BY ROBERT OBIOHA
At 52, Nigeria ought to have been a great nation: if not in the world, at least in Africa. But in West Africa, the country cannot really lay claim to be the leader in all indices of socio-economic development. I do not want to continue to blame the colonial intervention entirely for our socio-economic woes.
Though it contributed a lot, Nigerians ought to begin to share some of the blames for our being underdeveloped even after 52 years of independence. The story of Nigeria is a tragic one. At beginning, it was not quite so. Events took a dangerous turn after six years of independence. Some analysts say the seeds of discord were sown by the British colonial masters through the lumping together of diverse peoples, cultures, languages and religions without establishing or defining how these distinct peoples can co-exist in one country.
Those seeds of discord only ruptured six years after independence through fights by politicians to determine who replaces the colonial masters. Even at that, were not alone in this type of journey. India, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Singapore passed through colonial experience and emerged stronger. Why is ours different? Is it in our climate or weather? Nature is prodigal with us in giving us good weather, soil, fruits and crops. Our yam is so big that it is referred to as the king of crops. All the natural disasters that plague other nations do not occur here.
We are in paradise or even the Edenic garden, yet Nigerians are passing through hellfire called living amid plenty crude oil, gas and many solid minerals located in different parts of the country. Why is it that Nigeria, the most populous Black nation in the world, is still struggling to make impact among the comity of nations?
Why is Nigeria the only OPEC country that imports refined fuel and other petroleum products? Why does petrol cost so much per litre in Nigeria than any other OPEC country? Why are our refineries not working? Why do we find it difficult to build new refineries? Why can’t any Nigerian government be serious in the fight against graft? When shall we get 24 hours uninterrupted power supply in the country? When shall we stop the growing medical tourism by our political elites?
There are so many questions that keep cropping up that there would be no space enough to ask all of them here. In The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe blamed the nation’s woes on poor leadership. I want to align myself with his thesis for so many reasons. Most of Nigeria’s problems are man-made.
They require human solutions. Almost all our leaders, from Alhaji Tafawa Balewa to Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi and all others till date had failed to rise to the challenges of leadership when it mattered most. Gen. Murtala Mohammed’s six months rule was an exemption in terms of focused and purposeful leadership. Gen. Yakubu Gowon ruled the country for nine long years. He had the opportunity to lay the country’s industrial development template but did not for obvious reasons.
Others after him continued the consumeristic bazaar simply because Nigeria was swimming in petrol-dollar and money was not really our problem but how to spend it. We spent it in FESTAC ’77 and other such wasteful jamborees. But are we wiser today? I do not think we are, because we cannot remember where the rain started beating us. And it will be pretty difficult knowing where it stopped. Nigeria as a nation is an orphan. Every Nigerian belonged to a tribal group before laying allegiance to the nation. Countries are referred to as fatherland or motherland. In our own case, most Nigerians neither call Nigeria their fatherland nor their motherland.
They refer to their tribes as the nation. For example, we have Igbo nation, Yoruba nation, Hausa nation Ijaw nation and so on. I watch with admiration whenever American politicians talk about their country. In every thing they say, the national consciousness is embedded. Their love of nation is paramount. They argue what will be in the best interest of America and not of any particular group or state as our politicians do here. If an American politician discusses the economy, he bases it on what will be good to all Americans. Their sportsmen and women equally do the same thing. To them, America is an ideal upon which the American Dream is built. The dream is anchored on the belief that you can be whatever you want to be irrespective of colour or creed. The American Dream guides individual and national life in spite of its contradictions.
What is Nigeria to an average citizen? Perhaps, it is a place where people fight over the available resources and take as much as they can grab. Better still, Nigeria is like the Iroko tree, anybody that reaches its top will not waste time to gather enough firewood from it that will last for a lifetime because you don’t climb the Iroko every time. The tragedy of the nation is that when some get to the top, they tend to pluck all the firewood that ordinary Nigerians would not have enough firewood to cook their food. We are a nation of greedy and uncaring leaders.
We have self-serving leaders. Nigeria’s journey to nationhood is not smooth. Nigeria is that part of the gulf of Guinea given to Britain during 1885 partition of Africa among European powers in Berlin. In 1914, Britain’s Lord Frederick Lugard amalgamated the southern and northern protectorates as one country, his wife, Flora Shaw, helped him to christen it, Nigeria. The British knew that we are not one people. They captured it in our first national anthem where it noted that “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.”
This particular line captured the soul of Nigeria instead of the “One Nigeria” mantra as handed down to us by the great Zik and the war-time Gowon’s slogan of “to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” I would have preferred the phrase that reminds us of our different tribes and languages and yet tell us that in brotherhood we stand. If we had listened to that sweet song of our first national anthem, maybe the cataclysm of 1966 would have not occurred.
We failed to appropriate the strength of our differences and the need for our togetherness before the thunder struck. And when that brotherhood was shaken and even contested, we fell apart as the falcon could no longer hear the falconer in the attendant anarchy. Since 1966, the war period and after, Nigeria has never truly become one nation. We have different laws for different people. Poor men go to jail for minor offences while rich men go free for serious offences.
Some rich men that would have been jailed for life, through plea bargaining, got questionable sentence that mock at our concept of justice. Nigeria has six geo-political zones. Five of them have at least six states each and one is made to have five simply because it is Igbo. One had seven.
Remember, Biafran resistance was an Igbo affair or so it was meant to be. Forty-two years after Biafra, Nigeria is still treating that part it fought gallantly for three years to liberate and brought back to the family fold as if it does not belong. That part has been unofficially but practically excluded from national leadership-that is the presidency either in khaki or through the ballot box. Yet, we are one Nigeria. I do not want to bore you with the inequities contained in the distribution of local government areas by the nation’s military elites, mostly from the North and other contradictions of Nigeria. It is in Nigeria that leaders know their problem yet they refuse to attend to it.
The 1999 Constitution is said to be defective yet we are still operating such a document in 21st century as if it is a holy book that nothing can be added or subtracted. Nigeria depends on money from crude oil as if there are no other minerals or products we can trade with internationally? Upon many decades of oil exploration and exploitation in the country, what can we really show for it when compared with other OPEC countries? Nothing! But graft. We have few rich men and millions of poor people that walk on the streets in search of elusive jobs.
Nigeria will not continue like this for eternity. It is time to remake the country and allow it to work. Those saying that Nigeria will not divide are as patriotic as those agitating for self-determination due to one grievance or another. Nigeria is for all of us, let’s sit down and discuss its future now that it is still day time and save it from doom’s day predictions.