By Babatunde Ayedoju
October 1 has come to be registered in the minds of Nigerians, both old and young, as the day to commemorate the independence of the most populous black nation on earth, which is reputed to be the giant of Africa – Nigeria.
Yesterday marked exactly 63 years ago when Nigerians from all walks of life gathered in Lagos to witness the historic occasion when the British officially granted independence to Nigeria. It would be recalled that Lagos had been annexed since 1861, to be merged later with the Southern Protectorate in 1906, and finally the Southern and Northern Protectorates were amalgamated in 1914, marking the beginning of colonialism in Nigeria.
Though Nigeria became a republic on October 1, 1963, having remained under the ceremonial rule of the British Queen for the first three years of independence, the Independence Day celebration has remained the focus of the October 1 celebration every year.
The past 63 years have been very eventful for Nigeria. Between 1960 and now, Nigeria has produced one prime minister, seven presidents, out of which six were executive presidents, one head of interim national government and eight military heads of state. Seven out of the eight heads of state were products of coups, three bloody and four bloodlessness. Those were apart from the coups that failed at one time or the other.
The first epoch of civilian rule was from 1960 to 1966, before it was truncated. During this time, an additional region was created, making Nigeria to have four regions, instead of the three it had previously. Nigeria experienced military rule from 1966-1979, during which there was a 30-month Civil War. There was a four-year civilian rule before the military took over again in December 1983 and remained in control for another 15 years. During this phase, the annulled June 12, 1993, election was held. From May 29, 1999, till date, Nigeria has enjoyed uninterrupted democracy, the longest in its history.
Now, as usual, the Nigerian state is celebrating her 63rd independence anniversary, meaning that Nigeria has been a sovereign state for 63 long years. However, should this 63rd independence anniversary be a time to celebrate or a time of sober reflection on our past, present and where we hope to be subsequently?
Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko opined that all of us as Nigerians should reflect on where we have gone wrong and see how we can make amends, adding that leaders should be ready to do what is right and proper at all times.
Dr Adedayo Afe, also from the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, recommended that Nigerians could seize the opportunity of this 63rd independence anniversary of the country to celebrate, but do that moderately. He added that there were still reasons to thank God for the journey so far, despite challenges such as insecurity, poverty and division that had bedeviled the country.
He further said, “We need to reflect on the past and chart a new course. Our problem started with the Civil War. Let us apologise to people we need to apologise to because we need one another to survive. Division is not the way to go. The more we are, the merrier. Let us unite and fight insecurity, poverty and other challenges, hoping that by this time next year things will be better.”
Dr Chris Ofonyelu from the Department of Economics, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, posited that there is not much to celebrate because Nigeria has not witnessed sufficient improvement over the years. While saying that we are not yet better and the past is still more beautiful than the present because our leaders have not fulfilled their promises, Ofonyelu added that this is a time for sober reflection, for our leaders to think of how to make the welfare of masses a priority.
While lamenting about the exchange rate that keeps crashing everyday and the prices of goods that continue to rise, the economic scholar said, “I am sure that not many Nigerians will be in the mood of celebration now. In the past, a week before independence day, we would have seen preparations towards it everywhere, but that is not happening now, which is a sign that people are just trying to cope and are no longer enthusiastic about the state or the government.”
Ofonyelu recommended that the government could introduce some triggers such as free or subsidised education, reduction of the price of fuel, tax holiday, free transportation and other welfare packages that would give people a sense of belonging and improve on their standard of living.
Likewise, Dr Kunle Akinola from the Department of Political Science, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, submitted that though one may celebrate the journey of Nigeria’s experience so far as a sovereign state, there are more reasons for sober reflection.
He noted that after so many years of independence, the impact of colonialism is still heavy on Nigeria’s political landscape, saying, “There is no way we will talk about our political experience without mentioning the impact of colonial rule. Before the advent of the colonial masters, there was nothing like Nigeria. What we had was ethnic cleavages that had their own distinct political structures. When the British annexed Lagos and subsequently amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates, Nigeria emerged. That means Nigeria, Ghana and some other African countries were products of exploitation by the British, and the system we have practised afterwards is also that of exploitation. That is why when people get political appointment, others congratulate them, seeing it as an opportunity to partake of the national cake and not to serve.
“That is why we don’t have a working system. Our leaders travel abroad for medical attention that ordinarily should be available locally, and the problem is that none of us as citizens sees anything wrong in that. Instead we have accepted it because it is an offshoot of colonial mindset,” he added.
Akinola, who noted that from 1960 till date, Nigeria has produced the richest politicians in Africa who still live large on what they looted long ago, lamented that we still align ourselves with the same colonial masters who exploited us, under the guise of Commonwealth of Nations.
He also observed that over the years, the value of naira keeps dropping, while inflation rate soars, pushing people into poverty.
His words: “Contrary to what we were promised, nothing has changed. Price of petrol is going higher, whereas salary is not increasing. Therefore, the masses are made to pay what they cannot afford. Dangote is able to build a refinery, while the government itself is unable to sustain a single refinery. Why are we so dependent on petrol? Why are we running a petroleum economy? Why are we still battling with electricity generation?”
While pointing out that the Federal Government needed to rescue the economy urgently, Akinola raised an eye brow over the continual drift of able-bodied youths out of the country because they believe it is the way out of the economic hardship being faced in Nigeria currently.
He said that even some religious leaders now encourage their followers to relocate in search of greener pasture abroad, a sign that Nigerians have internalised oppression and colonialism.
“People who oppressed our forefathers and treated them as second class citizens are the ones we believe we should run back to, instead of thinking about how to fix our country, all because our economy has been dollarised. Why are we so dependent on the dollar, he stated.
The political science scholar added that the responsibility of turning Nigeria around does not rest on leaders alone but on citizens as well, saying that until citizens demand good governance from leaders, nothing will change. He opined that all over the world, it is the people who change the country, not the leaders, but in Nigeria the people cannot effect a change because everybody has internalised oppression and is just waiting for his own time to oppress others, either legally or illegally.
“Therefore, nobody thinks about national development. Everybody is thinking for himself alone. When you are in a place where the road is bad, you simply work towards buying a jeep. If you are in a place where electricity is bad, you are thinking of buying a power generator or solar panel. We must think collectively because development is everybody’s responsibility. Until we do that, nothing will change.”