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Nigeria at 62, not another ritual

By Luke Onyekakeyah
01 October 2022   |   3:20 am
There is an argument every October 1 Independence Day anniversary over whether or not there is anything to celebrate about Nigeria. The majority of people tend to align with the contrary that Nigeria is a failure and so has nothing to celebrate...

There is an argument every October 1 Independence Day anniversary over whether or not there is anything to celebrate about Nigeria.

Majority of people tend to align with the contrary that Nigeria is a failure and so has nothing to celebrate. To this group, Nigeria has recorded total abysmal failure when compared with her peers across the world. But is it really true that there is nothing to celebrate about Nigeria?

Looking back at the reality, Nigeria could be said to have scored poorly in virtually all sectors, certainly, not an impressive score.

In the old school system, pupils who scored poor passes usually had an average of 40 or 41 percent, meaning that it was merely marginal, indeed a matter of luck that they didn’t slide to 39 to be graded as a failure.

Nigeria’s flag (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Nigeria’s score card at 62, for me, could be portrayed as follows: Economy 40; Education 39; Infrastructure 40; Healthcare 38; Transportation 40; Industrialisation 40; Employment 35; Foreign Affairs 42; Security 35, making a total of 309 and an average of 34 per cent. A country with a 34 per cent score card is weak in all ramifications and that is why Nigeria is being perceived as a failed state.

The occasion of the 62nd anniversary presents a unique opportunity for the country’s past and present leaders to take stock of the past, make evaluations of the present and chart a path for the future. At this juncture, it is either the country has done so well as its contemporaries in other climes, or she has wasted the time.

Like the prodigal son who wasted his youth and fortunes chasing shadow and frivolities, but still had his life intact, perhaps, the only thing to celebrate is the fact that Nigeria is still under one central government over these years but not without life-threatening injuries.

Like the prodigal son who came back to his senses and decided to return to his father to start life afresh, Nigeria still has the opportunity to renounce the vindictive and divisive past with its failures and return to the path of progress. It is appropriate on this occasion to highlight some of the key historical landmarks that shaped the past 62 years for us to appreciate where we are coming from.

Five years after independence on January 14, 1966, the first military coup took place in which Nigeria’s first prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and other prominent leaders were killed. Thereafter, Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi became the military head of state. That coup marked the beginning of military intervention in Nigeria, which is largely responsible for all the woes that beset the country.

Six months later on July 29, 1966, the second military coup took place in which the Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi was killed. Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon became the Head of State. Following the putsch, a crisis erupted in the North and West. Many Easterners were massacred, which led to the mass exodus of people to the Eastern Region.

On May 27, 1967, in the midst of the national emergency, Gowon created twelve states out of the four regions in Nigeria. Three days later on May 30, 1967, Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, Military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, declared the Region as the independent Republic of Biafra.

A month and six days later, on July 6, 1967, the Nigeria-Biafra civil war broke out. It was three excruciating years of untold suffering on the Biafran side. On January 15, 1970, the war ended as Biafra surrendered. Over 1.5 million people died, mainly from malnutrition and properties worth billions were destroyed.

Gowon ruled till July 29, 1975, when he was overthrown in a bloodless military coup (the third). Brig. Murtala Muhammed took over as the Head of State. Six months later on February 13, 1976, the fourth military coup, led by Col. Buka Suka Dimka took place. Murtala Muhammed was killed and General Olusegun Obasanjo became the Head of State. Obasanjo ruled for three years and on 1st October 1979, after a general election, handed power to a civilian president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

Alhaji Shagari was overthrown on December 31, 1983, by Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who then became the Head of State. Buhari was in turn overthrown on August 27, 1985, by Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Babangida ruled for eight years. On August 26, 1993, after nullifying the election that was held on June 12, 1993, in which Chief M.K.O. Abiola was presumed the winner, Babangida handed power to Chief Ernest Shonekan, as Head of the Interim National Government (ING).

Three months later, on November 17, 1993, Sani Abacha removed Shonekan in a place coup. Suddenly, Abacha died in June in June 19998 and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar became the Head of State. It was Gen. Abubakar who conducted a general election that brought Olusegun Obasanjo (now civilian) to power on May 29, 1999. Obasanjo kick-started the new political democratic dispensation that has seen Umaru Yar’Adua, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari (on a second missionary journey).

The question is why did Nigeria record such abysmal performance over these years? Obviously, a number of factors were responsible for the awful state of affairs. Nigeria’s poor state of affairs is due to the following factors:
No unity of purpose: Since the forced amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria into one country by the British Governor General, Lord Fredrick Lugard, in 1914, there has been no unity of purpose as each disparate nation that was clobbered together believes in itself and not in Nigeria. There is no agreement on any issue.

Tribal/ethnic leadership: Lack of unity of purpose gave birth to ethnic leadership at independence. With the exception of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who preached One Nigeria to the end, his contemporaries in the other regions were more preoccupied with their regions. Arguably, the inability of the politicians to forge a common united front led to the political crisis the engulfed the newly independent Nigeria leading to the brutal 3-year civil war from 1967 to 1970.

Military intervention: The emergence of the military on the political scene in 1966 helped to derail Nigeria from the path of economic growth. The military that intervened with supposedly good intentions to right the wrongs, including curbing corruption, turned out to unmake Nigeria. Ever since then, Nigeria has never been the same again, as military mentality pervades the polity.

Abrasive corruption: The military condoned corruption it set out to curb after it tested power and saw that it was juicy and sweet. Consequently, what should have been the democratic Federal Republic of Nigeria turned out to become the Federal Republic of the Nigerian Army according to Gen. Chris Ali (retd) in his iconic book with the same title.

The other factors include a flawed constitution that unduly vested much power at the centre; political domination by self-imposed Fulani overlords, marginalization, nepotism, injustice and lack of peace and harmony.

Except these issues are consciously addressed with commitment, Nigeria may eventually fizzle out for lack of progress given the growing agitations by the different ethnic nationalities.

It is against the foregoing unfortunate and pathetic state of affairs that the youths are rallying in a mass movement under the Labor Party and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, to rescue Nigeria which has been ruined.

The greatest mistake anyone would make is to think that the 2023 elections are going to be like those conducted since 1999 that was grossly manipulated but accepted by gullible masses. Truth is that Nigeria in 1999 is not the same as Nigeria today.

Also, the Nigeria of 2015 or 2019 is not the same as Nigeria today. There is a huge difference. People are fed up with suffering, pain and anguish. Today, people have become very conscious of having been cooked by the ruin all over the place. Nigeria must be returned to the path of progress.