At independence in 1960, Nigerians were hopeful of better years ahead. The founding fathers pledged to build a country that would rival any other in the world within the shortest possible time. Leaders like Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello who participated actively in negotiating the structure and nature of the federation promised to operate the 1960 constitution to the satisfaction of the people.
Sixty-two years down the road, rather than move up, the nation has rolled down the hill; rooted to the valley. Nothing seems to be working. At the heart of the sorrow, tears and blood flowing freely in all parts of the country is an utter failure to get the political and economic structures right. We have allowed ethnicity, religious bigotry, crass indiscipline and nepotism to tear apart a country that once held out so much promise. Till date, rather than pull the country together in the same direction, political parties, politicians, religious leaders and parasites parading themselves as captains of industry, continue to fan embers of disunity. Hence, today, Nigeria is reputed to be the headquarters of poverty in the world. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranks the country low in all parameters employed in compiling the Human Development Index. Communicable and non-communicable diseases continue to take the lives of the poor at random. Maternal and infant mortality rates here remain one of the highest even on the African continent ravaged by wars and communal conflicts. Could anyone have predicted at independence that things could be this bad six decades after the colonial masters had formally exited the land? One woman who saw through the veneer of nationalist struggle was Adunni Oluwole, founder of the Nigerian Commoners Liberal Party. She campaigned across the country in 1955 that handing the reins of governance to Nigerians at the time would amount to sentencing her to the experience we have today. Until she died in 1957, the woman stridently preached her gospel throughout the Western Region, even after she had been ostracised from Ibadan, her land of birth, and consequently chose to settle in Akure.
Two years after independence, the Action Group, reputed to be the best organised in the country, broke into two. Chief Ladoke Akintola, the Premier of Western Region, edged on and supported by the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). Thus, the stage was set for battle for the Western Region’s soul. The opportunity came by 1964 and 1965 when NNDP was foisted on the region and NPC was forcibly returned to power at the centre. Since then, things have fallen apart irretrievably, as the centre erected on a weak foundation collapsed.
It’s time to reexamine the edifice. It’s time to look into recommendations of the constitutional conferences held in London and Ibadan in the early 1950s, and those held under military rule and in the current dispensation. Without a solid foundation, perhaps confirmed by a referendum, it would be impossible to mobilise the people to build a truly independent and strong nation.
The debt burden that has led to debt service outstripping revenue, inexplicable oil theft in the Niger Delta, separatist agenda in the South East, overwhelming insecurity in the North and budding youth restiveness in the Southwest signpost a bleak future if 2023 does not bring a visionary leader who appreciates the precarious state of the nation, and is determined to genuinely weld the disparate groups together.
Sixty-two years is long enough time to build a nation of our dream. Those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Singapore, a nation that suffered many disadvantages at independence in 1965, has managed to leapfrog itself from the third world nation to a first world entity within a generation. Lee Kuan Yew was determined to accomplish the task and he did. Before our very eyes, the United Arab Emirates has become a destination of choice for the elite in various countries and, even in Aftica, following the massacre of the mid-1990s, President Kigame transformed a war ravaged Rwanda to a model for many others on the African continent.
All Nigerians have a duty to locate true leaders who can build a new country out of Nigeria; one that could rally Africans to take a respectable place among the regions of the world in another decade.