Celebrating our independence: Nigeria at 57
On Sunday October 1, 2017, Nigerians will roll out the drums again to celebrate or mark with enjoyable activities the country’s 57th Anniversary as an independent nation. Should we, in fact, celebrate? In other words, is there anything to celebrate? The answer is both yes and no.
Yes, because Africa for many centuries particularly Africa South of Sahara was euphemistically referred to as the dark continent. For centuries the Europeans came to Africa particularly West Africa and carted the inhabitants to their sugar-cane farms in West Indies as slaves. Thanks to God for the bold and courageous religious bodies, the Quakers and free thinkers who embarked on costly campaigns for abolition of slave trade which culminated into Slaves Abolition Act of 1833. After the abolition of slave trade, the white men embarked on commercial activities. This led to the infamous Berlin Conference in 1884 in1853 when Nigeria was partitioned and granted to Britain without the consent of the people for selfish economic interest. The exploitation of raw materials continued until 1960 when Nigeria became independent. Therefore October 1, 1960 is significant in the history of Nigeria being the date the country known as Nigeria was emancipated from the colonial masters. That alone is worthy celebrating
However, the other part of the answer is that every year in the life of a nation, a country should have a reason to celebrate because it has moved forward economically, politically and socially. In the case of Nigeria, it would appear that every year from 1966 it has been a step forward in age but a year backward in developmental area so much so that we now have all forms of industrial actions, motor roads riddled with all shapes and shades of potholes, poor electricity supply, kidnapping, encroachment and murder by armed herdsmen, insecurity of lives and property at home and outside the home, boko haram, rising unemployment, rising poverty and rising debt profile. Worse still, we still maintain a military constitution whereby politics has become the only lucrative business in Nigeria thereby discouraging the youths from engaging in other gainful employment.
Consequently, in recent times, people from all parts of the country have been questioning the usefulness and effectiveness of our constitution as it does not encourage development and does not foster unity. Some even agitated for secession. Those who are agitating for cesession were not born when the Biafra war took place between 1966 and 1970 and therefore only learnt from some history books what brought about the Biafra War. To me, the grievances are not dissimilar. If these grievances are not resolved and are swept under the carpet, those who are yet unborn now will in 40 years time raise the same issue.
Regretfully, Nigeria at 57 still remains a country of nations brought together by the fiat of the European Nations in Berlin in 1885. This is in spite of the efforts made by our founding fathers who met several times in Lacanster House, London and agreed on a constitution, that would not only unite the country but would have moulded the country into a nation. As far back as 2002, I delivered a keynote address in Porthacourt where I emphasised the need for the restructuring of the Country and urged the leaders to a revisit of the constitution foisted on us by the military. I am happy that many Nigerians from all parts of the country are keying into this burning issue.
Therefore, as we celebrate our independence from the colonial masters, 57years ago, we should pray that those in power would seriously consider the problems afflicting the country since 1966 when the military abrogated the 1963 constitution and embark on restructuring exercise.
I believe that Nigeria should not break-up. We have a lot to gain by becoming a strong nation. We urgently need a constitution that would allow each region to develop at its own pace, leaving such matters as defence, currency and foreign affairs to the centre. Certainly agriculture and education are matters for the regions.
In the last few months, we are witnesses to JAMB declaration that candidates who score only 120/400 are qualified to be admitted into universities. As laughable as that is to me and many Nigerians, there are a few people who jumped at it.
Generally, Nigerians believe that too much money is being spent on legislation and the running of legislative houses. I stand on my earlier position that we should return to parliamentary system of government between 1960 and 1966 where officials legislators only sitting allowances. A parliamentary system of government is cheaper to run. It will checkmate the scandalously and damnably high cost of government for which Nigeria has earned notorious and unenviable accolades of being the most expensive democracy in the world.
As a student of history, I have found that nations have fought against nations, tribes against tribes as a result of which millions of people died and properties worth billions of Naira destroyed. The recent cases of Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi and even Congo as well as Biafra are fresh in our collective memory.
But at the end of this incalculable and immeasurable wanton destruction of lives and property, the disputes that led to such ghastly wastage were often settled amicably at a round table after so much irretrievable losses. We must pray and ensure, by our words and deeds, that things do not degenerate to that level in our country. We must deliberately elect to jaw-jaw instead of war-war.
It is my considered view that before we attain 60years as a country, the government should invite papers from stakeholders and constitute a Sovereign National Conference the decision of which shall not be subject to amendment by anybody or group of people who would not allow a people constitution to become a reality as it would affect their pecuniary interest.
I urge us all to celebrate the birth of country Nigeria in 1960 and pray for a peoples constitution through a Sovereign National Conference and a referendum and the restoration of 1963 Constitution.
• Babalola, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D, D.Litt, FNIALS, FCIArb, FNSE, is founder, Afe Babalola University.