By Awa Kalu, SAN
According to dictionary sources, a person or thing is said to be diamonded when the person or thing is covered with, decorated with or wearing diamonds.
Bearing in mind that on October 1, 2020, Nigeria will clock 60 years as an independent country, the question is whether she has merited being covered or garlanded with diamond or copper- noting that a diamond is‘a very valuable precious stone of pure carbon crystalised in the cubic system and harder than any other substance’.
On the other hand, copper is ‘a metallic element easily melted from its ores’, and thus much less valuable. What then is Nigeria, Diamond or Copper-plated?
It is difficult to fathom whether this celebration of our diamond anniversary in 2020 is an unfortunate coincidence having regard to the harrowing and disastrous experience unleashed worldwide by the pandemic (COVID-19) which has claimed over two million lives worldwide, incapacitated many businesses including multinationals, altered world-views and totally miscalibrated individual lives and livelihood; or if it is a metaphor to make us hearken to the reality of what could have been had we concretized the vision of our founding fathers?
On this date (our anniversary) let it be acknowledged that there is massive discontent nationwide, arising first from general feelings of insecurity and, furthermore, from economic hardship inflicted not just by COVID-19 but other maladjustments in the economy. When the pump price of petroleum products rises, commodity prices also rise; when electricity tariffs increase, there are consequences and so on.
The harrowing tales of corruption are often revealed in the print and electronic media and more so on social media increases anxiety in our society and leads to far greater consequences than anticipated. What about misguided governance? The mass disillusionment with the federal, state and local governments is enormous and often cannot be put in words at least publicly.
In the past, this column raised the same question as we do now i.e. Nigeria: 60 years of what? It had been conceded that the argument of the majority, which is that we are yet to arrive at our destination, 60years after the journey began, must remain part of our national conversation. 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. The fanfare with which the nation celebrated Lord Lugard’s amalgamation is an undeniable acknowledgement of the genesis of this would-be great nation, the land of plenty. 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 amalgamation of 1914.
The indigenous and heterogeneous groups often derogatorily referred to as ‘tribes’ which make up this 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 Frederick Lugard, 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 but our dear President, Muhammadu Buhari, as a statesman, will have no doubt that the amalgamation was divine. 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.
In the words of Hillary Clinton, former First Lady of the United States and its former Secretary of State, now a strong voice in US politics, ‘it takes a village to train a child.’ If it takes a village to bring up a child, you may wonder how many persons or villages it would 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.
Members of the recently concluded National Conference (whose report is also in the cooler) showed an overwhelming preference for the old anthem. Was this a manifestation of nostalgia? One cannot say.
The question at this time, at our 60th 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 recent independence anniversary. A careful examination of our history and social condition will leave no one in any doubt that following an incremental deterioration in our security situation, (now being ameliorated by a leader with a new broom), there has been a downgrading of our individual and collective wellbeing.
Were we statistically minded, for instance, it would have been easy to quantify the havoc wrought by unmitigated armed robbery, car snatching and allied violent offences? How do you quantify the economic danger posed by the now contained rise in kidnapping in many states in the Niger-Delta, South-West 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 do we make of the past wave of destruction of oil facilities on which our economy, as well as our well-being, depends? Time will still tell. What of the disruptions occasioned by IPOB and cattle herdsmen?
There are questions and there are more questions. What about the violence instigated by Boko in different parts of the country leading to the dislocation of social and economic life particularly in Borno and other nearby states?
What about the notable consequences of national disasters such as the annual flooding in Lagos and more recently, other parts of the country such as Kogi and Kebbi states which led to the washing away of crops? On the aggregate, it cannot be in doubt that the security of the country, be it physical or food security, is the only guarantee for order, peace and good government.
I have listened to radio and television discussions aimed at appraising Nigeria at 60. Touted as the most populous black nation on earth, recognised as a country endowed with vast and extensive human and natural resources, blessed with the potential to be what it can be, we are often in search of the fresh 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’état 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’état, 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 like an invitation of some sort.
We laboured under the burden of pre – 2019 general election shenanigans as indicated in the imbroglio in several states political party primaries. We are still quivering from the revelations from the recently concluded Gubernatorial elections in Edo State and some have argued that this may be a tell-tale sign of what to expect in the forthcoming elections in Ondo State later this year.
But we are resilient and we will make it even if slowly and painfully. The fact that we have had 19 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.
Apart from the umbrella that protects us from rain and even sunshine, we now have a clean sweeping broom that is preparing us for the change as promised by the government at the centre. Remember in the course of your continuing celebration that “change starts with you”. This is because, if all of us mend our ways, irrespective of our political party affiliations, religious inclination, social values and what have you, change must come.
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 flag 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. It is our hope that those who wield our broom will sweep away our ills; usher in a period of boom and wipe away our tears.
Similarly, those who hold an umbrella will not be beaten by rain and those whose cocks are crowing will provide enough food for those they govern. Finally, political godfathers all over the land will find accommodation with their godsons and goddaughters and together, we shall all march cheerfully into 2021.
Bearing the foregoing in mind, it is safe to conclude that as things stand, we are, as yet, not covered or decorated with diamonds but we will continue to forge ahead notwithstanding our challenges.