A nation must be willing to look dispassionately at its own history – Willy Brandt (1913 – 1992).
You just can’t get enough of the *when-Nigeria-was-good discourse*. From the teenager who just completed his secondary school education to the retired civil servant, most Nigerians revel in the stories of how Nigeria was once a great country. Yes, we were once great with splashes of greatness, here and there. Nigerian Airways was once the greatest in Africa, it provided employment to Kenyans, South Africans and many others. Yes, there was the Awolowo free basic education, the Jakande affordable housing scheme, the ‘good’ Murtala years. And yes, Herbert Macauley, Aminu Kano, Nnamdi Azikwe, Samuel Ajayi Crowther all strutted the same soil we tread on today!
However, despite the numerous stories of greatness of the past, I believe that our present predicament takes its root from the faulty foundation set in those years: the 1950s to the 1970 actually.
In the late fifties, for example “(t)he nationalists, the first generation of elected leaders and legislators of our semi-independent nation had begun to visit Great Britain in droves. We watched their self-preening, their ostentatious spending, their cultivated condescension, even disdain towards the people they were supposed to represent. There were exceptions but in the main, they did not appear to have emerged from the land and people we left behind when we journeyed to acquire some skills and learning. While we dreamt of marching south to liberate Southern Africa, they saw the nation as a prostrate victim to be ravished… This strange breed was a complete contrast to the nationalistist stalwarts in whose hands we had imagined that the country could be safely consigned while we went on our romantic liberation march to Southern Africa” writes Professor Wole Soyinka in his memoir, We Must Set Forth At Dawn.
“What other faulty way is there to set an independent nation than to have leaders who were less concerned about the populace take over from the oppressive colonial masters. For one, I believe Nigeria’s problems started at birth. Our first elections which were supposed to set us on the right part were alleged to have been rigged, according to Harold Smith, a colonial officer, “it was the British who taught Nigerians the art of rigging”.
By 1965 when Professor Chinua Achebe published A Man Of The People, Nigeria was all but what our founding fathers thought it would be. Because of this wrong start, by 1966, Nigeria was already like an Augean Stable where corruption and misrule reigned supreme – elections were rigged, coups were plotted, treasuries were looted, riots prevailed, government establishment and civil servants began to demonstrate traces of corruption, and worst still, the military took over. With the military came a new set of societal ills, we had rulers in place of leaders, because the military did not have a training in government matters, their modus operandi differed, by then Nigeria had become an ‘unsteerable’ ship with no knowledgeable sailor in view.
The late 60s saw a civil war that claimed at least one million lives, the 70s, years of the oil boom were not better, we had an outward posture of a prosperous nation; so well we thought we were that the then Head of State declared that we had so much money to know what to do with it. The 70s soon ran into its shell and saw the emergence of a democracy in its twilight, the democracy crawled into the 80s; with news of corruption of government officials an everyday occurrence, the military soon took over again this time they were going to wield power for as long as they could, as soldier go, soldier come for the next 16 years. Towards the turn of the new millennium, Nigeria became democracy-compliant hence the emergence of the fourth republic, soldiers soon changed their stage costumes from khaki to Agbada, who else could out-act those who have tasted and kept a large chunk of the National cake, so like a vicious cycle, the same soldiers and their cronies who had looted us dry came to power.
I went through this tortuous history so as to explain the reason we have found ourselves where we are. It is however saddening that this part of our history are not always told, we are made to believe that things have been well all along forgetting the fact that every living thing must grow, the untamed corruption that seemed benign at the inception has now grown to be a monster threatening our great nation. By the way, when will they really teach about the civil war in our schools, this event that now seems distant and benign is more emotional and evaluated than one thinks.
However, all hope is not lost as we can retrace our steps and make things better, as a way of retracing our steps, deliberations from the National Conference should be monitored and taken seriously. Already, as of yesterday, August 12, 2014, drafts of a new constitution were distributed. We should not just scream hurray because a new constitution is on the way, but instead we should explore means through which the content of the proposed constitution is the true yearning of Nigerians.
On a final note, for Nigeria to progress we also have to develop a patriotic zeal in Nigerians, not just one on television stations or radio stations and newspapers but a true awareness that will permeate all sphere of our lives. Citizens of many developed countries are not patriotic because their government pay TV stations millions to launder the government’s image and coerce the citizenry to loving the country nor is it because they go on a mandatory national service scheme. These citizens are patriotic because their governments have given them reasons to, the US government won’t mind sending a battalion of Army to help a distressed citizen in any part of the world, this intense concern by the government has built a sense of patriotism in Americans such that an American president had the moral right to demand his citizens not ask what their government could do for them but what they could do for their country.
To move forward, we must know where we are coming from, where we are going to and what we want.