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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

48 YEARS AFTER: THE NIGERIA THAT I SEE!

Growing up as a Nigerian child, I knew two things about my country; that it is the giant of Africa, and it is a land flowing with milk and honey. In my child’s eyes, I used to have an imagination of a place in Nigeria flowing with and honey and that every child in Nigeria would never lack this sweetness. This was a long time ago, now, I know many things about my country – of the least, it is a country that cannot be aptly defined. The world Nigeria reminds me of a country formed out of force and inconsideration, the confusion beclouding this dear country didn’t just start now, it started as a passion, then, it became a fashion, and now, it is a tradition that might never be curbed… we wanted freedom and we saw a reason to have it, we got it but it came back hanging on our necks. This freedom became too heavy for us and it is causing us to stagger, and we are still staggering. It is 48 years, since we received this freedom and the denouement of history is still unfolding – the pangs of poverty, economic and social imbalance, political disorder, ethnic skirmishes, and religious intolerance. The atmosphere of my dear country is one of resounding pain, confusion and conflict; simmering with violence and bitter resignation.


… WHEN THINGS FELL APART

In my words: “I do not see freedom as being free, I see freedom as having peace, professing freedom as a pledge of brotherhood and unity. For this is the kind of freedom that could hide our cultural diversities, religious differences, ethnic favouritism… the peace of this freedom could heal the pain of a force union.” This was the kind of freedom we had in 1960 (although it was like patching pieces together – fragments held in one piece) or, so it seems. Putting pieces together became difficult; it seemed like daring the inevitable. Nigeria at this time was tensed from the heat of confusion savaging her. After 1960, the hope that Nigeria was on the verge of transition was lost, the only recurring nightmare obstructing leadership was, and is still the walls between religious, cultural and ethnic differences – poor educational system, abandoned refineries, and epileptic power supply.

THE CAUSE


After the 1965 elections, there were claims of widespread electoral fraud. The different opposition parties at that time refused to accept the results; this led to the first coup d’ etat in January 15, 1966which was led by junior officers at that time. The coup placed Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi as the first military head of state in Nigeria, the first coup was believed to be “igbo- made” and this instigated a counter--coup on july29,1966 because the Northerners were afraid of displacement; and because the igbos in the army were being promoted more than other ethnic groups. The second coup was led by Lt. Col. Murtala Mohammed and placed Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon as head of state. In September 1966, the Igbos were massacred in the North as a result of coup and counter- coup. This fuelled more tension because the igbos were not willing to let go. In May 30, 1967, Col. Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu through the southern parliament proclaimed the secession of the south- eastern region from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra. Nigeria has faced the problem of indecision post-independence elections of 1965 (apart from the 1992 election) up to 2007. It has always been the problem of ‘our man’ not the ‘right man’ and the citizens are at the receiving end of war, ethnic skirmishes, poverty, and endless pains.


… A WAR OF SHAME (BIAFRA/ NIGERIA CIVIL WAR)

It is the name I choose to call it, it has nothing to do with being a Northerner, Southerner, Easterner, or a Westerner – it has something to do with being a Nigerian … embittered, depraved, and tired. I call it shame because we faced a moral crisis as a country; I call it shame because it has to do with a fellow brother; a Nigerian, and when this happened, it was not who the victims were or where they came from; there was a gaping wound, a hole – hollow and hurt. For almost three years Nigeria-Biafrans suffered starvation, depression, and humiliation. It was a sorry state to think that what we struggled for we could not hold. And for what essence is what I ask? That we could hold onto this freedom; we displayed incompetence, ignorance, selfishness—even failure. We displayed cowardice not strength, we held a very wrong ideology as a guiding principle and we are still holding it. The Nigerian civil war defined a country that has been weighed down and plagued by incompetence, inconsistency, and disparity between ethnicity. The war did not curb the problem, it left us wounded that by the end of the war, Nigeria was desolate and empty; with an estimation of over one million deaths recorded. Nigeria is still shaking from this ‘cold’ war, we pose a semblance of peace, but, it is pieces because we are a scattered whole!


TRADITION: WHAT MIGHT NEVER BE CURBED!

After the civil war, we took cognizance of what has happened and strong efforts were made to avoid a reoccurrence but the story never changed, it became a belief of the country… a strong tradition. By 1979, Nigeria was still witnessing more economic, social, and political instability. This period was marked by more electoral violence ethnic tensions, and leadership tussle, however, the election of June 12, 1992. The best election that caused the death of over 100 Nigerians, I remember it was called oso Abiola (Abiola race) because many people ran to their villages. June 12 proved that development is strange to Nigeria, more like an abomination to us.





… AND THE FOURTH REPUBLIC

The Fourth Republic seemed promising, no doubt; like transition into a promise land 39 years of enslavement was enough to make a change and when we made entry it dawned on us that more years is needed to recover what was lost. The fourth Republic brought out the climax of Nigeria’s history (Baba remembered that he needed more time and now Yar’ Adua says it is due process) it is failing but has not failed yet…


THE NIGERIA THAT I SEE!

Still, I see a Nigeria that will triumph against all odds, a Nigeria that will be a hope of glory. I have hope that our pains will hurt us enough to bring change, change that will transform the lives of Nigerians, and Nigerians that will build a stronger Nigeria; rivet the pieces in a bond. Like martin Luther King jnr. I have a hope that though “we have difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace, but I will not yield to a politic of despair. I am going to maintain hope … if the cruelties of slavery couldn’t stop us, the opposition that we now face will surely fail… with this faith, we shall be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.’ – transcending and marked by a blend of peace and harmony with flavoured colours of love. I hope that this Nigeria will come and the storm will be over.

THE CHANGE WE ALL NEED

“THE CHANGE WE ALL NEED”

On the 4th of November, 2008, the United States of America (USA) made history in the political realm. This history confirmed the dreams and wishes of great men. It became a trademark and symbol of change; more like a hope of glory and the conviction that all things are possible in USA and in the world. Obama’s victory stirred many world leaders; especially African leaders. It became a challenge, yet in all these, I didn’t see a changing Nigeria. In this clamour for change worse things are still happening. The only vision that I see, though blurred and hazy is a dying Nigeria—misguided and headed to nowhere. I see everything going wrong, and this to me is no sign that change will come or is coming. Change for Nigeria has not been decided… it is still bestriding the threshold.


ELECTION AND SELECTION

It is no doubt, that election in Nigeria is nothing to write home about. To say the least, most Nigerians don’t think it is necessary to register for an election much less to vote. We select our leaders (that is how it seems) or how else do we explain an election like the one of 2007, how? The 2007 election was termed selection, so it does not look like nothing happened; at least we have a leader. I read stories of how ballot boxes were stolen and how some ballot papers were mysteriously missing, in a country like ours were democracy and free and fair election is preached like sermon on the mount—haba! I laughed when I read how people like Obasanjo talked about Obama’s victory. You can imagine such an irony; a total self mockery. What aboutsProfessor Iwu, who praised USA’s election (so he likes something good), yet our election was ‘the will of God’. Recently in The Sun’s newspaper, Wole Soyinka scored the 2007 election minus 50, not even zero. What change then do we hope for?


OUR DYING EDUCATION… ‘Malducation’, ‘Seducation’, ‘bribeducation’

It is not surprising that no Nigerian University fell under the first one thousand of the universities’ world ranking. There are about 31 Universities in Nigeria today, these we know, is obviously not enough for a country with over 120million people – most of them youths. Presently, there are about 18million students in all Nigerian schools at all levels, this is more than the total human population of South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Tanzania, and the school population of France, Britain, and Spain. Our education is dying if not dead; there is virtually no provision for these students. Education in this country is in a mess, the little we have, have been abandoned and left to rot. The decadence of our educational system has caused many vices; the ones that I call malducation, seducation, and bribeducation. Most students; even the ones in secondary school believe malpractice is the only way out, and some female students have to seduce lecturers in other to pass, while for some students; they think the only way out is to bribe our poor lecturers for extra marks. Our lecturers, too, are not out of this disheartening story; you have to sleep with a lecturer to pass a course or graduate. Why? Where then are we headed were all these strive in our educational system? If these continue, I wonder where the leaders of tomorrow will emerge from and what kind of leaders they will make. I wonder what the future will hold for such a country, whose budget on education is mere peanut. I wonder if lecturers and teachers are slaves or masters of tomorrow’s leaders. Our education system is in shambles no doubt.

GOVERNMENT AND LEADERSHIP

This is the basis of the problems that we face as a country—our government and leaders. A government that inflicts pain on its citizens is no government; it is a quasi government. I see the Nigerian society in the words of Rollo May that “Violence has its breeding ground in impotence and apathy— as we make people powerless, we promote their violence rather than its control. Deeds of violence in our society are performed largely by those trying to establish their self-esteem, to defend their self – image, and to demonstrate that they, too, are significant…violence arises not out of superfluity of power, but out of powerlessness.” This is case of the Niger Delta and other minority groups that fight the government for what is rightly theirs. They need a face, they want their right and when they do not have it; we don’t expect that they fold their arms. A country such as ours that does not care about the people’s welfare cannot expect anything than the problem that we face in Nigeria today; you expect the rate of crimes to drop when people have no other option—some police, some teachers; even some civil servants involve in some of these crimes to survive the wickedness and irresponsibility of the government. A country such as this is dying and traipsing to nowhere. We don’t expect a man like Prof. Wole Soyinka to accept money from a government that is backsliding, slow and unmoving. I saw Gani fawehinmi’s pain; I justify his reasons for rejecting the award. Now see, how can a man who because of his struggle for justice, eradication of poverty and corruption be subjected to pain. If a man struggles for these reasons and yet between 1969 and 1998 he was arrested thirty-two times, within this same period, he was detained twenty- three times. His office was attacked sixteen times under various governments – to mention but a few. Now the same man is dying slowly by each dragging day, his country cannot provide medical services that can take care of him yet he wants to be honoured; for what? To me that is mockery; except they say it is compensation. Really, the only thing I see is the same as the one of David Henry Thoreau after his prison experience he wrote “when the government operates and thrives on evil systems, the prison may be the only right place for the just who will refuse to make a butchery of their conscience until justice prevails.” Gani would have made not just a butchery of his conscience, he would have slaughtered it, slaughtered his struggles if he had accepted the award. What definition can we give such a government?

CORRUPTION

This is undoubtedly the only category that we are easily identified with; may be a second or third place in the world. Most Nigerians, now hold a degree in corruption and in our country it is normal. If you get leg or get mouth, you definitely will have your way, like a countless number of them who conveniently pay fine and continue from where they had stopped. If Igbinedion was allowed to path with a huge sum of money, how can corruption stop? Why should Fani Kayode pay fine? Why not a jail term? And this same court indicts robbers and sentences them to life imprisonment or they are probably hanged. What is the difference, or what could be more than the crime of irresponsible men who have betrayed their country’s trust by thieving from her? Every time, we hear fight against corruption; where will that happen? The government that wants to fight is corrupt, the police that will be used to fight are corrupt and the citizens to be fought are corrupt – how possible can this be? Regarding the way Yar’Adua came to power, I expect nothing less than brutality and confusion. Corruption in this country has gotten to a height where we have to sing the song “only Jesus can save”.


THE CHANGE WE ALL NEED…

We all need a change and it takes the government and the citizens to make that change. In the words of David Henry Thoreau “it is not a man’s duty… to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong…but it his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it.” This is where I strike every Nigerian who votes the wrong candidate for money and empty promises, this where I scold every Nigerian who litter the streets because that is the way it is. No one wants to go the right way again. We all need this change; I question our values and integrity because we have lost it. If every man tries, at least to be honest, then, no one will have to squander money because everyone is doing it… and no one will do it. This change is needed every where: in the church, schools, organizations and companies, government. Don’t bother about changing the system, just play your part and you have changed the system. For the government, it is not about endless policy making, cabinet reshuffle, or a seven point agenda. It is in principles, values and integrity; it is in action that Nigerians can see, words sometimes don’t make meaning—especially empty promises, words come alive with actions, deeds. I hope that this 2009, we would start on a new page, I hope that it would be fruitful and that Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda will come to fruition; did I hear an AMEN!