Last Friday the 1st of October, Nigeria celebrated fifty years of independence from Great Britain. I, like many other Nigerians, acknowledge the fact that our country has not had much to show for the fifty years of her existence. But let us take a closer look..
Being as diverse as Nigeria is, the country merely surviving as a united country for all of fifty years is itself a significant achievement. In this special report in the New African (among several similar reports), it is suggested that many Nigerians are disappointed, because going by its immense oil wealth, great population and intellectual acumen, (not to mention that most of the country’s land is potentially arable), the country has failed to fulfil her potential as the engine of growth that carries West Africa and indeed Africa, into economic prosperity as Japan has done for the Far East. However, my view is that what these critics often fail to acknowledge is that countries like Japan (and South Korea) do not face the same challenges that Nigeria has had to contend with.
Japan has existed as a country for centuries, populated by a homogeneous Japanese people who have inhabited the country’s islands continuously and uninterrupted. This description applies to the Koreans too. Nigeria on the other hand did not come into existence as a recognisable political entity until towards the end of the 19th Century, when parts of the land of the country that we now know as Nigeria were taken over by imperialist Britain. It was Britain’s colonial officials who presumably for the purpose of easing their administration of those territories, later arranged for the amalgamation of (what was to them) various colonial territories.
The country of Nigeria is an artificial creation. It is an amalgam of different peoples and cultures (and their lands); an amalgamation for which the consent of those most affected by it was never sought, nor was it ever given. An appropriate analogy would be a hypothetical European state made up of Hungarians, Romanians, Czechs, Greeks and we can toss in a sprinkling of Slovaks and Albanians for good measure, where this artificial state has been foisted on the people and none of them are given a say in whether or not they should coexist as a single nation, but they must proceed nevertheless and make the best of it.
We all know that where artificial states have been created in Europe, those states have not stood the test of time. Yugoslavia fell apart spectacularly, leaving a trail of bloodshed in its wake. Even today there are still tensions between the Bosnians and the Serbs in Bosnia Herzegovina and between the Serbs and Kosovo. When communism unravelled in the Soviet Union, the Soviet state crumbled into its various component parts, the Baltic states only too pleased to return to the embrace of Europe. The artificial states of East Germany and West Germany did not survive for fifty years. So in this sense, fifty years of Nigeria as a united country is indeed a success story. Ours is a country of over 150 million people, where more than 250 languages are spoken with a corresponding number of ethnic groups. Yet, rather than breaking up or falling apart, the country’s unity is strong and she has even fought (and won) a civil war to stay united.
However, I would not wish for us by getting carried away with our sense of achievement to fail to recognise that as a country we have and continue to fail in many respects. There has been a failure by us Nigerians in our minds to accord to our nation the exalted position that she deserves. This is part of the reason why those in positions of power think little of the consequences of their actions when they siphon substantial portions of the nation’s financial resources for their own personal benefit, transferring the same to financial institutions overseas, whereas millions of their compatriots wallow in deprivation and poverty.
Regardless of the fact that there are very wealthy people living in Nigeria, it is still the case that most Nigerian citizens with disabilities are not provided for in an organised manner. Many are still condemned to a life of begging in the streets. And since a society is only as strong as its weakest member, the Nigerian society is not a strong one. The fancy buildings, the expensive cars and houses in Lekki and Abuja notwithstanding, the majority of the country’s population continue to live below the poverty line. Since the days of my childhood, the problem of erratic electricity supply to the nation’s population rather than improving has in fact worsened even further. Out of poverty, people continue to die of malaria, a disease which we all know is 100% curable; life expectancy at birth (which is a measure of the quality of life of a society) has been in steady decline in Nigeria since 2003.
The nation’s resources belong to all of the nation’s people and it is towards the improvement of the quality of life of its people that the nation’s resources must be invested. There has been a failure by successive Nigerian governments to recognise that the well-being of the people that it governs is the primary responsibility of any government, anywhere. There is a need to revive the patriotic spirit in Nigeria, even among the leadership. I am envious of the way others are proud of their country. I wish to be proud of mine too..