By Ochereome Nnanna
COME tomorrow, October 1, 2010, Nigeria clocks 50. It is the Golden Jubilee of the independence of the most populous all-Black nation on earth, even though the country is actually 96 years old. Forty six of those years were spent under British colonial rule.
I have yet to come across a Nigerian who is happy and proud of our achievement as a nation at 50. But government is rolling out the red carpet to justify over N16 billion which the National Assembly appropriated for a needless jamboree.
About 50 years ago, three countries that had just emerged from colonial rule were marked down for greatness in the near future. These were India, Brazil and Nigeria.
These three countries shared a lot in common. They had massive, well-watered territories, large populations of great ethno-cultural diversities, whose emerging local elites had performed very well in the preparations to take over from the colonialists.
But, what do we have today? India has met the expectations of the world. As the former colonial powers of Europe are burning out their fuels of greatness like dying stars in the solar system, India is on the ascendancy. Indian companies are buying up British conglomerates even in Britain. The same applies to Brazil, the fastest rising economy in the two American continents.
What about Nigeria? Fifty years down the line, Nigeria is on the brink of failure as a state. We have been told by several prognostications (the latest being that of a former American Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr John Campbell) that the coming elections of 2011 might mark the end of the Nigerian experiment if we get it wrong once again.
We have also been rated by Goldman Sachs as having the potential to make it to the club of the 20 biggest economies in the world by the year 2020 if put our acts right.
Nigeria’s high rating 50 years ago owed to the quality of its burgeoning local educated elite. India’s Mahatma Gandhi was able to weld a riotously diverse subcontinent into a nation that, despite its many internal challenges, was able to avert military intervention and civil war.
Nigeria had its own version of Gandhi, in the person of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who built on the sound nationalist foundations of Pa Herbert Macauley. “Zik”, as his admirers fondly called him, was the doyen of African nationalism, who inspired other Black African giants such as Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Madiba Nelson Mandela and the others.
Zik was Nigeria’s foremost nationalist. He prevented the Northern Region from opting out of Nigeria during the independence talks. Zik’s National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and its affiliates won elections in the East, West and North.
This coalition should have produced the first indigenous government. Let me quote the excerpt of an interview I had with one of the few surviving nationalists on why Zik could not be the Premier of Nigeria even after his party and its coalition partners won majority of votes in the 1959 federal elections:
“In the 1959 election, the election that preceded independence, the NCNC, which was predominant in the East, having 50 per cent in the West and having a foothold in the North through NEPU, scored a total of 2,594,577 votes to capture 94 seats in the Federal House.
The Action Group/UMBC alliance had 1,992,364 to capture 73 seats in the House. The NPC scored a total of 1,992,179 votes to capture a total of 142 seats in the House.
So, the constituencies were carved out in such a way that the North would always be in control, and if you look at subsequent delimitation of constituencies and the population figures, the North has always ensured to maintain this pattern of dominance because nobody will like to throw away his advantages voluntarily”.
Thus, Nigeria was about the only country where the leading figure against colonial rule was prevented through the machinations of the departing colonial masters from assuming power and laying the foundation for good leadership.
This is one of the primary roots of our lack of good leadership, the number one cause of our backwardness. The thwarting of Zik became a part of our political culture down the line. After the coup that overthrew Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi, Lt Col Yakubu Gowon was empowered because he was a Northerner, though he was not the next most senior officer.
Shehu Shagari was not the most outstanding among those seeking to be president in 1979. Dr Alex Ekwueme has been stopped from being president twice (1984 coup and 1999). Chief Moshood Abiola won a presidential election, which was annulled by regional hawks in the army.
Obasanjo chose ailing Umaru Yar’Adua and a dark horse Goodluck Jonathan despite the fact that other sounder, more accomplished aspirants such as Ebitu Ukiwe, Peter Odili, Aliyu Gusau, among others, were in the race, simply because Obasanjo wanted to cover his tracks and protect his selfish interests after failing to obtain a third term.
Nigeria suffered a vicious colonial experience as never seen in other places.
The British ensured we would never weld a nation out of our diversity through its divide and rule tactics and empowering of the North against the South, the Majorities against the Minorities. Unfortunately, when we took over our own affairs, those who were favoured by the arrangement simply built on it, never giving others a chance and thus creating an atmosphere of unending conflicts.
From tomorrow henceforth, Nigerians must decide to re-lay the foundations of their nation, putting aside the wicked legacy of inequalities Britain bequeathed to us. Otherwise, the “prophets of doom” will say: “I told you so”. It is only when we discover the formula for the emergence of good leaders that, 50 years hence, or even before, Nigeria will become what God created it to be.