By Bisi Lawrence
Where were you in 1960? That is fifty-two years ago, the year of Nigeria’s independence, and what should be considered a memorable year, in any event. It was on the first day in the month of October, and the anniversary is actually in two days’ time, which brings it to the first burner at this time.
Well, you had probably not been born at that time, anyway. Then let me tell you that it was the best of times. Our hearts were aglow with hope, or expectations, even then, of better days ahead, since we were going to be able to rule ourselves as a nation. It was a long time coming.
The clamour for it began much longer than most of the people around could remember. If the sociological meaning of the term, “grassroots” means that part of the citizenry that is not directly affected by official developments, then a vast terrain of Nigeria came under that description.
Most of the people, whose minds were suffused with good feelings about the times ahead, had only a vague idea of the connotations of independence. I remember one of my father’s contemporaries usually submerged in Yogi philosophy, declaring a distinctive measure of unease and pointedly distancing himself from all expressions of optimism that swirled around him about independence.
But most of the people had smiles on their faces. The green-white-green motif of the National Flag spilled over from the identification of our national presentations and came to life in every sphere of our personal activities. We installed bunting; we waved banners; we painted the our drums, the sides of our mammy-wagons, the frontage of our dwellings – all in green-white-green. That, for many of us, was being patriotic enough.
However, that day, the first in October, 1960, was the product of sacrifices made by some who truly knew the essence of it. These were the nationalists who learnt about its meaning, who realized its import, and yearned for it with great zeal.
Their passion contributed in no small measure to the enthusiasm with which the populace welcomed self-rule. It had a good ring to it by the way they presented it to the people: it had the sound of freedom; it generated the air of self-realization. And so, the people joined the bandwagon to clamour for self-government, though not totally inured into self-awareness. They did not really know where they were going, but were sure they would be there soon.
Let us pause here to praise famous men who fought gallantly for that day. It is a long list and will not be exhausted here. But we can mention Herbert Macaulay, whose residence, “Kirsten Hall”, in Balbina Street in the heart of Lagos, has been wiped out to accommodate a telecommunication centre; Nnamdi Azikiwe, whose own mansion on the outskirts of the former capital, was appropriated from political motives by rivals who were former comrades at the nationalistic front.
Michael Imoudu, Nigeria’s immortal labour leader No.1, who dared to pull the colonial lion by the tail; Anthony Enahoro, who seemed to have been slightly ahead of his time; Osita Agwuna and Mokuogu Okoye, twin warriors who gave away the golden prospects of their youth; Abdallah, the lone Northern star; Obafemi Awolowo, who came to clear the pathway to freedom; Eyo Ita whose contributions have tended to be overshadowed by the more acclaimed efforts , in the same manner as those of people like H.O.Davies, Jaja Wachukwu, Aminu Kano, Ikenna Izimro, Peter Osugo, Nwanna and others. Many of them have been forgotten. Several were not even known. And the memory of those who are remembered has not, in the main, been lifted high.
What were the contents of those initial hopes that arose with the dawn of our independence? Prosperity, for one thing, seems to have moved further away through the years. At the time of independence, a graduate was not only assured of obtaining instant employment, but was also certain to be smothered with additional perks like a motor vehicle, or official accommodation and generous allowances. We discovered oil in our land, it is true, but we have relied so heavily on it that the cry now is for a diversification of the economy. Oil has almost impoverished us, though it has made billionaires of a select few through hook or crook.
Can we boast about the promotion of sound education in the past three decades? We used to have few universities – Ibadan, Zaria, Ife – but they were institutions of world repute. Now we have so many glorified “comprehensive academies” disguised in the academic gowns of full-fledged universities. In the health sector, the country is swamped with poorly managed or openly unlicensed establishments, a situation which recommends the health delivery services of India and South Africa to those who can afford them.
On the other hand, the hospitals that are properly established and run by government suffer irredeemably from a sporadic rash of strikes which is spread throughout the country. As a matter of regrettable fact, both the medical and educational institutions have been prostrated on innumerable occasions by industrial wrangling to the detriment of the quality of service they are supposed to render.
In transportation, one of the two most notable writers once observed that the Nigerian highways are “full of surprises”. Soon after, that remark came true for him in a heart-rending manner. But it even seems worse in the skies to a point that tragedy almost became the norm while safety came as a surprise. Our record in air travel was enviable at independence. We had a national carrier that we found reliable and profitable. Then came the crash. Our aviation situation is now lamentable.
But probably the most irritable aspect of our life as a nation is the way in which we have failed to become a nation worthy of that name. The various nationalities were much closer thirty years ago than they are now. We started out with three regions, we now have thirty-six states and yet people are calling for the creation of more states.
Hardly half the number of States we have right now can stand on their own, so what do we need to achieve with twenty more? What more than more executive establishments, more legislative institutions, more coat-of-arms and more national state anthems and flags—and, of course, more opportunities for squander mania and wholesale pilfering of the national assets at the expense of the commonwealth?
But, again, it provides us with more governments to vilify and a wider front for the denigration of our deficient and decadent “leadership”. We sidestep the direct disapproval of our leaders and prefer to address it in the abstract. It is so much easier thus to pile all our faults and foibles on the faceless entities who can be grouped under the classification of politicians and condemned wholesale, while we, the so-called common man, can stay safe and immaculate at a distance.
But very wisely has it been observed that, ultimately, a people get the leaders—and leadership—they deserve. We cannot honestly aver that we merit a higher standard of leadership than has emerged, or ought to have a better calibre of leaders than we have ourselves spawned over the past half-century. But very few people pause to consider the role of the “followership” in a democracy, which is the form of government we delude ourselves that we practise—our leaders tell us so, so it most be so.
Over the years, more Nigerians have found it much more sensible, much more convenient, to live abroad. We relocate our businesses abroad. We—or rather, they—send their children to school abroad. We—I mean, they—go for medical treatment abroad.
They even go for honeymoon abroad. That must be progress because not many Nigerians could afford to do that years ago, even when our currency was at par with the dollar which is now more than a hundred times stronger than the naira. And how many Nigerians had a private jet aircraft in those days? How many Nigerians felt in need of it?
Oh, to be young again, 52 years ago! To be able to dream and breathe the air of progress in the hope that better days are ahead; to be able to talk aloud and feel heeded, and walk alone and unafraid; to be able to enjoy a life that is wholesome and not just endure an existence afflicted by anxieties of “judicial killings” on the street, and the lethal menace of Boko haram in broad daylight. To be able to earn less and own more.
WHITHER Nigeria? Whither NIGERIANS?
I am a fifty-year old professional, practising here in Lagos. It is disheartening to me that there appears to be a virtually comprehensive erosion from our collective memory and thoughts of the historical significance and import of our National Day, 1st October, l960, and the pivotal role the Nigerian press played in bringing it about.
Particularly tragic, to my mind, is that the children and the young adults seem not to know about Dr. Azikiwe any more, not to talk of his multi-faceted in the press, sports, education, labour movement, political and social sciences, politics, culture and tradition, and as a foremost nationalist … Martin Ezean Okpaleke (0807.378.0695)
Zik is only one of a legion. We really show little regard for our country. The only time we raise our voice as a nation is when our national football team scores a goal. Look at our flag— what is inspiring about it, particularly to young minds? Obasanjo made some attempt with the National Pledge but it soon grew insipid in the absence of a symbol to which it could be addressed or linked.
We could not hold our last NATIONAL Day Parade in the open air and, before then, the celebrations have been “low-key” almost traditionally. Our curriculum is innocent of any impact of history as an important subject but, believe it or not, we do have a ministry for all these important functions. As for the regard for “our heroes past”, please don’t make me laugh when I should be shedding tears.
I understand that Jonathan also has Azikiwe as one of his names. Maybe if he uses it more often, it would remind us, as well as himself, that there was someone there before him. We are like a river that is getting increasingly forgetful of its source, and therefore all set to drying up. Time out..