If you do not know where you have come from, it would be difficult to know where you want to go.
I was an adult and a civil servant long before our independence in 1960. Then as the D-Day approached, the country was agog with preparation for a celebration of passage of rites from adolescence to adulthood. Every Nigerian everywhere knew about it and talked about it. The true meaning of independence was talked about on the radio every day so, almost every Nigerian, about 60 million strong in the population at that time, knew that we were about to have the whole country to ourselves. There were still some vestiges of the British civil servants, with a majority preparing to depart. The storyline of continued residency of the colonial masters was different in the private sector organisations, the parastatals and almost all the banks.
In all ramifications, the British did not prepare us for life after independence. How could they? We asked them to leave, and they kept saying we were not ready, a situation they cleverly foisted on us in 1914 with the amalgamation of Southern and Northern Protectorates of the emerging geographic enclave they appropriated to themselves following the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference on the partitioning of Africa.
Prior to Independence though, there were established structured institutions to ensure that Nigerians were not just only going to take up titles and positions without realising the full responsibilities such positions demanded of them. Whereas the British colonial administration ceded political power to the inexperienced Nigerian politicians, some very key private organisations at the core of the country’s economic engine were not so quick in handing over power.
It is important to realise that the drive to full colonisation was done with these companies at the lead organisations in the camouflage of traders. So, their continued control of the national economy would be antithetical to complete realisation of full independence. It, therefore, was no surprise that, about 10 years after, the government of General Yakubu Gowon crafted the indigenisation decree to further cement the takeover of our destiny by Nigerians. The decree mandated foreign organisations and institutions to hand over at least 40 per cent and in some cases 60 per cent of their holdings and positions to Nigerians.
Such brilliance in national consciousness, everyone thought. The common man on the street saw it as it was really meant to be, an opportunity for job growth, dignified employment, equitable distribution of sources of wealth for hardworking Nigerians. The practitioners saw it differently, as a means of acquiring immense wealth with little or no input of hard work. They allowed the small percentage of expatriates that remained in the organisations to retain practical, production and financial control of the businesses, while they put up their legs on the tables waiting for dividend profits at the end of the fiscal year.
The nouveau riche did not bother to employ the right staff to understudy the expatriates that were meant to be replaced. Instead, they engaged in gaming the system by bringing both qualified and unqualified expatriates into the country to man and sometimes run these organisations that had been indigenised.
As for the politicians, they were busy fighting for control of the military personnel in government, fighting for block and ethnic devolved political power that recognised the existence of many mafias, both real and imagined. Not to be outdone, the civil servants at all levels were running rings around the politicians at the head of their MDAs, ensuring that progressive policies were killed off as quickly as they were birthed.
With the precipitous decay of the polity, the civil service and the economy, one wonders what our wonderful founding fathers that negotiated our independence from the British for years told the British that they were going to do with an independent Nigeria. Did the British think they really did not have any stake in a successful Nigerian nation? Or did they expect an immediate return to re- colonisation (neo-colonisation) within a few short years? I just do not know what the answer is, but their attitude has the hallmark of nonchalance and detached curiosity.
Secondly, what was it that pushed us to become a republic after three years of self-governance? We had barely articulated that path to nation-building within a heterogenous hodgepodge of ethnic patchwork that is called Nigeria, before abandoning the parliamentary system we inherited from the British. Subsequent to the various iterations of military regimes from 1966 to 1979, we decided to adopt the American presidential system of gvernment in its most superficial form. What made us not take in the whole bait, hook, line and sinker? All those things that were jettisoned from the American presidential system, were they removed for selfish reasons or considered superfluous?
Seeking answers to all these questions in this article may be coming late as we had some seven months ago celebrated 60 years of our independence. I have spent time to sample the opinions of those in my age group of octogenarians on their take in the celebrations of Nigeria’s 60th independence. I found out from most of them that Nigeria and Nigerians have nothing to celebrate anymore, which is not a shock to me.
Still in search of some of the answers, it bothered me that we had devoted many wasted energies in experimenting with different forms of governance that we barely understood. In this discourse, emphasis cannot be placed on the word ‘experimenting’ because all systems of government devised to manage a population of people and businesses in any given nation are largely experimental, given the relatively short history of man on Earth.
I believe that, firstly, what should have concerned our founding fathers should have been this question: Shall we in Nigeria coexist together as one nation and if so in what ways? This would have been a recognition of the fact that we are all members of distinct ethnic nationalities with different cultures and traditional institutions relevant to the administration of the polity. At various times, many ethnic entities had been subjected to various wars from dominant or ambitious invaders. Some were conquered, others repelled their invaders. With time, some liberated themselves, and as other empires died, the conquered broke free from the yoke of subjugation. Thus we once had the Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire, the Bornu Empire, the Fulani Jihad, etc.
All these empires had their glory days at different times. But the advent of the colonialists was supposed to have reset the clocks and areas of influence. Therefore, most indigenous peoples were once more able to assert themselves within their traditional boundaries. It was necessary for them to answer that question of peaceful coexistence in one nation of once-upon-a-time-warring tribes now that the ‘peacekeeper’ was gone. And if the answer is in the affirmative to bury the hatchet, what would be the basis of the union, as equal partners?
The next important question would then be: How would wealth be created, managed, and used by the federating units? Then, naturally, the third question would have been: what form of government shall we have to protect the answers to questions 1 and 2?
It must be noted that, given the fact that various parts of the country Nigeria had been at one war or the other at various times, all these wars, including the on-going national war against Boko Haram, coming after the Biafran War and the Niger Delta insurgency have failed to resolve question 1. IPOB has secured the recognition of the United Nations as an Indigenous People with inalienable rights. The Niger Delta crisis moves through a revolving door. Southern Kaduna is a festering battleground. Fulani herdsmen are terrorising the entire nation. And the Federal Government pretends that all is well.
For the benefit of us scholars, I felt there was a need to visit the archives of the former regional capitals, Ibadan, Enugu, Kaduna, Benin and Lagos, in search of answers. But to my embarrassment and shame, I found out that there were scanty archival structures in most of the capitals, which made me wonder if we could ever take ourselves seriously.
Hundreds of books have been written about Nigeria’s journeys and tribulations so far. The print media over the years had tons of writings and features on everything that has made news in Nigeria for centuries. Where can we find these? They are not in our public libraries, not in our museums, not in our schools, not in our churches. What do we preserve? Is this massive failure of history deliberate or an abject dereliction of duty and care? What do we do well as a people if we cannot tell our own stories?