By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I was one of those who celebrated Nigeria’s 60th Independence anniversary in the grandiloquent Ovation International style. Many had queried me on social media asking what was there to celebrate? My response was easy and straightforward. LIFE. One word that encapsulates the whole essence of our existence. I will never take LIFE for granted. This is more so when we consider the corona virus pandemic now ravaging the world. The latest person to fall victim to this insidious, but utterly dangerous and dreaded ailment is the omnipotent President of the United States, Donald Trump, who like the Brazilian President, had pooh poohed the corona virus not knowing he would suddenly contract the disease and be laid low by it I pray that COVID-19 does not consume him. My Column today, is dedicated to Nigeria’s Diamond Independence Jubilee and another powerful President, Muhammadu Buhari.
I was born on May 16, 1960, just before Nigeria gained Independence. So, I’m months older than our dear beloved country. I have since found time to read many accounts of what transpired before and after we assumed we were free from colonial bondage. I could imagine the giddiness that accompanied that much sought-after illusory freedom, at the time. But sadly, though we were free from colonial rule, events have shown that our emancipation was instantly replaced and replicated by home grown colonial masters, those many literary artists have described as neo-colonialists. That’s a story for another day.
For now, I’m more interested in how we celebrated our 60th birthday two days ago. To be quite honest, I had expected to witness a more serious sign of soul searching and moment of sober reflections, in the light of a terribly horrible year for our country, the world and, indeed, civilisation. I expected our dear President and his speechwriters to craft a magnum opus of sorts. It is a rare privilege for any President to superintendent such a milestone and landmark event. Something that would reverberate and resonate for decades in the annals of Nigerian, nay African and world history. But the day came and went poof, just like that. It was like a charade, a real anti-climax. There were no monumental decisions and changes. No forceful, emphatic and inspirational declaration of policy or direction from a government that has been apparently rudderless and clueless for the most part of its five years in office. Instead what we got was just the same lacklustre and lethargic performance of the last five years that we have now been made accustomed to, by fire by force.
The speech by the President gave no solid tone or re-assurance. It was littered with platitudes and vague, watery promises, not the solemn, earnest proclamations of how to heal the nations wounds and progress the dreams of its teeming populace. I couldn’t believe that a government that has burnt five years already, would still frivolously promise heaven and earth in ten years, forgetting it has spent more than half of its two terms of four years each. Truth is, the least discerning of Nigerians will agree with me that there is no prospect that anything much would be achieved by this government, even if allocated a 20-year term. It is not because it cannot find the brightest Nigerians to work with, it is because of the Messianic attitude of the titular head of government. I’m shocked that this government still has the temerity to blame previous governments for its own glaring failures. Wake up smell the coffee, Sir! The reason you were voted into power was to fix the rot and the mess that the nation had been plunged into by the very same previous governments that you are blaming. We knew that they had brought us to our knees. You promised to bring us to our feet, not to merely lay the blame for your deficiencies and defalcation at not succeeding in this respect at the doorsteps of your predecessors.
President Muhammadu Buhari needs to be told the gospel truth so that he may be rescued from his delusions of grandeur. His greatest flaw is not new to our nation. And it is not likely to go away very soon. Inherited prejudices are often stubborn and intractable. President Buhari is obviously neither willing nor able to steer Nigeria in a different direction from that which he has been all too familiar with. I can write the history of how his government would end in advance. It does not require any gift of clairvoyance or precognition to see that, when tomorrow comes, history would record that the Buhari administration was a most unambitious government that came to warm the seats of power and enjoy the trappings and appurtenances associated with it, but achieved little or nothing despite the humongous resources at its disposal.
Why do I say President Buhari’s political ailments are inherited and self-inflicted? He wants to be seen more as a champion of the North and the protector of the Fulani protectorates than as a world, even African statesman. It is so sad that this uncommon second chance is being blown and frittered away so recklessly. It is obvious from the President’s latest speech, on this epochal occasion of Nigerian nationhood, that he’s not too bothered about how anyone feels about his full-blown parochialism. How I wish the President has some Advisers who can stare at him eyeball to eyeball and tell him that Nigeria is torn at the seams and shattering and splintering at the speed of light. What shall it profit a leader who was handed a cohesive country but allowed things to fall apart under his watch?
When a President says on national television that some Nigerians traded away their rights, by not voting right, meaning not voting for him, so they must pay the price, I shudder. I simply cannot imagine or understand that any progressive leader would possess such an incredibly bigoted and sectarian mindset. Nigeria is being riven, divided and torn asunder by elements and communities clamouring for self-emancipation, restructuring, separate identities and even downright secession. Soothing, calming, conciliatory and rehabilitation words are required. That is not what the speech, which was full of belligerent, bellicose, pugnacious and discordant notes, portended. The President needs to learn the tenets of Democracy. It is impossible for everyone to vote for you, Sir. Nigeria is a multiparty, multicultural, multi-ethnic and multireligious State. And freedom of association and expression and other individual liberties are enshrined in our Constitution. So, it is unthinkable that any President would expect absolute loyalty from everyone. Even totalitarian regimes expect dissent. They only clamp down on them on occasions that such dissent becomes to them a destabilising force or to teach a salutary lesson.
The one thing that the President must do, as a matter of utmost necessity and urgency, is to regard and embrace every Nigerian as a bona fide valued and cherished citizen of the Federal Republic. No one should be victimised for not supporting the President during any particular election.
The reasons all the Nigerian Republics seemed to have failed spectacularly is embedded in an editorial written by the Time magazine in 1958 shortly before we got our Independence. It was forwarded to me last night by Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, the Managing Director of Arise News Channel. In fact, it summed up how Nigeria started failing before even starting. I’m glad I read the editorial while preparing this article. I will recommend it to every Nigerian who can read, and I reproduce it below:
“The Time Magazine 10th November 1958
INDEPENDENCE WITHOUT DIFFICULTIES IS A DREAM OF UTOPIA
For one month, delighted Londoners watched the 80 ceremonially dressed Nigerians —some with necklaces of animal teeth, others with feathered straw hats, at least one with a jewelled crown — parade into Lancaster House for their historic conference.
Everything possible had been done to make them feel at home.
For the Colonial Office’s big reception at the Tate Gallery, all nude statues were carefully screened so as not to offend Moslems. The Lord Mayor served up a banquet of stewed peanuts, and one paramount Chief — His Highness James Okosi II of the Onitsha — fulfilled a lifelong ambition: to ride the escalator at the Charing Cross underground station.[?]
In the end, the Nigerians got what they had come for: on Oct. 1, 1960, the largest (373,250 sq. mi.) of Britain’s remaining colonial territories would get its independence (TIME. Nov. 3). But behind the scenes the conference had revealed ominous signs of trouble to come.
From the start there was a clash between the personalities of the Premiers of the three regions — each obviously more important than the scholarly Federal Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
In Western eyes, Obafemi Awolowo of the Western Region seemed the most statesmanlike: as the conference began, the London Times carried a full-page ad proclaiming his declaration for freedom under the title “This I Believe,” prepared with the help of an American public relations man.
In contrast, U.S. – educated Premier Nnamdi (“Zik”) Azikiwe of the Eastern Region seemed to have learned more in the U.S. about Tammany tactics than Thomas Jefferson, and was somewhat under a cloud as a result of a British tribunal’s 1956 investigation into corruption in his administration.
The North’s Premier, the Sardauna of Sokoto, a haughty Moslem of noble birth, could barely conceal his contempt for his less aristocratic colleagues.
Insults & Accusations. Under the great chandeliers of the Lancaster House music room, where Chopin once played for Queen Victoria, the Premiers bickered, shot insults back and forth like poisoned darts.
When the conference took up the ticklish problem of how to protect the rights of minorities among Nigeria’s 250 tribes, Awolowo suggested creating three new states. The North’s Sardauna, not wishing to relinquish any of his own territory, vetoed the idea. Nor did he like the plan for a centralized police force under the federal government: he much preferred to use his own force, which, answerable only to him, can pop a man in jail with no questions asked.
At one point, the Sardauna accused Awolowo of sending his supporters to Israel to be trained as saboteurs in the North — a charge fabricated out of the fact that Western Nigeria has imported agricultural experts from Israel to advise its farmers. Awolowo counter charged that the Sardauna flogs his prisoners.
At receptions the delegates sipped their orange juice, icily aloof from one another. In elevators conversation would suddenly stop if a delegate from another region got on.
Compromises & Contests. But as the weeks passed, the Sardauna grudgingly consented to let the constitution carry a bill of rights, though he was so thoroughly opposed to giving the vote to women that the conference decided that this was, after all, not necessarily a “fundamental” right.
The delegates then agreed on a centralized police force, but one that would be administered by a council of representatives from each region. Finally, with their own independence from Britain assured (as well as that of the adjacent British Cameroons, should they choose to become a part of Nigeria), the delegates started for home.
Until Nigeria’s federal election takes place next year, the three Premiers will continue jockeying for power, and the fate of Nigeria could well hinge on who comes out on top. Last week, even as the National Planning Committee of Independence opened its contest for the design of a national flag (first prize: $300), many Nigerians had grave reservations about what lay ahead.
For all its jubilation, Nigeria’s West African Pilot felt obliged to warn: “Independence without difficulties is a dream of Utopia.”
This Time Magazine editorial could as well have been written today by the same writer for the same magazine. Its prophetic analysis is so scary, and yet there is no sign Nigerian leaders are ready to change a system that has held us by the jugular for so long. Indeed, they seem to prefer to continue fostering the feeding frenzy that ensues from the rent system engendered by this broken system.
What an average Nigerian smells and feels today is that the grounds for war is being prepared already, but a powerful General should understand the unpredictable nature of a civil war. We have been down that road before to great sorrow and loss. Others have experienced similar wars leading to balkanisation of their countries and none of those countries can claim to have the greatness of the union they broke away from.
Moreover, Love is easier to achieve than war. All the fantastic, phantasmagorical projections of development laid out in the high falutin speech of President Buhari will come to nought if no sacrifice is made on the part of the President to bury his innate love for just his own region and seek to unite Nigeria and Nigerians now before it is too late. A word is always enough for the wise!