As the clock struck midnight on October 1, 1960, the new Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, spoke into the microphone and declared Nigeria free from the shackles of colonial Britain. “I promise you,” he said, “we shall not fail … We come to this task better-equipped than many.” Five years later, Abubakar will be dragged from his house in the wee hours of the morning, told to turn around, shot in the back, and his dead body discarded in a ditch on the roadside.
This week marks the 52nd anniversary of that midnight hour at the microphone; Abubakar and his failed promise now sojourn in a planet far away from this one.
Yet, given the lamentable state of Nigeria, many Nigerians as a matter of ritual bellow “Happy Independence Day!” whenever the occasion arises. A sort of automated response it seems. But I truly must say, few things inflame my blood and threaten to roast my heart within its sac as this yearly display of ignorant and pathetic patriotism. If as a reader you take offense to this, then, I have done well. I do intend offense.
It is depressing that Nigerians continue to equate patriotism with a blind optimism punctuated by timid civic engagement. It is an attitude that has bedeviled this nation since independence. This sort of twisted patriotism is moved along by a myth that has persisted too long in the Nigerian space, which states that Nigerians as a people fought for independence. I should at this point profess I find nothing spectacular about the circumstance of Nigeria’s independence. 17 other African states got their independence that same year. So, for the many romantic Nigerians who deemed this some exclusive chivalrous affair, they will do well to disabuse themselves of this rarified air.
But what is indeed true is this; that “Nigerian officials and politicians,” Balewa and his contemporaries, fought for independence. I submit it is easy to conjecture this to mean the general Nigerian population. But anyone who seeks to confer such acclaim on the Nigerian populace does the nation serious injury.
Unlike in Ghana where there were political protests against the colonial state, Nigerians never expressed any mass concerted political angst to free themselves from their colonial master. As Obafemi Awolowo, a prominent figure at independence, would put it: “There had never been a properly organized countrywide demand for independence which had been spurned or contemptuously turned down by Britain.”
Well, some may argue that these compassionate “politicians and officials” fought on behalf of their constituents. Alright, if this is so, how could Nigeria have gone so badly left and now headed to hell in a hand basket under such caring leadership? I’m afraid the answer is one with which we have now lived for over five decades. With the poverty rate doubling since independence to where it now stands at over 70 percent in a nation of 160 million, it is clear our “brave” political class has branded itself the sole inheritor of our freedom. Contrary to Balewa’s profuse profession that this nation shall not be let down, administration after administration, both civilian and military, through acts of sheer impunity and disregard for the rule of law and human decency, generations of these “politicians and officials” have demonstrated to Nigerians that they are silly to demand the fruits of freedom where they have not laboured.
Many cry that our ethnic diversity is the cause of this failure as a nation; but the story since the British left our golden shores prove otherwise. For as recent as Babangida to Obasanjo to Jonathan, the hometowns of these presidents have not enjoyed privileges access to power could bring. They remain as underdeveloped as the many depressed communities across this nation. If we were so ethnic-oriented, these presidents should have grossly enriched and developed their tribal communities at the expense of the nation. Instead, the developments we see are in their personal wealth. The North has produced most of Nigeria’s leaders, yet, it is the poorest region in our country. This is high indictment. It is proof that our calamity and poverty lies not in our diversity but in a callous and unremorseful elite.
But it is not too late for us. It is never too late for good to overcome the evil of injustice. First, we must remedy the grave error of our past. A voiceless population at creation must now find its voice in this present day. If it is a robust society we want and seek, we cannot be complicit spectators in the sport of our own victimization. It is futile to celebrate October 1st while this nation is yet to undergo a new birth of freedom; where equality and justice is accessible to all of God’s children, Muslim and Christian. This is the ideal patriotism and the inescapable task to which we must now commit ourselves.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria and her freedom yearning peoples.