By Joseph Atainyang
There was never a country, when on 1st October 1960, fathers of the Nigerian nation gathered to sing their victory song. There was indeed no country when Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa delivered his speech at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos, during the Independence Ceremony. His ghost must be restless in the grave. The fulfilment that enveloped his mind when the leader of the Commonwealth Nations, Her Royal Majesty the Queen, through her representative, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Alexandra of Kent handed him the symbols of Nigeria’s ‘freedom’… And so, perhaps, the iconic teller of Nigeria’s, nay Africa’s stories, Chinua Achabe may have been so wrong when he posited in his swansong, that There was a Country.
There was indeed no country, for Balewa is not the only victim of this monody. The worriors are mourning in their deaths, for in Africa, we know that the dead are all alive. Their spirits hover on the shores of this country. But they are powerless like Hamlet’s father’s apparition, which could not revenge his extermination. The greatest irony flaunts itself along, for as one sent the other to an early grave, the next person came to pay him back the coin. They went the same way altogether. I can imagine how they exchanged pleasantries in the world beyong. John Pepper Clark knew the lyrics when he said that WE ARE ALL CASUALTIES.
Why should Balewa rest in peace, when the peace he professed could not last? Having not lived up to a decade afterwards, Balewa, a soft spoken, conscientious and very patriotic leader of Nigeria was murdered in a bloody military coup on January 15th, 1966. Six days after the assassination, his corpse was found on the street of Lagos and was later interred in his home state, Bauchi. Aside the circumstances of his death, which has no link to peace, the deadly military juntas proved him wrong. They completely deconstructed his warm message of peace.
“Recent events have changed the scene beyond recognition, so that we find ourselves today being tested to the utmost. We are called upon immediately to SHOW that our CLAIMS TO RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT are well-founded, and having been accepted as an indepedent state, we MUST at once PLAY AN ACTIVE PART IN MAINTAINING THE PEACE OF THE WORLD AND PRESERVING CIVILIZATION. I PROMISE YOU, WE SHALL NOT FAIL FOR WANT OF DETERMINATION” (emphasis mine).
The above is an excerpt from the speech delivered by Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa at his resumption as Nigeria’s Prime Minister. He presented the nation as a beautiful bride that was ready to remain humble and respectful to the groom. He expressed Nigeria’s readiness to joining the rest of the world in maintaining peace among humanity, in line with the concept of modern civilization. How wrong he was! He actually did not know that the Heart of Darkness may have had its root from the black world of Nigeria. The merciless ‘khakirians’ took the nation by the storms, wrecking untold havocs and killing innocent Nigerian citizens at will. They engaged in wanton and reckless overthrow of government. On each occasion, they pretended to present themselves as saviours of the land, but as they took over the throne to dispense governance, they became CERTIFIED TASK MASTERS, putting all existing Nigerian in chains.
With approximately 200 million people, Nigerians scattered across the 923,768 km2 area (356,669 sq mi) are doomed by the fate of poor leadership. Apart from leadership deficit and corruption, the country has been fizzled by the triple challenge of politics, ethnicity and religion. These problems expose armless Nigerians to myriads of untold dejection and depression. An instance is the vast population of young people who graduate from hundreds of thousands of public and private tertiary institutions across the country but without opportunities for meaningful engagements. An idle mind, a saying foretells, is the devil’s workshop. A situation, where available job opportunities are shared on slots among the rich for their children and relatives, generate more curiosity among vigilant people. Opportunities for loans and grants are not left out. They become foundations for secret meetings among the extremely rich, their children and relatives.
When the President says “a lot of Nigerian youths are lazy, folding their arms and waiting for readymade fruits”, should young people not be worried? When the Senate president has the confidence to say that Nigerian graduates are not productive, is he not indicting the country’s education system? Does he think every Nigerian has the privilege of attaining education from foreign institutions? Is it not only politicians who plunge the country into penury that have what it takes to send themselves and their children abroad for studies? Why do they share the oil wells among themselves? They do so, because, they are the REAL OWNERS of Nigeria. Others can poison themselves or commit suicide anyhow they wish.
Politics has threatened the peace, unity and corporate existence of citizens across the country. With more than 100 political parties registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), more than 500 indigenous languages and about 250 ethnic groups, there is no comparison to the convoluted Tower of Babel the country is made. The experience of 2017 is uniquely green. President Muhammadu Buhari was far away in London, receiving medical treatment. The country was boiling with various sociocultural and ethnic intolerance. While the Southeast was rumbling with war songs of the indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) who staged constant parades, demanding self rule, the far northern states were issuing quit notices to the southerners to vacate their land.
Interestingly, shrilling voices were calling for restructuring. This seemed the only voice of reason among reasonable statesmen who all stated that the leadership structure of the country needed a rejig. In spite of this, the towns were grumbling and burstling with bomb blasts. Violence became a progressive entity, as thousands were gruesomely being murdered in Benue, Platue and Kaduna on a daily basis. Christians in the middle belt and the northern states, became unfortunate victims of the killer herdsmen. They were tormented as slaves in their own land. The brutal carnage was seamless as the practice became a stabilizing norm, a recurring decimal that had not control. It reminded yours truly of my article of December 2015, “Bleeding Nigeria: Boko on the Run?” These experience attracted the Babangide’s peace proclamation. The former military head of state prevailed on the diverse cultures and ethnic divides to embrace peace and religious tolerance, because as a soldier who saw the Nigerian Civil War, he knew the scars were still dotting the landscape of the Nigerian federation.
Of course, religious tension was high. The Christian and Islamic religions were at war, for when the followers of Christ were steadily being wiped, the rest were being tolerated. On June 23, 2018, Nigerians heard in the news of a Muslim cleric who saved Christians in his mosque from the killer herdsmen. The 83 year old Nigerian Imam, Abubakar Abdullahi, was joined by three other religious leaders across the world as they were awarded the 2019 International Religious Freedom Award by the US Department of States in Washington. Of course, Abubakar Abdullahi deserved millions of such awards for sheltering 262 Christians in his home and mosque during an attack in central Nigeria.
For a government which had three major agenda in its campaign manifesto: security, economy and antigraft war, it is debasing that insecurity has since been on the high side. Boko Haram is still doing its best, killing innocent Nigerians to boost their ego. At the moment, they now kill and maim soldiers. They kill, kidnap and cease their weapons. It is either the Boko Haram sect are attacking, killing and kidnapping soldiers or soldiers would go to kill the police for apprehending kidnappers. This is the fresh turn of events in the fight against insecurity.
In the area of economy, the country seems to be drifting on a narrow lane. Some economic decisions of the federal government are seen to be dragging the nation to uneasy path. For instance, the closing of the borders against importation of food produce makes it seem like the country is a new born baby. The new policy by the central bank on lodgements and other forms of bank charges clearly show that only about five percent of Nigerians are controlling all the monies in the economy. Of course, what explanations do we derive from the statement by the Central Bank Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele that the policy is targeted at only about five percent of the country’s population. That goes to show that the Nigerian wealth are in the hands of a negligible few, who are very influential. While government is not being tired of constituting multiple committees to address the #30 thousand national minimum wage, in order to improve the living standards of lower cadres of the working population, vat and other taxes are freely being introduced. Of course, we were not only described as the poverty capital of the world last year, something else makes it apparent that we are perhaps the unofficial darkness capital of the world.
Sure, the power policies of the Obasanjo era are being criticised. The $16 billion power project which did not work is being probed. Even at that, the Nigeria’s vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo told Nigerians last July that the Buhari led government has so far spent about #900 billion on power. While we may experience another dramatic turn of events, where a future administration may have to question the integrity of the current administration in spending #900 billion and getting epileptic power as a result, Nigerians would equally wish that the multi billion dallar investment being entered into with the Chinese government will not deliver a similar result by 2021.
Meanwhile, the health facilities of the country are nothing to be desired. Of course, if there were appealing, desirous and manned by competent hands, it would have been easy for political leaders to patronize them. But no, they are not in good shape. That’s why the number one citizen is always seen flaying out of the country for medical vacation. He spends the commonwealth in the air, and in foreign land, boosting the economy of another country. The senators, ministers, commissioners, local government chairmen and state legislators are familiar with the practice of complex, where their culture is no more acceptable. Anything Nigerian is being detested. We shall surely see what will become the recent directives by the president that we grow what we eat and produce what we wear. Absolutely, change begins with him (Buhari). His commitment in that regard should never be in doubt.
Is it in education? That’s a no go area. No politician’s child attends a public school. All of them attend private schools overseas. Our eyes are heavy with tears, for when we see the senators and their children, taking snapshots at graduation ceremonies, it is never anywhere near Nigeria. May be our politicians are presumptuous that someday, Nigeria will not be able to accommodate everyone again. So they arrange their families, children and wives, lifting them to foreign nations in pretence of better education. While it is glaring that this is a convenient way of separating the shafts from the corn, it is also pertinent to remind them that what is called xenophobia in South Africa is manifesting in the present day United States of America, where President Donald Trump is presently making policies to exclude foreigners from getting some categories of jobs.
Unfortunately, our (mugu) money spenders do not only refuse to allow us see their children, they have also made public schools unattractive. A time was in this nation, when private schools were virtually non existent. But now a days, everyone patronizes private schools, because public schools do not have side attractions. Of course, Armed Lawan was correct the other day, that Nigerian graduates were now unproductive. He even suggested a rehap of the curriculum so as to make provision for certain imput that will make them a bit better. Can a senate president be more patriotic? Truth is, none of his children is unproductive, because none of them is a Nigerian graduate. For whatever reason it is, Nigerians must be ready to watch Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State who has recently registered his six year old son in a public school. Although the school seem to have standard, time will still tell whether that action was just for the camera.
At a time when our nation should rise above condemnation, even public properties have become sources of attraction for the looters. When the nation yearns for rebirth, our drug addicts are busy stealing public utilities. We complain lack of light, but workers of electricity distribution companies conspire to paralyze the sector. There is zero maintenance culture. There is no patriotic spirit towards anything. While street lights and other public properties are being crumbled, those in the office are looting the nation dry. The case of the recently dismissed head of civil service of the federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita who is being investigated on three billion naira contract fraud will suffice. Moral values have completely eroded and people could afford to defraud one another, not minding the pains they are causing them.
Yes, at age 59, Nigeria had long attained the age of wisdom, for a saying exists that a fool at 40 is a fool forever. Nigeria was forty since year 2000. Yet, the nation is trapped in thoughtless provocations. By 2020, the federation is set for 60. Yet, the pains are everywhere. The anguish are apparent. The regrets are enormous and the torment and turrent of terror remain a horror. From the very fabric of society, the country wobbles in a sorry state and is plundered to absolute helplessness.
Democracy is not like this. Civilization is distorted and what appears is a strange figure with multiple manipulations. Call it despotic regime, you will be right. Call it barbarism, it will suffice. The nation is at present wondering in devastation. Though a blessed people, favoured with diverse cultures and backgrounds that should propel growth and development, the country has waned because instruments of development are mismanaged.
Wondering in utter desolation, perplexed by charades of complexities, aggravated by the meticulous indecisions by poor leadership, Nigeria clearly screams like a baby who anxiously and eagerly yearns for help. At 59, Nigeria, should have grown past the stage of its 50th status which made Chinua Achebe to reject the national honour for the second time. Alas! Time is up for Hope. With this screaming nation at 59, any Hopefulness that there is Hope could remain an apparent ‘Godotic’ Hope. We shall be back together soon!
Joseph Atainyang is a journalist and public affairs commentator. Gsm: 07036964637