NIGERIA, U.S. AND INDEPENDENCE DAY
The United States celebrated Independence Day on July 4. News items about it were diverse. ‘Horses bolt during Iowa parade; 1 killed, 23 hurt’, one announced. And there was another about Chicago that downsized the festival ‘to save between $1 million and $2 million’ and ‘at least several hundred thousand dollars’ on the Independence Day fireworks. Two runaway horses pulling a wagon during a parade had broken lose and did the harm in Iowa. And a Chicago city official gave the reason for their action on a celebration that annually drew more than 1 million people: "I would say we're doing it to be fiscally responsible, because we have to be," he said. That’s some thinking; its wisdom, and up in WashingtonDC, President Barack Obama also did his.
"Hello and Happy Fourth of July, everybody," the president said in a speech. "This weekend is a time to get together with family and friends, kick back, and enjoy a little time off. And I hope that’s exactly what all of you do." He too had done exactly that. He had rolled up his sleeves, ran around, being chased by the family poodle. He also played the domestic man, holding up a bunch of greens. Yet he didn’t forget the condition of his nation and the people.
"I also want to take a moment today to reflect on what I believe is the meaning of this distinctly American holiday," the President said. "Today, we are called to remember not only the day our country was born – we are also called to remember the indomitable spirit of the first American citizens who made that day possible." He recalled the specifics of how the American spirit made July 4 possible, and added, "That is the spirit we are called to show once more." He mentioned it as the right kind of spirit to face known challenges. "Meeting these extraordinary challenges will require an extraordinary effort on the part of every American," he said. "And that is an effort we cannot defer any longer. Now is the time to lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity. Now is the time to revamp our education system, demand more from teachers, parents, and students alike, and build schools that prepare every child in America…We need to protect what works, fix what’s broken, and bring down costs for all Americans. No more talk. No more delay."
Nigeria had a Summit, said to be a business and investment forum, late June. It was part of the activities to mark its 50 years of independence. London was the venue. President Goodluck Jonathan had been expected to lead dozens of ministers, state governors and government officials to the conference. It was a large delegation, as large as the team the Nigerian Football Federation took to FIFA World Cup in South Africa where the national team flopped, and 9 billion naira was washed down the drain. Now 16 billion naira has been earmarked to mark the Nigeria’s October 1 Independence celebration. Question that had been asked on the wisdom for such expenses were many. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), for instance, wanted to know: "Are travel expenses and logistics of the event part of the N16 billion anniversary jamboree? Are issues expected to be discussed at the conference, such as power, infrastructure, corruption, health, education and agriculture so exclusively sacrosanct that they could not be debated here in Nigeria? An opposition party, Action Congress (AC) had also asked: "Who is behind this conference? What informed the choice of London for a conference on Nigeria that is expected to be attended by state and federal government officials as well as ruling party members? Who will pay the expenses to be incurred by the slew of officials attending the conference? Of what benefit is this conference to Nigerians that it will cost them so much? And how does this advance our democracy?"
The party had also taken note of the right thinking going on in more serious nations, stating that, "The times we are in are very tough, and even richer nations are cutting costs in all areas. Nigeria cannot be an exception. We must find a way to slash the cost of running governments at all levels, so that we can channel our scarce resources into improving the living standards of our long-suffering people. This is the essence of governance.'' It was not only government officials in Chicago that thought of this, that time. Several other American cities also did. That’s wisdom. But had anyone listened to public outcry against Nigeria’s London Summit in places where it mattered?
President Jonathan rescinded his decision to attend the Summit. That’s to his credit. And it wasn’t the first time he gave thought to public demands. He withdrew names of card-carrying members of parties that were his nominees for positions in the nation’s electoral body the other time. Does all of that signpost something? Maybe. Let the man at the top continue to heed popular calls. He appears to be the only handbrake there is for the moment. Such touches are a significant change in a land where office holders had always carried on as if peoples didn’t matter. And let that October 1 Independence Day celebration too be done with a sense of decency. Americans treaded that path on July 4. Their city officials thought of moderation in the face of harsh economic realities. And U.S. president too talked serious matters of State in the middle of a celebration. It’s one of the reasons those folks are taken seriously anywhere in the world. Maybe Nigeria too will be taken seriously one day – if only this administration can stay the course.
Ajibade, a Consultant Writer, lives in Abuja.