Sixty years after independence, Nigeria appears to be struggling in practicing the rudiments of democracy. The country is still at crossroads. Across the six geo-political zones, there is hardly peace. In the North, Boko Haram is on the prowl. In the Middle Belt, the Fulani herdsmen have intensified killings. The brand of terrorism in the South is armed robbery and commercial kidnapping. Besides, there are problems of ethno-religious conflicts, and youth unemployment. Today, Nigerians are more divided along ethnic and religious lines than they were before independence.
On October 1, 1960, the future of Nigeria was bright. World powers acknowledged the enormous natural endowment, quality and quantity of its population and vast opportunities available to the former British Colony. But one error of judgment made at independence was in not renegotiating the terms of the union which was consummated in 1914 when the Southern protectorate was unified with the Northern protectorate in what political historians call amalgamation.
From historical accounts, it doesn’t appear the amalgamation agenda was borne out of a genuine national consensus but was rather a business idea by the British colonialists to maximize their drive for more natural and human resources to enrich their local economy and service their agro allied industry. For instance, Nigerians are not aware of the witnesses at the amalgamation of 1914. Why are there no known indigenous witnesses to the signing of the amalgamation treaty or was it purely a British affair?
This mistake of history by our ‘heroes past’ to renegotiate our union or to at least brainstorm on the necessity or otherwise of the continuous existence of Nigeria as an entity or otherwise, still hobbles Nigeria and is the fundamental source of the groundswell of disagreements and discontents amongst the divergent segments of the contemporary Nigerian society.
This is the origin of the current agitation for self determination and/or restructuring. Still dwelling on the fundamental symbolism of the 1960 independence, let us revisit a symbol of our sovereignty; the National flag and examine its import and philosophy.
First, we note that the symbolic meaning of the green, white, green flag with vertical stripes represent Nigeria’s natural wealth, while the white band represents peace. However, as Nigeria has become a grown adult at 60, those two symbols of natural resources and peace have eluded millions of Nigerians who have now become vulnerable and endangered species, deprived, oppressed, marginalized even by government whose legal mandate is to guarantee safety of lives and property of the citizens.
The grand norm says the security and welfare of the citizens are the primary duties of government. Successive governments have spectacularly failed to discharge these primary constitutional obligations. Thus, the obvious fact that the natural resources of Nigeria have become like curses on corporate Nigeria even as peace is an illusion.
The people of Niger Delta are facing social injustice on a scale that is unfathomable yet their backyards are the habitation for much of the National wealth which only less than 1 % of Nigerians made up of unpatriotic elements and their surrogates share amongst themselves.
Not long ago, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that as at a decade ago, nearly $400 billion of Nigeria’s crude oil revenues have all been stolen by successive political and military leadership of the Nigerian state. For instance, one of the dictators to have graced Nigeria as a military despot stole nearly $5 billion which was found in few of his several accounts and this late dictator, General Sani Abacha, successfully hid this massive quantum of cash in foreign jurisdictions at the time Nigeria was a pariah state under different global wide sanctions.
Imagine how much would have been stolen by governments of Nigeria under the periods that the country is not under any form of sanctions including now that the country is marking 60th year of independence.
Imagine how a typical 60-year old looks. But as a 60 year-old country, her citizens are still poor, endangered and buffeted by all kinds of violence whilst the government appear helpless.
You wonder why at 60, Nigeria is a very dangerous place, with incompetent leaders and a lot of uncharismatic followers.
Nigeria’s constitution which is a sacred code of conduct is flagrantly abused by those who wield political power. The latest book by Michelle Obama titled, “Becoming” would prove the statement that a 60 -year old adult must behave well because even at the age of 15, Michelle who would go on to become first lady as wife of USA president Barack Obama, was looked upon as an adult.
She writes; “by the time I was fourteen, I basically thought of myself as half a grown-up anyway, maybe even as two-thirds of a grown-up. I’d gotten my period, which I announced immediately and with huge excitement to everyone in the house, because that was just the kind of household we had. I’d graduated from a training bra to one that looked vaguely more womanly, which also thrilled me. Instead of coming home for lunch, I now ate with my classmates in Mr. Bennett’s room at school. Instead of dropping in at Southside’s house on Saturdays to listen to his jazz records and play with Rex, I rode my bike right past, headed east to the bungalow on Oglesby Avenue where the Gore sisters lived.”
The question we need to answer is why at 60, the Nigerian state still behave like a toddler going by the crude type of political leadership in place? The straight answer is the general lack of will-power by the citizens to stand by their rights as provided for generously in chapter 4 of the 1999 constitution and the willingness of the people to be oppressed by the persons they elect to govern.
Renowned Professor Chinue Achebe wrote; “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”
In 2020, Nigeria’s problem is both poor leadership and lethargic followership. For instance, in 2015, during the general elections as well as the 2019 polls, majority of voters succumbed to the temptation of mortgaging their conscience for bags of salt, rice, wrappers, and few cash which were freely distributed to would-be voters by those seeking the mandate of the people.
The abnormal has been normalized by a section of the political class who seek to amass wealth while 90 million Nigerians become absolutely poor with the 60 year old Nation becoming the poverty capital of the World.
The truth is, 60 years after independence, our youths see a bleak future and are glad to flee their fatherland, in search of greener pastures, risk their lives crossing the arid and lonely desert and the mighty ocean, and end up in countries where they are dehumanized. Those countries know that our own political leaders desecrate our dignity. So, they have no iota of respect for bearers of Nigerian passport.
Neither comfortable at home nor secure abroad, Nigerians are unhappy because truth has been abandoned, justice banished. Honesty has become a crime, dishonesty is rewarded. Competence no longer matters. But Nigeria needs leaders who are intellectually, ethically and technically competent to manage her affairs. Not those who encourage penury and make it impossible for them to make ends meet.
At 60, our country is wounded, bleeding and dying. We must quit the path of deceit. Our president and governors, ministers and commissioners, members of National and State Assemblies, our judges and legal practitioners, religious leaders, and all citizens must take responsibility for healing this country.
At 60, we pray using words of the second stanza of our national anthem: May God guide us and our leaders right.