There is hardly any country in which nation-building is a finished business.
To build a nation its people under a leadership with a sense of historic mission must continuously strive for renewal. That’s one organising principle behind the stories of those countries to which Nigerians like to compare their nation.
So, tomorrow’s 60th anniversary of national independence should not be a moment for despair. Instead, it should an occasion to reflectively ask some critical questions as the basis of hope for progress.
Although the federal government is planning a year-long commemoration, yet the general mood is that of a “low-key” celebration. The reasons for this option are obvious: the uncertain public health situation and the depressing socio-economic climate.
Besides, vast swathes of the territory of the federal republic could be likened to ungoverned spaces given the murderous activities of insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminals. Thousands of Nigerians remain in the camps of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
So a combination of factors makes the social environment to be out of tune with rolling out of drums.
By the way, this is not the first occasion that some Nigerians would call for a sombre anniversary. Those who make such calls are justifiably disappointed at the state of the nation.
Some would even overstate their point by being dismissive of the significance of October 1.
Yet, a judicious reading of history would show that it has not all been a story of woes. Doubtless, the Nigeria of October 1, 1960 was not identical with the Nigeria of today.
Therefore, a dialectical approach is suggested in reading the history of Nigeria in the last 60 years.
For it has been a history of the making and unmaking of a nation. It’s a history fraught with grave contradictions.
If for nothing else, October 1 should be celebrated as a day to acknowledge the heroic efforts of the nationalists who fought for national freedom across generations.
The nationalists played their part well in the making of the Nigerian nation. Young men in the Zikist movement were jailed and brutalised by the colonialists. The Zikists made the struggle for freedom their career as young nationalists. Significantly, they won the battle for independence. It is, therefore, a gross disservice to their great memories for the troubled contemporary generation to act as if nothing happened in history and dismiss October 1 as a day of no consequence. That’s why the proper history of Nigeria should be taught in schools.
Eminent historian, Professor Jacob Ade-Ajayi, once said that to have a country without a sense history is like driving a car without a rear-view mirror.
The story of the struggle for independence is a teachable part of the Nigerian history. Even Nigerians who are 60 years old have no memories of the absurd realities and gross injustice of colonialism, much less those who are under 30 years and who happen to be in the majority.
Unlike the pre-1960 Nigeria, the Nigerian army is no more commanded by a British general. The Nigeria Police Force is not headed by a British Inspector-General; neither is there any British permanent secretary in the civil service.
There are more schools and hospitals today than there were in the colonial Nigeria.
In the last 60 years, Nigeria has produced experts in various fields who are stars in the national firmament. Some of the bridges and highways in use now did not exist even in the last decade of colonial rule. For instance, there was no Lagos-Ibadan expressway in 1960. The road was constructed by a military regime in the 1970s.
It was 16 years after independence that the idea of a new national capital was also conceived by a military regime. Today, a Federal Capital Territory has been created in the heart of the country.
The Empire Day is no more celebrated in a humiliating glorification of British imperialism.
Warts and all, some of the pieces of evidence of post-1960 progress in different departments of national life were the products of the making of Nigeria by the policymakers of the immediate post-independence period and thereafter including the long period of military rule.
Despite this visible evidence of relative development, there is also the depressing story of the unmaking of Nigeria.
With a good measure justification, Nigerians point to the fact that their country is many years behind its 1960 peers in developmental strides. Pundits often mention Asian examples of Malaysia, India, South Korea, Singapore, etc.
The unmaking of Nigeria is manifest in a catalogue of grim indices.
After 60 years of national freedom, the freedom from ignorance is still beyond the reach of millions of children of school age roaming the streets. Nigeria has the largest number of children out of school.
One of the consequences of the neo-liberal ravages in the policy arena is the collapse of public education. Great schools have been destroyed due to criminal neglect and underfunding. It doesn’t prick the conscience of Nigerian leaders that they could not send their children to their former schools where they received quality education as their counterparts do in the metropolitan countries.
It has become a status symbol to send their children to good schools abroad. If the only option available to those of them from humble backgrounds were to be expensive university education abroad, they would not be as educated as they are today. Just like now, in those days poor parents could not afford for their children education treated as a commodity.
The leadership seems to be unmindful of the perilous outcomes of this policy design for social inequality.
It is one poignant aspect of the unmaking of Nigeria.
This country has the worst record of open defecation while millions of people have no access to potable water.
Foreign heads of state used to seek medical care at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan.
More than 50 years later Nigerian leaders and members of their family now seek medicare abroad because the federal and state governments have failed to establish centres of medical excellence.
The social structure is that of oases of scandalous opulence in the desert of want and hunger.
In fact, Nigeria is now called the poverty capital of the world.
In a way, the management of the nation’s political economy to satisfy the selfish interests of a few amidst the misery and squalor of the masses appears to be the sum of the story of the unmaking of Nigeria.
Amidst the socio-economic woes, it’s a positive step, however, that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is reviving the idea of development plan.
At present, however, Nigeria is defined by underdevelopment largely because policymakers abandoned planning.
In fact, neo-liberal economic recipes have been so much embraced that development plans became dirty words. Radical political economist, Claude Ake, put it more fundamentally. He observed in the 1990s that the problem was not really with the option of the path to development but the fact that development was not even on the agenda at all. The trend is such that leaders seem to have stopped thinking big. From a policy culture of planning for massive water schemes to produce millions of gallons of water in the 1960s, politicians now stage elaborate ceremonies to “commission” boreholes.
The new concept of mass transit in the dictionary of some politicians is the ubiquitous motor cycle in cities and countryside alike.
Perhaps, the gravest expression of the unmaking of Nigeria is coming in the form of the threat of national disintegration. National cohesion can no more be taken for granted.
May this categorical threat not be the ultimate unmaking of Nigeria.
For three decades now, the calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation have been made in different tones and tenors and in different political circumstances. As a matter of fact, the first valiant attempt to stage a national conference to correct the distortion of the Nigerian federalism was in August 1990. The scheduled venue was the National Theatre, Surulere, Lagos. The military government of President Ibrahim Babangida stopped it. The conference was called four months after the April 22 coup that was replete with ethnic overtones. Major Gideon Orkah, who read the coup statement on radio, actually announced that some states in the core north were “excised” from Nigeria.
Since then questions have been continuously raised about the structure of the federation using different slogans and phrases.
During the agitation for the revalidation of the June 12, 1999 presidential election won by Bashorun Moshood Abiola, the call for the convening of a Sovereign National Conference was strident.
Before all the foregoing was the tragic civil war in which millions of lives were lost. The malaise of the Nigerian federalism is at the root of the cyber civil war that is often fought on the reading of the Aburi Accord.
Hitherto, the agitation for a workable federation has been largely an intellectual one in serious quarters with multiple perspectives being thrown up by different organisations of the Nigerian power blocs. Converts to the idea of what should be done have been won along the line.
For instance, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka once reflected on the issue in a lecture entitled “Between Nation Space and Nationhood.” For him Nigeria is a “nation space.”
What is to be done? Soyinka put the matter like this: “And thus, finally, the question: is Nigeria a nation today? My answer is – Not yet. Is Nigeria aspiring to be a nation? The answer – Unsure. Can it? Possibly. Should it? My answer to that is absolutely non-sentimental, purely technical and subjective : I prefer not to have to apply for yet another visa when I need to travel to Enugu or Borno.”
Unfortunately, not many of those who have legitimate strong views about what should be the fate of the Nigerian federation have interrogated the issues as soberly as Soyinka.
In recent years, the questions about the distortions of Nigerian federalism have assumed a dangerous dimension.
The objective of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is the creation of a republic of Biafra in the southeast. The impact of the activities of IPOB in the southeast has been unmistakeable despite the fact that the leader of the movement, Nnamdi Kalu, lives outside Nigeria.
Today as the federal government plans to mark the 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence, some Yoruba elements have planned to stage rallies within and outside Nigeria in support of an Oduduwa Republic. The map, emblems and anthems of the proposed republic have been circulating in the cyberspace for some time.
Meanwhile, the Yoruba people have never given anyone a mandate in a referendum to declare a republic in their name.
The leader of the movement, Banji Akintoye, an erudite professor of history, is the author of the important book, A History of the Yoruba People. Akintoye, who was a senator in the Second Republic, is the President of the Yoruba World Congress (YWC).
The recent militant posing of the National Question is in itself a distortion of the restructuring argument. It could lead to anarchy. To imagine a bloodless breakup of Nigeria is an optical illusion. If Nigeria breaks up you would not have neat republics emerging from the rubbles.
Disintegration would only create turfs for warlords and budding fascists. The various factions of Nigerian elite should pay attention to this development.
The increasing separatist ferment in the land is partly fuelled by the gross mismanagement of identity politics by the Buhari administration.
A moral leadership vacuum is created by the abysmal lack of equity in running the federation, which the ethnic militants are trying to fill in an anarchic fashion.
Buhari has urged his team to “trumpet” his socio-economic achievements towards the making of Nigeria. Quite valid!
However, on this occasion of Nigeria’s Diamond Jubilee the President should make a political addition to his agenda: promotion of national integration in words and action. He should strive to make this part of the legacy he would like to leave behind in 2023.
Buhari owes the nation the historical responsibility of preventing the ultimate unmaking of Nigeria by using the weapons of social justice and deliberate policies of inclusion in a regime of competent governance.
There is hardly any country in which nation-building is a finished business.