It is 60 years today since Nigeria gained independence from its British colonialists. The country, which came into being with the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates in 1914 through the instrumentality of the British, achieved full independence on October 1, 1960, when the British Union Jack was lowered for the nation’s Green-White-Green flag.
The country was to become a Republic in 1963, thereby doing away with all the vestiges of colonialism. Since then, Nigeria, as a country, has tottered on the brink, surging with uncertain feet, but defying all predictions that the country would not survive as one entity for long.
Judging from the circumstances of her birth, Nigeria has achieved only one thing within that period – being one country, despite the odds. That assertion is valid, considering that since 1960, the country has passed through a gruelling three-year civil war, several military coups, interethnic wars, tribal conflicts and dashed hopes that have brought the country on the brink of collapse.
But certainly, the forces that held the country together have managed to hold it as one country or in the language of strong believers of the country’s unity – one indivisible entity. Apart from the civil war between Nigeria and the secessionist Biafra Republic, the 1993 presidential election, won by the late business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola, that was inexplicably annulled by the military administration of former President Ibrahim Babangida, was the turning point of the country’s sojourn to unity.
It was one event that shook Nigeria to its foundations and eventually yielded the democratic government, which the country has enjoyed in the past 20 years. That is not to say that the coups and counter-coups that led to the civil war did not threaten the foundations of the country.
They did, but Nigeria was able to move on like it did with the June 12 episode. Regrettably, 60 years after independence, Nigeria cannot boast that it has come to stay as a nation. For while the optimists are positive that the country has passed its teething stages and is moving to be stronger, we cannot forget that the fault lines that brought the civil war and the June 12 episodes are still with us. For one, Nigeria remains one country where the differences of the subnationals that make it up are more accentuated than the little pieces that make the country one. Today, the cries of secession that led to the civil war are still with us.
Splinter groups such as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Ohanaeze, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Afenifere and all other groups that define different components of the country, are still more powerful and command more loyalty than any centrifugal group in the country. Thus, while many Nigerians pay respect to the factional groups, not many pay attention to the nation itself.
Rather, a very strong Federal Government, which controls almost everything, is the only thing that wields the country together by force or coercion. It is undeniable that 60 years after independence, Nigeria is still wallowing in poor leadership, occasioned by the very powerful centre. Calls for decentralization of powers to the constituent bodies that make up the country have fallen on deaf ears. Whether called decentralization or restructuring, the minders of the country since 1967 have favoured a more powerful centre, where from electricity to security to currency, birth certificate, death certificate to even revenue allocations and elections in one way or the other, derive power from the centre.
That has left the country as one unwieldy bunch, with many things at the lower level calling for attention without getting same. There is also no doubt that the huge burden at the centre is the source of all agitations from splinter groups, who are calling for equity and fairness. For many Nigerians, there is not much to celebrate for the 60 years of independence.
That is because judging from the history of other countries that attained independence with Nigeria around the same time, Nigeria obviously lags behind. We think of such countries as India, Pakistan and even our neighbour, Ghana. Where they have not achieved their full potentials, they have shown signs of moving in the right direction. But can we say that Nigeria is moving in the right direction? We doubt if many Nigerians would answer in the affirmative.
Rather, it is those in the government of the day and their acolytes that often believe that the country’s trajectory is in the right part. But evidence does not support such, despite the chest thumping by government officials.
Nigeria is today the headquarters of world poverty. It is regarded as one of the least secured places to live on earth owing to insecurity. The number of out-of-school children is one of the highest in the world. The economy is in tatters, while inflation is galloping. Naira continues its slide into irrelevance, with the ordinary Nigerian continuously being pushed into deeper poverty. Indeed, the statistics make grim reading.
But we have not lost hope that the country can still achieve its real dream. We believe that what is required is an honest assessment by Nigerians in their choice of leaders. That would require removing ethnic, religious and primordial sentiments, with Nigeria as our country as the only criteria for choice of leadership. Only then can the country begin to march in the right direction and achieve its purpose. For now, it is 60 years in the dark alley.