As Nigerians celebrate, there is need to pause and ponder. On the eve of October 1, 1960, 56 years ago, the Union jack, symbol of British colonial authority was lowered for the last time. In its place was hoisted the green white green colours of Nigeria. Thus began the match to nationhood that is still ongoing.
Along the line, some conjecture that Nigeria might have got her independence on her nationalists’ platter of gold. Whether it is true or false is immaterial. What was and still is the main issue is that the country had become an independent, self-governing entity. Yet others claim that we were not ripe for independence when it came and that it burst in on us all too suddenly, as if it mattered. Since then, the journey to nationhood has remained tortuous, at best, in a process that has seen the nation pass through crises, including a 30- month civil war, a development that stretched the nation’s tensile strength and would have torn to shreds countries with less staying power.
In the heat of argument as the building of a nation Nigerians will be proud to call home commenced and even ran into bad weather, some described Nigeria as a mere geographical expression and still went ahead to fight a war to keep it as one. Others had said that the basis of Nigeria’s unity did not exist but did not disembark from the train. Another proof that the so called geographical structure, fledgling as it is even now, has remained work in progress.
Military dictatorship, inevitable at that time, following the punch up that was going on among the political leaders, provided a regimented system which managed to succeed in pooling the country back from the edge of a precipice. And Nigerians paid a price for it when the barrel of the gun became the soap box. Governance in Nigeria took a dive just as the system became like what obtained in the garages with the Road Transport Workers. Year after year, activities in the country became brutish as the military fought to upstage themselves. That behaviour convinced everyone that democracy is, indeed, the way to go regardless of its imperfections.
That system that extols adult suffrage and one man one vote has had its teething problems most of them self-inflicted. However, Nigeria was and still is not alone in this effort to build a country. Other African countries, emerging from colonialism, shared similarity in the challenges that were their bed fellows at that time; particularly the nations whose differences were played up by the retreating colonialists who planted seeds of instability just to establish a presumed notion that the black race was genetically incapable of self-governance. The leaders played into the hands of their detractors when they began to emphasise the cleavages in their ethnic and religious composition. This unfortunate development, in the case of Nigeria, was compounded by corruption aptly described as “squandering of riches”.
This has brought in its wake severe stagnated growth and the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty. The nation, ultimately, lags behind in all the indices of human development even with the enormous resources it has been able to generate over the years from its hydrocarbon deposits. The First republic leaders who were overthrown by the military on allegations of bribery and corruption are today perceived as saints when placed side by side with the present political class.
Perhaps, in our view, that may explain the clamour for a return to the structure of that era. But we think the problem is attitudinal. As the country marks this day in 1960, what Nigerians need is a shift in behaviour as well as an enhanced patriotism and a curb of the negative tendencies that have held us down.