The media goes through the same process every Independence Day. It calls on ‘prominent’ Nigerians to talk about whatever age the country is celebrating. The comments you get invariably depend on the status of the respondents. The current ‘leaders’ will talk patronisingly and benignly about the giant strides the country has made.
They never forget to stress our still remaining together as a major achievement. Our unity is our strength they enthuse while glossing over the inequality in the land, especially the difference between their class, the privileged class and the rest of us. The not so current, or past ‘leaders’ are usually more forthright and more bitter.
They harp on the ills of the country and the missed opportunities. They forget, so easily, that not too long ago, they were running the show in different capacities and thus had the chance to fix some of those ills while they were still simple headaches before they became intractable diseases that needed surgical operations. It makes one think that the sudden realisation of the ills of the country on the part of these past leaders stems from the fact that they no longer have direct access to the power and influence which give them the keys to the treasury.
To hear General Obasanjo speak for example about the problems of this country one would not believe that he led Nigeria for 12 years and was a member of the Supreme Military Council for another couple of years. In addition, he was among those directly responsible for picking successors who cumulatively ran the country for another 14 years. For good or ill therefore, General Olusegun is as responsible as anybody for what Nigeria is today. He should raise his head in pride to our areas of glory and bow same to our areas of shame.
Chief Richard Akinjide is another man who seems very bitter about the state of the country. He calls the country a colonial idea and therefore a fraud. He conveniently forgets that many of the countries in the world—including that of our past colonial master—were partitioned pretty much the same way yet these countries have forged nationhood out of disparate linguistic and cultural groupings.
And that our failure in this regard is due largely to leaders who saw themselves more as ethnic champions at best and opportunists at worst; leaders who masqueraded private agenda as state agenda. If these leaders had urged their followers to imbibe the spirit of give and take rather than exacerbating our religious and ethnic fault lines, we would probably have been a stronger and more prosperous country today.
Diversity can be a strength but only in the hands of visionary leaders. For all his brilliance, would Chief Akinjide in the light of his antecedence and current posturing see himself as a visionary leader? I remember the debate he had with Chief Bola Ige when he wanted to be the Governor of old Oyo State and how for political reasons, he ran down the achievements of Chief Awolowo.
I remember the first time he appeared on TV after the presidential election and spoke about the ‘joker’ his party the NPN had up its sleeves which turned out to make a State divisible. I remember my subsequent interview with the then Chief Justice of Nigeria Justice Fatai-Williams and how embarrassed everybody was by the 12 2/3 contraption that gave the presidency to Shehu Shagari.
I remember the unprecedented power given to the then Inspector General of Police, Mr Sunday Adewusi which prompted Professor Wole Soyinka to protest that Nigeria was not a police state. I remember the wanton and unbridled government spending—rivalled only by the Jonathan administration—and how they derided Chief Awolowo who warned that our economy was going southwards.
These were the foundations laid for the country in the second republic by the same people who now decry the state of the nation today. In the same vein, many of the ‘prominent’ businessmen whose rise to wealth is due to State largess are on the podium lamenting the state of the nation today. Businessmen who were content to be contractors rather than industrialise the country now decry the attendant crime and unemployment of non-industrialisation. Many of these guys are obviously not as innocent of the rot in the system as they would want the rest of us to believe.
Yes, many of these people are the ones occupying the public space, manipulating private agenda as State agenda; confusing self-interest with public interest and substituting national patriotism with ethnic loyalty.
The Senate that voted for status quo in spite of the agitations for change all over the country; the governors that singled out devolution of power without talking about accountability because it gives them more latitude and power; the south that is screaming ‘resource control’ just because it has the resources today; the north that insists on status quo because it is a beneficiary of an indolent system of wealth without labour not thinking of how justifiable or sustainable it is; the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) that sees nothing good in sukuk simply because it is a form of finance that complies with Islamic law. These are the leaders we have today who find it difficult to rise above self and think of the common good.
Yet there was once a country when ethnic affiliations and religious considerations were not always the first things on our minds; when promotions did not depend on your tribe, religion or man know man; when folks voted for merit and ability over tribe and religion in club and community elections; when people didn’t care where Kanu, Amokachie, Yekini or Finidi George came from. I am lucky to have witnessed some of these in Nigeria. I am lucky to have been helped, immeasurably, by people outside my tribe and religion.
And there can still be a country if we can eschew the past and look forward positively to the future; if we can connect with our heroes all over the world be it in sports, academia and the sciences. The person who worked in NASA, the person who was invited to be on Trump’s advisory board, the person who scientifically discovered the impact of head injury in American football, the computer wizard, the international car designer, the family of geniuses in the UK etc.
The heroes abound and their exploits are in every corner of the globe. We can also acknowledge and celebrate the immense social and familial web that have been woven over the years across religious and ethnic lines. Let our principles be based on justice, equity and merit irrespective of region or religion. Let our role models be those who have risen above primordial interests. Let us seek the good in individuals and in the country.
Yes, there was a country. But if we can stop dwelling in the past, if can stop allowing the baggage of the past to influence the future, there can still be a country. Happy Anniversary.