Looking at the history of some modern countries, you discover that at 59, they had gone past the toddler and experimental stage of growth and development. They had worked out a nationhood credo steering their society and citizens along an ideological speedway, away from a route of potholes and mined shallow pits that slowed you down or that knocked you out completely when the treacherous explosives went off.
You wouldn’t make any progress plying that road, even if you were guaranteed double the lifetime of Methuselah! It’s not how long you last that matters; it’s how you handle your time that counts. For great societies, life didn’t begin at 59. It got golden then. But these restless communities didn’t construct a comfort tent to announce they had arrived. They began to scale new heights. They sat atop mountains, looking beyond their gilded grounds, seeking new conquests to make them secure a digit in the statistics of history.
As Nigeria tepidly marked the 59th milestone this month, nothing, I’m afraid, suggested that our country is engaged in any serious enterprise of building an adhesive and buoyant society. Life in the country is in the backwaters as I write. Our leaders are still a clique alienated from those they depend on to rule them.
Our people are a conquered and dejected lot. The spell of wanderlust driving them from one fruitless venture to another in the vast length and breadth of Nigeria pushes some to elemental crimes putting us in the top bracket of the felonious league. A new onslaught of levies to further diminish our meagre income is coming our way, starting with increased VAT regime and the return of toll on federal highways. Other societies in the contemporary world had gotten past these stages at 59.
At its 59th Independence in 2012, Cuba had arrived as a nation to be reckoned with globally. It wasn’t struggling with issues of cohesion, illiteracy, poverty, ignorance as Nigeria is doing close to six decades of ‘freedom’ from colonial rule. Part of the thrilling story of this small territory (pop.11.48m.2017) is that it sent its young men and women to fight in the struggle to liberate parts of Africa under white colonial and apartheid subjugation. It has a hero in a man called Fidel Castro who wasn’t known to live parasitically off the sweat of the masses. When the entire military might of the formidable US moved against Cuba, it was the believable war cry of Castro that brought the people of Cuba together to defeat the Americans. At 59 in Cuba, the citizens and their leaders were not going for medical treatment overseas. Fidel Castro was ill for years. He was treated by local doctors in Cuban till he passed on on November 26, 2016. At 59, Cuba’s medicare profile was one of the best in the world.
India at 59 in 2006, was a military and economic titan. Its politics also flourished, boasting the largest democracy on planet earth. It has never experienced a military takeover, despite its boisterous politics and an election process involving hundreds of millions of eligible citizens over weeks of casting the vote. The year India turned 59, the country had US President George Bush visit India to sign a landmark nuclear deal.
The same year, India launched the largest-ever rural job scheme to lift 60 million families out of poverty. It was also the year the nation gave birth to the Changing Innovation System that is today birthing India as the 8th Wonder of the World in Information Technology. India’s space exploits, culminating in the recent Moon Mission, is traced to its advances in Information Technology. Neighbouring Ghana was 59 in 2016. In its annals are episodes indexing a rich history in sports, culture and politics. The country had long arrived at the point of an opposition candidate toppling the incumbent before we secured that record in 2015. Ghanaian politics has done so three times, beginning in 2000. Current leader, Akuffo-Addo, himself defeated sitting President John Mahama.
Before its 59th anniversary, Ghana had had a foremost Pan-Africanist leader, Kwame Nkrumah, whose advanced ideas on continental unity, dating back to the 50s and 60s, are now being hailed as the panacea for the troubles neocolonialism has brought upon Africa. When the gale of xenophobic attacks in South Africa broke upon the blacks, the world began to recollect the sayings of the Ghanaian leader that Africa’s power lies in unity. On Ghana’s Independence Day in 1957, he had declared that Ghanaians should not rejoice at their freedom until all Africa was also liberated. A nation’s greatness begins with the making of its heroes. Where are Nigeria’s national heroes on its 59th anniversary?
The United States of America was 59 in 1835, with Andrew Jackson as its president. It was the year the heavily indebted nation paid off all it owed externally and internally, freeing the country to embark on projects to benefit the people. One of the first of such infrastructure the president undertook was a bridge, the longest in the US.
Although that year also marked the first assassination attempt on a president, the period didn’t stop giant strides from taking place. For instance, the US’ 59th anniversary witnessed the first issue of the New York Herald newspaper. It was founded by the ‘inventive’ editor, James Gordon Bennett, whose work ‘’ultimately influenced the entire American press’’. Today’s ‘invasive’ nature of the press, with its ‘sensationalist’ accompaniment is often linked to the New York Herald.
When The Peoples Republic of China struck 59 in 2008, Amazon.com published a book, China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance, chronicling the communist nation’s remarkable achievements since its establishment in 1949. The three editors of the book said the period marked what they called the ‘’most tumultuous and traumatic since the uprising of 1989 in Tiananmen Square.’’ It was the year of the Beijing Olympics, when the best of the communists was on display. At 59, China was a world power needing no introduction as the successor to the US as the most powerful nation in the world. The prognoses are there for analysis.
Nigeria’s own 59th anniversary hasn’t been eventful to propose that we have arrived where others were when they hit that milestone. Does it then indicate we are yet to start? If it’s a bit mischievous to conclude we’re toddlers at 59, might it be safe to ask if Nigeria’s own life begins at 59?
Ojewale writes from Lagos