“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” – Winston Churchill
If a sexagenarian were to celebrate his birthday, I am sure it would afford him the reflective opportunity to appreciate his maker for life, reflect on how far he has come, evaluate his past mistakes (with a view not to repeat them) and, ultimately, set his goals on what to be achieved in the next decade(s) to come. Similarly, the 60th independence anniversary of Nigeria calls for retrospective reflection of the state of our nationhood.
The entity known as Nigeria is oftentimes regarded as the political craft of a British mercenary-cum-colonialist, Sir Fredrick Lord Lugard, who, for the rapacious economic interest of Britain, amalgamated the protectorates of North and South in 1914. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria finally gained independence from its colonial masters and since then has gone through a lot of turbulent times politically, economically, structurally, culturally and otherwise. But one thing that beats my imagination is the fact that the country’s unity has remained intact and indissoluble after 60 years of turbulence, and this calls for a celebration.
Given the heterogeneous complexity of a country like Nigeria, the journey of nationhood so far has not been so smooth. Shortly after independence, the battle of supremacy among the ethnic heavyweights, Hausa/Fulani, Igbo, and Yoruba, threatened the existence of an incipient country. The secessionist obsession of Biafra and the civil war (1967-1970) proved to be the first real political crisis that threatened the country’s existence.
However, we overcame that and the union was not broken. But going further, what lessons have we learnt and what steps are we taking in making sure that history does not repeat itself?
I have been able to listen to divergent opinions by political analysts and opinion shapers concerning Nigeria’s Independence celebration, and I quickly realised that a lot of Nigerians mostly dwell on the ills of our nationhood, rather than the gains recorded so far. Even though I may have a few reservations on the state of affairs of the Nigerian nation, I would rather concentrate on counting our gains of nationhood. Personally, I think we have more to celebrate as a nation than to complain and quarrel over.
So far, Nigeria has survived as a nation even against all odds. Oftentimes, the centrifugal forces embedded in a pluralistic country like Nigeria make it possible for apostles of doom to prognosticate about an imminent break-up. In 2006, for instance, the espionage arm of the United States intelligence community, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had predicted that Nigeria would break up in 2015, probably because of the general election. But the election turned out to be an image-making epoch that showcased the democratic ethos of the country in Africa, where an incumbent lost an election and peacefully transferred power to his successor. All these prognoses are what the country has been able to overcome for about 60 years and still counting.
Though one might be tempted to say that some section(s) of the country are still calling for secession because they feel marginalised or neglected for a long time, the outcry of marginalisation may not be unconnected to poor representation of certain ethnic groups in the government at the centre, little or no improvement in the state of infrastructure in ‘parts’ of the country and, above all, poor representation of ethnic groups in employment into federal ministries, agencies and departments. These, among other things, may have fuelled the palpable distrust, mutual suspicion, and bickering in the polity.
The poor standard of living, alongside the current biting economic hardship engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic, also contributes to the negative and discordant tones among many Nigerians.
Nonetheless, without sounding like an apologist and government publicist, I think Nigeria has a lot to celebrate than to squabble over our differences. For the mere fact that we have gone through 60 years of economic challenges, war, corruption, incursion, and other forms of crises, the country has remained strong as a united entity.
Let us not forget that the country is at war both from internal and external forces. The war might be economic, which, by the way, is the mother of all wars, or in the form of insurgency, etcetera.
Today, in Nigeria, the North-East is faced with insurgency, which has in no small measure affected the economy and put the country on the map of terrorist nations. Similarly, the North-West is also faced with rising waves of crime in the form of banditry, and, in the North-Central, there have been incessant clashes between farmers and herders, and this has worsened the food crisis of the country.
The South-East and South-South basically depend on subsistent agriculture, and this may not compensate for the shortfall in parts of the country with higher food production (which have been hit by farmers-herders’ clashes). More fundamentally, the South-East has its own growing concerns posed by the secessionist group, IPOB, while the South-West has its own pocket of challenges.
With all these elements of challenges that Nigeria has, in effect, we must work together more than ever before to tackle the challenges that divide us. Just like an average American believes in the “America first” slogan, Nigerians should also begin to speak in one voice as one nation, and that is the only way to truly have a country that we can all be proud of.
The economic condition of Nigeria seems to be a contributory reason why Nigerians do not believe in their country. Of course, our economic problems have been further compounded by the activities of bandits and herder-farmers’ clashes, thereby making the country’s agro-ecological footprint to massively shrink. It is, therefore, very pertinent that government embarks on massive revolutionary programmes to salvage the agricultural sector and make it more lucrative. Our agricultural products have to be given value addition, which would create more jobs and sources of employment for the youth. Let us not forget that once the youths are meaningfully employed, the wave of crime and criminality would reduce drastically in the country.
It is also necessary to point out the fact that Nigeria’s agricultural sector still has room for growth and development. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FOA), Nigeria is one out of five countries that produce more food than required and the only nation in Africa, but the challenge here is that about 70 per cent of the food produced does not make it into the food chain.
The agricultural sector of Nigeria cannot witness any significant improvement if the power sector does not in any way improve first. In my previous article, I had written extensively on the problems beleaguering the power sector and how to improve electricity supply in the country. One of the fundamental problems we have in the agricultural sector is that there is inadequate industrial machination to transform and process the most perishable agricultural produce to finished products. Of course, this means that there is little or no added value-chain in the agricultural sector.
Going further, it is very imperative to point out here that the discordant tunes in the polity must be handled by government with shrewdness to avoid any further degeneration. And for this not to happen, the government has to be all-embracing in its policy formulation and execution, for many of the discordant tones are coming from the region(s) that have felt marginalised by government’s policies and programmes.
And to those fanning the embers of secession and break-up, my message for them is that this country stands a better chance to overcome its challenges in unity than in division. Our cultural multiplicity and heritage have been a complementary factor to the progress we made in the journey of our nationhood so far. For now, even in times to come, division is never the way out to solve our problems. We must know that every nation of the world has problems but the way they handle them makes them better or worse.
At 60, by and large, Nigeria has more to celebrate, regardless of the challenges we have had so far. If not for anything, we need to celebrate our unity that has stood against all odds. To this end, Nigerians must starve the tendencies that divide us and feed the ones that unite us.
If Nigerians will as well believe in their country and put it first, then the issues of restructuring, constitutional amendment, a better federal system, and, above all, Igbo presidency will be the prerequisite towards actualising the “Nigeria First” agenda.
I cannot end this piece without wishing a happy 60th anniversary to our great nation. God bless Nigeria!