Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary was an opportunity for sober reflection and President Muhammadu Buhari attempted to present a fair balance sheet. He was right to praise the founding fathers, the men and women whose insights and wisdom, whose patience and tolerance won us a banner without a stain. Although planning does not come naturally to us as a people, even the best laid plans would be thrown off course by the Nigerian Civil War. After it, the nation never fully recovered its composure and its original trajectory.
As the President rightly noted, we numbered 45 million at independence. The United Kingdom (UK), our colonial rulers, by way of comparison, numbered 55.2 million the same year. At our 60th independence anniversary, we numbered 202 million while the UK still numbered 60.5 million. Only seven million lived in cities then, now there are 120 million in our cities.
These sobering figures should give us pause, sometimes, on our grief over infrastructure inadequacies, high unemployment figures and our poor quality of life. It is disputable if indeed the nation focused on reconstruction and rehabilitation when the Civil War ended. Certainly, very little was done by way of reconciliation. Manifestly, a truth and reconciliation commission was needed but in the euphoria of victory and arrogance of power, there was no presence of mind to do thoughtful things. If the famous Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel was needed to ventilate on the Gen. Sani Abacha’s dictatorship, we think that similar ventilation on the actual causes of the war (the senseless killings of January 15, 1966; the pogroms against the Igbo in Northern Nigeria) would have brought a closure for a great many Nigerians and probably prevented the separatist agitations. And as President Buhari said, when General Yakubu Gowon reneged on his regime’s promise to hand over by 1976 “another round of military rule began.” So, in the end, the nation was able to govern itself for only 29 of the 60 years; the rest was spent under military rule, the so-called lost years.
Now, Nigerians still ponder the President’s resolve to finally withdraw subsidies on petrol and electricity. We commend the President and his government for, at long last, seeing the light and mustering the courage to end this platform of corruption and grand larceny. The government’s attitude of “take-it-or-leave-it” will not be enough. Unfortunately, the attempt by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to remove the subsidy was wrongly and maliciously demonised. But years after, subsidy withdrawal appears to the present administration as a good and patriotic policy.
However, the President diluted his thoughtful anniversary address with a few unhelpful remarks. The reference to his predecessors as those who “presided over the near-destruction of the country” was not necessary for the occasion. Also, his claim that his predecessors “now have the impudence to attempt to criticise our efforts” shows the government’s intolerance of criticism. The President also indulged in happy talk when he surmised that the “underlying cause of the problems we have faced as a nation is our consistent harping on artificially contrived fault lines that we have harboured and allowed to unnecessarily fester.” We think that some of our fault lines are real and reflective of the mood of the nation. That is why there is need for our political leaders to embark on policies that will unify the country.
It is all well and good to hear that the government is committed to provide security for life and property. But it is on record that herdsmen killed 2,539 Nigerians in 654 attacks between 2017 and 2020. The tragic number of fatalities is as much the bad news as the fact that there is no record of arrests, arraignments and prosecutions.
We agree with the President that the 60th independence anniversary should mark a new beginning for national healing and that Nigeria is endowed with more than enough materials and talents in all fields to be able to transform our country. We also agree that great progress can be made if we are able to develop and build a sustainable culture of democracy, accountability and good governance which would propel us into the top 20 economies of the world.
Our elections will stop being decided by the courts the day we ensure that every bit of them is transparent and can be supervised without coercion or suspicion at every level.We also share the President’s observation that Nigerians can live peacefully with one another. All that is needed is a stable reassuring ‘living’ environment in which “our age-old ethical and high moral values” would once more envelop the nation and be taken for granted, a renewed Nigeria. We urge the president and other political leaders to ensure that Nigeria is truly renewed and made better for all Nigerians.