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NIGERIA: 52 years of what? (2)

By Awa Kalu

Three days ago, Nigeria as a country, celebrated 52nd anniversary of its political independence from our colonial masters. The anniversary was celebrated without fanfare or pomp and pageantry in acknowledgement of the global and widespread economic crisis that is top of the agenda of most developed, developing and least developed nations.

It is also possible that the avoidance of any form of gloating in our celebrations is a clear acceptance of the argument of the majority that we are yet to arrive at our destination fifty two 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 Protectorate with its counterpart, the Southern Protectorate was achieved.

At this juncture, it may simply be noted that what is presently known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria was not a country, at least prior to the amalgation of 1914. The indigenous and heterogeneous groups often derogatorily refer
red to as ‘tribes’, which make up his country, existed independent of each other with different cultural and political systems. However, the Colonial masters, largely for economic and administrative reasons, felt that there was a need to merge the Northern and Southern Protectorates into a single colony.

The fusion was achieved by Lord Fredrick Luggard, the then Governor General. It has often been wondered in several quarters whether the amalgamation was a political master stroke or an unmitigated error. The Jury is still out. As has been acknowledged, every journey has a beginning and it will be left to the discerning reader to determine whether our journey as a country truly began in 1914.

Snippets from our colonial history show that Lord Luggard made way for Sir. Hugh Clifford in 1919 or thereabout. It was indeed Sir Clifford that laid the foundations of democracy in the colony in that the first Nigerian Constitution of 1922 was appropriately called the Clifford Constitution. That Constitution introduced a Legislative Council and for the first time, enlightened Nigerians were afforded the opportunity of a say in the political affairs of their country.

No matter how tenuous their emergence in government was, what cannot be contradicted is that the 1922 Constitution was the first of many in the annals of this country. Historians equally acknowledge that it was that Constitution that sowed the seeds of nationalist movements at that time. The early Nationalists were the principal actors in the struggle against colonialism.

Late Herbert Macaulay for instance, is often referred to as the father of Nigerian nationalism. He was later joined in the struggle by the likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Sardauna of Sokoto and so on. It is believed that even women were not left out of the agitations that eventually led to the ouster of the Colonialists. What is popularly known as ‘the Aba women riots of 1929’ was a revolt against the involvement of women in the payment of tax.

Of course, the effort of women in the achievement of political independence cannot be ignored and this has been touted as one of the reasons for presenting the Amazons of yester-years on the face of the proposed 5,000 Naira currency. Even though suspended, it cannot be doubted that in the nearest future, an opportunity for acknowledging the efforts of women in nation building will present itself.

Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello – founding fathers of Nigeria

What needs to be repeated is that the combined pressure from men and women culminated in democratic self rule, first, for the Western and Eastern Regions and later for the Northern Region as a prelude for the independence of the nation from Great Britain.

However, in the light of the fact that what calls for celebration is the 52nd 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 a human being, born naked and unable to do things for itself, assisted for many years, weaned and let loose to cater for his 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. In the words of Hillary Clinton, formerly First Lady of the United States and new Secretary of State, ‘it takes a village’. If it takes a village to bring up a child, you may wonder, how many persons or villages would it take to ‘bring up’ a nation?

All that can be said is that:  for a nation, 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 52nd independence anniversary, 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?

The answer is not hard to find and we do not need any rocket scientist to grant us any illumination into our current travails in the build up to our independence anniversary. A careful examination of our recent history and social condition will leave no one in any doubt that following an incremental deterioration in our security situation, there has been a downgrading of our individual and collective well being.

Were we statistically minded, for instance, it would have been easy to quantify the havoc wrought by unmitigated armed robbery, car snatching and allied offences. How do you quantify the economic danger posed by the rise in kidnapping in many states in the Niger Delta and South-East regions? Where is the barometer with which we can measure the economic mayhem arising from sustained militancy in the Niger Delta which fortunately, was ameliorated by the amnesty programme initiated by the Federal Government?

What about the confusion now generated by the random deployment of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in different parts of the country leading to the dislocation of social and economic life? What about the understated impact of strikes such as the one occasioning a disruption of fuel supply to the nation’s capital which resulted in trauma for several residents? What about the notable consequences of national disasters such as the recent flood in Lagos and more recently, other parts of the country?

Can we be oblivious of the recent declaration of a state of emergency in parts of the Northern States? In the aggregate, it cannot be in doubt that the security of the state is the only guarantee for order, peace and good government. This was obvious to our founding fathers for which reason our extant constitution, in section 14(2)(b), declares that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government’. National security is inseparable from the welfare of the people for which reason, it is accorded the status of a fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy. Can a nation celebrate without security?

52ND ANNIVERSARY CAKE: President Goodluck Jonathan flanked by former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (third left); Senate President, Senator David Mark, former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme; Vice Prresident Namadi Sambo (second left) and other dignitaries during the cutting of the anniversary cake after the Presidential Change of Guards Parade at the Forecourts of the Presidential Villa, as part of activities marking Nigeria’s 52nd Independence anniversary, in Abuja, yesterday. Photo: Abayomi Adeshida.

In further 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-honored 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 aimed at appraising Nigeria at 52. It appears that there is a consensus that so soon after its Golden Jubilee anniversary, our country is afflicted with pre-pubescent and adolescent problems. Some analysts even remind us that the Jubilee was celebrated with an unprecedented bombing. We need not be deterred by negative tendencies.

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’etat 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’etat, 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, constitutional amendments complicated by dog fights at the National Assembly, a seemingly ugly cat and mouse game with the Presidency, financial and personal insecurity and a legion of other problems. But we are resilient and we will make it even if slowly and painfully. The fact that we have had 12 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 those 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.

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