Just before midnight on the eve of Independence, the expectations were high. The atmosphere was lit. Alas, we were going to be free from about 100 years of bondage. Everyone one was in high spirit. What’s it going to be and feel like, living in a “Nigeria of Nigerians?” The atmosphere tells of the unspoken excitement. Just before it clocked midnight, the lights were turned off. A memorable experience it was, full of suspense. At exactly midnight, the lights were turned on again. Lo and behold, that ever-beautiful green, white and green flag stood glamorously dancing to the tune of the wind for all to see. Which sight could be more exciting than this? Fireworks added to the beauty of the event. It was 1st October 1960 and yes, Nigeria has just gotten her independence. Yes! She was free from more than a 100 years colonial rule that excluded her citizens including her educated elites from the management of public affair. The joy in the air was a fabulous one, expectations were high and the young Nigeria was looked up to, and from that very moment, it was considered the giant of Africa and yes, we were fit for the task ahead. At least for the moment.
The giant of Africa was indeed set to sail. A smooth sail it was. A pretty cool sail it was at first. But what happened? Were our expectations fulfilled? Did something go wrong? What was that? It’s six decades already, where on earth is that sprout of joy that sprung up that very moment we first saw the flag? Do we still have that joy or are we only pretending to do so? Has something(s) stolen that sincere pride and happiness from our hearts? Is the giant still standing or has it hit a stumbling block?
One Igbo adage says that, “Onye na-amaghi oge mmiri jiri maba ya, agaghi amakwa mgbe okwusiri.” Which literally means that “one who does not know when the rain starts beating him would not also know when it stops.” Hence, it’s important we know the root cause of our problems. The question now is this, “Where did our ‘rain’ start? What was that loophole?
We were doing just fine in the three years following our independence from Britain, together with the spirit of Nigeria, we became a republic. Things were indeed moving as expected; the education system in the country was topnotch, public servants were duly remunerated and living comfortably; everyone lived within the measure of their salaries yet were very comfortable. Students were encouraged with stipends and free education; the provision of infrastructural facilities also made the environment conducive for learning. The utmost well-being of the citizens was the major concern of leaders and not selfish, personal, ethnic, or religious benefits. Students graduated to awaiting jobs. That period was like heaven on earth. Yes, heaven-on-earth was a perfect definition, but unfortunately, we were struck. Struck by a coup that sent shivers down our spine. That was the beginning of our downfall. It wasn’t just the fact that it was a coup, but the fact that coups affected the most vital aspect of government; leadership, and at the same time most of the coups were sealed with the bloodshed of our leaders.
The importance of leadership can never be underestimated in the management of a country with diverse and multi-ethnic groups. A biblical proverb goes thus “struck the shepherd and the sheep would scatter.” The first coup paved ways for subsequent coups which in turn allowed other irregularities to penetrate leadership. The intervention of the military marked the suspension of the constitution as well as a subsequent dictatorship rule. Human rights were violated, and the freedom of citizens were captured. The military rule was a driving factor towards the abandonment of the traditional agricultural based economy, making the country extremely dependent on oil which lead the country to where it is currently. The military rule was also the offset of incompetence and unbridled waste and mismanagement of public resources as well as misplacement of priorities. It paved way for corrupt leaders who loot public funds without fear, for selfish gains and enriching themselves at the expense of the citizens.
Poor citizens who had little or nothing to do were left to live with the consequences of poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, substandard housing, low life expectancy, poor health care facilities, inadequate educational facilities, child abuse, among others. According to Robert S. McNamara, former World Bank president, “We cannot build a secure World upon a foundation of human mystery.” The inevitable and consequences of living in near mystery, followed suit. From 1967 to 1970, the soil of Nigeria swallowed the blood of more than three million Nigerians, barely a decade after independence. This increased the tension and indifference of different ethnic groups that make up the country to disdain our shared nationality. Was self-rule really the best for Nigeria? Are we indeed capable of taking care of ourselves and solving our problems? The civil war wasn’t a child’s play. There was massive hunger in the land and poverty was at its peak. The giant greatly stumbled, and nearly fell. Yet, somehow kept standing to fight its battles and challenges to ensure it emerges victorious.
Nevertheless, the loophole has been created already. The fountainhead has been soiled and the waters defiled. Ethnic backlash and corruption have eaten deep into the leadership and consequently, the whole system has been soiled. Average Nigerians are not left out in the gimmicks of corruption and ethnic hatred. All sectors of the economy became affected by idiosyncratic leadership, the oil sector, agricultural sector, transportation, entertainment, and education sector has not been managed properly for the purpose of national development.
The education sector has hit the rock many times with incessant strike embarked upon by teaching and non-teaching staffs with consequential effect on the production of half-baked students. Students were mainly given theoretical trainings with little or no employability skills to keep their heads up while seeking for jobs or starting up their ventures. It became indeed disheartening as youth unemployment increased. Thousands of students graduate yearly with no jobs to take up. The street of Nigeria is littered with graduates who end up as bike riders, taxi drivers, hawkers because of unemployment. These are young people who ordinarily should be employed in either the public or private sectors of the economy. The young social entrepreneurs that establishes a business of their own in response to unemployment or under-employment are often discouraged for lack of favorable economic climate and little or no support from government and civil society organizations. The result of youth unemployment is also often seen as these young ones perpetuate themselves in cybercrime, armed robbery, kidnapping for ransom to mention just a few. The knowledge that would have been used for technological advancement of the country by those who are tech savvy is now being used wrongly.
In addition to our mystery, our lives and properties are exposed to a lot of insecurities. We are not sure what the next moment holds. SARs and police brutality, Insurgencies and terrorist attacks, oil refinery bunkery by militants, violent agiatations across the country and fulani herdsmen violent invasion of farmlands have become a serious security problem in Nigeria. Incessant reported cases of rape of young girls and women, the kidnapping of school children for ransom and ritual killings have added to the problem of public safety and our security officials seem not to be on top of their game in solving security problems. Our government is not helping matters either, while some of these insurgents and militants are caught, they are not allowed to face the wrath of the law and are often being accepted back to the society in the guise of having been rehabilitated.
As much as it is good to be optimistic about our future, we can’t also deny our reality. The country is in disarray. This is not the independence we all rejoiced for that first night. That joy and pride we felt at the sight of our flag has been taken away a long time ago. What do we have to show for our independence? Are we still a giant? Are we still standing? Is there anything to be grateful for as we celebrate our 60th Independence Anniversary? What are we celebrating together? Nigeria is currently divided along ethnic and regional lines, if we are truly celebrating 60 together, then, it is the responsibility of our government at all levels to promote unity and provide for the citizens the dividends of democracy. It’s also our responsibility as Nigerians not to allow the challenges and frustration in the land change our mentality in conducting ourselves as patriotic country men and women.
Well, the end of the tale is yet to come. The fact that we have faced lots of challenges and obstacles is undeniable, yet, we’re still standing, and together with the spirit of Nigeria, we can, and we would fight together to actualize that Nigeria we’ve always wanted. There is no room for throwing in the towel. We’d rather hang on than hang up.
Chinaza Unagwu writes from Nnewi, Anambra State.