“This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations,”
These were the words of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on Nigeria’s independence on Saturday October 1960. Nigerians gathered at the Race Course (now Tafawa Balewa Square) in Lagos as Princess Alexan-dra, the representative of Her Majesty the Queen of England, handed over the instruments and sym-bols of independence to Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. It was 12.01 am as the Nigerian green-white-green flag was hoisted.
It was a high moment for Nigeria. It was a major turning point since the amalgamation of 1914. It marked Nigeria’s exit from colonial, imperial rule. It was the birth of a new, independent nation. In his famed golden voice and clear, crisp diction, Balewa told the audience:
Balewa continued: “When this day in October 1960 was chosen for our Independence, it seemed that we were destined to move with quiet dignity to our place on the world stage. Recent events have changed the scene beyond recognition, so that we found ourselves today being tested to the utmost.
“We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to responsible government are well-founded, and having been accepted as an independent state, we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilisation. I promise you, we shall not fail for want of determination. And we come to this task better-equipped than many.”
Hope, determination, readiness to partner with the rest of the world and confidence about the future were key elements in Balewa’s speech.
The people were joyous, there was dancing in the streets. Nigerians had great expectations in 1960, and that was why three years later, when an attempt was made to sign an Anglo-Nigerian Defence Agreement, the people rebelled. They wanted Nigeria to be truly free, and not be tied in any way whatsoever to the apron-strings of the British Empire. That same year, Nigeria became a Republic.
Howedver, the country has gone through various stages of leadership since then, with political analysts contending that the country is still far from Utopia. In recent times, calls for restructuring the country gained traction even it means different things to different people and interests.
Some citizens had been calling for a return to parliamentary system of government and regional government while some have also called for the creation of more states to give the minorities a sense of belonging.
On the other hand, some analysts contended that the problem was not the system of government the country practices but that of leadership at all levels which had been the bane of underdevelopment of the country. This school of thought averred that once we get our leadership recruitment right, the sys-tem of government will take care of itself as all Nigerians want is good governance, equity and fairness irrespective of the type of governance system practiced.
It is instructive to note that since Nigeria gained her independence in 1960, 14 people have been leaders of the country in their capacity as prime minister, head of interim government, head of state and president.
To be sure, from 1960 to 1966, the Nigerian constitution provided for a parliamentary government and a substantial measure of self-government for the country’s three regions, with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa the prime minister. In October 1963, Nigeria proclaimed itself the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and former Governor-General Nnamdi Azikiwe became the country’s first president.
Regrettably, On January 15 1966 a group of army officers overthrew the NPC-NNDP government and assassinated the prime minister and the premiers of the Northern and Western regions. However, the bloody nature of the Young Majors coup caused another coup to be carried out by General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. That was the beginning of military rule in the country.
The administration of Ironsi introduced Decree No. 34 which sought to do away with the whole federal structure under which the Nigerian government had been organized since independence. However, on July 1966, another coup was carried out by military officers with Major General Yakubu Gowon emerging as the Head of State. Subsequently, the administration of Gowon divided the four regions into 12 states. But the Igbos rejected attempts at constitutional revisions and insisted on full autonomy for the East.
On May 29, 1967, Lt Col Emeka Ojukwu, the military governor of the Eastern Region who emerged as leader of increasing Igbo secessionist sentiment, declared the independence of the Eastern Region as the Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967.The civil war that followed that decision lasted for three years with estimated 3.5million deaths.
On July 29, 1975, Gen Murtala Mohammed and a group of officers staged a bloodless coup, accusing Gen Yakubu Gowon of corruption and delaying the promised return to civilian rule. Unfortunately, Murtala was assassinated on February 13, 1976 in an abortive coup and his chief of staff Lt Gen Olusegun Obasanjo became head of state.
In 1979, in a move to return to Democratic rule, five political parties competed in a series of elections in which Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was elected president. In August 1983, Shagari and the NPN were returned to power in a landslide with a majority of seats in the National Assembly and control of 12 state governments.
On December 31, 1983, the military overthrew the Second Republic. Major General Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the leader of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the country’s new ruling body. The Buhari government was peacefully overthrown by the SMC’s third-ranking member General Ibra-him Babangida in August 1985.
In the historic June 12, 1993 presidential elections, which most observers deemed to be Nigeria’s fair-est, early returns indicated that M. K. O. Abiola won a decisive victory. However, on June 23, Babangida annulled the election, throwing Nigeria into turmoil. More than 100 persons were killed in riots before Babangida agreed to hand over power to an interim government on August 27, 1993. Ernest Shonekan emerged as the interim head of government.
With the ethnic tensions arising from the annulment of the June 12 election, General Sani Abacha assumed power and forced Shonekan’s resignation on November 17 1993. Abacha dissolved all demo-cratic institutions and replaced elected governors with military officers. Although promising restoration of civilian rule he refused to announce a transitional timetable until 1995. Abacha died of heart failure on June 8, 1998 and was replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
In August 1998, Abubakar engaged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections for local government councils, state legislatures and governors, the national assembly, and president. INEC successfully held elections on 5 December 1998, 9 January 1999, 20 February, and 27 February 1999, respectively.
Former military head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, freed from prison by Abubakar, ran as a civilian candidate and won the presidential election. The emergence of democracy in Nigeria on May 29, 1999 ended 16 years of consecutive military rule. Obasanjo ruled for two terms till 2007.
In the 2007 general election, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, both of the People’s Democratic Party, were elected president and vice president respectively.
Yar’Adua’s presidency was fraught with uncertainty as media reports said he suffered from kidney and heart disease. In November 2009, he fell ill and was flown out of the country to Saudi Arabia for medi-cal attention. He remained incommunicado for 50 days.
As of January 2010, he was still abroad. In February 2010, in a move backed by what was termed doc-trine of necessity by the Senate, Goodluck Jonathan began serving as acting president in the absence of Yaradua. In May 2010, Yar’Adua’s died paving way for Jonathan to become president. In 2011, Jona-than stood for reelection and won.
He was however defeated in 2015 by Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress. It is also safe to surmise that after 20 years of unbroken civilian rule in Nigeria, the days of military interventions are over.
From the foregoing, it can be adduced that with the different political system practiced by the coun-try, Nigeria is yet to achieve its full potential. It had been a case of all motion and no movement. De-spite huge monies accrued from crude oil sales, the country’s infrastructures had remain decrepit, poverty abounds and power has remain poor since Independence.The list is endless.
Sadly, Security has also been a thorny issue with the emergence of the Boko Haram in 2009. It is in-structive to note that since Boko Haram started their orgy of violence and killings in 2009, the North East in particular and Nigeria in general has not known peace. According to reports, in the last 10 years since the group chose the path of bloodbath, over 100,000 Nigerians have been killed while over 2.5million have been displaced.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also disclosed that the number of displaced children in the Boko Haram ravaged North East region is 1.4 million.
Also, the federal government, United Nations, European Union and World Bank are in agreement that an estimated $9billion would be required for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of damaged infra-structure in the six North East states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe.
Boko Haram had seized the world’s attention with the mass kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014, and followed it up later in 2018 with the kidnap of the girls from Dapchi. These were in addition to the serial bombing of Churches, Mosques, government edifices and offices.
Successive administrations had also failed in diversifying the economy. Poverty and corruption was still an endemic problem 60 years after Independence.
Political analysts contend that for Nigeria to reach its full potentials in the coming years, the recruitment process for leadership at all levels must change. Nigerians must begin to pay attention to who governs them at the local government, state Assembly and National Assembly level.
It is however gratifying to note that President Buhari promised to change the narrative of governance in Nigeria. He promised to lay down the foundation of lifting 100million Nigerians out of poverty. His Change agenda recorded remarkable achievements and under the Next Level Agenda, the president is working assiduously to change the narrative.