Totally Real with Ikechukwu Amaechi

October 1, 2020

Nigeria at 60: A diamond, no gemstone

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

EXPECTATIONS were high. Drums were rolled out. Great speeches were delivered. And the future looked great, or so it seemed, when Nigeria gained independence from Britain on October 1, 1960.

Sadly, 60 years after, the diamond jubilee, which ought to be celebrated with pomp and pageantry, is at best muted for those who still believe in the country and at worst a sad reminder of the crime they claim Britain committed against their people by those who now believe there was a country.

For such people, today is a day of mourning. That is the sad reality of Nigeria. Those who still believe in the idea of Nigeria insist that the diamond jubilee milestone is worth celebrating. To be sure, 60 years in the life of a person, organisation or country is a big deal. But celebration loses its essence when it is not about achievements. Who celebrates failure? There is a preponderance of opinion that the country has not achieved much in the past 60 years.

Could that be the reason why government, using the global COVID-19 pandemic as an alibi, opted for a low-key anniversary even when it plans a yearlong celebration – from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021. That in itself is a contradiction.

Opportunities have been squandered. The exuberance of 60 years ago has disappeared. Citizens have transited from a state of hope to hopelessness. Many have become melancholic. There is a complete meltdown of values and expectations. But there are some citizens, including President Muhammadu Buhari, who take umbrage at such characterisation. To them, not celebrating the country at such an auspicious moment is one more proof of the unpatriotic bent of some compatriots.

They contend that the country has achieved a lot. To them, the fact that the country is still standing as a united entity is an achievement worth celebrating, a sentiment Lagos State Deputy Governor, Obafemi Hamzat, amplified last Friday at the special Juma’at Service in Lagos to commemorate the anniversary.

To be sure, there have been some bright spots in the last 60 years. Individually, Nigerians have excelled in all fields of human endeavour globally. But are these bright spots enough to roll out the drums? I doubt. But assuming without conceding that they are, isn’t something fundamentally wrong with a country which, at 60, has its best years and moments all ensconced in the womb of the past?

Hamzat said the overarching reason the country must celebrate 60 years of independence is the fact that it has not gone the way of Yugoslavia despite fighting a fratricidal civil war. “It is worth celebrating.

Many countries have disintegrated. We are together and living in peace. As long as we continue to live together, we will be fine.” But are Nigerians living in peace even if they are living together? Given the opportunity, how many Nigerians would opt to live together?

Perhaps, the most strident proof that all is not well with the country is that even what we tout as our greatest achievement in the last 60 years – preserving the country as one indivisible entity – is with the force of arms. Unveiling the logo of the 60th Independence anniversary at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on September 16, Buhari – who disclosed the theme of the anniversary as:

“Together Shall We Be” – explained that it was chosen to forge a more united and cohesive Nigeria. “Today, we stand on the threshold of history as we formally begin a series of activities commemorating Nigeria’s Diamond anniversary,” he said. “The task history has saddled me with today is to proclaim a theme that will keep us united, help us forge ahead and unveil a logo that will form the critical pillars, which our 11 months modest commemoration activities will rest on.”

Buhari does not get it. He missed the point, as always, because it is not the symbolic theme of a logo that will keep the country united. As the legendary Jamaican reggae artist, Peter Tosh, once sang: “I don’t need no peace, I need equal rights and justice.”

It is not as if Buhari does not know that in the past 60 years, more so in the past five years of his presidency, our internal fission have widened and deepened and the centripetal forces tearing Nigeria apart have been shamelessly and imprudently energised.

If he doesn’t know, why is he promising to henceforth ensure inclusiveness? But actions, to borrow a cliché, speak louder than words. Nigerians don’t trust their country’s most nepotistic leader when he talks about inclusiveness.

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Which explains why rather than roll out the drums and celebrate the diamond jubilee, many sit at home in protest at what Nigeria has become and what the country means to them. As Buhari is promising inclusiveness, his administration is wantonly violating the Federal Character Principle entrenched in the Constitution to promote equity and fairness.

Those who insist that Nigeria has done well usually use age as a prop for their argument. They readily point out that expecting Nigeria to achieve in 60 years what took advanced democracies and First World countries aeons to accomplish is unfair. But in doing so, they are always smart by half.

They fail to acknowledge that Nigeria is not reinventing the wheel of development. That has been done by others who did the heavy lifting. All that is required of leaders of countries like Nigeria is imagination and the patriotic zeal to tap into what has already been developed for the common good.

By always using the United States, which gained independence from Britain in 1776, as a lightening rod to deflect any quest to make Nigeria accountable even at her relatively young age, these pseudo-patriots sidestep the fact that the country not only has age mates but, in fact, is older than some other countries that are doing exceedingly well today.

The most saddening thing is that at independence, Nigeria was judged at par with most of its peers if not far ahead. But today, most of those countries have left her far behind. Take Malaysia which had independence from the selfsame Britain on September 16, 1963 – three years after Nigeria.

Though Malaysia has a smaller population than Nigeria, it is, nevertheless, an ethnically heterogeneous country like Nigeria. Today, visionary leadership has propelled it to a First World country. Between 1970 and 1990, Malaysia was the world’s 10th  fastest growing economy.

Take Singapore as another example. Its trajectory ridicules all the argument those who preach the indivisibility of Nigeria make. The crown colony was dissolved on September 16, 1963 when Singapore became a state of Malaysia, ending 144 years of British rule on the island.

Yet, only two years later – on August 9, 1965 – Singapore officially left Malaysia to become the independent Republic of Singapore due to political, economic and racial disputes.

Today, both countries are better for the divorce and have achieved great success. Some argue that Malaysia and Singapore are small countries that do not face the same challenges Nigeria with an estimated population of over 200 million people have. But they forget India with a population in excess of 1.3 billion as of 2018, which got its independence from Britain on August 15, 1947.

India is prospering and managing its diversity well. Nigeria’s apologists don’t mention Indonesia, a pluralistic society of about 267 million where people of different backgrounds – religion, caste, culture, language, ethnicity – have made a huge success of living together.

Indonesia, which gained independence from The Netherlands on August 17, 1945, is now an upper-middle-class income country and member of the prestigious G20 club of economically developed countries. Indonesia is not only classified as a newly industrialised country, it is the 16th  largest economy in the world by nominal GDP.

In 60 years, Nigeria has grossly underperformed and “is rapidly approaching a tipping point,” as recently noted by the Nigeria Working Group on Peace-building and Governance, whose members include Cardinal John Onaiyekan, General Martin Luther Agwai, former Chief of Defense Staff, Prof Attahiru Jega, former INEC chairman.

And need I say, it has been so long in coming. A diamond is as good as its gemstones. Put differently, a diamond is gemstone. Without the gemstone, there is no diamond. It is the gemstone that gives it its mystique. And as a gemstone, diamond remains a symbol of stability and dependability. At 60, Nigeria claims to be a diamond. Sadly, there is no gemstone. This is time for introspection, not celebration.