Elders reminisce about pre and post Independence Era
As Nigeria marked its 56th Independence celebration recently, Nigerians, who saw it all in the pre and post-Independence eras share their experiences.It was such mixed experiences that raised questions on how and why the country’s leadership has faltered till date, despite the abundance of human and material resources at their disposal. ‘We Have Deviated From Our Nationalists’ Vision Completely’
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure
Some septuagenarians and octogenarians in Ondo State have described the Nigeria’s 56th Independence celebration as an event that only symbolised freedom from the colonial masters, but brought about native neo-colonialism.
According to them, as a matter of principles and vision pursued by the late nationalists like Herbert Macaulay, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, to mention just a few, who laboured for independence, the present crop of leaders have deviated from the norms for good governance.
A retired teacher, Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa, (OFR) told The Guardian that without the little civilization in the pre-colonial era, life was simple and the people were contented.
Arogbofa, who is a septuagenarian, retired teacher and Secretary General of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, however, pointed out that the pos-independence era stamped out some local impediments to growth and development.
He lauded the efforts of leaders like Awolowo, Sardauna, Azikwe and several others who utilised the resources of the people to develop the areas and reduce ignorance through the priorities given to education, health and rural development.
The Afenifere Chieftain stated that both the pre and post colonial eras have their various advantages and disadvantages. “To now say one is better than the other is relative. There are pluses and minuses here and there.”
He lamented that some politicians stifled the plans of the founding fathers of modern Nigeria, while the intervention of the military in governance made the situation worse. He opined that the way forward is for the country to be restructured.
“We have the resources, but people have mismanaged the resources because of the system of government we have. The 2016 National CONFAB is the answer to our problems.”
Arogbofa called for implementation of the Confab report, which he said postulated 600 resolutions by consensus, on the way forward for the country.
“That is the only way to make things better for everyone of us.”
An octogenarian, Mr. Salami Arogbo Ayeye, who is also a retiree of the old Okitipupa Division Council, said life was much better during the days of the District Officers (D.O) working as consulates to the British Empire and Queen of England.
He recounted that there was high level of discipline, efficiency, communal participations in governance, respect and sanctity for human lives, while the economy was stable then.
“The D.O in Oke-Oyinbo never tolerated nonsense, not this type of corrupt system of government we have these days. Then, you dare not steal from the government or do nonsense with government funds,” he said.
He narrated the ordeal of a procurement officer that was indicted for embezzling public funds, disclosing that the colonial government promptly prosecuted the culprit.
Ayeye affirmed that things were working fine during the colonial era than now, enthusing that he would be glad if such good olden days could be restored in modern day governance.
A 78-year old businessman, Chief Jenyo Famuti and a grandmother selling local wares in Akure metropolis, Mrs. Amudipe Folake, agreed that life was more enjoyable during the colonial days.
Famuti, referring to the present economic situation, argued that governance then was people and community-centred, rather than the “pocket-centred practice that characterized the modern day politics.
“Nobody seems to care for anybody in this our democracy, and that is why you see a leader stealing millions and using his office to amass wealth at the expense of the poor.
“It was not so during the colonial era. The weak still enjoyed some level of protection from the government.”
Amudipe, hissed to show her contempt for the present day political leaders. She sang a lyric of late Fela Anikulapo: “Those ones are animals dey wear Agbada.”
She lamented the insensitivity and non-committal attitudes of the political leaders to the yearnings of the masses, saying until the leaders in the country make governance people-centred, the nation will not develop.
‘We Lived Happily As Christians, Muslims, Brothers, Sisters Then’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
Mr. George Orotemu Alfred is a 72 – year-old retired civil servant who hails from Kokori in Delta State. He is presently residing with his family in Jos, Plateau State.
Alfred said that from 1956 to 1959, the country was very enjoyable, adding that everything was in a perfect state.
“There was no armed robbery then compared to what we have now. There was nothing like somebody stealing someone’s property. We lived happily as Christians and Muslims, brothers and sisters, especially in Yorubaland where I once lived. This is unlike now that everything has been turned to politics.
“But in 1966 when Queen Elizabeth II came to Nigeria, I was in Primary II or III at that time and we were given independence cup and flag unlike the ordinary papers being given to people nowadays.
“Apart from this one, you would see at that time great leaders like Chief Obafemi Owolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Festus Okotie-Eboh and others offering selfless leadership. They were very good leaders and did good works. Awolowo was the Minister of Finance and there was no case of public money missing then. Tafawa-Balewa was the prime minister and Azikiwe was the head of government. All of us, especially the youths were very happy.
“During that era, especially at Independence in 1960, we killed goats in our school with bags of rice. How much was a bag of rice then? I think a bag of rice was not more than N150 then. It was not up to N150 and we were all happy, eating together and dancing together,” Alfred said.
He said that education at that time was very perfect, because the children must reach the age of at least six years before starting school, so that before one year, they must have acquired some native intelligence and experience.
According to him: “I started school at the age of 11 years, because there was no school in my village. From my village to where there was school was about seven miles and I could not trek because there was no transportation at that time. That was why I started late. And when I started school at that time, there was no problem until I finished.
“Even when I finished the school, there was no problem. I had to come back to Jos here because I schooled in the Western State precisely in Ilesha in Osun State. That time it was called Western Region and my father lived there.”
He applauded farming system during the time, disclosing that his father was a great farmer.
“I am a farmer, too, because we go to the farm with our father to work in the farm. Why do men in those days married up to six wives? It was because their children and wives help them in the farm. But as it is now, the population is very high and the majority of the people now are not willing to farm.
“After independence, a lot of things have changed. The people nowadays especially the youths want things the fast way. They don’t want to suffer again.
The work that somebody is supposed to do is now left for computer to do. And the families nowadays use tractors in their farms. And upon all, majority of people are not willing to do it.
“Because many people are looking for money by all means, that is why you see armed robbery and other vices. During pre–independence, there was no corruption and even if there was corruption, it was not as high as it is now. Then leaders feared God, but nowadays nobody is afraid of God. They only do things the way it favours their selfish interest,” he said.
He cited a civil servant in the old Western region who resigned voluntarily after working for only two years, saying that what he earned for the period of the two years was sufficient for him.
He emphatically stressed that life before independence was much better than the life after independence. He expressed concern over the spate of corruption that is ravaging the country, saying that he could not fathom, whether it is due to the so–called civilisation.
He said that where the country got it wrong is that those who are corrupt in the society are not brought to justice.
“You see, a person who stole millions of Naira will only be caught and the money seized from him and they will not even mention his name or they don’t even bring him to court. But I who is not a politician, if I steal N10 from somebody, police will arrest me and put me behind the counter or and will jail me. That one is wrong. What happens to those who steal millions of naira and they were never exposed.
“The panacea to corruption and other social vices is very simple. In those days, there was what was called trade by barter. It was a situation where people exchanged goods or produce that they produced.
“At that time, if it is one “mudu” of rice you give me, I will give you the same ‘mudu of beans and so on. But nowadays, there is nothing like that,” he lamented.
‘British Colonial Leaders Don’t Tell Lies Like Leaders Of Today’
From John Akubo, Lokoja
Eighty-year-old Christopher Usman Attah, reminiscing about his school days in 1960, lamented lack of accountability on the part of the present leadership unlike what obtained during the colonial era.
At about 20 years of age in form three, he was one of the lucky ones who attended the first ever Independence Day celebration at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos.
He could not describe his feeling of fulfillment, while at Government Technical School, Onitsha in the midst of his mates, who were moved to Lagos with all expenses paid by the government to witness the epoch-making anniversary.
Other students from other parts of the country enjoyed the same benefit as they all converged at the popular Tafawa Balewa Square with the green-white green flag in their hands to usher in a new dawn in the history of Nigeria where Nigerians could be ruled by their own people.
He said they had very high expectations from the new indigenous leaders as the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian flag ‘the Green white green’ hoisted.
“The independence day was the day we stopped the celebration of the commemoration of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. We called it empire day which was celebrated in every school. All the schools used to come together to play games like football, we sing for Queen Elizabeth and do match past.”
“1960 marked the end of the celebration of Empire day, I was in form three at Technical School Onitsha.
“All schools were sponsored to the first Independence day celebration in Lagos. The day, which was greeted with joy, soon turned to the country’s greatest undoing, following the failure of Nigerian leaders to live up to expectation 56 years after.”
He said the British overlords were sincere in their leadership style, because there was truth in their words. “Whatever they said, they meant it. But the Nigerian leaders have no truth in their words and this has not only affected us adversely, it has remained the bane of progress in Nigeria today.”
He recalled that unlike nowadays, in those days, schools were rare to come by as in the entire northern region.
“The only secondary schools were in Okene and Barewa College in Keffi. It was later Jesus College came in Oturkpo.”
He pointed out that his parents never paid any school fees or bought uniforms for him as everything was taken care of by Government including the transport for their return at the end of the term.
Attah, who went to a Catholic school for his standard education, said they were given free food and every other thing like books and the fees were free just like in the Native Authority School.
“When the system was that of Standard 1 to Standard 6. We had Quaiboe Standard School in Idah. The Native Authority School in Anyigba and another Native Authority school in Bassa. What we had in Dekina was the middle school which prepared students for Okene and Keffi where we had the complete secondary school.”
“When we go to school, when coming back for break, they used to give us transport money. As for the university we don’t even know when the fees were paid for our children.”
For the university education, referring to his son, Adejo, ‘I didn’t know if they paid any school fees, they would just go to get certificate and come back.
“That was what we experienced concerning education. Schools were not common as they are today.”
“Before the oil boom, agriculture held sway. In Kogi State, we specialised in cotton, groundnut and palm produce cultivation mostly from the east.
“In the West, it was cocoa and coffee, these were the bedrock of the economy of Nigeria not what we have today.”
He said in Idah, because of the River Niger, the ships will come and stay for about one week until they were loaded.
“The River Niger was dredged for ships to berth. It created job opportunities for the locals who load the ships.”
However, he pointed out that when the oil boom started in 1974, everything collapsed because people and successive governments abandoned agriculture and Nigerians became lazy leading to the present economic doldrums.
“People no longer want to work as they settled for easy money. They want to get rich quick. Somebody who started life today wants to meet up with a businessman and who started about six years ago.
“That is why we have a lot of sudden death. They want to reap where they did not sow and yet they would not like to work.”
‘We Were Happy To Gain Independence’
From Uzoma Nzeagwu, Awka
Madam Mercy Isicheli, 82, said people were in darkness before independence. We were happy to gain independence.
Isicheli said: “In those days, life was good and cost of living was cheap. Even though there was no electricity or pipe borne water, people made use of local lamps, using palm oil before lantern was introduced. There was security of life and property, but criminals were around. Many people could not go to school, just because we did not see the merits.
“Where parents have four children, they could send only one to school because of the fact that the child may be killed or he or she may not come back home. Children respect their elders and authority, while the rascal ones were disciplined.
“In those good old days, with eight pence, you could feed a family of five for one day, while 10 shillings could be enough for Christmas celebration. Whenever there was misunderstanding, it was settled amicably within the family or by the elders and the community. If it fails, it will be referred to the traditional ruler whose verdict is final. It was strange seeing people go to the police for settlement of cases.”
She continued: “Today people are enlightened, many have travelled beyond the shores of Nigeria. Life is better now and we know where we are going. We receive information easily via technology. We are aware of our environment through radio and television. We did not have these opportunities before independence.
“There are lots of changes. With population explosion, we are now living in a troubled society, and exposed to social ills like armed robbery, murder, kidnapping, prostitution etc. However, things have become very difficult, with the cost of living rising every day. The naira has lost value.
“The electricity and water supply are not stable. Our roads have gone bad. No job for the youths and the hospital charges are high. To send children to school and pay their school fees these days is very difficult.”
In his remarks, Chief Emmanuel S, Okoye, a retired banker, told The Guardian that there was hunger for independence among Nigerians.
“We wanted the colonial masters to go. This was fired by the involvement of late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was an orator and a Pan-Africanist, who thrilled everybody with his speeches. We were enthusiastic to govern ourselves. Then the NCNC, Action Group and the Northern Peoples’ Congress were all interested in self-rule.
“By 1960 it was a dream come true. It was the best thing that happened to Nigeria. Life then was good and enjoyable. There was respect for moral values.
We listened to and respected the elders and their views. The currency was in pounds and shillings, but had value, even though money in circulation was not much. Things ranging from foodstuff, clothes, etc were cheap, even house rent was cheap. As a youth, we woke up early, did some domestic work before going to school.
“We played music on grammar phone (his masters voice), and in the villages people gathered to listen. We enjoyed ourselves under the moonlight. Children were given the name ‘Nwaora” (child belongs to community). There was no electricity, but homes use tiny lamps powered with kerosene, but no generator set.
“There is civilisation. People are now enlightened and we are improving in many aspects of life. There is population explosion coupled with western civilisation. We have forgotten our culture. Life no longer matters to people,” Okoye said.
‘Every Time We Preach Unity,
But We Do Not Practice It’
From Tina Todo, Calabar
Elders In Cross River are of the opinion that pre-independent Nigeria was more unified than what we have today.
An Elder, Mr. Ete Udodoh, said the country got it wrong when it started on a wrong footing by bringing tribalism and sentiments in dealing with issues.
Citing the former leaders who fought for the independence of the country, he said: “Sentiment has made the country not to be united. By then when Dr Nmadi Azikiwe was the Head of Government, Abubakar, the Prime Minister, the unity of the country was solid. Now all those are gone, what we have now is, we fight each other because we are not from the same tribe.
“The word Nigeria is by calling, not by heart. If we have open mind like our founding fathers that I mentioned earlier, we would have had a more developed country called Nigeria today. Every time we preach unity, but we do not practice it.
A housewife, Mrs. Alice Itam, described the post-Independence as her second time of experiencing hardship in life.
She said: “Before independence, things were far better than what we are experiencing now. During the country’s civil war, it was difficult to survive because things were not coming into the country. It was only what we produced then that we survived on. I could remember then that we used to boil seawater to make salt out of it. We struggled to survive and after the war, things started taking shape gradually.
We started experiencing good life. There were no more killings, there was plenty of food and freedom of movement.”
On his part, Dr. Victor Igwe, called for change of attitude among Nigerians.
“We as Nigerians must have a change of attitude by imbibing the culture of positive change. We must also try to make things work. We should try as much as we can to reduce the level of corruption that has eaten deep into the system.”
‘In Those Days, It Was Exciting
To Be A Nigerian’
From Lawrence Njoku (Enugu)
As Nigeria marks her 56th Independence anniversary, two retired University dons, Prof Elochukwu Amucheazi and Prof Etisiobi Ndiokwellu shared their experiences.
Speaking in separate interviews with The Guardian, they explained that the country had really transformed from what it was before the independence, attributing it to the efforts of her citizens.
Ndiokwellu, a Pioneer Dean, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) said: “I remember the pre-independence era with nostalgia. Many things come to mind when you talk about that era.
“We were in colonial era and I remember that anytime the governor-general is coming, we lined up with the British flags. The other thing I remember is that after independence, we had the Nigerian flag and wherever we were going, we had it, especially during school activities. Economy wise, there are pluses and minuses then but, we had peace. But in terms of development, we have gone far now. Transportation wasn’t there. I can’t remember seeing tarred roads before independence. The schools were very few and far in between.”
Ndiokwellu noted that though the country has made tremendous progress in terms of infrastructure.
He said: “What was lacking, however, was the genuine spirit to consolidate on what had been done. Nigerians have continued to suffer economically, because agriculture was abandoned in pursuit of oil money.”
In his own remarks, Amucheazi said: “I was very much around. I was in secondary school and University and so I was reasonably familiar with developments in the country then. We had political leaders that were concerned about building a new nation called Nigeria. It was not that they really accepted the structure created by the British, they tried to sort things out and that is why they had four regions.
“The regions were vibrant particularly East and West. Educational institutions were set up and infrastructure were built. There was the need to build a Nigerian nation then. They made sacrifices. They were indeed leaders. In those days, it was exciting to be a Nigerian. We were Nigerians, there was no much money but whatever we had, we tried to apply it creditably, and built up the economy of the Eastern region.
“The East was very poor, but was able to build a University by saving five hundred thousand yearly and was able to save about 50 million to build the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, farm settlements, industries and what have you.
“You cannot dispute that 56 years after independence, Nigeria doesn’t have the industrial set up comparable to the ones set up by our founding fathers. All that the government is trying to do is to reactivate these industries.”