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Degrading May 29 and October 1


On May 29, our Democracy Day, I drove through Eagle Square, Abuja, at half past nine in the unusually cool morning in the federal capital. I had expected all roads to have been closed to vehicular traffic at least a mile to the square. Surprise! Nothing. I noticed four or five police men outside the perimeter fence of the Square. They seemed mildly listless. I think they had problems knowing exactly why they were there that morning.

Eagle Square was empty because the federal government decided, and not for the first time, that that important day in our national life, should be marked with a low key celebration to demonstrate, I would presume, that the times are so hard for ordinary Nigerians that a bacchanal feast by our leaders would be inconsistent with the austerity that commends itself as a more cautionary response to the dire straits of our national economy. To borrow from Winston Churchill, the titter would certainly ill accord with the tocsin.

It is, perhaps, difficult to push through the fog of what looks like a sensible argument here. I suppose the government wanted to make the point that when a government faces the delicate challenge of putting food on the table of the poorest in the country, it could not afford to be seen to indulge in a celebration that could probably make a mockery of its sense of fiscal responsibility. Perhaps, with the aroma of change in the air, a tight fisted fiscal husbandry is likely to give way to the casual attitude towards the management of our financial resources of our immediate past years.

As sensible as that argument might be, it misses the point about the proper celebration of our Democracy Day. It is not about eating and drinking. It is about recognising the day as a milestone in our nation’s story. The steady erosion of the importance May 29 and October 1 began in 2010 when the bombs went off near Eagle Square as President Goodluck Jonathan was marking our independence anniversary on October 1, that year. From that point on and for dear life, Jonathan moved the celebration of both Democracy Day and our independence anniversary behind the high security walls of Aso Rock, offering low-key celebration as his excuse. But we knew that the feast continued in a manner that did not do justice to the definition of low-key. What happened was that the government cut off the ordinary Nigerians from participating in the celebration, high-key or low-key and consistently turned the celebration into an exclusive right of political leaders and their minions to indulge themselves to their heart’s content.

We may quibble about celebration or no celebration but what is important is to recognise what the day means to us as a people and as a country. It would be a grievous mistake to treat it with what seems clearly like an official contempt. It seems to me that the government and the people have different views about the importance of the day. On May 29, we greeted one another with Happy Democracy Day. We exchanged emails and text messages wishing one another well. The rather detached official attitude dampened that spirit and degraded Democracy Day.

May 29 was just an ordinary day in the Gregorian calendar until 1999 when our armed forces ended military rule and allowed the civilians back into the ring on that day. There was nothing special about May 29. But their choice of the day elevated it to one of special importance in our nation’s story. President Obasanjo was right to recognise it as a milestone in our nation’s story. And he was right to declare it as Democracy Day. Democracy was not born on May 29, 1999. It was unchained on that day, thus allowing us the right, even if theoretically, to use the ballot paper and the ballot box to choose our political leaders in accordance with the tenets of the world’s most beloved form of government – democracy. It became a day worth remembering and even celebrating because the story of our political development would never the complete without May 29, 1999. May 29 and October 1 are milestones in our nation’s story. If we degrade them, we destroy our story. A nation lives by and builds its future on its story. The absence our national story is deleterious to nation’s political and social health.

I am worried that in the name of low-key celebration, there is a steady erosion of the importance attached to the two days. We should halt it before greater damage is done to our nation’s story and our right to be feel part of that story. October 1 and May 29 celebrate some form of independence or freedom whose importance in our national scheme of things should not be lost on us: October 1, 1960, marked our independence from British colonial rule; May 29, 1999, marked our freedom from our internal colonisers, the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Both were, and remain, important events in our national life.

Countries much older than ours, such as the United States of America, still treat their important national days without degrading them with the excuse that economic difficulties necessitate degrading their importance.

A celebration need not be bacchanal with our penchant for extravagance to make the right impact. Is this really about lack of fund? I do not think so. A celebration is what you make of it – high or low-key; simple or extravagant. It needed not be a stat banquet in Abuja and the state capitals. A simple parade by our police or armed forces and school children at Eagle Square and in the state capitals is as good a celebration as any. The ordinary people watching the parade see and share in our nation’s story. Whatever might be the dire straits of our economy, ordinary Nigerians want to be part of the two milestones of our nation’s enduring story in its ungainly steps towards nationhood. To deny us this simple participatory story is to take something away from our sense of patriotism.

Talk Back

I thank my numerous readers who have taken the trouble to respond this column, commending me and pointing out errors in my arguments. I feel encouraged by their praise and their criticisms. From time to time, I would publish a selection of some these responses to enliven, where necessary, the continuing debate on the various aspects of our national development. Here below are two of the responses I could accommodate today.

The nature of our party politics

Just came across your article of two weeks ago. My take on the topic is that actually it was Chief Tony Anenih who introduced the idea of national party leader. In order to ingratiate himself with President Obasanjo, he name him the national leader of PDP, above both the then national chairman Chief Solomon Lar and the party constitution. Obasanjo wouldn’t sit at a meeting where he was not in charge, even where there defined channels of authority. Remember President Shagari would attend NPN meetings where party input into government policies would be discussed and Akinloye, the chairman was clearly in charge. Parties in this country are anchored on the ambitions of their promoters not any vision of what they hope to achieve for it. It accounts for the ease with which they migrate from one party to another as they search for the perfect vehicle to take them to their promised land.
M.T. Usman.

Ajegunle gutters

I read your column of April 10, 2016 and would say your piece is quite educative. However, what left a bitter taste in my mouth was when you insulted the good people of Ajegunle, my primary constituency.

Gutters are visible everywhere in Lagos. Even the so-called Lekkis of this world have their own share of filth.

Ajegunle is getting better by the day. More graduates and professionals are being producing yearly and also development has caught up with my area. Please address Ajegunle with some of dignity.
Darlington Oleru.

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