Nigeria At 50: The Question Of Unity

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Barely 24 hours to the 50th independence anniversary, the issue of Nigeria’s unity and  its numerous challenges have continued to retard the nation’s progress, writes EROMOSELE  EBHOMELE

President Goodluck Jonathan sure knows how to catch the interest of Nigerians through his  page on facebook, the social interaction site on the internet. As the country celebrates  its 50th independence anniversary, he recently posted: “Nigerians unite.”

But within 10 minutes after the message was sent, hundreds of his fellow countrymen asked  him several questions bordering on his rationale for the message. While some told him  that the country was only united in pretence, others noted that the current state of the  nation had gone beyond seeking unity from the poor while the rich continue to build their  empires on the corpses of the former. Some even reminded him that the failed portion of  the Benin-Ore road had already divided the country because of the nightmare faced by  travellers. Others told him that if at 50, the citizens of the country still had no hope,  there was no need to preach unity.

Dubbed ‘a mere geographic expression’ with over 250 ethnic groups and an estimated  population of 150 million, the country’s predicament, or progress as those in government  would want to believe, began as an experiment in 1914 by Lord Lugard, the British head in  charge of the administration of the country. Fifty years after, the 32nd largest country,  located on a total area of 923,768 km2 and comparable in size to Venezuela, has continued  to crawl, following the lack of visionary leaders. There is lack of infrastructure,  efficient electricity supply, etc.

The country has witnessed a civil war between 1967 and 1970 (which lasted for about 30  months), six military coups in three decades of military rule, a grudging form of  national growth and development in the midst of institutionalised corruption and  mismanagement of public funds, religious and ethnic strife resulting in a people who have  been cowed into total submission by a ruthless and corrupt ruling class.

Richly blessed with both human and natural resources, Nigeria is sadly fighting a battle  to save itself. This was part of a damning report by the United States in 2004, which  postulated that the country was only buying time as it had 15 years from that period to  break up.

Since then, prominent citizens of the country have been drumming that same warning.  Several times, Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka had maintained that the nation was  sitting on a keg of gunpowder. “Nigeria is living at the moment in a state of  self-deception. It is still a colonial society; this time a product of internal  colonialists,” he told TheNEWS magazine this week.

The break-up almost manifested due to the mishandling of the illness and later the death  of President Umaru Yar’Adua. His handlers had almost torn the country apart with the way  they manipulated and misinformed Nigerians while blackmailing the current President who  was then his deputy.

Despite the fact that the country is the sixth largest producer of crude oil and a major  exporter of oil to the US, it has continued to rely on fuel importation, causing the  former World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz, to declare that the country had lost $300  billion within 40 years since independence.

Supporting the huge doubt over the country’s unity, former Attorney-General of the  Federation in the Second Republic, Richard Akinjide, who sees Nigeria as a very complex  country, said sometime ago that the amalgamation was a fraud.

“Our problems did not start yesterday,” Akinjide claimed. “It started about 1884. Lord  Lugard came here about 1894 and many people did not know that Major Lugard was not  originally employed by the British Government. He was employed by companies.

“He was first employed by East Indian Company, by the Royal East African Company and then  by the Royal Niger Company. It was from the Royal Niger Company that he transferred to  the British government. Unless you know this background, you will not know the root  causes of our problems. The interest of the Europeans in Africa and indeed Nigeria was  economic and it’s still economic.

“In 1898, Lugard formed the West African Frontier Force initially with 2,000 soldiers and  that was the beginning of our problems. Anybody who wants to know the root cause of all  the coups and our present problems, and who does not know the evolution of Nigeria would  just be looking at the matter superficially.

“Our problems started from that time. And Lugard was what they called at that time  imperialist. A number of British soldiers, businessmen, politicians were very patriotic.  But I must warn you; they were operating in the interest of their country. Lugard became  a Lord,” he said, adding that between 1898 and 1914, he sent a number of dispatches to  London which led to the Amalgamation of 1914.

“The Order-in-Council was drawn up in November 1913 signed and came into force in January  1914. In those dispatches, Lugard said a number of things, which are at the root causes  of yesterday and today’s problems.

“The British needed the railway from the North to the Coast in the interest of British  business. Amalgamation of the South (not of the people) became of crucial importance to  British business interest. He said the North and the South should be amalgamated.  Southern Nigeria came into existence in January 1900. At the Centenary of the fall of  Benin, I wrote a piece in a number of papers but before I published the piece, I sent a  copy to the Oba of Benin. So when Benin was conquered in 1896, it made the creation of  the Southern Nigerian protectorate possible on January 1, 1900,” Akinjide stated.

He said part of the dispatches by Lord Lugard was that “the North is poor and they have  no resources to run the protectorate of the North…they have no access to the sea; and the  South has resources and have educated people.”

He argued that what was amalgamated was the administration of the North and South and not  of its people, adding that this was the source of the problems.

While the Federal Government has earmarked about N17 billion for the celebration of the  country’s golden jubilee, the citizens have vehemently protested, saying there was  nothing to celebrate. They mentioned the endemic corruption, lack of progress in all  areas of the country’s existence, inept leadership mediocrity as the country’s problems.  Some even said the country has all the symptoms of a failed state, adding that we are  just buying time.

For example, the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji,  speaking on the amount earmarked for the celebration recently said Nigerians would have  been happier if part of the money was spent on infrastructure development citing the  failed portion of the Lagos-Benin road as needing emergency solution.

According to Professor Soyinka, those in support of the celebration have lost their  memory of the history of the country’s predicament. He added that the people of Nigeria  are living in an emergency. He cited several problems affecting the country and counted  himself out of the celebration.

Also speaking on the state of the nation, Odia Ofeimun in a recent interview lamented the  diminishing state of education, attributing it to the failure of the nation’s leaders.  According to him, the country’s leaders have continued to give its citizens poor  education in order to render them perpetually poor.

“All those who we thought would win the Nobel prize in Physics or Chemistry, many of them  took in religion. And that’s where most of them are today, with decayed brains. And  because their brains are decayed, the generations that came after them are all living in  decay,” he lamented.

Dr. Agwu Amoguo, National Coordinator of Individual Liberty Network of Nigeria, an NGO  stated that, “Nigeria presently is under a critical level of economic and social  deprivation, even in the midst of abundant natural and human resources. The current  official statistics released by the Federal Office of Statistic shows that the national  poverty rate is 70%. This is to say that 80 million people in Nigeria live on less than  $1 a day! It is quite alarming to have two-thirds of the country’s population critically  poor.

“Since 1975, we have seen different poverty programmes – or slogans? – in Nigeria. We  have watched all of them fail one after the other. In fact, a former president of  Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babanginda, declared publicly that the ‘Nigerian economy has  defied all known economic theories’,” he  added.

However, one Nigerian does not toe this line of argument. He is Mahmud Jega. According to  him, “maybe our roads today are not up to standard, but which standard are you talking  about? You see, up until 1974, the trip from Jega to Sokoto through Tambuwal and Shagari,  which now takes about 75 minutes, used to take a day and a half, if you were lucky.

“That was until the Gowon regime tarred the road in 1974. Now, Birnin Kebbi is only 32  kilometres away from Jega, and these days motorists cover the distance in about 15  minutes; but in 1970, it took the better part of the day to make the trip. As the lorry  chugged along that road, it took several hours to reach each of the major landmarks, the  three bridges at Ruwan Kanwa, Basaura and Langido. I was amazed to discover in later life  that the Ruwan Kanwa bridge, which in those days was so difficult to reach, is only three  kilometres away from Jega.

“The trips to Birnin Kebbi were not made easier by the lorries and drivers of those days.  All the lorries were Austin, Morris or Commer. In 1970, there was only one taxi cab in  Sokoto, which had on it the inscription Be Patience [sic]. The only other intra-city  commercial vehicle, which plied the route from Kasuwa Yar Dole to Farfaru, was a small  Commer lorry driven by Alhaji Umaru, better known as Alallaba. It was so slow that  children could run and overtake it..”

Jega mentioned several other areas the country had improved, including in health and  telecommunications.

He concluded by sayings anyone who still thinks that Nigerian roads are too pot-holed,  its communications too slow, its people too sick and its entertainment too boring, that  person should please go back to 1970.