Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos (CC: Olasunkanmiariyo)
Lagos.— The 1st of October, Nigeria celebrates its diamond anniversary, not the anniversary of its existence but the anniversary of its independence from the British colonial rule. Ordinarily, this calls for celebration, but the growing insecurity and calls for secession, have casted a moody and pessimistic mode on the country.
In fact, the country’s vice president, Yemi Osinbajo on Sunday, September 27, at an interdenominational church service to mark the Country’s 60th independence anniversary, captured the growing dissatisfaction and said, “Our walls are not yet broken, but there are obvious cracks that could lead to a break, if not properly addressed.” Saying we are at a precipice is an understatement.
Sixty years ago, crowds gathered joyfully at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in Lagos, the then capital of Nigeria, to witness the handover of the instrument of freedom from Princess Alexandra of Kent, who represented Queen Elizabeth and to witness the rendition of the country’s anthem for the first time and the hoisting of the Nigerian flag, to replace the British Union Jack.
That Saturday was also memorable and symbolic because Nigerians thought that the long-awaited freedom would lead the country to finally harness its long exploited human and natural resources, for the betterment and common good of the country. In his speech, the overly excited Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa said, “we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace”. Indeed, the future was bright.
Nigeria with a population of over 200 million, is arguably the largest black population in the world
As people sang and departed the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) waiting for when the land will be flowing with milk and honey, no one thought that the country in no distant time would be subject to multiple coup d’état, military takeovers, ethnic clashes and a civil war. All this not only caused great loss of life and property, it worsen the cultural and ethnic hegemony, ultimately derailing and delaying the country’s march forward. For one thing, the past sixty years has shown that freedom, while easily and earnestly sought; is not easily utilized and controlled when finally given. The various groups calling for secession would surely find this handy.
Unlike Saturday, sixty years ago, the atmosphere this Thursday will be the exact opposite, Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) and Eagle Square, Abuja would be empty and people are not willing to have their hearts broken by fantasizing for a better country. These days, various writers have questioned why the British gave us independence and others are longing for the return of colonial rule.
Some opine that Britain and a few other world-powers became the neo-colonialists as they still pilot Nigeria’s political and economic affairs, but majority feel that what happened on the 1st of October 1960 was not independence but a mere change of guard from British colonizers to Nigerian colonizers. This is because the Nigerian leaders from 1960 to date, have not fared better than the British colonizers, if anything, they may even be worse.
Another bitter lesson we have learnt is that, the mere fact someone has similar name, religion, ethic group or colour is not a guarantee for healthy socialisation. In Nigeria, the saying “Man is wolf to man” is not a cliché but a reality.
A call for examination
Even if the anniversary does not call for celebration and merriment, it definitely calls for examination and evaluation. This is no doubt a herculean task, since in judging how Nigeria has fared, many Nigerians compare Nigeria to countries in America, Europe and Asia. The fallacy in the comparison lies in that, while these countries currently co-exist with Nigeria, which gives the impression of equality, most of these countries have been civilisations for far more centuries before Nigeria came into existence, indeed we cannot exclude their head start.
A more reasonable comparison some have suggested would be to compare Nigeria to these countries when they were 60 years. While connoting fairness, this is clearly not possible bearing the mind the several advantages modern society has now thanks to the various economic and technological revolutions, which were not available to them.
Whatever be the case, the core of the argument is that Nigerians while not accepting mediocre standards or excusing the ineffectiveness of our various leaders, ought to be a little less critical in judging the country bearing in mind the country is still at the nascent stages. Rather than continuously criticising, we should arise, as our national anthem invites us and seek ways of making the country work.
Nigeria with a population of over 200 million, is arguably the largest black population in the world and it is of interest to the world for many reasons. Unfortunately, the image of Nigeria abroad is still far from good. Nigeria is almost synonymous with poverty, corruption, fraud, trafficking, infringement of human rights, high illiteracy, out of schoolchildren, insecurity, religious intolerance, extremism and persecution.
A story told by others
While it may not be apt to celebrate Nigeria, this diamond anniversary gives an opportunity to celebrate Nigerians who despite unfavourable environment and circumstance have gone all over the world to do great things. These Nigerians and not the few ineffective and corrupt leaders are those defining and writing the Nigerian story.
Nigerians have done exceptionally well, in exporting their culture across the world, particularly, their music and dance
For many years, mostly non-Nigerians have told the Nigerian story, and these stories have failed to capture the essence of Nigeria, if anything, they have contributed in distorting the image of Nigeria as many in the civilised world still think Nigeria and Africa is a jungle deprived of human civilisation. The great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once said “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” and “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”
Nigerians are writing the Nigerian story and it is filled with heroism and resilience. In Nigeria’s sixty years, the country has produced literary authors of global repute, the likes of Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie, while Wole Soyinka is a Nobel laureate.
In sixty years, Nigerians have done exceptionally well, in exporting our culture across the world, particularly, our music, dance and traditional attires. Several Nigerian songs of all genres are listened to all over the world, it is not uncommon to see several concerts of Nigerian performers been overbooked. Our local dance is also a force to reckon with.
Religion is alive
Once a country without Judaeo-Christian belief, Nigeria has a growing and thriving religious population. Though a secular country, Nigeria is predominantly made up of Christians and Muslims almost in equal propositions. Unlike the Muslims, the Christians still face some persecution in areas dominated by the Muslims, despite these acts of persecution, the Christians have remained peaceful and rather than decrease, their numbers are increasing. Apart from growing within Nigeria, Nigerians are known to be aiding the re-Christianisation of countries which years ago brought the faith to Nigeria. Indeed we have also become missionaries, little wonder Africa is referred to as the hope of the Church and humanity’s spiritual “lung”.
In the health sector, many countries rely on health workers from Nigeria; recently, Dr. Oluyinka O. Olutoye operated on a baby-in-utero at a Texas Children’s hospital. Also in the academia, several Nigerian students have made and broken academic records in institutions abroad while Nigerian academics are also contributing to the global body of knowledge.
With these Nigerians, Nigeria’s future is hopeful.
At 60, Nigeria has to recognise the responsibility that rests on its shoulders, the late Nelson Mandela sad “The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence”.
This is the challenge of Nigeria at 60.