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Sorry for my country at 49

By Ochereome Nnanna
ON October 1, 1960, Nigeria was in festive mood. The day had come at last. The British colonial rulers were going home. The Union Jack was coming down and the Green-White-Green, the most rhapsodic colour which portended a future of untrammelled economic possibilities and prosperity as well political stability, was going up.

The Giant of Africa had come out from under the dead weight of her colonial masters. The Nigerian Eagle was free to fly and there was nothing to stop us! We were set to show the world what a free Black Man can do.

Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, was the staging ground (as were hundreds of others across the three regions of the country – Eastern Region, Western Region and Northern Region, where the citizenry saluted the Nigerian Flag, with Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who was still the Queen’s representative, reviewing the parade for the first time in place of the Governor General. Many of our senior citizens who are now above 60 are better placed to describe the upbeat mood which the prospect of being in charge of our own destiny triggered in the citizenry and its leadership.

Far from the minds of the celebrants was the fear that things could go so badly that,  49 years later, some Nigerians would wonder if being independent was worth it.

Nobody thought our educational system would collapse and graduates of Nigerian universities would become as worthless as the Zimbabwean Dollar. Nobody knew that not a single Nigerian university would make it to the first 1000 in the world. Nobody knew that the schools they attended and were proud of would become hideouts for hemp smokers, with walls covered with evil-sounding graffiti written by students themselves. Nobody knew that teachers and non-teaching staff at all levels would be on strike almost permanently.

Nigeria, where people from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean came to enjoy high quality education now sends her children to Ghana and Benin Republic if she cannot afford to send them across the Big Water to America and Europe.

At Independence, the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) provided steady power supply to the few but well-organised urban metros, and many industrial estates (or parks as they are now called) were springing up in all the regions.

In 1964, the Eastern economy was rated as the fastest industrialising in the entire Third World, and Ikeja and Kano industrial clusters turned out goods that competed with the best in the world. Nigeria exported agricultural produce and raw materials. With the proceeds the three regions provided good governance for their people. We established refineries in 1965 just like Ghana. But unlike Ghana’s, ours are gone and we are net importers of finished petroleum products.

The power and industrial infrastructure are gone and Nigeria runs on individually owned power generators. We depend solely on oil mined in the Niger Delta. Instead of taxis, Nigerians now use commercial motorcycles (Okada) in towns and villages. Living in Nigeria has become an extremely Hobbesian experience.

Barely four years after independence the Nigerian Airways had one of the best and largest fleet of planes among national airlines in the Third World. Our pilots and crews were among the best trained. We had a railway system tailored to not just to move people and goods but also to unite the country and hasten her integration.

The only thing we have never gotten right – elections, the foundation for good and bad governance – have gone from bad to the worst. We now elect with arms and ammunition rather than our thumbs. The only time a free and fair election was organised, we annulled it and murdered its winner.

I am sorry for my country, one of the best and most blest on the surface of the earth. Nigeria my country is populated by some of the highest quality of human species in the world – confident, intelligent, competitive, innovative, hospitable and resourceful. We are the happiest people in the world because we are able to smile while we suffer. That is our main undoing. We lack courage.

When others suffer, they take their destiny in their hands to end it. We in Nigeria behave like people condemned to it. Suffering comes naturally to us and we take it lying down. Those who tried to confront or reject the evil that plagues Nigeria lost the battle. Biafra lost. Moshood Abiola lost. Gani Fawehinmi fought to the death but he did not win.

Niger Delta is fighting – and losing. Nigeria does not go to the hospital to look for cure to her ailment. She only sits at home and bemoans it.

It is only in Nigeria that bad or poor leaders whom everybody detests the way dogs detest cow dung will get a second term in office. Mr Umaru Yar’ Adua will only not get it if he does not ask for it, even though he has wasted 28 months hopping to and from Saudi Arabia and Germany while his ministers roam like sheep without shepherds. A couple of weeks ago, they could not hold their normal Wednesday Executive Council meeting.

Ministers were so carried away with the Sallah festivities that they could not produce a single memo for deliberations! Once the President is not around (as he often isn’t) ministers will find excuses not to work. Any excuse will do.

Nigeria is like a trapped eagle. We were freed from the trap of the British colonial masters only to be caught in our own indigenous trap that won’t let go. Femi Kuti put it right: Sorry sorry o! Sorry for Nigeria!

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