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NIGERIA AT 50: BEFORE THE CENTENARY

By NBF News

Exactly seven days from today Nigeria will mark the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain. Similarly, on the same day, it begins another journey toward its centenary (100 years) as a sovereign nation. And this comes up in 2050. There is no question that the past 50 years had been quite remarkable in many ways, just as it was characterised by a cocktail of events that has significantly shaped its destiny and contributed to its growth and development.

As expected, there have been heated arguments whether the milestone should be celebrated with pomp and ceremony or not, because of the dire financial strait in which the nation finds itself now. While some critics have fiercely opposed any elaborate celebrations, there is a school of thought that still believes that 50 years in the life of a nation is worth rolling out the drums to celebrate. However, no matter in which divide you may find yourself, one thing is imperative: we have managed to survive as a united nation despite the deep gully that has stood between us and fulfilling our collective destiny. Whether we should engage in elaborate ceremonies to commemorate the day or not depends entirely on the individual's perception about what is happening in our country today.

Nonetheless, it should be pointed out quickly that it is scandalous for anybody to give a tacit approval for the spending of a huge sum of money to celebrate our 50 years of independence when the majority of the people are hungry, sick, ignorant and defenceless. Have we ever spared a thought for the army of unemployed youths roaming the streets in search of non-existent jobs? Sadly, as a result, many of them have found solace in robbery, kidnapping and other vices. The N10 billion initially budgeted to organise the event would be enough to create jobs for these jobless graduates and school leavers, or even provide amenities that will soothe the pain of our depraved population.

Why do our leaders treat the masses with so much hate and insensitivity? Are they not moved by the degrading conditions of living of the majority of the people who look up to them for respite? Instead of working for the interest of the people, our leaders have chosen, rather, to work for themselves and their own families and cronies. What can you say about what is happening at the moment, where almost all the elected office-holders, are seeking re-election? These include those whose tenures were despicably an abysmal failure. Maybe they think the people will remain gullible and vulnerable forever!

I was moved to tears last week as I watched thousands of motorists and commuters wading through the flooded Shagamu-Ore highway. The frustration and chaos was palpable. I could feel their agony and befuddlement from where I sat hundreds of kilometres away from the action spot. Who could believe that such neglect would happen in the 21st Century Nigeria with the surplus revenue accruing to the Federation Account from crude oil sales and other exports?

If I should draw attention to every aspect of the neglect the masses have suffered in the hands of our greedy and desperate leaders, night will fall and day will break, yet I will not be done. The wickedness in our land grows wings by the day and assumes such notoriety that requires the intervention of God to remedy.

All the same, it is not the main intention of this article to chronicle in detail all the events leading up to October 1, 1960 or what had happened between then and now. Even though some historical events are discussed peripherally, more attention has been placed on what the future holds in store for Nigeria and its people in another 50 years when it will be celebrating its centenary. The decision to adopt this approach stems from the fact that there is an urgent need to chart a new roadmap for the advancement of the cause of the country, particularly in consideration of the direction the world is going. It is a fact, that unless we adjust to the realities of the moment we may not be able to meet up with the challenges of the next century.

Permit me to remark that Nigeria's march to 50 has been quite tortuous and challenging. Right from the First Republic it has been one form of challenge after another. Perhaps, the most troubled area is in the search for a sustainable political direction. The period, between 1957 and 1966, marked a watershed on the nation's political life, culminating in the first military intervention that brought to power the short-lived tenure of General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi. JTU, as he was popularly called, headed a government that was toppled in another coup; and that gave birth to the emergence of the then Colonel Yakubu Gowon as Head of State. It was Gowon that created the 12-state structure that replaced the regional governments in place at the time.

It has to be observed, however, that the coup that brought Gowon to Dodan Barracks as Head of State was a retaliatory coup designed to counter the Chukwuma Nzeogwu-led coup. Though both coups were very bloody, they nonetheless set the nation on a precipice, with the potentiality of destroying the unity and indivisibility our forbears fought for even at the risk of their own lives. It was not surprising then that the civil war broke out.

Sincerely speaking, the causes of the events leading up to secession by Biafra still stir us in the face. Think about it: have we destroyed the devious spirit of corruption, nepotism, ethnicity, violence and election manipulation that has demonised the soul of our nation? How can we enthrone sustainable democracy in an environment stinking of injustice, chaos and brigandage?

I have always maintained that the civil war, which cost our dear nation hundreds of innocent lives on both sides, was generally avoidable, particularly if our leaders had shown some restraint and tolerance. At the root of the instability that has threatened the unity of Nigeria from independence also is the lack of sincerity on the part of those that superintend over the affairs of the nation. While some nationalists worked towards the emergence of a united, progressive Nigeria others promoted ethnic, primordial sentiments that have stalled growth and development and dampened the enthusiasm of budding politicians from keying into the vision for which our founding fathers sought independence in the first place.

Subsequent events that reverberated on the political landscape from, 1975-1979, especially the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed on February 13, 1976, did not help the already perilous situation into which the nation had been thrown. General Muhammed was a victim of a society in a hurry to move beyond its convoluting retrogression and backwardness. There is a consensus that he would have made the whole difference if his life had not been brutally cut short by some power-hungry members of the junta that held the nation by the jugular at the time. The power-play in the military, coupled with the endemic corruption that had eaten up the soul of the nation, fast-tracked the exit of the military in 1979 and gave birth to the Shehu Shagari administration. Shagari did not last because of the same reason of corruption. He was shoved aside by the duo of Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon, whose regime also did not endure. It was shown the way out by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who himself was succeeded by an interim contraption headed by Shonekan.

Shonekan, true to the ad hoc nature of his administration, fell by the way side – in less than six months – on November 1993 in a bloodless coup staged by General Sani Abacha. Painfully, Abacha died on June 8, 1998 and was succeeded by General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar – who handed over to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo's government has gone down into the annals of the country as one that was trailed by mounting controversies that space may not permit me to list. Nevertheless, it is important to state at this juncture, that Obasanjo had every opportunity to place Nigeria on the global map, but he regrettably fluffed it due to reasons best known to him. We are where we are today because that regime did not take all the chances that came its way to make the nation great.

Obasanjo's reluctant exit in 2007 and the enthronement of Umar Musa Yar'Adua as president marked a dramatic turn in Nigeria's political odyssey. Apart from the heat generated by the brazenly rigged 2007 elections, President Musa Yar'Adua tried his best to redeem his image through well-designed economic and electoral packages. Though death struck to cut short his dream, his achievements will forever be remembered.

Then steps in President Goodluck Jonathan, who has tried ever since to carve an identity for himself. His scorecard will be presented at the end of his tenure on May 29, 2011, when the Nigerian people are expected to either accept or reject his re-election bid. Whichever way the tide goes, it has gone into history that he was the only Nigerian - living or dead - who rose to the apogee of his political career without facing the ballot.

The major focus of this article, as mentioned from the outset, therefore, is to peer into the future and try to fathom what it holds in store for all of us. In making this projection, one should be as optimistic and realistic as possible. The truth should be told that the next 50 years is going to be more difficult for Nigeria. Forget all the noise about Vision 2020 or any other redemptive programme for that matter, the task ahead will be arduous.

There are some fundamental fears that must be addressed in view of the misfortunes that had dogged our steps these past 50 years. What happens to the growing poverty, decrepit infrastructure, widening unemployment, insecurity and other anti-social acts that threaten the peaceful co-existence of our people? We speak today about falling standards of education. What will the situation look like in the next 50 years? The crop of leaders we have today will soon pass away. How many of us alive today will witness the historic 2050? Are there contingent plans to groom our successors? There is still a semblance of sanity in our nation today because there is an admixture of the outgoing generation and the incoming one. What will become of Nigeria when our own generation is no more? Who will the present generation emulate then?

It is shocking that 50 years after independence we are yet to evolve a functional political culture, as is the case in the developed economies. We still pander to the whims of visionless and insensible leaders who masquerade as the messiahs of our time when, in actual sense, they are wolves in sheep's clothing. They sell dummies to us, which we swallow hook, line and sinker, just that we are gullible and impoverished. No nation has ever appeared on the global Hall of Fame without banishing poverty and ethnicity. These two ills have continued to haunt our people and expose them to opprobrium in the comity of nations. How can Nigeria deal with these ills before its centenary?

All said and done, let me set an agenda for Nigeria for the next 50 years. Strict adherence to this agenda will save it from self-destruction for which it is headed. We should not forget the assertions by some notable global figures that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015. There is nothing extraordinary in their postulations, after all the ominous signs are there for everyone to see.

Who does not know that Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gun-powder, considering that our leaders govern with such recklessness and insensitivity? Who needs to be told that corruption has eroded the moral base of our country, and nothing maybe left of Nigeria in another 50 years if the ugly situation is not tackled frontally?

So, for us to have any cause to celebrate the forthcoming centenary, with fanfare and pride, we must do the following:

Put in place machinery for the enthronement of a just, equitable society, devoid of the twin evils of corruption and ethnocentricity and built on the fear of God and respect for the citizens' fundamental rights; design a master plan to address the issue of security and by so doing make the police and other security agencies combat-ready to deal with sophisticated crimes and ensure the safety of lives and properties; review the curriculums of our tertiary institutions and provide the necessary infrastructure to raise the quality of education; embark on a systematic reconstruction and rehabilitation of infrastructure across the country to bring them to international standard; deal once and for all with epileptic electricity supply by revamping all comatose power projects and building new ones to attain the 40,000 megawatts target that will make the country self-sufficient; revive all ailing industries to provide strong support for the national economy and create jobs for at least 90 per cent of qualified job-seekers; restore the middle class, which is non-existent at the moment; fight and reduce corruption to the barest level; create a national career to restore the good days of the defunct Nigeria Airways; put in place a quality healthcare plan; institute a functional electoral process that will eliminate rigging and guarantee the emergence of empathic and honest leaders; and finally, develop a dependable rail network to facilitate the movement of humans and goods.

If we succeed in achieving these goals before the centenary in 2050, then Nigeria will definitely rank among the most developed nations in the world, which should be the vision of whoever is elected to govern this vast, blessed and prosperous nation called Nigeria.

No matter what, I have the distinguished honour, joy and privilege to associate myself with the joys of our nation's 50th independence anniversary while wishing all of us happy celebrations.