By Babatunde Jose
October 1, 1960 was our year of ‘Great Expectation”. We had everything going for us as a nation and the future had great promise, not only for our parents but also for us who would later be described as ‘leaders of tomorrow’ except that that tomorrow never came!
Here we were, stepping out of the colonial into new nationhood, our fathers were stepping into the shoes of the Whiteman with all the paraphernalia of ‘senior service’. The nation’s economy at the time was the envy of even the departing colonial master. We had the ubiquitous groundnut pyramids in the Northern Region, Cocoa in the West, Rubber and oil palm in the East and of course, oil had recently been discovered in the Niger Delta; mining was at its peak with Bauxite and Tin in the plateau area and abundant coal in Udi hills; and we also exported cotton and were in the process of establishing a very vibrant textile industry both in Lagos, Kaduna and Aba: Afprint would later emerge as the largest textile mill in west Africa; and the national coffers was bulging with cash. Of course, the marauders and state robbers have not perfected their acts and there was relative calm in the nation’s exchequer except for minor infractions here and there.
It was in this spirit of hope and great expectation that late Tai Solarin, Denis Osadebey, Dr Aluko and Philip Gbehor composed an alternative National Anthem because they were dissatisfied with the National Anthem composed by a foreigner:
“Hail Nigeria Glorious land; Ever blest by God’s Command; Land of heroes and our pride. . . . . . . . . . . . .Great Nigeria we love thee; Land of wealth and liberty; We shall fight to save thy name; from oppression and from shame. . . . . . . . .May the Niger ever flow; And the green fields ever grow. . . . .”
Unfortunately, that enthusiasm was not only unfounded, it was misplaced and the bright sun that shown on the morning of Independence was turned into a dark cloud at noon. The anthem said, ‘may true justice be thy guide’, but we became a nation where inequality and injustice reigned. The sons and daughters that promised to be free have become slaves in their own country at the mercy of marauding bandits who have unleashed a reign of terror on the nation.
Three years after independence, Western Nigeria was plunged into political crisis that culminated in the imposition of Emergency Rule and finally a disputed national election and the ‘operation wet’ and ultimately the January 1966coup d‘état. Our political advance was not only attenuated but truncated. Federalism which was the arrangement that started with the Sir Arthur Richards’ Constitution of 1946 that divided the country into three regions of East, West and North; the tripod upon which our political development was hinged and which was developed upon in the 1951 McPherson Constitution, Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 and the 1960 Independence Constitution was upturned by the ‘Praetorian Guards’ of the military and a centralized command structure was instituted; an arrangement which subsists till today. Unfortunately for the system, the tendency towards unity at independence has become unattainable and the various nationalities have drifted apart so much that the air is now rent with demands for restructuring and secession; hitherto treasonable demands that led to the civil war. Centrifugal forces are now fully at work!
The paradise that independence promised was lost with the Civil War and its aftermath. Those of us who were in the Uni in the early seventies witnessed the best of Nigeria and its promise. Universities were well funded that for what is peanuts today, students were well catered for. Hostels were akin to living in a ‘Bread and Breakfast’. Parents did not have to harvest and sell their kidneys to pay for tuition. Each hall of residence had its own cafeteria where food was plentiful and cheap. Halls had air-conditioned ‘cold room’ for studies and the hostels were well maintained: Beds were made, and laundry taken care of. Yes! In UI we had J’Rice and half chicken for lunch with ice cream every Sunday!
Most importantly, there was academic freedom and education was not with tears. The best brains were recruited as academic staff, and I believe, many will look back with nostalgia. Those were the days when final year students dreamt of the car, they would buy with their car-loan which was basic. Most came back to campus for the Convocation with their new cars. Companies would have visited the university to recruit before the end of academic year. Most students had an idea what jobs they were taking up after graduation.
Unfortunately, that paradise was lost in the spate of sixty years. Where did we go wrong? That is the question that has been begging for answer.
As for our fathers, the promise was short-lived and by the evening of their lives, that dream became unfulfilled and until many of them died it was one lamentation after the other. That was after electricity became epileptic and the old people had to resort to buying traditional ‘adebe’ or native fan to fan themselves in the afternoon. Though they had generators, it was a costly proposition that promised to wipe out their meager pensions. By the end of their lives, the cost of their Mercedes 200 in 1975 was not enough to buy 50 liters of diesel in 1990.
I am sure many of us have stories to tell our children about how things have changed for the worst in our clime and how our expectations of a better life for our families have been truncated by the misrule and mismanagement of our God-given resources.
It is a shame that many of us with high hopes of a bright future had all our hopes, aspirations and values and the idiosyncrasies we had evolved to uphold these values dashed. NYSC which started in 1973 soon acquired the notorious acronym ‘National Youth Suffering Corps’. Meanwhile political development had gone awry and in its place was ‘jackboot’ military authoritarianism, with a brief respite of civil rule that was soon overrun by the men in uniform. Yet, the world moved on and we started being left behind.
Dubai, Gulf States, Singapore and the Asian Tigers, China, South Korea all became poster nations as we regressed into a state of underdevelopment and backwardness. Our National Shipping Line which boasted of new vessels, captained by our boys who had undergone training in the merchant marine were a pride to all and sundry. It used to be a thing of joy for those of us in London in those days when their ships berthed at Tilbury and we went visiting and got jolly on board. Before we knew it, those vessels were ‘gone with the wind’ in our national orgy of wreckage of the economy. Despite heavy investment and subsidies, much of the investment went to enriching the political elite. Deeply indebted, the NNSL was liquidated in 1995 and all 21 of its vessels were sold.
The same fate befell our beloved Nigeria Airways which carried our flag to such diverse destinations as London, New York, Dubai and Jedda. Those were the ‘oun foloke’ era. Our friends and mates, who had trained at the School of Aviation, Zaria had become big boys in the airline industry and were respected all over the world for flying one of the largest and safest fleet in Africa. Alas, our national carrier too met its waterloo in the hands of our kamikaze rulers. The proud pilots and engineers where pensioned off into obscurity, never to be heard off again. That era was gone forever.
With the coming of the military and their tinkering with the structural arrangements of the country, our federalism was bastardized, distinct from any other ever witnessed in world politics. You might call it unitarian-federalism, a federalism that is devoid of fiscal separation; a federalism that is patterned along military centralized command structure; a federalism where the three legislative lists have assumed an obscurity to the extent of making nonsense of that arrangement, where the federal authority could determine the minimum wage in the federating units and at times meddle into the collection of waste. Students of political science would find it difficult to classify our system or create a taxonomy of the revenue formulae we are operating. The political system of post-independence and its economic superstructure have assumed witchcraft features that have refused to lend itself to a definition.
As a result of the dislocation and bifurcation, the immediate post-independence reliance on development planning had been jettisoned for a rule of the thumb approach to economic development; today we plan without facts. Several projects have been mentioned in our ‘Monuments of Waste’: Testimony to a profligate nation.
Because of the unwholesome attitude to economic management and the maladministration and squandering of resources; our common patrimony has been frittered away and where this has not been the case, the treasury had been looted and serially robbed.
The country’s population has increased exponentially since independence without any commensurate increase in infrastructural and social development. The overall result is a glaring miserization, pauperization and impoverishment of the population. We have since witnessed a regression into illiteracy with over 12 million children out of school. Even those that have attended school are half-baked and in many cases unemployable.
Yes, there was a great revolution of rising expectation in the air and the future was very bright; unfortunately, that revolution of rising expectation has turned out to be a revolution of rising frustration. Many of us know this because we have lived through the 60 years of the locust. We have seen ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’; may we not witness the worst!
Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith. (Quran 2:286)
Barka Juma’at and Happy Weekend