BY OCHEREOME NNANNA
Fighters for Nigeria’s independence must be baffled over what we, today’s generation, have made of our National Day.
Among our founding fathers, there were those who fought selflessly for Nigeria’s freedom and there were others who were part of it only when their region’s interests were sufficiently assured.
One of these selfless fighters, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, once told this writer that he and some of his colleagues in the Zikist Movement decided not to marry until Nigeria was granted independence.
According to him, they did not want to leave young widows and orphans behind in case the struggle claimed their lives.
Today, no one even bothers to remember the sacrifices of the founding fathers, at least with a view to attaching due value to our independence, which is marked every October 1.
The euphoria of Black people being freed from colonial bondage and able to pursue their destiny in the comity of nations took the citizenry by storm.
For about 20 years after independence, the anniversary celebration was a day to look forward to, especially by children and youths.
It was a day to go out and salute the National Flag in the stadia and central sports arenas. It was a day for schools to compete for the best in the march pasts.
It was a day to watch the pageantry of the military and uniformed voluntary agencies show their skills on the parade ground. To cap it all off, it was a day for the best footballing schools in the city to slug it out, amid cultural displays.
Before long, the dark cloud of the political environment descended on the tradition of October 1 revelries.
The political crises in Western Nigeria during the First Republic triggered a bloody coup and counter coup, which eventually plunged the nation into a civil war.
They called it “the war to keep Nigeria one”.
When the secession bid of Biafra was successfully prevented, the nation came back together, but clearly, the leaders of the country had other things on their minds than building “a nation where no man is oppressed”.
The nation was divided and treated on a scale of privilege and the goodies of Nigeria shared according to people’s ranking on this ignoble scale.
Discontent arising from lack of equity and justice in the system prompted numerous military coups and attempted coups, some of which were ruthlessly put down with attendant bloodshed.
The fear of coups and assassinations forced the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida to, for the first time in our history; introduce the culture of celebrating our independence in a “low key”.
The president or head of state no longer came out to the parade ground to salute the flag. Celebrations took the form of lectures and art exhibitions as well as visits to charity homes by the wife of the head of state.
The new threat of terrorism in recent years even confined the president of the country to the secure grounds of Aso Villa.
Today, not much importance is attached to the day of our independence. Most people only know about it because of the compulsory public holidays.
Nigeria, everybody has admitted, is a country but not a nation. The people of the country do not have a single notion of what their country stands for.
They do not have a shared vision of where to go and how to proceed there.
They are not standing together. They are stinging one another like hostile insects forced into a basket.
They are ganging up to oppress one group after the other due to envy, covetousness and ethno-phobia, quest for ethnic or regional dominance, political opportunism or religious supremacy.
Every group has had its own taste of the mob action. Nigeria is a country where not a single group can claim to be happy or contented.
From the beginning, the British colonial rulers administered separate Southern and Northern Protectorates.
The amalgamation of the two divides in 1914 and the integration of the Colony of Lagos into the arrangement were meant for administrative convenience.
Little effort was made to encourage the elements of the entity to see one another as common citizens of a future united nation.
The introduction of the federal Constitution and the Eastern, Western and Northern Regions in 1948 seemed to pour fuel into the cauldron of the country’s disunity, as each region, dominated by the three ethnic majorities – Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba – fought for supremacy.
Inside the regions, even more vehement struggles for supremacy and survival in an independent Nigeria were raging between the regional Majorities and their respective ethnic Minorities.
While the Majorities fought all attempts to create separate states for their Minorities, they allied with groups in other regions to force the splitting of rival regions. That was how the Mid West Region was created.
It was this ugly rivalry that defined the creation of the first 12 states by General Yakubu Gowon in 1967, which became the final straw that pushed the former Eastern Region to declare their secession.
After the war, sectional domination and imbalances in the system became heightened. In addition, the rise of oil as the major resource for the nation led to mass poverty and stoked the fire of corruption in the system.
Perpetual heat in the polity
It brought about a few super rich people connected to government, the major source of wealth, while the great majority of the populace was left to wallow in poverty.
Out of this grew the bogey of wicked, violent crimes, such as robberies, kidnapping, terrorism and human trafficking.
The perpetual heat in the polity owes to the fact that the oil-fed wealth of the nation only gets to the people through governments at federal, state and local council levels.
The fight for political offices and top governmental posts has become a do-or-die affair, and politicians have demonstrated their willingness to form temporary private armies to fight their ways into government.
There are three major perspectives often touted as the way to move Nigeria forward.
The conservatives, especially those who have for long been entrenched in privilege, insist the best way is to put good leaders in power at all levels.
But this argument is defeated by the fact that the system controllers (godfathers) only like to put people who will do their bidding in power. The search for “good leaders” thus becomes elusive.
There are those who advocate for “revolutions”. They call for the “Rawlings Option”, whereby past leaders who have played roles in plunging the nation into the abyss would be polished off in a bloody “stable cleansing”.
That may no longer work. The Nzeogwu coup of 1966, had it worked according to the planning of those behind it, would have been the precedent the Ghana and other people would have learnt from.
But since it was ethnicised and regionalised, and it led to a civil war, revolutions do not seem to offer much hope. Any attempt would suffer the same fate.
Perhaps, the third option of a new constitutional beginning is the only viable way forward. The argument behind this is simple. Nigeria, on this October 1, 2013, will be celebrating her final independence in her first one hundred years. Nigeria can use this opportunity to start a peaceful new beginning by empanelling a constitutional conference with full constituent powers.
Nigerians can, for the first time ever, discuss the acceptable way forward into a new Century without the authoritarian colonial or military forces manipulating its outcome.
We can then write a constitution that we all believe in.
We can then remove all the falsehoods, artificialities and pretences that made the First Century Nigeria a hot, unhappy and unstable place for all.
A new beginning of this nature will be an opportune, peaceful means of preventing disintegration, which many had predicted will be the lot of Nigeria by 2015.