Today, October 1, 58 years ago, Nigeria weaned herself from colonial overlordship and gained for the people political independence from their erstwhile British imperial masters. It was a happy climax to a long-drawn struggle for self-rule by nationalists who believed, rightly, that governance provided by a home grown leadership holds a better prospect for a rapid socio-economic development of the country. At independence, when the British Union Jack was lowered and Nigeria’s Green White flag was hoisted, the feeling of attainment among Nigerians was exhilarating. Even the departing British colonialists had high hopes of Nigeria becoming a strong democracy playing its assigned roles in the comity of nations.
The leaders who midwifed the nation in that period that is chronologically referred to as First Republic, did their best to keep that hope alive. And till date, generations of Nigerians who may not have met them but merely read about them see that republic as the golden era in the nation’s march to statehood. Six years later, the political upheaval that ensued, though disappointing, served its own purpose of testing the thread that held the nation together. It brought with it a military interregnum that exposed the flip side of democracy, which no one desires.
Be that as it may, every October 1, in our opinion, ought to provide for Nigerians, both the leaders and the followers, an opportunity for sober reflection on achievements, challenges and, of course, missed opportunities. For most, that the country survived a debilitating 30-month civil war, is proof that she has come to stay as one united polity. Since that unfortunate development, there had been a series of other crises that, relating them to the Hegelian hypothesis, have only strengthened the bond of unity as well as the resolve by the heterogeneous groups that make up the entity to work even harder to build a nation for generations to come.
But this task seems to be bugged down by the perceived inanities of the political class and their sheepish followers. At Independence, the British bequeathed the nation with a Parliamentary system that was very cost effective. After the civil war, and with the reinstatement of democracy after many years of military rule, the nation imposed on itself a very expensive presidential system that has continued to eat deep into the nation’s scarce resources. After about 19 years, the democratic dispensation has remained, at best, fledgling and buffeted on all corners by corruption, ineffective leadership and a citizenry that is so hungry that they are willing to sell not only their babies but also their power to choose who can and cannot be their leader-the Voter’s Card.
Having mortgaged their consciences through this process, as well as their power to question their leaders when things are not working as they should, the people are compelled by the outcome of their own unreasonableness to swallow the bitter pill of watching their ‘elected’ leaders ride roughshod on their rights and privileges. The outcome is the decay in infrastructure. Roads, in spite of multi-billion contracts, remain dead traps. Electricity, the energy that propels any economy, is pitiably epileptic. Hospitals, where they exist, are mere consulting clinics, while schools are essentially dilapidated and in utter disrepair.
Worse is the level of unemployment among the youth. The international rating agencies continue to remind the nation that its position on the human development indices are deplorable at best. Nigeria was recently declared the capital of poverty in the world despite being the largest economy in Africa with an oil resource base that is the envy of many a nation. The security situation in the country has defied permanent solution, as terrorists, farmers/herders clashes and other acts of dissension persistently, if not stubbornly, pose challenges to efforts to attract investments needed to develop the nation.
We are by no means implying that it has been 58 years of waste. Far from it. Nigeria, within that period, has a lot to celebrate as a nation. In particular, in the area of democratic practice, the country is making giant strides. We have maintained 19 unbroken years of democracy. Within this period, an opposition party defeated a ruling party in a free and fair election. The present administration is striving to diversify the economy by repositioning agriculture to its pristine state and expanding solid minerals exploration and exploitation so as to expand sources of income needed for development purposes.
However, we make bold to argue that given the enormous resources, human and material, at the nation’s disposal, Nigeria has the potentials to achieve more than she is presently doing. As we mark this year’s event, with another general election looming large in the horizon, it is pertinent to let the political gladiators accept that Nigerians have a lot to hope for and appreciate the imperative of a level playing field that will guarantee the sustenance of the aspirations of the present generation and those of posterity yet unborn.