– By Ifeoha Azikiwe –
Today, February 28, 2014 is a day set aside by the Federal Government to celebrate Nigeria’s 100 years of nationhood. Presumably, it is a day we celebrate the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates to form an entity known as NIGERIA by the British war veteran, Lord Fredrick John Dealtry Lugard. In effect, we celebrate the proclamation of the name, NIGERIA by his wife Flora Louisa Shaw.
At the same time, we celebrate 46 tortuous years of colonial rule and 54 years of independence from colonial bondage. Today we celebrate our corporate existence, and our coexistence with the rest of the world as a member of the enlarged international community. As we celebrate our “glorious” past, we also recall the sad memories of the 30-month civil war that claimed the lives of well over two million Nigerians. Most importantly, it is a time for stocktaking and sober reflections.
At independence, we inherited a nation built on unity in diversity, peace, freedom and justice and a national anthem that emphasised that unity, irrespective of our complexities. The first stanza of that sacred song, “Nigeria we hail thee” was formulated to reflect good virtues and ideals, our shared values. It was a national hymn we all felt proud to sing as children and adults. It’s scintillating lyrics and captivating wording inspired in every Nigeria, the spirit of nationalism and patriotism.
The second stanza of the anthem recognised “our national flag as a symbol that truth and justice reign, in peace or battle honoured”. It pledged, “to hand on to our children, a banner without stain”. Fifty-four years later, one wonder if there is any banner to hand over to our children, may be one that has been most badly stained. It continued by pleading to “God of all creation to grant these our warm requests, and help us to build a nation where no one is oppressed”. And ended up with a note of optimism: “and so with peace and plenty, Nigeria may be blessed”.
Today, we live in a country that has seen, not only dehumanising oppression and impoverishment, but also total neglect, and where peace, unity and security have become a luxury. In 1978, the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo changed the anthem to, “Arise Oh Compatriots, Nigeria’s Call Obey”, for reasons best known to them – an anthem, which majority of Nigerians are not enthusiastic to recite.
One hundred years on, Nigeria has developed too many cracks on her walls. We have completely lost that bound of brotherhood; that oneness, spirit of friendship and coexistence. Most painfully, we seem to have reached the peak of absolute loss of confidence in one another. What is left, unfortunately too, is a superficial pretext, and posturing we all harbour, believing that all is well. We are currently in a situation of no war, no peace, but no love. We sleep with our eyes wide open, where the otherwise quietness of the night is rudely intercepted by clattering sounds of AK-47s, automatic machine guns and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) openly flaunted by armed bandits, terrorist, kidnappers and gangsters.
Since 1914, Nigeria has been at war with itself, fighting to accommodate diverse individual and parochial group interests. But we have, through divine providence, managed to remain a nation in spite of our obvious, and sometimes, irreconcilable differences. We have tried to accommodate ourselves and tolerate our extremist persuasions, religious, ethnic, and cultural biases, in a house built for us by the British on an anaemic foundation. Because of the way Nigeria was structured, sectarian interests override national significance. People pay more allegiance to their ethnic origin than see themselves simply as Nigerians. And through deliberate divisive government policies, we create dichotomy among our peoples.
Foremost Nigerian patriot, statesman and former Vice President, Dr. Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, once told me that, “God loves Nigeria more than we love ourselves, otherwise Nigeria would have disintegrated long ago. Each time we got to the precipice, we managed to pull back and move on”. Nigeria, he said, is a nation where nothing is done on principles but on compromise.
I realised that as a nation, we have spent a hundred years debating how to manage parochial sectarian interests. I found that Nigeria was not really build on a foundation that would encourage patriotism and national cohesion as portrayed by our actions and policies since 1914. Since amalgamation, it has been a marriage of incompatible bedfellows, contracted on falsehood and rivalry; a marriage of hidden pretensions, hence we stick to our tribes and tongues when faced with severe national challenges.
Many things have gone irredeemably wrong with Nigeria’s 100 years. It is sad that while other nations celebrate better living standards due to improvements in their health care delivery, Nigeria celebrates share debauchery. Statistics show that Nigeria has a high mortality rate profile. Even with inadequate and sometimes very crude methods of health management during the colonial days and some years after independence, life expectancy in Nigeria was between 70 and 75 years. Today it has dropped drastically to 55 for women and 50 for men.
There is no gainsaying that Nigeria has been grossly mismanaged over the years. The questions on the lips of every right-thinking patriot are, “what happened”? Where did we go wrong? How and why did our leaders allow Nigeria to slip this badly, almost degenerating to a failed status?
One hundred years calls for sober reflections, a time to examine our shared values as a people, our mistakes as human and our pitfalls as Nigerians; how our actions and or in-actions have placed Nigeria where she is today. Our political evolution has been epileptic, our economic development abysmally sluggish.
In the face of daunting challenges confronting us most Nigerians remain highly skeptical about what the future holds for this nation. And critics are wondering if there is really any course to celebrate. Is it 100 years of scientific or technological breakthrough; 100 years of economic prosperity or woes; 100 years of political stability, characterized by love, peace and unity or political lethargy, or 100 years of collective ineptitude and failures? The situation Nigeria currently finds herself is totally inexcusable.
With each passing day, we move precariously to the precipice, confronted by a frightening and unpredictable future. A century rolls out, and the new one begins. The challenges ahead are enormous. We must shed those shared vices and idiosyncrasies, if we must have anything to bequeath to posterity and to our generations unborn in the name of NIGERIA.
Author “Nigeria Echoes of a century, 1914-2014”