Today is Nigeria’s 57th birthday. I’m torn between congratulating her on this anniversary or wishing her sound health. I’m old enough to know that that this celebrant ails and needs quick surgical intervention for survival. What do you do for the infirm, particularly one that some of his children want dead? To celebrate or pray for good health? I think I should just spend the time today reminiscing on the good past and wish that this ailing giant would not die, but get back its groove and prosper.
October 1 is especially a day for celebration. It is with all countries when they have their national days. We also used to celebrate this day, our Independence Anniversary. We looked forward to the day. We felt very proud as Nigerians. But not so, anymore! Today’s anniversary has little or no meaning to many of us, young and old. It just passes like any other day.
As young children, we took part in the march past on Independence Day. We wanted to be at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos. If we were not selected from school, we watched the parade on television at home. That time, when Nigeria was in sound condition, we had electricity to watch the parade live on TV and enjoyed the march past, music from the military band and display by the labour unions and schools. Children of today hardly have any emotional connection to Nigeria, let alone the Independence Day parade. In our early years in school, we were not only made to appreciate the significance of the National Day, we also learnt about the importance of the national flag, the coat of arms and what the components represent. We were taught that whenever the national anthem was played, you stood, sang along and showed respect. But all that was gone when Civics and citizenship education disappeared from the school curricula. The consequence is that Nigeria birthed a large population of citizens who do not understand what it means to be true, patriotic citizens.
Even the patriots among us who still dream to be part of the National Day celebration have been denied the opportunity after the 2010 bombing incident near the Eagle Square in Abuja, which claimed 12 lives. As I observed last year in this column, none of the innocent citizens who lost their lives in that blast carried out by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) were considered worthy enough for national recognition. Neither were the families paid compensation. How many more of our citizens lose their lives in very painful and avoidable circumstances without getting justice nor their families compensated for the sacrifice? Is it then strange when more and more Nigerians turn against their fellow citizens and even the country? Government’s response after the MEND bomb attack was to cancel the October 1 national parade outright or restrict the event to Aso Rock to forestall possible attacks by terrorists.
If Nigerians who love to do so won’t have the privilege of watching the national parade today, they cannot, however, miss the ritual of goodwill messages from our leaders. A monotonous rendition of admonitions that mean and change nothing, because those who offer them do so for mere formality.
You get to hear such statements as, the celebration provides an opportunity for “sober reflection.” Even those who consume intoxicant and get inebriated eventually get cured of their hangovers. What with this unending sober reflections! Nigerians are also always urged to eschew violence as if they are naturally wired to be violent. They are lectured about maintaining peace and unity of the country. The more this call is made, the more divided we get.
The messages also talk about the country making “giant strides” and plead for the citizens to make sacrifice.
Truth is that many of the leaders who give these messages hardly exhibit or reflect the same behaviours they expect from the ordinary Nigerians. What makes them believe the citizens would listen and obey these admonitions. Ironically, Nigeria is more divided along economic, ethnic and religious fault lines today than ever.
Nigeria of today isn’t the old country in which some of us grew up. As kids in the late 60s we made paper boats, which were put to sail inside the gutter in front of our home in Lagos. We derived joy in seeing whose boat would sail fast down the gutter. We could do this because the gutters were regularly maintained and not clogged with wastes. And our health was not imperiled, because of the pastime. Sanitary officers fumigated the gutters and the surroundings regularly.
In 2017 Nigeria, 57 years after Independence, governments at all levels spend billions of naira constructing roads, drainages and other facilities, which they watch deteriorate with impunity. We cannot build new infrastructure and yet cannot maintain the existing ones.
Another of Nigeria’s sad ironies is that the majority of our leaders who attended public secondary schools don’t find those schools worthy anymore. Even those make laws and govern public universities in our land don’t have confidence in our universities and other tertiary institutions. They prefer that their children fly abroad to study. Some of us who had the privilege of schooling in the country before the system degenerated had Ghanaians, Indians and other foreigners as teachers in our secondary schools. At the University of Ilorin I was taught by British professors and lecturers from India and Uganda. They left our shores one after the other as Nigerian rulers began to mismanage the country and its resources. Today, many Nigerian academics are manning departments in foreign universities. Our own tertiary institutions are grossly underfunded and underperforming. Not only does Nigeria lack enough schools for her children, there are also no jobs for the lucky ones who struggle to acquire education.
It’s the same affliction in healthcare delivery. Only the citizens who cannot afford the cost of medical tourism and the expensive private medicare locally patronise the public hospitals.
Another sad tale is that Nigeria, which used to feed itself in the early years after independence could no longer do so because the citizens developed a taste for foreign foods. A country that cannot feed itself cannot but be sick.
Talking about national assets, how many of our children know that Nigeria once had a national carrier, Nigeria Airways? Does anyone remember that we used to have one of the biggest and best national shipping companies, Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL)?
National Fertiliser Company of Nigeria (NAFCON) in Onne used to be one of the most profitable ventures Nigeria invested in until it was run down and sold to foreigners. Ditto for Eleme Petrochemical Company. What about the oil refineries? All we used to hear was that they were undergoing turnaround maintenance. They never produce enough fuel for the country.
We also have Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill, that is not rolling any steel. We had Delta Steel Company and the Iron Ore Company at Itakpe Nigeria is proudly importing military aircraft from Pakistan, a country that was a non-starter when we were already priding ourselves as giant of Africa and liberating sister troubled nations from the clutches of apartheid. We had the Oku Iboku newsprint company. Many of these national assets were sold to investors who turned out to be undertakers for those companies’ funerals.
Nigeria inherited a rail transportation system from the British colonialists. Almost 60 decades after Independence our trains are still running on the narrow gauge. Only the last and current administrations have shown some seriousness about changing the situation.
We had enough light during the era of the Electricity Company of Nigeria (ECN). Then we moved to the Nigeria Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and began to lose the electric authority. Not even the Power Holding Company could guarantee adequate power before it was unbundled and sold.
Now we are stuck with a badly executed energy privatisation, which foisted Discos and Gencos that still need bailout before they can run their businesses. Meanwhile, the Nigerian government with all its poor record in running successful ventures is still holding on to transmission infrastructure.
We are then bogged with nauseating tales like, while the Gencos are producing 7,000 megawatts of electricity, our transmission capacity is 5,000 megawatts. Sometimes, the story is that the Discos cannot distribute all that has been generated. Isn’t it a sickness that 57 years after independence, we are still celebrating hitting 6,000 megawatts for the entire country when Lagos alone needs more than 10,000 megawatts to be self-sufficient.
The most saddening in all these is that some still prefer that Nigeria continues to run on this failed template. Only a few days ago five northern governors listed retaining a strong federal government as condition to support restructuring of the country. Really? A strong federal government that has been so weak and sick over the decades? Read their lips. What they did not utter is that all this is about crude oil, a commodity that the rest of the world has found an alternative to, but on which these leaders wish to continue to premise Nigeria’s prosperity.
I just hope and pray they won’t let this country die of anaemia. I wish Nigeria good recovery today and always.