Nigeria is 96 years old
On October 1, 2010, many Nigerians gathered in open places across the country to rejoice, revel, discuss, praise, review and conduct themselves in different ways in the name of celebrating two things: Nigeria's independence which holds every first day of October and the golden jubilee whose celebration spanned over a month with huge amount of money spent on it.
To me, in one hand, it was a worthy celebration. At least we are alive and it is only when alive that one can think of celebrating even amidst poverty and political instability, intolerance and near lawlessness. Many people celebrated that day in different ways. I must state that some innocent citizens celebrated the day in another world – the world of the dead! They never prayed for it but it was the Nigerianness created by our leaders – the present and the past.
To me, in another hand, it was a celebration that is misplaced. I feel there is nothing like independence. Nigeria and African countries should stop this rubbish of wasting time and resources to rejoice for a pseudo-colonial freedom. If we desire celebrations, such desire that runs in the blood of many wealthy Africans who prefer to lavish their affluence on trivialities instead of channeling the resources to the socio-economic demands of the people around them, there are many we can create.
In Nigeria for instance, we must recognize the day Nigeria was born rather than the day the British men claim to have left governance to us – the so-called independence. Nigeria was born in 1914 and simple mathematics shows that our country is 96 years old and not 50. By this age, we should rejoice that our octogenarian nation is, though not hale and hearty, is alive and hopeful. In our tradition, though soiled completely or stained by the so-called modern civilization, a man who attains the age of between eighty and hundred should be honoured by the community and should not be allowed to suffer in the remaining part of his life. If such persons die, their burial becomes a general responsibility if the immediate family is not well-to-do.
In my community, as a living example, if such a man asks you for anything, it becomes binding on you to respond positively according to your ability. If you respond negatively and the man raises alarm, the whole community will punish you by prescribing certain things you must do. It will be more burdensome to face the whole community than the individual octogenarian. Who should punish Nigerians for allowing their octogenarian fatherland to be in this condition of today?
This unfortunate failure has pricked the writer in the beginning of his poem titled “Sing To Me Nigeria” where he painfully screened, saying: In 1914, in our homes where; We looked at one another and smiled; Amalgamation was born; Then we became powerless; Powerless because we received orders; From those who cared for us; Like a child punished for disobedience; They loved our unity for united gains; And traded upon our sweats; As we shrieked in fear; When a white man stood before us.
In further assertion of our struggle to claim freedom from oppression, the fourth stanza proclaimed thus: Luggard's spouse merely added to the Niger; Where Park was overcome by ignorance; O! We had little or no say; As Lord Luggard came with his cain; Then Clifford, then Graemer, then Cameron; Then Boundillon, then Richards, then Macpherson; Until, like a loyal child; Feeling the pains of torture and trauma; We staggered and stood on our feet; And looked into the eyes of the master; And shouted, freedom, freedom, freedom!
Is it possible to be independent? Independent in what sense? If it is in the sense that we should not get assistance of any kind - technological or financial - from other countries, then we are quite away from the truth. Even developed countries do depend on infrastructurally poor but naturally rich countries to sustain their developmental tempo. So it should be a challenge on those in charge of our affairs to redefine the purpose of this yearly independence celebration and redesign how we can reflect on the past to reshape our present for future regeneration.
Apart from celebrating amalgamation, we can institute the remembrance of our past heroes, not linking them merely to the fight for the so-called independence, but for the selfless services they rendered to the unity and harmonious togetherness of the Nigerian people at a time we were still skeptical of our collective coexistence. If these past heroes had half of the selfish desires of our present leaderships, each letter of Nigeria would have become a state and the power we presume to possess in our beloved Africa would be non-existent.
We can also celebrate the greatness of our intellectuals: both the young and the old. We can celebrate unique events in the country like we do for 29th May, called Democracy Day. We can celebrate the end of Civil War. We can celebrate the end of Niger Delta Crises, from the day such will end. We can celebrate the defeat of Gboko Haram, and a lot more national events; But not independence because it is really non-existent.
However, in the celebration on October 1, many rural dwellers, without the knowledge of what was going on, went to the farms to ensure they fed their family members. Many went to the markets to trade their wares if they must feed that day. Many celebrated it in beer palours where they spent their September salaries and brought troubles to their spouses at home. Many decided to be oblivious, despite their knowledge of the day, and kept indoors throughout the day. There were others who robbed, kidnapped or defiled fellow compatriots. There is no need judging any citizen for doing whatever on that day. The country is too much with us.
A group of the citizenry found their ways to stadiums and fields to march in commemoration of the day. Across the nation's state capitals, local government areas and development centres, school children, civil servants, civil societies and cultural groups gathered and displayed in different manners their joy for the day. Some politicians, in turn, effectively utilized the opportunities to advance their campaign for the forthcoming elections. Some citizens died physically in different parts of the country, but the Abuja bomb blast gave the central event an ugly twist. Some died psychologically. And others died morally. And many are dying installmentally. Who can save us? Who can effect the change we dearly need? Who really loves Nigeria and Nigerians from amongst us? This is the time to make history.
As for me, I was not among all the categories of people mentioned above, though the heat of the celebration touched me. There are two ways I celebrated the event. First my colleagues and friends demanded that I buy them drinks. I said I will celebrate the day with bitter cola. One of my reasons was that the situation in the country was so bitter to any patriot that celebrating a disguised failure was not acceptable. Secondly that species of cola is bitter but very medicinal. So we must pass through these harrowing moments to make history and attain health and joy afterward. A sick man can withstand the discomfort in taking bitter pills with the hope to recover. But he must first know that he is sick, then accept the diagnosis of a faithful and humane doctor and then strictly adhere to the prescriptions.
The second way was that I gathered my family of five with three grown-up dependents and delivered a small lecture to them. Before the lecture, I asked each of them two and same questions: 1. What do you know about Nigeria? 2. What has changed in Nigeria since you started seeing and thinking? Nearly all of them answered in the affirmative that nothing has changed and that they, like many Nigerians, know little about Nigeria. But my little baby said, “Nigeria is my country. I love my country”. Here I was convinced that her teacher is doing a good job and that our hope lies assuredly in the generation we can build with unstained hands and coins.
What transpired during the lecture made me buy gifts and drinks for my family members and thereafter we rejoiced with close friends, because the lecture featured how a young Nigerian can contribute to the nation building.
Now that Nigeria is aging but yet frustrated by her children, who do we think can salvage the situation – who can make the right prescriptions, monitor and effect adherence and selflessly lead us to our Promised Land? Is the man yet born? How long shall we wait to change this hard lot? It should be soon as life continues.
Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]