Happy 50th Anniversary, Nigeria

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THERE is something to celebrate in the fact that we got this far. For a country that went into war only six years after its independence, we rejoice that it pushed all that aside to stay together for another 44 years.

Few gave Nigeria a chance once the war broke out. The issues that culminated in the war were as diverse as the various political interests that contended for attention well before independence.

The stories are told differently. The content depends on the teller, the audience and the most importantly, the interest of the story teller.

We know for real that Nigeria has been through many tribulations caused by the selfishness of her leaders. There are very few exceptions and they never lasted long enough to make any remarkable impact.

There are many claims about the stalled development of Nigeria in 50 years, though those who should have made the country great delight in reciting their achievements, most of them projects that are so ephemeral that they never outlived their executors.

Nigeria is backward by many accounts. There are few things to look at that do not reflect that Nigeria has not done well, or could have done better.  The fact is mutely admitted by leaders who after futile searches for things to point out as the highlights of Nigeria’s 50 years of independence end up with the abstract.

Unity is a major achievement. That the country was still one called for celebration they say. What is unity? How has making the country unitary, not really united, improved anyone’s lot?

Those who claim the unity of Nigeria was a feat have refused to understand that being a country does not mean we are united. Trite recourse to clichés like unity in diversity is subtle refusal to accept that we are more divided today than at independence.

However, division is not the major challenge. The three regions, later four, were competitive. They had their areas of comparative advantage in agriculture and minerals and used them to develop infrastructure in the major urban areas in their regions.

In 1967 when the 12 States were created, the intention was not to create new centres of development or to make them more competitive along the lines the former regions operated.

States came about as part of the war effort. Fragmenting the country, especially the eastern part, was meant to bring the civil war to a quicker conclusion. The massacres, killings and the war lasted over three years during which more than a million people lost their lives and the country was distracted from laying solid foundations for its early development.

While state creation brought  governments nearer to the people, in a manner of speaking, with the local government making them still nearer, there have been few benefits from these exercises that largely succeeded in bloating bureaucracy and the cost of running governments.

In place of a few dominant interests, each time new States are created, new power blocks emerge and the effort to resolve complaints about marginalisation create another round of complaints. There is no end in sight to the requests.

The war over, and with the boom from oil, Nigeria went over-drive in meaningless expenditure mostly on consumption. Emergency contractors hooked into the appetite of compulsively corrupt leaders who never gave a thought to tomorrow, which they found too remote to hold their interest.

Nigeria is suffering the lack of care that trained its early days. Whether under civilians or the military, the country has been treated as one long gravy train. Trillions of dollars that it earned from oil was not spent on projects that could improve the lives of Nigerians.

Evidences abound of the insincerity of leadership in 50 years. Every statistic has Nigeria on the wrong side of the development curve, actually we are worse than we were in 1960. From education to health, employment, security and quality of life as a whole, Nigerian leadership has offered its people excuses instead of service.

People tend to preface discussions on Nigeria with conditionals – if there is improved electricity, if there is great leadership, if we cut down on corruption, if the quality of education improves, if we get drinking water, if there are roads – we live in a country of ifs.

How can a country with such much potential, human and material, fail to harness in 50 years? Nigerian leaders have many questions to answer. Their great idea of sacrifice is a façade.

We celebrate the resilience of the ordinary Nigerian, who has refused, from generation to generation, to be part of the unceasing attempts to decimate the country by those who don the garb of leadership, a guise for their jiggery pokery.

We celebrate the sacrifices of our founding founders. Some blame them for the failings of Nigeria, but the country they laid out 50 years has been distorted beyond reason, that is why there are strident calls for a return to the regional arrangements.

Let us celebrate our 50 years with hopes that the years ahead would be better and that the labours of our heroes – past and present – would never be in vain again.

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