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Today is October 1. On this day 57 years ago, our country became independent from British colonial rule. As has become typical of us, we will stage the ritual associated with this date and in fact we may even cross the line to do the unreasonable, which would be in the form of moving the celebrations from today, Sunday, to Monday, not minding the economic implication to the country. If this does not happen it would be that one confident adviser chipped in something reasonable this time. But I am certain we would hear state and national addresses from the state and federal governments full of plenty words but in substance signifying nothing. This is not my concern; my worry has to do with finding out why we engage in what we ought not to do.
If we make a critical appraisal of what we have made out of a country that is so blessed with human and material resources and which was expected to be among the first 10 nations of the world, in terms of development, the choice that would have been staring us in the face would have been for all the citizens, the leaders inclusive, to recoil into our shells and in deep retrospection ask ourselves if the underdevelopment that is our lot is in our stars or self-induced.
In the last 30 years, I have religiously joined others to celebrate this annual ritual, but I did so only on one point of enlightenment and that was on the knowledge that such occasions would be for us what it has been for other serious societies: time to make critical reviews, assess our strengths, weaknesses and particularly our follies and come up with the resolve to improve on the good and eliminate the bad. Unfortunately this has not been the case; rather the occasion has become an avenue for frivolous spending of public funds and the platform to further confuse an already bewildered citizenry. Call it a game of tomfoolery and you will be dead right.
Few days back I heard commentaries from some media outfits saying, “Oh the nation is 57” and for them it has been a case of good and bad moments. I heard that and since then I have been asking myself which era could be rightly described as the golden moment, before or after independence? The truth is that we have become a people that tell themselves lies, continually. The process leading to the foundation of this country was based on deceit and insincere motives. We claim the founding fathers were great men, wonderful nationalists whose primary concern was the overall good of this country. Could this be the truth? If it is, what then is the root cause of the nasty phenomenon, where the old nations that came together to form Nigeria, 57 years after the union still tear at each other as if they are strange bedfellows meeting to share some spoils.
The truth is that we live a lie. The late premier of the North, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, was more interested in his people and his region; it was such that even before independence he was talking about dominion of his people by the other components with whom he was supposed to negotiate independence. He even said he was more comfortable giving jobs to foreigners than to Nigerians from other parts of the country.
The political party he led, Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), was both in name and composition very restricted. Take it a little further we would discover the Western flank was no better. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was at the head of political activities in the zone ought by now to be credited as the one who gave tribalism a prominent place in national politics. He formed a tribal party from an ethnic foundation and went ahead to dismantle efforts at national cohesion being championed at the time by the best national party this country has seen, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun (NCNC), which later became National Council of Nigerian Citizens, after the English speaking part of present Cameroun opted to join the Cameroonian republic.
Herbert Macaulay and Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, it would appear, were the only prominent politicians among the founding fathers class, who were nationalists and had a wider perspective of what a truly great Nigeria should be. Unfortunately Macaulay did not live long enough but Zik who did buckled from the terrific political blows he received from the Western flank where the NCNC thrived before Chief Awolowo’s distorting political entry. They were quarrelsome and many times pulled at the small string that held us loosely together. The legacy they left has continued to hunt us till date. We were not bonded then and have never been and the situation has been so because successive leaders ought to have known this history and this would have helped them to accurately diagnose the problem and find appropriate solutions.
As it is today, this nation has no constitution and the constitution in this modern time cannot be so-called except the people it would apply to gather, talk, fight, disagree to agree, make far reaching compromises and finally agree on a consensus.
The 1963 constitution was the only elaborately negotiated constitution we have had and between then and now so much distortion has hit the political, economic and social architecture of this country. Much of the blame should not be on the political class even though a few of them worked from behind the scene.
The blame should be squarely laid on the military whose leaders at the time came mainly from the North. It may have been accidental but it was a development that became too costly for the proper development of this country. Within this context, the National Assembly cannot give us a constitution.
There is talk of amendments but there is a limit to which you can amend such a document. A constitution should carry life and that can only come from the people acting as the real sovereignty.
After 57 years it is time we start afresh if we want this country and if we vote for it, we take a resolve for its excellent development.
What I have seen so far is charlatanism, double speak, leaders in public claiming to stand for one thing but in private revealing that their hearts are far from their public stand. The truth is a lot of nasty negative actions have prevented us from transforming from country to a nation. Citizens are described as indigenes and non-indigenes, we still demand citizens to state tribe and religion.
Quota and federal character have become albatrosses of their own, it is not that gaps are not bridged but if we study the American equalization policies, we will see that you don’t do so at the expense of others, where education was the issue for instance, they establish more schools and gave other incentives like scholarship so that the disadvantaged can be motivated to take up opportunities offered.
We must redefine national development, let it become human centered and let emphasis move away from physical projects to industrialization. We must have a national ideology and part of it would be for Nigerians to love themselves. It is ironical to talk one Nigeria and still be killing the other. It is more stupid to be pushing the religious button at a time the focus should be unity and wealth creation. Nigeria will work if only the leadership class would see reasons to work for inclusiveness. Happy Independence!