Today, as always, at this time of the year, Nigerians from every tribe and tongue, join their compatriots scattered all over the world to mark the anniversary of Nigeria’s independence from colonial Britain in 1960. And as it is usual for many Nigerians, it is a day of pomp and celebration from official quarters; one characterized by restful holidaying, colorful pageantry by paramilitary forces and aerial display by the Air Force.
But is this what the celebration of independence is all about?
While Nigerians take stock of the steady progressive steps made by this country on its journey to nationhood, we must not forget to reflect on the current state of the country. Despite Nigeria’s long years of independence, the state of affairs is still far from remarkable.
The situation seems so bad that the indices of development shortly after independence have become the reference point for measuring current national growth. When experts use socio-economic indicators to analyze Nigeria’s independence, some of them are quick to refer to about four decades ago when unemployment rate was a minimal single digit, when exchange rate was less than one naira to the dollar, when social infrastructure and services were available and adequately managed, and the quality of life was high and dignified. They claim that was independence.
Conversely, it seems that today, Nigerians are being hamstrung by self-inflicted problems.
The deeds of many Nigerian elite or public office holders run at cross-purpose with their preachment of nationalism. While Nigerians are called upon by the government to think Nigeria first, the lives of public officers reflect maniacal greed, manifest selfishness and insensitivity.
Whereas the change mantra of this administration is hinged on its acclaimed fight against corruption, its leadership structure seems to have been built on corruption. In an escalating sequence of entropic political leadership, the ruling elite have turned power, incumbency, violence and money into instruments of statecraft, all to the forfeiture of character and moral probity. This is somewhat saddening!
On their part, the power elite and even the masses, are oiling the wheel of decadence by maintaining a curious conspiracy of silence. Like unscrupulous public officers, they seem to have bound themselves with the same fetters of corruption by pursuing selfish and clannish interests and electing to remain apathetic in the face of institutional decay and inept leadership.
Indeed, no nation can be built with this peculiar kind of complacency and complicity in the most populous black nation on earth.
All this raises the question: What is it that we are not doing right?
Primarily, it is the absence of the right attitude – by all the stakeholders.
Nigerians seek change, yet do not want to change the attitude that has made Nigeria the way it is today. The elusive change that Nigerians have so much sought after must include a change of attitude in our entire socio-economic and political life.
We, (Nigerians) need to re-evaluate our attitude to the common good, to the community and to public interest.
There is indeed no doubt that we need cognitive restructuring too!
This newspaper believes that the current crop of leaders and aspiring public officers must wean themselves off the hangover of entitlement syndrome, lawlessness and impunity bequeathed to them by prolonged militarisation of the country.
They must cultivate the virtues of commitment and social justice. They also need to learn and imbibe a culture of community service through values that should drive leadership and public service.
We should not be carried away today by the meretricious ubiquity of our beautiful flags. Our Independence Day should be another moment for Nigerians to reflect on the prospect of genuine independence from the hands of selfish, insensitive and callous politicians and dealers who masquerade as leaders. It is an opportunity to question again and again the meaning of governance and, thereby confront the perennial malady that has dogged development in every aspect of our national life.
Fifty eight years on, Nigerians should be able to raise questions about what has happened to the Nigerian Dream.
Yes, whatever happened to the Nigerian Dream and exceptionalism that trailed us till 1966 when the soldiers of fortune struck down democracy and federalism that nurtured it?
Why is it that despite the fabled vast human and natural resources in this country, we can no longer catch up with those who were non-starters when Nigeria was in the league of the world’s economic power?
If the current administration has been a letdown in the reckoning of the masses, or the people feel short-changed by a legacy of lies, this Independence Day should be a moment to re-think the prospect of a Nigerian renaissance.
And so there should be change from mere lamentation and rhetoric to action.
Genuine independence embodies actionable steps aimed towards federalism. It entails a recognition of the deep diversity that makes up Nigeria. It is the conscious effort by Nigerians to challenge myopic leadership and narrow-mindedness that tend to enslave them. It is also the endeavour by groups to extricate themselves from forced unanimity of any kind.
Yet, from this diversity a commonness of values that once made Nigeria a great and enviable country, could be harnessed even today for a greater Nigeria.
Our sense of character, humanity, respect for human dignity, respect for ourselves, justice, work ethics and efficiency in public service, rule of law, etc are the values that we must re-cultivate if we want this country to be truly independent.
But all this is anchored on proper education and enlightenment driven by culture.
As Nigerians approach another election year, the Independence Day should afford us another opportunity for sincere soul-searching about the kind of nation we want to build.
It bears repeating, as we stated years ago, that an Independence Day preceding an election year is a, “time for a systemic revolution that should upturn the tables of our national life.
Nigeria cannot afford to plummet further, by remaining the crawling giant of Africa, and the beggarly, weeping boy in the comity of nations.
Nigeria must demonstrate its coveted state of independence by exemplary leadership on the continent. It must demonstrate an ability to find home-grown solutions to its problems, provide basic human necessities for its teeming population, eschew corruption and respect the rule of law and place high premium on its human capital.” This is the meaning of being truly independent.
The conclusion of the whole anniversary message to the people today is a word of encouragement from an iconic figure of freedom fighting: Martin Luther King Jr., who once noted, ‘Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.’