As a child of independent Nigeria, independence discourse is a total commitment for me; many thanks to our parents who out of nothing fought for self-determination. They went further to imbibe in us a sense of patriotism, the best manifestation of which was raising of the “Green- White- Green” flags on every October 1st, marking Independence Day.
Today, Nigeria marks 60th anniversary as a sovereign and independent country. There were once patriotic govern-ments that promoted deep sense of nationalism. There were also patriotic teachers with knowledge of history, espe-cially in the first and second generation public universities, who inculcated critical knowledge according to which Mun-go Park, 19th century British explorer, did not discover River Niger, as much as Nigerians who for thousands of years live by River Niger.
For almost a century, Nigeria and Nigerians suffocated under the heels of British imperial rule characterised by domi-nation, brutal oppression, Lugardian military occupations and wholesale exploitation. The recent slide into “low-key” independence celebrations points to low value we assign to liberty and freedom. It also underscores unacceptable absence of history with respect to nation-building.
At 60, Nigeria and Nigerians must stop agonizing but raise the banner of freedom and independence with high GDP growth rate, poverty alleviation, equity, justice and deepened democracy. Reviewing most commentaries on Nigeria at 60, it is regrettable that despair is taking the place of optimism, which again points to loss of memory as much as ab-sence of the much needed patriotism.
60 years of independence cannot be discussed in isolation from 200 hundred years of Euro- American orchestrated trans-Atlantic trade in Africans as slaves. From16th to 18th century, what constituted present Nigeria was devastated by marauding slave traders who transported Africans to cultivate cottons and sugarcane which propelled industrialisa-tion in America and Europe, then followed by wholesale colonial occupation in the 19th century.
The great historian, Walter Rodney, in his classic: ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ observed (and I agree!) that “Colonialism had only one hand – “It was one-armed bandit!” 60 years after independence, of course we must agonise about the declining fortunes of the economy made worse by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Even at that, we should not forget that in colonial Nigeria, growth discourse was an aberration, an absurdity. The colo-nial policy was to deliberately under-develop Nigerian colony and develop colonial Britain through direct capital trans-fers which made the present P&ID $9.6billion a small scam. Scam was actually a British colonial legacy. With respect to industrialisation for instance, colonialism deliberately prejudiced against the establishment of industries.
The key drivers of colonial Nigeria and indeed colonial Africa were raw agricultural products to feed metropolitan in-dustries. African industrialisation was deliberately blocked by the colonial governments acting on behalf of the metro-politan industrialists. Pre-colonial West Africa had a range of manufacturing industries like clothing production that in-volved ginning, carding, spinning, dyeing and weaving which closely resembled those of pre-industrial societies in oth-er parts of the world.
However colonial authority deliberately undermined the growth of this local enterprise such that 100 years of British rule did not set up a single value adding industry! The celebration of independence therefore can only be appreciated against the background of de-industrialization of colonial era and commendable aggressive industrialization of post-colonial Nigeria by the founding fathers.
In the area of education, colonial education was designed to produce clerks and other functionaries to service the lower echelons of the colonial system. Colonial education neither produced social scientists, engineers, nor Nobel Lau-rel! Yours truly agrees that we can’t go on blaming the colonialists for all current challenges of insecurity, power failure, deepening inequalities and mismanaged diversity.
But the point cannot be overstated that the spectre of colonial underdevelopment still hunts us today. At 60 inde-pendent Nigeria has produced a Nobel Laurel, as many as 43 Federal Universities, 48 State Universities, and 79 Private Universities. The British never set up any university, (university College Ibadan was an appendage of metropolitan Uk University of London). Nigeria has trained, thousands of doctors, nurses, engineers in the past 69 years, who are sadly being re-exported back to Europe and America, a new voluntary slavery after abolition of forced slavery.
By 1980s, Nigeria was marching towards full literacy with universal compulsory basic education and adult literacy cam-paign. At 60, it is unacceptable that Nigeria parades new illiteracy with as many as 10million children out of schools. Ni-geria must learn and copy China, which at 70, (just a decade older) as a liberated country has almost banished illiteracy, gone to space, lifted more than 700 million people out of poverty, parades “over the past 70 years GDP averaged an annual growth rate of about 4.4% for the first three decades and 9.5% for the last four decades. By 2020, China an-nounces that “all people living below the current poverty line will be taken out of poverty”.
At 60, Nigeria should be upbeat to say like China: independence has “brought enormous changes to the country, cre-ating an unprecedented miracle of development in the world history”. The former Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria last year aptly put it better: According to him, the “path you take determines your future”. China, he reminded us, was once “labeled as the “Sick Man of East Asia”.
Life expectancy at the beginning of the new republic was around 35 years. It rose to 77 years in 2018. The illiteracy rate in China stood at 80% in 1949, today the newly-added labour force has received over 13.3 years of education on aver-age. The average years of schooling for the Chinese rose to 10.6 years in 2018 from 1.6 years in 1949.
In 2019, the gross enrollment ratio in higher education rose to 48.1% from 0.26% in 1949”. At 60, Nigeria and Nigerians should stop agonizing but organize like China at 70, (or like Nigeria at 20 in 1980 with double digit growth rate which once dwarfed China’s growth). Certainly there is a country at 60! Long live the Federal Republic at 60!