadership of these nations. In six decades, the Nigerian political and military elite have pushed the citizens off the cliff into another nadir of enslavement. Whereas the nation gained her political Independence from Great Britain in 1960; today Nigerian citizens are demanding their own Independence from their fellow citizens: the leadership elite. We can keep living in denial, pretending that we have a nation in the true sense of nationhood but some Nigerians have refused to dwell in dreamland. They believe that certain things must be re-worked and certain ideals embraced for the nation to be truly together.
A return to true federalism including fiscal federalism; a total overhaul of the constitution to save it from its many contradictions and strange ideological assumptions, and a conscious and deliberate adoption of a charter of equity that recognises our diversities without compromising merit. These are basic foundational touchstones that should define our nationalism. Then and only then shall citizens, irrespective of tribe and tongue, be truly willing and happy to say we are 60, 70, 80 together. And our togetherness will be meaningful. It’s possible. I stand with Professor Attahiru Jega, Olusegun Obasanjo, Wole Soyinka. These men in spite of playing special roles in installing Buhari still have the humility to admit that things are not what they should be.
Sadly, Buhari thinks our fault-lines are exaggerated. His Independence message said as much. But he’s wrong. His actions belie his words. He speaks unity but his actions birth disunity.