Nigeria, our dear “native land,” with the highest black indigenes, last week, celebrated its 60th independence anniversary. As some people clinked glasses and others agonised over the country’s chequered nationhood, we remembered how, in 1960, Nigeria gained independence from Britain and started self-rule. That day, on October 1, 1960, the British flag was lowered and the Nigerian flag was hoisted to signify the end of colonialism.
Between 1960 and now, Nigeria has seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Nigerians have seen democracy, under parliamentary government and presidential system. Nigerians fought a civil war. The country saw military coups and military governments. Nigeria has recorded glories in sports. The country has seen leaders of many characters. Nigerians have seen inequity, neglect and injustice in many spheres of life.
Many have asked if Nigeria, as a nation, and Nigerians, as a people, should celebrate at 60. My answer is “yes” and “no.” Nigeria and Nigerians have some things to celebrate as well as others to be ashamed of. Nigeria fought an internecine civil war that set it back, but it is still one country, irrespective of differences and disagreements among the ethnic nationalities. Nigeria, despite its enormous resources, still lacks basic infrastructure. Nigerians are sharply divided and, most times, see themselves not as Nigerians but more as natives of their ethnic groups. These are reasons for celebration and mourning.
At independence, Nigeria was seen as a country with great potentialities. With mineral resources in abundance, progressive projections were made for the country. True to prediction, successes were recorded in the beginning, in the Eastern Region, Western Region and Northern Region. Each of the three regions, post-independence, developed at its pace and actually did well economically. That was the time of the Kano groundnut pyramids, the Eastern Region’s palm oil revolution and the Western Region’s cocoa wonder. Then, division among Nigerians was not widespread as today.
Before and at Independence, Nigerians lived and were accepted wherever they wished, without fear. That was the golden era when Mallam Umoru Altine from Sokoto, a Hausa/Fulani, contested and won election to become the first mayor of Enugu in 1951. He won again in another election. A member of the Zikist Movement, he was fielded by his political party in Igboland and was elected by the Igbo. That was the time Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe won election in Lagos and could have become leader of the Western Government, as his National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), with strong Yoruba membership and support in the West, won majority seats in Lagos election in 1951 and Western Region House of Representatives election in 1954. That was the era when Eyo Ita, an Ibeno man from today’s Akwa Ibom State, was the leader of Eastern Government in 1951, in a region with large Igbo population.
Certainly, something went wrong with Nigeria thereafter. The country became polarised and Nigerians drifted apart. Dr. Azikiwe could not become leader of Western Government as elected members of his party defected, when it mattered most, to the Action Group (AG) and his NCNC lost the majority status. Eyo Ita lost the position of leader of Eastern Government when Azikiwe returned to the East, having lost out in the Western Region, and supplanted him. Nigerians began to see themselves more from their origin of birth rather than as citizens of Nigeria.
What went wrong with Nigeria may not be far from politics, military rule and bad leadership. For one, it was politicians’ selfishness that caused the carpet-crossing of NCNC members to AG. The 1951 politicians in the NCNC, only thinking about what would benefit them, instead of what the nation would gain, easily made deals, which robbed their political party of the victory it got at the polls. Their deal with AG stopped Azikiwe from the leadership of Western Government. Such selfishness by politicians still exists. Today’s politicians still dump political parties that give them elective positions for new ones to achieve their personal gains. For them, political affiliation is not based on ideological conviction but as a pedestal for government positions, a chess game, with the people and country as the pawns.
The military also contributed greatly to the mess Nigeria has become. In fact, it would not be out of place to say that the military ruined Nigeria. As an institution, which should have nationalism as its guiding principles, the Nigerian military, post-Independence, transmogrified to a political class, more of less, and laid the foundation for ethnicity in the affairs of the country. It is possible that there would not have been a civil war had the military not truncated democracy in 1966. Those who plotted and executed the January 1966 putsch committed a sin against the country. Those who organised and executed the July 1966 coup committed the greater sin.
I doubt if post-Independence Nigerian soldiers understood their calling as members of a force that ought to be neutral in politics. That the military classified the first coup as an Igbo coup and the second as a revenge coup showed how low Nigerian soldiers then sunk. Generally, there was visible lack of nationalism in the way the military conducted the affairs of the country while in power. In the creation of states and local governments, for instance, the military exhibited favouritism. That a country, which started as three solid regions – northern, eastern and western – with equal powers, now has one of the former regions most powerful, in terms of number of states and local governments, shows how the military created the greater problem of Nigeria.
At 60, Nigeria has not attained its full potentiality. All is not lost, however. Greatness could still be attained, with purposeful leadership, going forward. Nigeria must brace up to mend the cracks. Agreed that we should look at the past, to shape the future, but we should rather look at our mistakes, learn from them and make amends.
The government should set goals for the next 10 years and work hard at it, so that, at 70, Nigeria’s narratives would have changed from what they are at present. We must, therefore, do these: Many people have said that the structure of Nigeria is faulty and, therefore, called for restructuring. There is wisdom in this. A nation of many nationalities should not be lopsided in favour of one component. The inquity inherent in the number of states and local councils, distribution of resources and development, appointments and citizens’ rights must be addressed to restore confidence of all Nigerians in their country. Even as the President Muhammadu Buhari government has said it would not be stampeded into taking action regarding restructuring, the fact remains that the more the country runs away from restructuring, the more the problems persist. Restructuring is fundamental.
The manifest injustice and inequity in the country, in various areas, must be addressed. The lopsided nature of the country, for instance, which makes Kano State, with almost the same population as Lagos, having 44 local governments, while Lagos has 20, should not be. Such injustice makes some people feel superior to others, when this is not the case. Towards this end, the listing of names of local governments in the constitution should be expunged and states given power to create local governments. Also, the fact that there are six geopolitical zones in the country without equal number of states each makes a mess of equity. There is no justifiable reason the South East, as a geopolitical zone, should have five states, while North West would have seven and the other four zones have six states each.
The temptation is for some people to say that number of states, for the zones, is based on population. If these people are truthful to themselves, they would admit that the country has not really had credible census. Past censuses have been fraught with deceit and corruption. The fraud in census must be corrected for every Nigerian to have a sense of belonging. Cities like Ibadan, Onitsha and Aba are as densely populated as Kano, yet, the states these cities are located in have paltry census figures. The government should set machinery in motion for a proper census. This will make the country know its real population generally. Also, a proper census will provide a veritable avenue for the country to know the true population of each city and state. With correct census figures, adequate planning and projection would be made for the populace.
The Federal Government, be it President Buhari’s or the next from 2023, should devote effort to healthcare delivery, education, development of infrastructure, security and the economy. If we get these five pillars of development right, the country would be in an upward trajectory of progress. We should do the right thing or perish.