What does ‘independence’ mean?
The years between 1957 and 1963 were very crucial to African countries within the context of gaining independence from colonial powers. Great Britain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and the United States (in the Philippines) were at different times, colonial powers. The scramble and partition of Africa from 1883 to 1900 benefited the imperial powers. Through force of superior power and masterful cunning, whole nations were subjugated under colonial rule in order to compel the ‘conquered’ nations to part with their resources at little or no cost to the colonial power. It was an uneven relationship. It was not a romantic affair. It was indeed one country permanently dominating the other. In the case of Britain in Nigeria, they left their language with us and made our culture inferior to anything they brought! We still revel in traditional marriage, court marriage and church wedding all by one couple!
Britain was the longest colonial power having started colonizing nations from 1583. America was once a colony of Britain until the revolution of 1776 which threw Britain off the back of America. Colonialism is ‘enslavement and exploitation through the military, political, and economic coercion of peoples, countries, and territories- primarily economically less developed ones with populations of another nationality than that of the metropolitan country’. The British Empire once controlled 23% of the world population, made up of 412million people. During this time, they could get raw materials from the colonies as they wished. It has been said that Britain stole $45 trillion from India between 1765 and 1938. The economic objective of colonialism was to provide the highest profit (economic benefit) to the ‘colonizing power at the lowest possible price’. They did not come to Africa therefore to civilize us as were foolishly taught by our teachers in primary school.
From the 1950s, African nations came of age sort of and started the clamour for political and economic independence. Whereas in Kenya, for example, there was a bloody war (Mau Mau uprising) to end colonialism, in Nigeria independence came on a platter of gold. This is not to say that there were no clashes or conflict. Some people went to jail or were arrested in Nigeria. In 1957 under the fiery Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana gained independence from Britain and by 1962 some 24 other nations had shaken off the yoke of colonialism. A new set of leaders took over leadership in Africa amidst hope that once Africans started to rule over their nations there would be automatic prosperity. The local politicians had changed a bible verse ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and every other thing will be added unto you’ to ‘seek ye first the political kingdom…” There were high expectations arising from the sweet promises which the politicians had made.
It did not take long for the bubble of political power and independence to burst. Political power came into the hands of African politicians but the real power was somewhere else. The Promised Land was nowhere near as events in Togo, Nigeria and Ghana soon proved with the military coups in January 1963 (Togo), January 1966 (Nigeria) and February 1966 (Ghana). Other coups soon followed. Independence had come but the people were dissatisfied with how our leaders were managing the affairs of the country.
Independence in Nigeria meant that we could decide on our economic, political and cultural fortunes. It meant that all state positions would be occupied by Nigerians and that the economy would be invigorated so that an egalitarian society would be created. It meant also that our cultural practices would be restored and that anything foreign that did not respect our way of life would be jettisoned. It meant that we would have a big say on all matters through the power of the ballot box. Alas! The opposite became the case. Steadily and slowly, corruption in the public sector crept into our lives and the military had enough excuses to intervene in governance to halt the slide, as they proclaimed. Their stay in power did not halt anything corrupt. Instead they entrenched corruption and whereas they met the culture of ten percent bribe in place, they attacked corruption with a large hear that meant carting away huge funds without bothering about the niceties of taking in percentages.
For the current generation of Nigerians, particularly the millennial group, independence means nothing. As far as they are concerned, if it takes Europeans to return and make our system work again they are all for it. There is a deep despondency and lack of faith in the system that drives them crazy. They are for the gleam, to borrow from Ayi Kwei Armah, no matter where it comes from.
As we mark the nation’s 59th year of independence it is time to take stock and ask where we got it wrong such that although we are independent in words the nation is not independent in food production, in power generation and supply, and in the production of goods. It is time to ask why we still depend on imports to live and carry out the basic things of life. A nation that imports tooth picks or which imports its staple diet cannot be said to be truly independent. A nation that cannot provide for its youths cannot be said to be independent. A nation whose judges till wear the robes and wigs that the British brought here but have since discarded them is not truly independent. A nation which runs an academic curriculum fashioned after the dictates of its colonial master is not truly independent. Our minds have to be truly independent before we can claim independence. That is the truth of the matter – independence of thought will lead to independent actions and growth. A nation whose leaders still travel abroad to the hospitals of its erstwhile colonial masters for treatment is not truly independent. ‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery’, Bob Marley once sang, ‘none but ourselves can free our minds”. The road to true independence is still very long, fifty-nine years after the proclamation of independence. By next year, Nigeria will officially reach old age: a nation that is old and not independent is a waiting disaster. We must rise to the challenge of nationhood. Now is the time!