Nigeria will be sixty years on October 1, 2020 having regained its lost freedom and political independence from British colonists on October 1, 1960. In our 60 years of independence, the nation forged by Britain by bringing unwilling peoples and diverse ethnic nationalities into one has been struggling from one trouble to another in its 60 years of chequered existence. This dilemma has been observed by some writers of African history. Martin Meredith notes in “The State of Africa: A History of the Continent since Independence” that in the creation of new states in Africa, the European powers take little or no account of existing traditional monarchies, chiefdoms and societies.
According to Meredith, “Nearly one half of the new frontiers imposed on Africa were geometric lines, lines of latitude and longitude, other straight lines and arcs of circles. In some cases, African societies were rent apart…” There is therefore no doubt that the amalgamation of divergent entities to form nations during colonialism might have been responsible for the post-independence traumas that almost afflict all colonial countries in Africa. At independence, Nigeria was seen as the hope of black man and one country that will salvage and improve the fortunes of black people the world over.
It was hoped that Nigeria will prove to the world that the black man is capable of doing what other races can do including going to the outer space. In its few years of existence from 1960-65, Nigeria seemed to prove that the black man has truly arrived in the global scene. The regional governments in the East, West and North actually proved that the nation was on the right track and that sky was indeed its limit to what the young nation could achieve. We witnessed rapid socio-economic development among the regions and we became the major exporter of palm oil (Eastern region), cocoa (Western region) and groundnut (Northern region). The Eastern regional government built the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1960, the Western region responded by building the University of Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1962 while the Northern region built the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1962.
The Western region built the first television station in black Africa and introduced universal free education and urbanized the region and built the industrial estates that dot the region. The Eastern region responded by introducing three years of free tuition education in primary schools, farm settlements, cashew and palm oil plantations. The regions competed among themselves that they were self-sustaining to the extent that the economy of the Eastern region was rated as one of the fastest growing economy among developing nations. With the addition of Mid-West region in 1963, the new region leveraged on rubber plantation and other agricultural products. It also did its best in terms of development.
The Eastern palm produce was highly regarded that Malaysia took its first palm oil seedlings from the region. It is a sad commentary on our development that today we import palm oil from Malaysia and other Asian countries. At independence Nigeria made waves in agriculture, commerce, education, health, sports, politics, science and technology. However, the politics of the first republic was afflicted with ethnic tensions and fear of domination and unresolved foundational problems before independence. All these led to the political crisis of the 60s, the contested 1962 census, operation ‘wetie,’ state of emergency, the first coup of January 15, 1966 and the second coup of July 29, 1966 and the bloody civil war of 1967-70. The civil war brought out the worst in us and showed that we cannot really live together. Following the end of the war in 1970, we have managed to co-exist while masking our fractures and those things that divide us. The oil-boom of the 70s and 80s helped in keeping us together as well as prolonged military rule. They created states to the extent that we now have 36 states and 774 local governments. The military regimes used the oil money to improve the living standards of Nigerians, built many roads, bridges, universities, hospitals and things were looking up until they became power drunk and corrupt. We again witnessed rounds of instability caused by series of coups and elongated military dictatorships that reversed our developmental strides.
Following the annulment of June 12, 1993 election reportedly being won by the late business mogul, MKO Abiola, things started falling apart for Nigeria. It took months of resistance by civil society groups to have the present dispensation which birthed on May 29, 1999. In our 20 years of uninterrupted democracy, we cannot say exactly that things have been so impressive. We are still blighted by poor leadership, toxic politics and politicians who really don’t know why they are in politics and if they know, they refuse to do what they ought to do. In our 20 years of new democracy, our politicians have really learnt and forgotten nothing. Their actions at times do prove that democracy may not be the best form government after all.
Our genre of democracy is dictatorship dressed with the appellation of democracy, lacking the basic ingredients of that form of government manufactured by the Greeks and nurtured by Britain and America from which we imported our presidential model without its character.
Under our mangled democracy, the people cannot breathe, they cannot talk. Perhaps, this is why former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka recently intervened and urged President Muhammadu Buhari to save the nation from drifting and falling into the category of failed nations. Both men are telling Buhari that the edifice called Nigeria is falling apart and needed to be fixed urgently before it falls into ruins. I believe they spoke the minds of most Nigerians.
The presidency and its spokespersons must be willing to accept in good faith constructive criticisms aimed at making Nigeria better for the leaders and the led. Nobody has monopoly of knowledge. We must tolerate opposing views no matter how unpalatable. Leaders must listen to critics. They owe their success to them and not their acolytes and praise singers. It does not require calling names and using unprintable epithets to describe the intention of the critics. The federal government must respect the candid views of Obasanjo and Soyinka, reflect on them and make necessary amends where necessary. The “we” and “them” dichotomy in such a national discourse in counterproductive and a sheer waste of time.
It is true that building a nation is the duty of all Nigerians. Chinua Achebe in “There Was a Country, A Personal History of Biafra” contended that “building a nation is not something a people does in one regime, or even a few years; it is a long process.” I totally agree with his submission and add that ours has taken too long. Although the task of building a nation may not be easy, especially a nation as diverse as Nigeria, the African giant, we must copy useful examples from US, India, Indonesia, South Africa on how to make ours better and accommodating for all groups. The political ostracization of certain groups from Aso Rock as we approach 2023 should concern eminent and indeed all Nigerians.
What Nigeria needs now is total reconfiguration to suit our peculiarities. We must remake Nigeria in such a way to end the general insecurity, bloodletting, despotism and unitarism in the land. Our leaders must rise to the challenge of restructuring the crumbling Nigerian edifice in order to make it work as other nations. It is sad that at 60, we are still talking about which zone will be in Aso Rock and those who should not be allowed to be resident there, we are still struggling with the definition of a Nigerian citizen, state of origin and local government of origin, form of government, new constitution, revenue sharing formula, resource control, electronic voting, exclusive legislative list, water, land and even God-given air and freedom of speech, movement and association. Nigeria at 60 has not done so well. It is not where it should be.
Our successive leaders have by omission and commission contributed to the aborted of the lofty dreams of our founding fathers. We must go back to the drawing board and reconfigure this nation before it is too late. The rains have beaten us for too long, it is now time for us to envision an accommodating edifice with strong roofs to cover our collective heads. We must resolve to remake Nigeria and make it fulfil its dreams and manifest destiny in the comity of nations. It won’t take us donkey years to achieve such a feat.