Rich country, poor citizens; paradox of a nation @55 By Eric Osagie

Nigeria-Independence5LAND of beauty. Land of the beautiful. Land of our fa­thers. Land of valiant men and women. Land of dreamers, who dreamt big dreams for our land and our people. Land of dreams that have turned pipe dreams. Land of promise. Land of promise breakers. Land of abundance. Land of scarcity.

Land of the few rich and many poor. Land flowing with milk and honey but not for the milked, the dispossessed. Land of inequalities. Land of contradictions. Rich nation, poor citizens. The land, Charles Kingsley, the English writ­er, would have described, as ‘a cruel place for poor folks.’

The land blessed by God but cursed with bad leaders. A giant reduced to pigmy by its successive predatory leader­ship. The land we want to love, yet find many reasons not to. The land we call our native land (in the second line of our old anthem) but treat like an enemy land. How can we call a nation ‘our own dear native land,’ yet despoil her ev­ery second in our every thought and action? Strange.

This is the land of strange children, who make the Bibli­cal prodigal son smell like rose flower. Land blessed with black gold, but cursed with gamblers and money changers, who have gambled away almost all our fortunes and turned the joy of the black gold to ashes in our mouths.

Land we call Nigeria. Land we call our country. The green-white country. Green stands for fertility of the soil, our agricultural prowess, fertility in all aspects of our lives while white denotes peace. A nation living in plenty and peace? Where are the plenty and the peace?

Land of the great Herbert Macaulay; land of the erudite and charismatic Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe; the visionary Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo; the pragmatic Ahmadu Bello and the gentle Tafawa Balewa. Land of men, who spoke truth to power, colonial power and dreamt of a nation of possibilities where all good things are possible. Land of the brave Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti; legendary Queen Amina and Gani Fawehinmi; Tai Solarin; Mokwugo Okoye; Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu; Murtala Mohammed; Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; Aminu Kano, the king of talakawas; Bala Usman and a long list of heroes and heroines.

Land of great visionaries. Land of men who nursed the giant vision of turning our mangrove swamps and savan­nah, the desert land and mountains, into one great, pros­perous nation, providing all the many bounties of life to God’s children, the people of this blessed country. A land providing equal opportunities for all citizens to realise their God-given potentials, where no man is judged by his tribal marks but the content of his character and the gray mat­ter (in his head) (apologies to Martin Luther King for the parody of his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech).

A land that was trudging on the path to realising the dreams of its founding fathers. Where citizens once en­joyed quality free education in some parts of the country; where automatic jobs and other benefits awaited citizens, even before they graduated from the university; where the defunct Electricity Corporation of Nigeria, ECN, truly gen­erated light, rather than pitch darkness. A nation where the rail system eased the mass transportation burden; where agriculture was taken serious and food for all was never a problem for us. A nation where you could sleep with your two eyes shut; where life was not this short, nasty and brut­ish, in the words of Thomas Hobbes ( today, citizens are in mortal dread of armed robbers, assassins, Boko Haram, hunger, among others); a nation where every man and woman was his brother’s keeper.

We understood our differences and appreciated one another’s peculiarities. Brother envied not brother. No splitting of hairs over on-shore/off-shore dichotomy or dichotomy imbroglio. No squabble over which region got more resources or allocation. The regions controlled their resources, contributing a percentage to the centre. Every region strove to measure up to expectation and beat the re­cords of the others. We had what was called healthy rivalry. Rivalry that didn’t escalate to the level of threatening the fabrics of our nation or its unity.

Then came the years of the locust. The military shot it­self into power and broke into the common till. With the musical chair of coups, disrupting the march of progress, they soon sowed the seeds of discord, ethnicity, mutual dis­trust, antagonism and bitter rivalries amongst the different sections of the country. They came and put a knife to the thread that once held us as a nation and people and things fell apart.

The advent of democracy has largely been unable to halt the distrust and struggle for power by the disparate sections of our country. Every section, since the civilian dispensa­tion berthed, has been consumed in the rage to have their kith and kin occupy the highest position in the land. Every section wants to produce the president. Every section de­cries its marginalisation in the scheme of things or more ap­propriately, in the sharing of the national cake. Who cares about baking the cake? Who cares if the cake crumbled and there is nothing more to share in the future? Who gives a damn if this drained old lady we all have been exploiting, suddenly collapses and dies? Who cares?

As the nation celebrates its independence, isn’t it time we all paused to share a thought for our country? To think of how to grow it into one big, economic and political entity, truly deserving of its moniker, ‘giant of Africa.’

If we truly loved our nation, we would not promote di­visive interests. We would shun the language of hate, rage and the evil act of bloodletting. For the ordinary citizen, that is not difficult to do. The problem is the so-called elite, who are consumed in the greed for power, materialism and other vain things of life and recruiting the unwary and the gull­ible in the needless war of attrition.

As I write this piece on the eve of our anniversary as a nation, I am trying my best not to be melancholic. I am do­ing all I can to perceive the brighter side of things. True, we have our independence as a nation. We are no longer un­der the ‘slavery’ of any big, super power. We have had our brothers, calling the shots. We have our pride as a people. We are proudly Nigerians. That is something we shouldn’t take for granted. But, we could also do with economic inde­pendence. What does it say about us when we not only run a dollarised economy but are perpetually tied to the finan­cial capitals of London and Paris?

What does freedom mean when as the sixth largest oil-producing nation on earth, our citizens groan under mega­watts of darkness? When we have our youth, including graduates, roaming the streets in search of elusive jobs? A nation that is making the record, producing its 18th set of unemployed graduates? A nation with over 70 per cent of its 165 million people, living on less than a dollar a day?

But amidst all these, we must not, never, lose hope. The good news: We can have a nation of the dreams of our founding fathers. We only need to play our parts. The lead­ers and the led. It’s simple: Let the leaders lead well and the followers follow well. Let’s hold those in authority ac­countable for their acts of omission or commission. Let’s be active and participating citizens. Let’s not resign to fate. Let us collectively monitor governance. Let’s demand transpar­ency and service from the men in power. Yes, we can!