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NIGERIA: FOR POST-INDEPENDENCE NIGERIANS

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May 29th, 2011 signals the end of an era, an era when pre-independence Nigerians dominated affairs in Nigeria; an era of wasted opportunities. Simply put, the pre-independence era is one that Nigerians should not be proud of. Who are the fathers of Nigeria? The answer is obvious; the British colonial masters are the fathers of pre-independence Nigeria. They pieced together many nations to form Nigeria; they gave the name Nigeria. No Nigerian could be correctly called a father of Nigeria. None has bequeathed to Nigeria an enduring legacy yet, of which succeeding generations can be proud.

Nigerians, born before 1960, the year of political independence, who took over leadership of the post-independence Nigeria, did not know how to build a nation. They encouraged neo-regionalism and tribalism. They lacked the political dexterity to blur the dividing cracks between Nigeria’s peoples. Their tentative constitutional efforts of 1963 could not withstand the deep suspicions that culminated in the double military assault of 1966 that eventually plunged the country into a civil war. And so, for more than 50 years, we have had our hopes dashed every so often, we have seen promises made and broken by both military and civilian leaderships, and the misery of our people is only increasing at an alarming speed. And I warn that the rich in Nigeria cannot be safe while the army of the unemployed and unemployable keeps burgeoning. I speak with the words of President John F. Kennedy at his presidential inauguration, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

President Jonathan represents Nigerians of the pre-independence era, who have failed our country and wasted our resources for decades. Born in the twilight of that generation, he must redeem it. He has a debt to pay on behalf of that generation. In the year Nigeria and some other African countries got their political independence from European colonial powers such as Great Britain and France, President Kennedy was sworn into the office of president of the United States of America. He set forth a vision and defined his generation as those “born in this century” (the twentieth century). He called for service, and distinguished himself in his commitment to the same. He assured new independent countries in Africa (Nigeria got her political independence about 10 months later) in those words: “To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their freedom—and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

Not a few Nigerians will agree that of a fact, Nigerians, since 1960, have been ruled by iron tyranny. Plenty of Nigerian blood has been shed since 1960 for the sake of power. Even recently, life has been snuffed out of young Nigerians whose only crime is that they answered the call to serve their motherland in the April 2011 elections. How much more blood shall be shed needlessly before we Nigerians of post-independence Nigeria rise up?

President Jonathan can only occupy himself with two major things: social re-construction of Nigeria through a sovereign national conference and physical re-construction of Nigeria through provision of critical infrastructure that will support entrepreneurship. He must see himself as a transition president.

1. Social re-construction: Is the 1999 constitution a document that Nigerians of all ethnic nationalities have fashioned to guide their co-existence? Is this document not a document of tyranny that has appropriated power for a few? Does this document not encourage waste and inequity? If the answers to those questions are in the affirmative, then would President Jonathan be doing any service to Nigerians by ignoring the important issue of a people-driven constitution? The 1999 constitution is a fraud. In January this year, at the signing of the first amendment of the 1999 constitution, President Jonathan said that the “1999 constitution is a military constitution, and I shall be sending more amendments until it becomes a people’s constitution.” I must caution the president that he cannot make the 1999 constitution a people’s constitution through amendments of his choosing, which shall be examined by legislators who are under the control of many state governors. If Nigeria will survive the storm ahead, a sovereign national conference must be convoked between 2011 and 2014. I wish to believe that post-independence Nigerians want to be free; that we want to own our lands and resources beneath and on them. The proposed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has been too diluted by the national assembly to convey some succour to the deprived oil-producing communities. The complicit betrayal of the people by the national assembly is a signature on their failure even as many of its members shall not return. Those Nigerian politicians who erroneously feel their political relevance does not depend on pleasing the people, but rather have ridden the tigers (godfathers) for political power shall end up in the bellies of those tigers. President Jonathan’s constituency is the people, and not his political party chieftains or world powers. If we cannot protect him because there is no value in so doing, no nation nor group of economic jackals can.

2. Physical re-construction: Billions of dollars being wasted during the Yar’Adua/Jonathan government leaves much to be desired. President Jonathan can redeem himself of this waste by instigating massive public works across Nigeria. We need a president that can rightly be called “Mr. Infrastructure,” who generations to come will credit with massive modern railroads, well-paved roads across the land of Nigeria, water transportation canals such as the Niger-Benue canal, stable electricity supply, and water works across Nigeria. We need a president who will stop importation of refined petroleum products by building new refineries even if the private sector is unwilling to invest in the sector. That the PDP-led governments, since 1999 have been unable to build a single refinery is a bad commentary on their stewardship indeed. We need a president who will stop importation of steel products by reviving the steel plants in Nigeria. We need a president who will not just pour money into the revival of textile industry in Nigeria, but who also will support commercial production of cotton to feed those industries. We need a president who will guarantee output gain by farmers through product market sourcing and strategic compensation on harvests. We need a president who will support the provision of infrastructure both for our mental health (education) and physical welfare (health). We certainly don’t need a president who is so inclined to throwing open the Nigerian market to all sorts of imported goods while claiming a desire to create jobs and increase productivity. Nations today are becoming more protective of their domestic market. I hope President Jonathan will read this.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement. TEL: +234 (0) 8055024356 EMAIL: [email protected]

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