By AWA KALU
As you read this piece on this beautiful Friday morning, a public holiday has been declared to mark the 50th Anniversary of this country’s political independence from our colonial masters.
Of course, each anniversary of our independence has always warranted a holiday and this cannot be an exception. It’s our golden jubilee after all and there is a sharp division on the question whether we should celebrate meekly or whether we should gloat, dine and wine.
Whatever your opinion may be, the celebrations will go on presumably with fanfare, pomp and pageantry in acknowledgment of the year of our jubilee. Jubilees do not happen twice!, notwithstanding the global and widespread economic crisis that is top on the agenda of most developed, developing and least developed nations.
It is possible that the avoidance of any form of gloating in our celebrations would be a clear acceptance of the argument of the majority that we are yet to arrive at our destination fifty years after the journey began.
Does any nation ever arrive at its destination or is the life of a nation a continuous journey punctuated by events whether remarkable or not? Yet again, one may ask, when did the life of this country begin? Some would say it began in 1914 when the amalgamation of the Northern group of provinces with its counterpart, the Southern group of provinces was achieved.
However, in the light of the fact that what called for celebration was the 50th anniversary of our independence from Great Britain, it would then seem incontestable that Nigeria was born on the 1st of October, 1960 and that it was on that date that its journey as a nation began.
A nation is akin to human being, born naked and unable to do things for itself, assisted for many years, weaned and let loose to cater for him or herself. For the human, it is those who bring the child into the world that are responsible for its upbringing including providing instruction as to how to survive in a competitive environment.
For a nation, however, the burden is often cast on the proverbial ‘founding fathers’ whose dreams, wisdom and foresight propel the nation to greatness. According to that belief, it was the founding fathers of the United States who dreamt of a strong nation propelled by the ideals of equality of all human beings, that government itself is instituted for the welfare of the governed and that every person is entitled to the pursuit of happiness.
The dream of America’s founding fathers has been vigorously pursued by their successors in the course of several decades or even centuries of democratic governance. In our own case, it appears that the dreams of our founding fathers were encapsulated in that first National Anthem which my generation recited effortlessly.
We hailed Nigeria, our own dear native land, and we pledged that though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand. We then agreed that we were proud to serve our sovereign motherland. For reasons that have not been completely satisfactory, that National Anthem which acknowledged our diversity and affirmed our unity was hastily jettisoned.
In its place, we are beckoned on, as compatriots to arise and to obey Nigeria’s call. That call is to serve our fatherland with love, strength and faith. We then resonate in the belief that the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain. In unison, we confirm our preparedness to serve our fatherland with all our might and to produce only one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.
Whichever of the two anthems you choose or prefer, there is no iota of doubt that the ingredients of a national ideology are inherent in both. The question at this time, at our 50th independence anniversary, our golden jubilee, is whether we have struck the chord embedded in both anthems – the task of building a great Nigeria?
In addition, can the successors to the founding fathers of this nation claim to have fulfilled the promise of the anthems recited by our youth?
In answer, we may borrow a few words from a book (Foundations of a New Nigeria) edited by two great and celebrated scholars, Sam Oyovbaire and Tunji Olagunju. In their introduction, they argue that ‘History is a succession of events in the life of nations, of peoples or of communities.
Historical events are social cumulations. Fundamentally, one set of identifiable events in time and space is as much rooted in a preceding set as it is the root of succeeding events’. ‘Similarly’, they contend, ‘historical events in one place could become the genesis of events in other places depending, of course, on the critical nature of the former. In this manner of conceptualizing events, history could be said to be unrestricted by space and time.’
The authors further opine that history and historical events are not amorphous or shapeless occurrences. On the contrary, historical events and processes possess uniqueness which marks them as much the product of the past and of particular places, as they are sufficiently differentiated from their antecedents. Such uniqueness of history provides both the basis from a break from either the past or from events of other places, as well as the basis of a completely new future history.
The decisiveness of the unique nature and character of historical events and processes provides the basis for the differentiation in history.
They then affirm a truism, on which basis our country may be judged, that a set of events and processes could be quite profound and long drawn-out with the attendant consequence that existing structures and values of a nation become completely broken or overturned, giving rise to new structures, institutions, values and patterns of social conduct.
With the history of Nigeria as a plank on which to analyze her problems, Chief Arthur Nwankwo, a foremost nationalist and public affairs analyst lambasts this country in his book Nigeria: The Political Transition & The Future of Democracy as a nation in search of identity and consciousness. He argues that the dilemma of contemporary Nigeria is mind-boggling.
Nigeria is bedeviled by a myriad of problems which require radical therapies. In very strong words, he compares ‘the enormous problems of the polity’ with ‘the reality of a tragic dance of death; a ritual with no purpose and a rite in celebration of decay and putrefaction’. Arthur Nwankwo further contends that ‘in examining the Nigerian condition’, he is ‘reminded of that parabolic signification of communal ethos in a society caught in the web of organized intrigue.
The belief that a disease which is ravaging a land needs the blood of an animal matching its potency for exoneration, exorcism and amelioration holds absolutely true for the Nigerian State’. In a tone brimming with resignation and surrender, he alleges that ‘the only qualification to the time-honoured liberationist paradigm is that not even the blood of a mortal, and a clansman’s at that , may have the efficacy of purgation, or the potency of regeneration’.
As angry as his words indicate, he however takes the path of a statesman and asks; ‘what are the basic tentative measures likely to arrest the calm strive towards chaos and the fatalistic journey into the molting abyss and morass of the unknown?’
He concludes that Nigeria’s drift into chaos is both attitudinal and institutional and his belief is that arresting the drift demands the re-orientation of individual and collective awakening to realities. I have listened to radio and television discussions including reading numerous newspaper articles aimed at appraising Nigeria at 50.
It appears that there is a consensus that on its Golden Jubilee anniversary, our country is afflicted with pre-pubescent and adolescent problems.
Touted as the most populous black nation on earth, recognized as a country endowed with vast and extensive human and natural resources, blessed with the potential to be what it can be, we still suffer the misfortune of a burden of who will bell the cat i.e. the cat of liberation from self-imposed stagnation and an unwillingness to march into unrestrained prosperity.
We are often in search of the ideas that will give fillip to our destiny. Thus, at independence, we were given a constitution which tied us somehow to the Monarchy of Great Britain. By 1963 when we parted ways with that constitution, we gave unto ourselves a Republican Constitution.
Then, anchored on allegations of corruption and misrule, a coup d’état overthrew that constitution and for several years we laboured under military leadership and fought a bitter civil war which deepened the schisms in the polity. In 1979, the military retreated to the Barracks in the belief that politicians had learnt their lessons.
On the last day of 1983, there was yet another coup d’état, followed by another in 1985 and 1993. Historians are familiar with the flip-flop in the formulation of policies that followed including the failure of a well designed transition to civil-rule programme.
Recognizing that it is the inalienable right of the people to choose who should regulate their affairs, the military again retreated to their Barracks in 1999 and have not given any overt indication of an intention to return despite the predilections of our politicians, some of which may sound as an invitation of some sort.
We are presently labouring under the burden of electoral reform or indeed the burden of electoral confusion and, a constitutional amendment complicated by dog fights at the National Assembly resulting, at the moment, in a sharp dissent from the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, as to the authenticity of a so-called amended Constitution.
In the year of our golden jubilee celebrations, it is doubtful whether we should impose on ourselves, an awkward situation which warrants a disagreement as to the genuineness of the amended Constitution and the concomitant Electoral Act, 2010. A seemingly ugly cleansing of the banking system, financial and personal insecurity and a legion of other problems, social and economic, underpin our golden jubilee.
But most Nigerians acknowledge that we are resilient and so, we will make it, even if slowly and painfully. The fact that we have had more than ten years of unbroken civil rule is eloquent testimony to our steadfastness.
Truly, it is a wonder that despite our wobbling and fumbling, we have lived under the umbrella of one Nigeria – an umbrella which is bigger than that of other rainmakers; an umbrella that is bigger than those of ethnic jingoists and chauvinists; an umbrella that is bigger than those of professional politicians, of certain fraudulent professors and other professionals, and of even those who do not like Nigeria.
I remember that date, 1st October 1960. As a primary school pupil decorated in a new school uniform and brand new Converse shoes, I took part in a march past on the day that the Union Jack was lowered and the Green-White-Green was hoisted. That flag will continue to fly, our frailties notwithstanding. It is my belief that we will continue to hail Nigeria, our own dear native land. Indeed, the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.