30th September, 2010
Barely 24 hours to the 50th independence anniversary, the issue of Nigeriaâ€™s unity andÂ its numerous challenges have continued to retard the nation’s progress, writes EROMOSELEÂ EBHOMELE
President Goodluck Jonathan sure knows how to catch the interest of Nigerians through hisÂ page on facebook, the social interaction site on the internet. As the country celebratesÂ its 50th independence anniversary, he recently posted: â€œNigerians unite.â€
But within 10 minutes after the message was sent, hundreds of his fellow countrymen askedÂ him several questions bordering on his rationale for the message. While some told himÂ that the country was only united in pretence, others noted that the current state of theÂ nation had gone beyond seeking unity from the poor while the rich continue to build theirÂ empires on the corpses of the former. Some even reminded him that the failed portion ofÂ the Benin-Ore road had already divided the country because of the nightmare faced byÂ travellers. Others told him that if at 50, the citizens of the country still had no hope,Â there was no need to preach unity.
Dubbed â€˜a mere geographic expressionâ€™ with over 250 ethnic groups and an estimatedÂ population of 150 million, the countryâ€™s predicament, or progress as those in governmentÂ would want to believe, began as an experiment in 1914 by Lord Lugard, the British head inÂ charge of the administration of the country. Fifty years after, the 32nd largest country,Â located on a total area of 923,768Â km2 and comparable in size to Venezuela, has continuedÂ to crawl, following the lack of visionary leaders. There is lack of infrastructure,Â efficient electricity supply, etc.
The country has witnessed a civil war between 1967 and 1970 (which lasted for about 30Â months), six military coups in three decades of military rule, a grudging form ofÂ national growth and development in the midst of institutionalised corruption andÂ mismanagement of public funds, religious and ethnic strife resulting in a people who haveÂ 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 battleÂ to save itself. This was part of a damning report by the United States in 2004, whichÂ postulated that the country was only buying time as it had 15 years from that period toÂ break up.
Since then, prominent citizens of the country have been drumming that same warning.Â Several times, Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka had maintained that the nation wasÂ sitting on a keg of gunpowder. â€œNigeria is living at the moment in a state ofÂ self-deception. It is still a colonial society; this time a product of internalÂ colonialists,â€ he told TheNEWS magazine this week.
The break-up almost manifested due to the mishandling of the illness and later the deathÂ of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua. His handlers had almost torn the country apart with the wayÂ they manipulated and misinformed Nigerians while blackmailing the current President whoÂ was then his deputy.
Despite the fact that the country is the sixth largest producer of crude oil and a majorÂ exporter of oil to the US, it has continued to rely on fuel importation, causing theÂ former World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz, to declare that the country had lost $300Â billion within 40 years since independence.
Supporting the huge doubt over the countryâ€™s unity, former Attorney-General of theÂ Federation in the Second Republic, Richard Akinjide, who sees Nigeria as a very complexÂ country, said sometime ago that the amalgamation was a fraud.
â€œOur problems did not start yesterday,â€ Akinjide claimed. â€œIt started about 1884. LordÂ Lugard came here about 1894 and many people did not know that Major Lugard was notÂ originally employed by the British Government. He was employed by companies.
â€œHe was first employed by East Indian Company, by the Royal East African Company and thenÂ by the Royal Niger Company. It was from the Royal Niger Company that he transferred toÂ the British government. Unless you know this background, you will not know the rootÂ causes of our problems. The interest of the Europeans in Africa and indeed Nigeria wasÂ economic and itâ€™s still economic.
â€œIn 1898, Lugard formed the West African Frontier Force initially with 2,000 soldiers andÂ that was the beginning of our problems. Anybody who wants to know the root cause of allÂ the coups and our present problems, and who does not know the evolution of Nigeria wouldÂ just be looking at the matter superficially.
â€œOur problems started from that time. And Lugard was what they called at that timeÂ imperialist. A number of British soldiers, businessmen, politicians were very patriotic.Â But I must warn you; they were operating in the interest of their country. Lugard becameÂ a Lord,â€ he said, adding that between 1898 and 1914, he sent a number of dispatches toÂ London which led to the Amalgamation of 1914.
â€œThe Order-in-Council was drawn up in November 1913 signed and came into force in JanuaryÂ 1914. In those dispatches, Lugard said a number of things, which are at the root causesÂ of yesterday and todayâ€™s problems.
â€œThe British needed the railway from the North to the Coast in the interest of BritishÂ business. Amalgamation of the South (not of the people) became of crucial importance toÂ British business interest. He said the North and the South should be amalgamated.Â Southern Nigeria came into existence in January 1900. At the Centenary of the fall ofÂ Benin, I wrote a piece in a number of papers but before I published the piece, I sent aÂ copy to the Oba of Benin. So when Benin was conquered in 1896, it made the creation ofÂ the Southern Nigerian protectorate possible on January 1, 1900,â€ Akinjide stated.
He said part of the dispatches by Lord Lugard was that â€œthe North is poor and they haveÂ no resources to run the protectorate of the Northâ€¦they have no access to the sea; and theÂ South has resources and have educated people.â€
He argued that what was amalgamated was the administration of the North and South and notÂ 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 theÂ countryâ€™s golden jubilee, the citizens have vehemently protested, saying there wasÂ nothing to celebrate. They mentioned the endemic corruption, lack of progress in allÂ areas of the countryâ€™s existence, inept leadership mediocrity as the countryâ€™s problems.Â Some even said the country has all the symptoms of a failed state, adding that we areÂ just buying time.
For example, the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji,Â speaking on the amount earmarked for the celebration recently said Nigerians would haveÂ been happier if part of the money was spent on infrastructure development citing theÂ failed portion of the Lagos-Benin road as needing emergency solution.
According to Professor Soyinka, those in support of the celebration have lost theirÂ memory of the history of the countryâ€™s predicament. He added that the people of NigeriaÂ are living in an emergency. He cited several problems affecting the country and countedÂ himself out of the celebration.
Also speaking on the state of the nation, Odia Ofeimun in a recent interview lamented theÂ diminishing state of education, attributing it to the failure of the nation’s leaders.Â According to him, the countryâ€™s leaders have continued to give its citizens poorÂ education in order to render them perpetually poor.
â€œAll those who we thought would win the Nobel prize in Physics or Chemistry, many of themÂ took in religion. And thatâ€™s where most of them are today, with decayed brains. AndÂ because their brains are decayed, the generations that came after them are all living inÂ decay,â€ he lamented.
Dr. Agwu Amoguo, National Coordinator of Individual Liberty Network of Nigeria, an NGOÂ stated that, â€œNigeria presently is under a critical level of economic and socialÂ deprivation, even in the midst of abundant natural and human resources. The currentÂ official statistics released by the Federal Office of Statistic shows that the nationalÂ poverty rate is 70%. This is to say that 80 million people in Nigeria live on less thanÂ $1 a day! It is quite alarming to have two-thirds of the countryâ€™s population criticallyÂ poor.
â€œSince 1975, we have seen different poverty programmes – or slogans? – in Nigeria. WeÂ have watched all of them fail one after the other. In fact, a former president ofÂ Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babanginda, declared publicly that the ‘Nigerian economy hasÂ defied all known economic theories’,â€ heÂ added.
However, one Nigerian does not toe this line of argument. He is Mahmud Jega. According toÂ him, â€œmaybe our roads today are not up to standard, but which standard are you talkingÂ about? You see, up until 1974, the trip from Jega to Sokoto through Tambuwal and Shagari,Â 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 32Â kilometres away from Jega, and these days motorists cover the distance in about 15Â minutes; but in 1970, it took the better part of the day to make the trip. As the lorryÂ chugged along that road, it took several hours to reach each of the major landmarks, theÂ three bridges at Ruwan Kanwa, Basaura and Langido. I was amazed to discover in later lifeÂ that the Ruwan Kanwa bridge, which in those days was so difficult to reach, is only threeÂ kilometres away from Jega.
â€œThe trips to Birnin Kebbi were not made easier by the lorries and drivers of those days.Â All the lorries were Austin, Morris or Commer. In 1970, there was only one taxi cab inÂ Sokoto, which had on it the inscription Be Patience [sic]. The only other intra-cityÂ commercial vehicle, which plied the route from Kasuwa Yar Dole to Farfaru, was a smallÂ Commer lorry driven by Alhaji Umaru, better known as Alallaba. It was so slow thatÂ children could run and overtake it..â€
Jega mentioned several other areas the country had improved, including in health andÂ telecommunications.
He concluded by sayings anyone who still thinks that Nigerian roads are too pot-holed,Â its communications too slow, its people too sick and its entertainment too boring, thatÂ person should please go back to 1970.