BEFORE the infamous military incursion into governance in Nigeria in 1966, life was good and expectation for a better and greater nation was high.
The regional leaders between 1960 and 1966 were competing to out-do one another in their respective regions. As a growing up school boy between 1960 and 1970 in my town,Iwo, of then Western Region now in Osun State, I enjoyed the good things the Western regional government under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first premier of the region offered.
It was indeed a people-focused government providing free education to all school age children, irrespective of which part of the country they come from as long as they live within the region that extended to now Delta State.
Also as part of its cardinal programme, free medical services, clean pipe- borne water supply, integrated agricultural programme, among others, were undertaken. The schools were well laid and equipped with both educational and sporting facilities and amaximum of 30 pupils to a teacher was the standard.
In Iwo town of then, we used to have 24 hours uninterrupted power supply from Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN, with street lights from 6pm to 6am every day. The roads were well tarred with road signs at all points. These roads were regularly maintained for smooth motoring.
But today all these roads have gone to ruins and have become death-traps for road users. Unfortunately, it is not only the old Western region’s socio-political and economic life that has become estranged from our realities, the whole of Nigeria has become alienated from the modern and democratic world. Nigeria and Nigerians have also become victims of socio-economic stagnation, imposed fear, insecurity, unprecedented psycho-cultural damage and trauma.
Between 1966 and 1999, except for the interlude of four years of civilian regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari(1979-1983), the military through many coups and counter-coups ruled Nigeria without the consent of Nigerians.
The worst signpost of all these military regimes was that of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, IBB, who ruled Nigeria from 1985 – 1993. He introduced the policy of Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, which today has led to the collapse of the nation’s economy.
Babangida put in place a bogus transition process spending billions of dollars that eventually went down the drain as he eventually still-birthed the transition by annulling the June 12 presidential election which was believed to have been won by Moshood Abiola who contested on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, against Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention, NRC.
The two parties were created, guided and funded by Babangiga with public fund. Babangida infamously, will be remembered forever as the sponsor of the most expensive transition in the history of Nigeria and perhaps Africa.
While Abiola, the custodian of the June 12 mandate will go down in our blessed memory as a democratic icon who paid the ultimate price for democracy.
The wife, the late Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, is still remembered as a heroine of political rights and justice after her death in the hands of the late General Sani Abacha’s goons. Nigerians will remember Gen. Babangida and the late Gen. Abacha as the historical signpost of anti-democratic and anti- human geniuses who not only curtailed the development and progress of Nigeria and Nigerians but allegedly instigated the killing and maiming of hundreds of bright Nigerians as well as many architects of modern Nigeria, including Pa Alfred Rewane.
The Nigerian economy was brought to its knees and since then has not been able to rise beyond the level of subsistence. Major institutions and parastatals were killed. Nigerian Airways, Nigerian Railway Corporation, Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd, all became a shadow of their old self. Our educational institutions became mere assembly of youths without future.
On graduation, thousands of them spend years looking for jobs that are not there. They subsequently turn to embrace all forms of vices, including armed robbery, prostitution, fraud, and cultism and so on. This period witnessed the exodus of Nigerians to all manners of countries in search of means of livelihood.
No wonder, having been pushed to the wall, Nigerian masses and popular organisations under the leadership of the likes of Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, the late Gani Fawehinmi,Olisa Agbakoba, Pa Abraham Adesanya, and a host of others, had no choice other than to embark on mass actions that brought state affairs to its knees. Abacha became a hostage of his own power and wickedness. Like an endangered rodent he chose to live permanently inside the dark tunnel of Aso Rock.
Though Nigerians could not lay their hands on him, an imported mistress is believed to have played a role in rescuing Nigerians from the subject matter of Professor Wole Soyinka’s narrative, The Open Sore of a Continent.
All honours go to Nigerians who volunteered everything, including putting their lives in the firing line, to get Nigeria join the comity of democratic nations in 1999. The process which was supervised by now retired General Abdulsalam Abubarkar failed to glorify all democratic ethos.
The greatest of the casualties of that transition remains till today the “Nigerian” Constitution or better still the Constitution of the “Federal Republic of Nigeria” concocted by 24 ‘wise men” for and on behalf of 120 million Nigerians with an introductory affirmation of “we the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria having solemnly resolved… do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution”.
The desire of Nigerians to revisit the Constitution and make for themselves a more democratic, people-driven constitution has so far been rebuffed by the executive and the legislators, preferring rather a class preservative constitutional reform.
Despite all its imperfections, Nigerians seem to have agreed that the worst of democratic government is better than the most benevolent military regime. What is required is the consistency of the opposition to see itself as the soul and hope of a better Nigeria.
We must remember that struggle is a continuous engagement. Indeed even in freedom the struggle must continue.
Lagos was the hot-bed of struggles in those days and it paid dearly for it. The city was besieged by all apparatus force. But the same Lagos today has become the reference point of development.
It is not by accident that one of those who fought gallantly to attain this democracy became the governor in 1999 and today 12 years after the chains of development in Lagos though not yet at its potential is the function of 8 years of activism waged by Governor Bola Amed Tinubu, against the powers at the centre presided over by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
We are lucky today that the South West has regained her lost ground in the wake of the wars of conquest declared on her by General Obasanjo in 2003 and 2007. It is time to reawaken the spirit of progressive politics/governance that was bequeathed to us by Pa Obafemi Awolowo and his contemporaries across Nigeria. It is possible, yes we can.
Mr. AKANNI IROMINIa social activist, wrote from Lagos.