CURRENTS: Wale Sokunbi
Nigeria will be 100 years old next year having come into being with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria by Lord Fredrick Lugard in 1914. And, the Executive arm of government, in its wisdom or lack of it, has proposed a year-long programme of multi-faceted activities to celebrate our centenary.
Should we all be shouting Halleluyah to this? Certainly, there is a need to celebrate the fact that Nigeria has managed to stick together as one entity. President Goodluck Jonathan has never allowed this fact to be lost on Nigerians, and, when we consider the challenges that the nation has battled with over the years, including a three-year Civil War and, most recently, challenges of unbridled insurgency of Boko Haram in the North and fresh threats of instability from the Niger Delta, it becomes quite clear that the task of keeping Nigeria one is one for which our governments, over the years, deserve kudos.
But then, one germane question Nigerians have been asking of late is: Unity, for what benefit, and at what cost? The question undoubtedly, arises from the failure of our leaders to make the unity of the country count, or reflect in improvement in our development indices. At the risk of sounding melancholic, Nigeria’s centenary does not call for the convoluted and profligate year-long celebration that some persons in government are putting together.
The programme for the celebration reads like the story of an impoverished fifty-year old rolling out a five-year programme for his 50th birthday, when he is unable to properly house, feed and educate his children. And this, at a time when some of his children have turned to vagabonds and have begun to threaten to kill him and put his house asunder. President Goodluck Jonathan, himself, underscored the sad scenario in Nigeria sometime ago when he said that the Boko Haram insurgents would actually attack him, too, if they could! More recently, he said the objective of the insurgent sect is to “take over Abuja so as to make me and those in government to go and hide.”
This is rather pathetic, coming from the Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, and seriously questions the rationale for this elaborate centenary jamboree. From the Niger Delta, militancy has become the snake that was scotched, but not killed. Militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta was only buried, half-alive, with the amnesty programme, under which billions of naira are paid to ex-militants as stipends. It has taken the recent conviction of Niger Delta militant leader, Henry Okah for the Independence Day bombing of 2010 in Abuja, by a South African court, for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to issue fresh threats against the country.
The organisation, in a statement signed by one Comrade Azazi, said it would target families of government officials. It banned government officials at all levels, as well as permanent secretaries and director-generals of parastatals, from the Niger Delta region. The group also vowed to attack anyone in the country. According to the statement, “Nigeria as a whole will feel our presence when we finally decide to carry out our targets which will not be restricted to the Niger Delta area alone.” The group further told the government: “You have seen nothing.
The disintegration of Nigeria will start through us and by us.” The Minister of the Niger Delta Ministry, Mr. Godsday Orubebe, was “banned” from the region. With such crises and threats of further crises emanating from the North and South-South of the country without adequate response from the government, it is difficult to see the sense in the elaborate centenary celebrations being planned. Luckily, the National Assembly has been reported not to be well disposed to the elaborate celebration, which will involve the construction of a centenary city in Abuja, and the construction of some structures such as police laboratories in every region of the country Both the Senate President, David Mark, and the House of Reps Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, have been reported to have questioned the sense in the centenary jamboree.
Mark is apparently unimpressed with the explanation that the celebration would not involve use of public funds, which is unlikely, while Gbajabiamila shot down the proposition as inappropriate at a time that the economy is almost laid prostrate by unemployment put at 23 percent; 12.21 percent inflation; unbridled corruption and failure to implement the budget as passed. One major factor that makes the loud celebration uncalled for is the soaring insecurity in the country, which has made it difficult for even the regular Independence Day celebration to hold at the usual Eagle Square venue. What, then, can the country be said to be celebrating so loudly and unabashedly at 100?
The explanation that public funds will not go into the centenary celebration is a tale that is best told to the Marines. This is because private sector organisations which will commit billions of naira to the Centenary City project will get their money back through phony contract deals and other shady patronage from government. Either way, public funds will be used. No private sector organisation exists to dole out hard-earned profits to government projects. The hard fact is these private organisations exist to make profit, not to build cities free of charge for the government. The explanation by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, that the centenary celebration will provide 5000 jobs is also beside the point. Jobs will be better created via production, which will be sustainable. Nigeria does not need a multi-billion naira, multi-faceted, multi-location centenary celebration to think out way to create jobs.
The proposed loud celebrations are uncalled for, especially when we consider the positions of some of the nation’s past leaders on the amalgamation that is to be celebrated. There has been no doubt over the years that Nigeria, which came into being through the amalgamation of 1914, is a marriage of strange bedfellows. The Premier of the defunct Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, called the amalgamation the “mistake of 1914”. The late Obafemi Awolowo described Nigeria as “a mere geographical expression.” It is arguable that there is, indeed, any Nigerian nation. What one can beat one’s chest about is that there are many nations – Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw, Fulani, etc – in Nigeria. After 100 years, Nigerians hardly think of themselves as one entity. Many people think of themselves as Igbo or Hausa, first, before thinking of themselves as Nigerians. Nigeria is more or less an orphan, a “nation” without nationals.
Among the leadership class, instead of a continuation of the vision of our past leaders to educate the people and build a strong, prosperous nation, we have a rabid rat race for acquisition of wealth. Public service is not for any service to the people, but for acquisition of wealth.
Self – interest is the first law of our leadership class. For this reason, basic amenities that are taken for granted in other countries such as good roads, constant electricity and good health and educational facilities, are out of reach of Nigerians. Instead of this wasteful jubilation on the nation’s centenary, therefore, the president will do better to engage his team in sober reflection on the state of the nation. Instead of corruption and incessant floundering of Nigeria’s riches in needless celebrations, instead of a national owambe to celebrate our centenary, Nigeria’s leaders should be concerned about how to surmount the challenges facing the nation to ensure that they still have a nation standing in one peace to celebrate by 2014.
For me, Nigeria’s centenary presents a good occasion for sober stock- taking and strategizing on the way forward to building a strong and stable country that is truly worthy of the type of celebration being proposed.