By Adekunle Adekoya
Today is our National Day, October 1, the calendar date on which Nigeria, in 1960, obtained flag independence from the British. For me as an individual, it is a day to recall the bliss of those halcyon days when it seemed that the best thing that could happen to any human being is to be a Nigerian.
For the power elite, today should be a day of sober reflections on the status of the Nigeria project, the trajectory, options for renewal and edification, and redemption.
For me, an Independence generation Nigerian, I recall with nostalgia the excitement that built up in us, schoolchildren then, as October 1 approached. In continued celebration of our independence, the Federal Military Government, then headed by General Yakubu Gowon, ensured that each child was made to feel he/she is a Nigerian.
On October 1, we came to school with our plates and spoons. Each school, powered with votes from government, cooked food for its students/pupils. We also got a bottle of mineral drink each to wash down the meal with.
How about the parades and “march past”? Our teachers would have made their selection from among us, and drilled us as much as they could.
“ Forward march!” Left-right, left-right, left-right….. we marched in training, usually on the school field where the morning assembly held. On national day, schools in a particular district, or division (then) converged with their delegations, to compete in a parade.
The parade was usually presided over by the Area Education Officer, or some other government functionary. In addition, those of us who belonged to the Boys Scouts, Boys Brigade, Girl Guides and other youth organisations also marched past.
For primary education I attended Wesley School, Oko 1, Sagamu, in Ogun State, and went on to Remo Divisional High School, RDHS, also in Sagamu for secondary education. In my time, the playing field at the defunct Methodist Teachers Training College, MTTC, Sagamu, served as the parade ground for schools in Remo Division then.
At the parade ground, we sang the National Anthem: the three-verse song that began with “Nigeria, we hail thee, our own dear native land…” That anthem was replaced by the current one: “Arise, O Compatriots” in 1978.
The school calendar was January to December, until 1973 when it was changed; it became September to July. Sporting and extra-curricular activities were accorded as much importance as “book work”.
There was the Principals Cup, the AAA (Amateur Athletics Association), and other sporting platforms which held regular competitions. Excursions were a regular feature of instruction. A memorable one was the excursion to Kainji Dam in 1976. It was organised by our Geography teacher at RDHS, Mr Bayo Ogunnupe.
We left Sagamu in our school van and travelled through Ibadan, Ilorin, Jebba till we got to Kainji. We were accommodated at the Kainji Dam Students Hostel. Kainji Dam is in Niger State, like Jebba Dam, Shiroro Dam, with a fourth dam under construction in Zungeru.
It is the same Niger State where gunmen and bandits are currently lords of the manor, killing, maiming, raping, kidnapping and looting. Last Tuesday, gunmen invaded Sarkin Pawa, headquarters of Munyan LG, and killed more than 30 people. Would anybody organise an excursion to any dam in Niger State, or anywhere in Nigeria now?
When schools closed for holidays, most of us found our way home by public transport. In the bus from Sagamu to Ijebu-Ode, I always found an adult who offered his/her lap as seat, and saved my transport fare. Nobody does that again; our humanity had been dealt a terrible blow.
Which parent lets a child go to school unescorted these days that kidnappers have taken over? The deteriorating security situation in the country is taking a huge toll on everything, including education. Since many states are embarking on wholesale shutdown of schools, can we now see how much damage we’ve done and are doing to to the future of our youths?
Elsewhere in the country, people are made to sit-at-home, to the extent that school children could not write some examination papers. More states have joined Zamfara in shutting down telecommunications services, all in a bid to tame the monster of insecurity, and yet, the sky remains overcast. What are we going to shut down next? The banks? Petrol stations? Airports? Or markets?
When we tell younger people that Nigeria once worked, the tendency is that of disbelief since they have been conditioned, from infancy through adolescence to adulthood, to toil and struggle to do anything. Yes, anything, from buying JAMB forms to writing WASSCE, to post-UTME and navigating the hurdles along the way through admission, course work, graduation, and placement in NYSC.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Nigeria, at 61, ought to be at least like Malaysia or Brazil. It shouldn’t be what we are going through now — descent into the abyss. What happened to my Nigeria? What is happening to the country I grew up in?? Where goeth my Nigeria???