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By Ita Offiong
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I remember with nostalgia as a child growing up in the 70s, sweet thoughts and great hopes of a future of possible greatness in a country that offered hopes in abundance, where every hard-work would be rewarded irrespective of tribe or religion. At least that was the puerile imagination of a primary school pupil.

We heard about the civil war as a fairy tale from adults, as stories of some ugly past long forgotten in the dust-bin of history. The peace we experienced then, never gave a reason to believe, that there was such a time when gun-shots scared one to sleep and equally startled another to wake up. It was a time when pains and penury reined the air and men were marooned by both fear and lack. It was better told as stories than experienced.

As I write this piece, my thought went even further to what were the imaginations of the founding fathers of the nation, when they put their lives at stake and fought to actualize the independence of their fatherland. The endless nights of consultations and the unending days of debates; mobilizing and galvanizing for freedom from the imperialism of the British overlords. I guessed they expected an egalitarian nation where tribes and tongues would not count, an enviable country where other African countries would look up to as a big brother.

As they eventually took over in 1960, the nation became indeed prosperous even with an agrarian economy. To start with, Nigeria became the first African country to have a TV station and even before a European nation like Ireland. At this time also, one needed less than one naira to exchange for a dollar; about 0.71 naira to 1 dollar. Later developments in the oil market economy even brought it to $2.00 USD exchanged for one Nigerian naira. Would many Nigerians living in today’s recession remember that in not too distant past our own legal tender was considered more valuable than British Pound Sterling? What I mean is that in 1974 even up to 1985, if someone had a choice to pick 10 pound bill and 10 naira bill, he would hastily go for the later. This year alone naira had fallen down to five hundred per dollar, though it is now around 363 per $1.00.

Also Nigerian universities at Independence were the best in Africa, today the Times graded world universities using research, teaching and international outlook as criteria, Nigerian best university was left on the same lower rung of the ladder with those of Morocco, Kenya and Algeria, coming below universities in South Africa, Uganda, Egypt and even Ghana.

Our healthcare services have failed to provide affordable medical care with all its national programmes. For instance the Colonial Health Development Plan 1945 -1955 and subsequent ones have not adequately addressed challenges in that sector. A couple of years ago, the World Health Organization- WHO, ranked the best hospitals in Nigeria 185th among the 190 sampled. This has accounted for the dwindling life expectancy rate in the country to less than 50 years. Recently, Nigerian Bureau for Statistics NBS revealed that about 29 million Nigerians are jobless as unemployment rate rose to 14.2 percent as at the last quarter of last year.

Now the country is bedeviled by growing discontent evident by insurgency in the North-East, herdsmen attack in the North-Central, militancy in the South-South, agitation for secession in the South-East, cattle rustling in the North, clamour for restructuring in the South and the many strike actions in the past weeks. This certainly is not the nation of my dream and would definitely not be the wishes of its founding fathers.

How did we get here? Many would wonder, even at a period with low religious activities, Nigeria experienced economic boom but now with over-bloated religious programs, it experiences an ebbing economic fortunes due to hypocrisy and double standards of our leaders.

Our treasury has been serially plundered by successive leaders nay looters. If Nigeria was a woman at 57, she would been an old-hag, haggard and dejected. If a building, she would be a ramshackle sight of a once fortress of a glorious past; but it is the patrimony of our ancestral nationalistic legacy which must not be allowed to collapse.

Arise oh compatriots and build a virile nation so that the labours of our heroes past would not be in vain. Happy Independence Day!