56 years after, fury, sound of independence, signifying little
“At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent sovereign nation. It is a unique privilege which I shall remember forever, and it gives me strength and courage as I dedicate my life to the service of our country… and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations.”
This excerpt from the speech delivered by the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa on the occasion of Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960 reflected the general mood of optimism, aspirations, projections, hopes and high expectations that pervaded the country at the attainment of ‘nationhood’ 56 years ago.
But clearly today, Nigerians have come to realized that wishes in terms of aspirations and expectations could easily turn to frustrations and lamentations especially in the absence of strength and courage to power those lofty goals and projections. Conversely against Balewa’s projection, building of Nigeria as an “independent sovereign nation”, in the last 56 years, failed to proceed “at the wisest pace.”
Indeed, those “well-built” and “firm foundations” upon which Nigeria’s independence was anchored in 1960 collapsed shortly thereafter, and all efforts to rebuild, till date, have yielded little results. Hence, the struggle in the last 56 years remains “furry sound signifying nothing.”
And except the very few in the political class that have benefitted, and continue to benefit from the degeneration that has ravaged the country through our errors of commission and omission, the pang of underdevelopment permeates the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.
Agreed, the forces that stunted Nigeria’s growth over the years predated the independence in 1960, but the failure, especially by the political leadership, to steer the ship of the country towards achieving the objectives of the self-rule set in 1960, remains a cause for concern.
What are those objectives? The Guardian, in its editorial of Monday, October 1, 1990 entitled, “Nigeria at 30” enumerated the objectives as follows:
“End of exploitation and the consequent improvement in the material condition of our people; self-reliance in our search for a desirable collective destiny; and restoration of the dignity of our human person who has been mentally, psychologically and materially despoiled by decades of colonial and imperialist degradation.”
In the same editorial, the answer to how many of these objectives had been achieved, then, was unequivocal, but the lion share of the blame was on the political architecture of governance.
“This lack-lustre performance in the political plane has predictably affected our economic performance too. We have added little in the way of enhanced productive capacity, and our search for economic self-reliance has recorded little success. Our heavy dependence on oil continues to show how badly dependent we are on external economic operators. This, of course, has had a depressing effect on the standard and quality of the material life of our people.”
The editorial went ahead to advocate a 10-year plan with the instruction that “this generation must make sure that 10 years from now, we will have a happier story to tell. The story then must be about a political leadership that has a new vision of how to place its citizens at the centre of its political project and sees acquisition of political power as not an end in itself but a means for serving the collective welfare of its people.
“… Yes, the only happy story we can tell must be that of a leadership which is sincere in its dedication, which can harness the collective energies of its people, deploy their productive capacity to exploit their environment, and use the gain thereof to support a people who have rights, dignity, hope, and material prosperity.”
But five years after, it appeared that the advice to marshal a 10-year plan fell on deaf ears. The opening sentences of the editorial – Nigeria At 35 – published on Tuesday, October 3, 1995 affirmed that the curve of national development had continued on a downward swing.
“Were the situation of our country more auspicious than it is currently, this year’s independence anniversary should have been an occasion for robust celebration. If the opportunities offered our nation at independence 35 years ago were not so thoroughly squandered by a succession of selfish and incompetent leadership, Nigeria today would have escaped the opprobrium of being classified as the 19th poorest country in the world.
“It is because Nigeria has failed to harness her lavish endowments for sustainable development; it is because the possibility of doing so appears elusive as things are, that this year’s celebration of the attainment of sovereignty was marked with grumbles and muffled prayers in the quietude of places of worship.
“The gravity of the situation is so severe and benumbing that many a patriot have found it convenient to remain indifference, at best. As we observed in our editorial of yesterday (October 2, 1995), at the time of its proscription in August last year, The Guardian left the country in a prostrate state, wracked and bogged down by a plethora of burning issues, among which were the festering national question, June 12, widespread corruption, a plundered economy and the collapse of strategic infrastructure. The situation today has degenerated further.”
Its concluding part was also a call for leadership regeneration. “At 35, Nigeria yearns for the selfless leadership that can steer the country away from political turbulence and socio-economic distress. The strategic factors of history and geography have placed on our shoulders the responsibility of being the epicenter of the Black and African world. We must rise from our somnabulent state and forge ahead to claim our place in the global scheme of things. We can’t afford to betray that trust.”
At the dawn of the new millennium in 2000 when the country clocked 40, and having operated under civil rule for 16 months, the contradictions of the past, and the mismanagement of the nation’s socio-political space became the ominous signs. Tagged Independence: 40 years on, the editorial of Monday, October 2, 2000 identified “the seeming failure of the infrastructure of governance and social institutions” as the bane of Nigeria’s growth. The leaders of the new dispensation were therefore charged to rebuild the infrastructure of governance and restore faith in social institutions.
At 40, the editorial decried, “the national currency is weak. Economic institutions lack the capacity for international competitiveness. The economy is over dependent on imports. The real sector is prostrate. The primary effect has been a high unemployment index and the scourge of poverty in the land. Citizens are disempowered simply because the quality of life is dropping on a daily basis. The key to many of the country’s problems lies in the area of economic performance. This is one major challenge for government and it is a problem to be solved not by throwing money at issues and labeling it poverty alleviation but by a determined and focused re-construction of the economy…
“At 40, Nigerian can take solace collectively in the consideration that theirs is nevertheless a blessed country that has proved to be resilient in the face of all odds even if many of those odds are self-inflicted. The way forward lies in identifying the problems, the mobilization of the people, a re-invention of the public spirit and the conversion of all limitations into the advantages of the future.”
Ten years later, on the occasion of the golden jubilee anniversary of Nigeria, The Guardian, in its editorial of Friday, October 1, 2010, maintained, “Nigeria is a nation adrift. The core values of honesty, sincerity, accountability, humility, tolerance and religiosity have all but been abandoned. The leadership having failed the people, ordinary Nigerians now think that they are entitled to help themselves anyway they can…”
The country was praised for clocking “50 years of halting progress” in spite of its abundant human and natural resources, with the hope that “the next 50 years will see a flowering of the Nigerian genius and the development of a government that is accountable to a people who have overcome hunger and injustice.”
Last year when the country marked 55th independence anniversary, the feeling among the populace as reflected in the editorial of Thursday, October 1, 2015 wasn’t different. “… There is little to cheer about Nigeria at 55. As the dejecting indices show in such areas as the security of life and property, food production, industrial output, quality of education and healthcare, diversification as well as productivity of the economy, there is indeed cause for worry…”
It is clear, from discussion so far, that the elusiveness of good governance with all its nuances, in our clime today, has been the consequence of the deterioration of the “quality of successive political leadership.”
Even, in the last over one year of the new government of All Progressive Congress (APC), which incidentally, came to power on the strength of a ‘change mantra’, the indices, so far, have not shown much departure from the past.
So, Nigerians have continued to suffer so much from the “ambition and selfishness of their leaders.” And if “deliverance from colonial bondage” 56 years ago, remains the principal cause of our rejoicing, year in year out, such celebration, today, can only be meaningful by collectively working towards “deliverance from the just consequences of our perversity” as suggested by The Guardian editorial of Saturday, October 1, 1983.