By Eric Elezuo
The patriotism and zeal with which the founding fathers of this ‘geographical entity’, Nigeria, followed through their quest for her independence, metamorphosed into wholesome happiness across the length and breath of the country when on October 1, 1960, the country was proclaimed independent of its colonial masters. They were free to set up their own government, run their economic and social affairs without interference after many years of indirect slavery occasioned by the rule of the British foreigners. The joy that pervaded the nation on the day was unprecedented. Many Nigerians raced and matched the streets with touchable enthusiasm, waving the nascent green and white flags with pride. The jackboot-like Union Jack had been dismantled.
But that joy seemed to die even before the arrival of the independence gained ground. The founding fathers, who had hitherto sang the song of togetherness, turned around to recognised the fact that they were actually from a certain ethnic and religious sect. The contest ceased from being external to become internal. While the British were gone, the mental colonisation remained deeply rooted in the minds of Nigerians.
It was not long before a fracas erupted in the nation. This was as a result of the flawed general election of 1964. The Parliamentary elections were held on December, 30 1964, but were not held until March 18, 1965 in some constituencies in Eastern Region, Lagos, and Mid-Western Region due to a boycott in December. However, the election was marked by manipulation and violence. The President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, had warned thus:
‘I have one advice to give to our politicians: If they have decided to destroy our national unity, then they should summon a round-table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided, before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office…. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be child’s play, if it ever comes to our turn to play such a tragic role’ – President Nnamdi Azikiwe, 10 December 1964.
Things have remained the same ever since. The nation was polarised along ethnic and religious lines. The disunity created therefore, stunted developmental growth, leaving the country struggling to crawl in its infancy.
In 1966, the expectedly unexpected happened. There was a military. It was led and carried out by a group of young junior officer. Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu was the leader. while it succeeded in the North, it failed in the South. And many senior political office holders were killed. Much as it was a military affair, the northerners retaliated, killing Nigerians of Igbo descent in the north, including the then Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi, prompting the Governor of Eastern Region, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu to declare the Republic of Biafra and seceded from Nigeria. This was after spirited efforts to reconcile with the Nigerian Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, were rebuffed. The secession led to a bloody civil war that lasted for 30 months. Biafra was subdued, and returned to Nigeria, and the enmity continued.
Trust, afterwards became not only an essential commodity, but very scarce. The thought and proclamation of being a Nigerian was only in the public, but in the privacy of most people, the idea was either long dead or dead on arrival. In that spirit has the country lived and existed 60 years counting.
The military in the wake of the civil war held sway until 1979 when General Olusegun Obasanjo, who benefitted from the assassination of the Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, in a military coup led by Colonel Dimka, handed over to a civilian administration headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari. The much heralded civil rule was truncated four years later in a military by General Muhammadu Buhari on December 31, 1983. Buhari’s regime, marked by rigidity and devoid of direction, was halted on August 25, 1985 by General Ibrahim Babamasi Babangida. The eight years reign of the general, who prides himself as the evil genius was full of activities, and subsequently marred by his annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election where Chief MKO Abiola was comfortably leading his rival, Alhaji Othman Tofa before the cancellation.
The unrest that followed the cancellation forced Babangida out of office on August 25, 1993, and he was replaced by an industrialist, Chief Ernest Shonekan, who headed an Interim National Government (ING).
Shonekan found himself in an unfamiliar terrain, surrounded by unknown faces, and unsure of himself. Then enter General Sani Abacha. He quietly eased Shonekan out of office without as much as a whimper on November 17, 1993. His coming, of a truth was highly heralded. Many Nigerians believed he was coming to restore Chief Abiola’s mandate, but that was not to be.
In frustration, Abiola announced himself president at Epetedo in Lagos. That was his undoing. He was promptly picked up by security operatives in 1994, and was never released until he died in prison on July 7, 1998 during the regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. General Sani Abacha had died earlier on June 8, 1998.
Abubakar hurried a transition government, and within 10 months handed over to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who has metamorphosed into a civilian. And that marked the beginning of another republic – the fourth in the list.
While most were growing through their crises, the country suffered the worst kind of retrogression as preceding regime begins an entirely agenda without a thought to whatever progress his predecessor had made. There was therefore, no room for improvement whatsoever.
The power of the naira, which in the early days was stronger than the ‘almighty’ dollar, plummeted and crashed. The regional economies of massive groundnut, cocoa and palm oil productions from the north, west and east respectively was phased out and rendered ineffective following the unfortunate reliance on oil. The country was fast drifting into the Bermuda Triangle without knowing it.
With the return of Obasanjo under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the wobbled on its legs but fell again. While Obasanjo was seeking a third term in office, his vice, Atiku Abubakar, wanted a taste of the presidency. Consequently, governance ceased, as the two men fought each other to a standstill. At the end of the day, Obasanjo left office, and Atiku lost the election to Umar Musa Yar’dua.
The fragile Yar’dua, who many believed had an agenda to give meaningful governance, unfortunately died in office on May 5, 2010. He was replaced by his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. The first Ijaw man to ascend the highest office in the land. The disunity in the nation bared its fangs longer than before. Jonathan was considered an outsider. Though he won his election in 2011, the carnage that followed in the north was akin to the civil war. His second attempt in 2015 was met with barefaced betrayal, and the elites ganged and sent him packing, bringing a serial contestant, General Buhari to power. Buhari and his team had promised change.
He was seen by the many that paved the way for him to Aso Rock as the long awaited messiah, who will make all things new, However, five years into his administration, Nigeria has remained the child it was in 1960 even as it marked sixty years.
Let’s just talk about Nigeria: the old child at 60!