By Tiko Okoye
SIXTY years may seem a very mature age for a man. As a matter of fact, it is the statutory retirement age for officials in Nigeria’s public service. In many other countries, it is equally the age when their citizens start enjoying the honour and privileges attendant with the elite status of ‘senior citizens’.
But given that many nations in Africa, Europe and the Americas have either been independent or in existence for hundreds and even thousands of years in some cases, 60 might be more appropriately likened to a child in the crèche class, yet to crawl, much less stand, walk and run!
The story has often been told about how Lord Frederick Lugard cobbled Nigeria together in 1914, and how the reality of having more than 380 diverse tongues and cultures spawned a mutual distrust that caused a very eminent founding father of the nation to refer to the amalgamated entity as “a mere geographical expression”!
But truth be told, that is exactly the same way most countries in the world equally came into existence, be it China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, the USA and the old Soviet Union, among others.
Just like Nigeria, these nations have equally grappled – and continue to grapple in many cases – with the internal divisions and tensions created by lingual, religious and racial/ethnic differences. So, Nigeria’s case is not unique and unheard of.
It is a reflection of the kind of society we live in that whenever one writes any essay that seems to portray the government in power in good light, one would hear boisterous accusations of having been ‘settled’ by nattering nabobs of negativism (apologies to former US Vice-President Spiro Agnew).
It is as if bashing and lambasting people in authority is the badge of honour for exhibiting patriotic zeal. But I am well guided by the poignant commentary of the 35th President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, to the effect that: “The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.”
There is a clear tendency by those ever ready to see the glass as half-empty, as opposed to being half-full, to over-generalise and mealy-mouth twisted truths and outright falsehoods. It is very easy for such traducers to mislead the ignorant and gullible because, as American clergyman and writer Henry Ward Beecher once averred: “A lie always needs a truth for a handle to it.”
To refuse to recognise the enormous positive changes and continue to bleat that the security situation has gone from bad to worse is plain mischief-making of the worst kind.
Of course, as Scottish-born English prose writer Thomas Carlyle posited: “To the mean eye all things are trivial, as certainly as to the jaundiced they are yellow.”
So, I am not in any way, shape or form attempting to influence the opinions of hardened and unrepentant critics German playwright and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe dubbed: “Poor fools!…in whose petty estimation all things are little.”
Hardened critics speak of an across-the-board insecurity of life and property but deliberately refuse to recognise an era when not less than three states in Nigeria were ruled by the Boko Haram terrorist organisation.
They refrain from conceding that there was a time when Christians in Abuja and most parts of the North could not freely attend church services and programmes; when Nigerians of Southern extraction were fleeing Northern cities and towns in droves;
when luxury bus parks were no-go areas for intending travellers; when even the UN building and Police Headquarters in Abuja reverberated with bomb blasts; and when fatal suicide bombings were the norm rather than the exception.
Another area highlighted by critics is the economy. They readily misinterpret the depreciating value of the naira as evidence of economic mismanagement. While it can be conceded that there is serious hardship in the land, only a stranger just arriving from an alien planet would fail to take cognizance of the deleterious effects of the ravaging novel coronavirus pandemic on the economies of nations across the world.
Virtually every national economy has gone into a recession with a consequential depreciation of national currencies. Let us consider one comparative example. Assuming, but not conceding, that the exchange rate for one US dollar is N500 in the parallel market – as against the official rate of N380 – this would represent a 32 percent devaluation.
Compare this with the 75 percent devaluation registered by the Argentine Peso as at the close of business on Friday, September 26 – a nation with even more advanced agricultural and manufacturing sectors.
Quite unlike past governments that only paid lip-service to agricultural development and indulged in numerous destabilising policy flip-flops, the serious attention paid by this administration to the sector has started yielding dividends by way of improved food security and conservation of foreign exchange.
This is the only reason why – in spite of the hikes in the price of PMS, electricity tariff and VAT – inflation has not risen to the same astronomical levels recorded in several nations in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown.
We certainly have cause to celebrate when we consider how COVID-19 is ravishing the economies and peoples of highly advanced nations because with the comatose state of our healthcare system hell would have broken loose if the apocalyptic predictions had come to pass. It is not even a case of “The Great African Escape” as many are hypothesizing but which the scenario in South Africa has debunked.
Times are indeed very hard. But, apart from the period of the “Udoji Awards”, mention a time when Nigerians have not generally grumbled about hardship. We have survived insurrections, insurgencies, uptick in kidnappings and violent crimes as well as two failed secessionist attempts, including a bruising civil war. And despite our deep divisions and fault lines, we have managed to remain united.
Sixty, as a watershed timeline, is very significant. It is the diamond jubilee or diamond anniversary, and diamonds are not only precious and valuable, but they exist forever.
There must be something in numbers that makes nations with very large populations like China, India, Russia, the Philippines and USA, as well as countries like Canada and Great Britain, to exhibit zero-tolerance towards secessionist agitations. We ought to equally be wisely guided. The drumbeats of secession is certainly not the best way to settle our differences.
Let us roll out the drums in our homes, offices, churches and mosques in celebration. Hurray! Happy 60th independence anniversary!! Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!
Okoye, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja