By Muyiwa Adetiba
I have witnessed many Independence Day anniversaries in my time. Right from the very first one when as a little school kid, we were given small green-white–green flags and asked to line the streets. Later, we were given free lunch and freer time to indulge in our favourite past time of games and pranks. I didn’t know what it all meant then but I learnt—through my parents, teachers and the passing years—that it was the day we gained the freedom to govern ourselves as we liked.
Later, I also had, thanks to my job, the privilege of meeting and interviewing some of the founding fathers of our nation. So I know something of the euphoria, the almost unrealistically high expectations that greeted our independence.
Over the years, I have witnessed the cocaine-like highs that announced each new administration and subsequent crashes, the swing between war and peace and the large grey area of unease in between, the struggle between nation building, self- expression, and greed that have characterised the 56 years of nationhood.
And I have, thanks to my job again, heard and read many Independence Day speeches.
I have had to analyse and report on the promises, the half-truths and the out-right lies of our Governors and Heads of State. So if I do not look forward to any Independence Day speech of any hue anymore, it is because I have earned the right to be cynical.
My plan for last Saturday therefore, was in no way connected to our Independence Day. It was to indulge myself by watching as many Premiership matches as I could and to perhaps see a couple of friends in the evening. The first match which started at noon, found me seated in a small room upstairs with the dailies. I was already deeply involved, gesticulating and scoring imaginary goals when late breakfast – or brunch- was called.
I went downstairs to meet, as expected, a different programme on the screen. My co-tenant (madam) was watching ‘The Platform’ on Channels TV. She was so engrossed in it that I didn’t have the heart to beg for a temporary change of channel. Segun Adeniyi, a writer I love to read was on air and that immediately got my attention; but a good writer is not always a good public speaker and I had to concentrate more to follow his thought trend.
He lost me however when he listed the academic qualifications, including the universities, of the Singaporean Ministers as part of what did the magic for Singapore. Many Nigerian Ministers are graduates from good universities. Our problem is the quality of their character not the quality of their degrees; the attitude rather than the aptitude. I subsequently concentrated on my food while reading a newspaper.
Then Ms Bolanle Austen-Peters came on air. A natural story teller, she was riveting as she told her personal story and her attempts to confront the odds. She is a young woman who has done many meaningful things with her life. Perhaps what resonated more with me was her belief that each one of us can make a difference.
I get worked up when I see how people blame the system for everything as if we don’t as individuals, have a role to play in improving the system. We have become so laid back that we believe government must do everything for us including putting food put on the table.
Almost every visit of a government functionary to a community ends with a list of demands from that community to government. What about organising a bore-hole or a dispensary by yourselves? After all, it is your people that need the water. It is your people that are sick. I had long felt for example, that the Lagos end of the Ibadan-Lagos expressway could have been fixed by the many churches on that axis as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility.
After all, they don’t pay taxes. But no; they would rather have private jets. We complain that there is too much government in our lives yet we refuse to wean ourselves off government. We gained independence 56 years ago but our minds are still very dependent.
We believe we need Britain, or big government or god-fathers to survive. The saying that men are born free but are everywhere in chains applies very much to the Nigerian minds. The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves. We, you and I, can make a difference.
It is the same reason I feel very disappointed at the excuses many young people give for not starting out. The fear of failure is real but it should motivate not deter. What happened to the exuberance and the energy of youth? What happened to dreams?
On a personal note, I was in my early thirties when I left a powerful job as the Editor of a national daily newspaper to start my own magazine. Prime People and Newswatch which came out six months before it, were the trail blazers at a time many believed magazine publications were too risky.
They were also to the best of my knowledge, the first sets of weekly magazines. I don’t know what I would have been today if I had not ventured out at that time. It was something I needed to do and I absolutely have no regrets. Besides, what I have gained along the way is invaluable.
My attention was divided by the time I went upstairs to my football game and I found myself flipping channels. I was therefore able to catch parts of ex-governor Peter Obi’s speech which has now gone viral. How could I not when my madam was cheering almost every sentence downstairs.
It is truly gladdening to hear that someone actually practiced such a level of prudence in the Obasanjo/Jonathan era where profligate leaders were more of the rule than the exception. Whoever has a similar story to tell among the governors past or current, should come out to state their story to serve as inspiration to the younger ones and assure the rest of us that hope is not lost.
Meanwhile, those who bought jets, helicopters, bullet proof cars and spent billions building government houses and secretariats yesterday and are today begging for bail-out funds should bury their heads in shame. They might be rich individually but they are abject failures because they led their States into penury. Their legacies have been written.
What I learnt last Saturday is that there is still hope for Nigeria. Many more people believe in this country than we realise. I learnt also, that not all public officials are crooks. My advice to young people is to seize the moment. You must believe that recession is just a word and that opportunities abound. This is the age of ideas. It is your time to dream. The young must free their body, soul and mind from imaginary chains and obstacles. They must gain true independence.