Nigeria We Failed Thee, Our Own Dear Native Land…


Nwike Ojukwu

The few honest White historians as well as the locals have documented copiously, and it has been ingrained in our heads that the British government was apathetic to the idea of creating a nation out of our divergent “tribes and tongues” when it invaded our shores. We read that its purpose was the exploitation of indigenous natural and human resources to service its greed. The colonial government subjected us to a system of indirect rule in the north and some semblance of direct rule in the south. Even after amalgamation in 1914 through the independence struggles era, the colonial administration encouraged the establishment of a bifurcated nation by allowing the protectorates to develop in opposite directions, politically and socially. That divisive policy laid the foundation for the volatility that has marked our social, economic, and political development, and repeatedly threatens our corporate existence.

At the time the local elites took over from the colonial authority, the process of designing a delicate piece of edifice that was susceptible to collapse at the slightest strain was completed. The colonial office had hastily patched the fault lines at the foundation of our nation, and effectively sprayed it with white wash to conceal its bad architecture, and “took a walk.” The result was that our founding fathers received a structurally flawed framework that has proved intractable to reconfigure since 1960.

The colonial government created classes of Nigerians that reflected the social stratification in Europe. It built estates called the Government Reservation Areas (GRA) where the colonial officials retired at the end of the day with better facilities, and a retinue of natives as house servants. The rest were horded in poor and disease-infested quarters because they would not appreciate the good things of life. The chiefs (where they existed) operated within the bounds of traditional separation of powers, but the colonial government allowed them to exercise extensive powers to oppress their fellow citizens as long as they collected taxes and other levies that serviced the colonial administration. Their (colonial government) calculation is that the institution of chiefs was indigenous to Africa, and in places without chiefs, it created them.

The colonial government introduced corruption in governance, manipulated census figures, rigged elections, and created tribal rivalry between indigenous peoples to strengthen its exercise of control and power. The local elites watched closely how their “masters” abused power. No sooner had the British left than the local elites replaced the people that they labored to vacate. They moved into the GRAs vacated by their colonial educators and became the “lords of the Manor.” The few indigenous people who demonstrated brilliance either stowed away to England or received British scholarships to study the works of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot, George Eliot, Homer, Thomas Hardy, Charles and Emily Bronte, and other such writers who characterized us in despicable stereotypical terminologies as savages, uncivilized, and brutish. The natives who were “brainwashed and insulted” by western education that nothing good could come out of backward Africa returned “home” in well-tailored three-piece suits and became more English than the English– foreigners in their own homeland.

Our native laws and customs were subjected to the colonizers’ standard of “natural justice, equity, and good conscience.” They told us that polygamy was against the dictates of nature without understanding our sociology. Our protestations in defense of the practice were ignored because it must be their way or nothing. In the nascent century, they embarked on another move, to force us to embrace homosexuality as the best thing that happened on the planet earth and we are saying, “Wait a minute, you condemned our practice the other day, why must we accept your own now.” I stood up in deference to President Goodluck for signing the legislation criminalizing homosexuality into law. Let me point out quickly that I do not have any issues with the homosexuals. In fact, my position on the subject is like President Obama’s at one point, “evolving.”

At the very least, let us for once act like a sovereign nation. As a sovereign nation, we do not owe any explanation to anyone for passing a law that addresses our need. Of course, we can always go back to revisit the legislation to find out if it could be tweaked to accommodate our brothers and sisters with alternative lifestyles. Nevertheless, we must defend our family values at all costs as well as our African group or community rights heritage against the corrupting influence of western culture founded on the pretext of defending individual liberties, while the bottom line is to shrink our population and promote capitalism. Indeed, everything we hold dear is being chipped away gradually and surreptitiously.

I apologize for the digression. Colonization ended over fifty years ago. Since then, we have continued to experiment with the white man’s methodology of exploiting our fellow human beings. However, our schema is even worse; it is founded on wickedness because we annihilate our own. Subsequent governments, military and civilian, were aware of our structural defects and other externalities of colonization, but took no steps to rectify it because it afforded them the latitude to plunder our resources, just like the colonial administration. They ripped our national treasury and made away with monies that should have been invested in developmental projects. Each time we complained about how they mismanaged our resources, they unleashed the instrumentality of law enforcement to beat us down, read the riot act to us, and warned that we were violating “the rule of law.”

“The rule of law” to them meant that we should be silent and not raise a finger of opposition to their atrocious conduct. “The rule of law” to them meant that we should not demand accountability concerning how they performed public functions. We became scared in our bones because they used intimidation and murders to constrain us to shut our mouths. We became scared to ask how a road that had been recorded as completed was still treacherous. We became scared to ask why we continued to sleep in darkness when the government’s propaganda outfit had gone to town to lie that it had improved our electricity. We became scared to ask how our employment situation had improved when over 700,000 candidates applied for 3,000 job openings. We did all this to circumvent being consigned to jail terms for violating “the rule of law.”

The contradictions in the Nigerian state had degenerated into a civil war that wasted the lives of over two million compatriots. The war offered us the occasion to configure our structure and to design a political system with local additives, a system that recognized our divergent history and experience– a uniquely Nigerian system of governance. We allowed the opportunity to slip through our fingers and reverted to our tribal cocoons. One consequence of this failure is that corruption became the oil that lubricates the function of the state machinery. About seventy-percent of our college graduates remain unemployed while the elites use the money stolen from the public treasury to build private universities that the rest of us cannot afford. Diseases and poverty continue to ravage the polity, while the elites live large at the expense of millions of souls. While Boko Haram is on the rampage in the North, kidnapping and armed robbery have overtaken the South (especially the Southeast) and fellow citizens live in constant fear. Our leaders do not see any correlation between the two social circumstances and our failed nation.

The elites use tribe and religion as political tools to rise to national prominence, and thereafter isolate themselves from the rest of us. They allocate our resources to themselves and their cronies as compensations for doing nothing, and steal the rest as kickbacks for contracts that are never executed. While we fight with one another over whose geographical area or religious group should produce the next president, governor, or local government chairperson, we fail to ask the right questions: Has the quality of our lives improved because the last person that occupied the government house came from our tribe? Have our hospitals been equipped with supplies because the former minister of health was a wonderful Christian? Has the quality of our education improved because the last minister of education was a good Muslim? These and similar questions should engage us as we think about how badly we have failed Nigeria.

Our country is endowed with vast natural resources. Every region in Nigeria can boast of one unique natural resource that could potentially lift the citizens out of poverty. However, we continue to wallow in confusion, while a select few feast on our collective wealth. They highlight our differences to keep us engaged in unnecessary bickering against one another, while they reap the best fruits from our land. It is time to call out these criminals for the waste that they engendered. It is time to call out those that stand in the way of rebuilding our nation. It is time for us to say, enough!

We seem to have forgotten so fast that this used to be a country where a college graduate was guaranteed a job, a car, and an apartment immediately after school. We seem to have forgotten so fast that in this country, a college undergraduate used to have access to a vacation job even before leaving school. We seem to have forgotten so fast that the first mayor of Enugu, Mallam Umaru Altine, was a northerner, elected in 1956. We seem to have forgotten so fast that before the discovery of oil, Nigeria survived on groundnuts in the north, the cocoa from the west, and the palm oil from the east. We seem to have forgotten so fast that a United States dollar was equivalent to fifty kobo. I painted a picture of Nigeria of a few years ago. Now, what happened to us? How did we get to where we are today?

In an attempt to place food on the table and live a decent life, Nigerians have resorted to unconventional tactics to make money. There is a need to provide schools for the children, parents that have become old need medical care, college graduates that have become burdens for parents need jobs; all of this pressure is under a social and economic milieu that is chaotic at best.

Nigerians ride the notorious “molues” and commercial motorcycles with their attendant risks, only to get home to houses without food, electricity, water, cooking gas, and other basic things that make for a decent life. Our hospitals have converted into mortuaries because a visit to any one of them could mean that you will leave in a box. The elites fly to the best hospitals in Europe and America for routine medical check-ups, while the rest of us are resigned to either fate or praying and fasting over something as simple as a headache. It has become fashionable for our rich folks to die in America, England, or Germany.

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The few smart ones have taken advantage of our gullibility and vulnerability and have converted warehouses into places of worship and miracle centers. They organize night vigils every evening to pray down fire and brimstone on their perceived enemies. When towns and communities organize family reunions and fundraisers, our churches are organizing retreats and conventions to remove folks from family and friends just to make the pastors and general overseers relevant. I wonder how Christianity could be propagated and lives changed by the power of the “good news” when we continually isolate ourselves from our neighbors and erect walls all around us. We have more churches and mosques than ever before, yet our moral standards and quality of relationship with one another is getting progressively worse.

The unavailability of good health care facilities and proper diagnosis have resulted in dismissing every death as the handiwork of witches and wizards in our neighborhoods, and a slight setback in a business is blamed on a grandparent in the village who is the archetype of the wicked Jezebel. A state government provides chairs, books, or laboratory equipment to schools and the media goes to town publishing glowing tributes to the government for performing its function. We have acquired a reputation the world over as a nation of fraudsters. We have become a pariah in the committee of nations because of the negative things that have been associated with Nigerians.

Despite all this, I am not ashamed to identify myself as a Nigerian. I see the issues that confront us today as growing pains that will dissipate as we move towards rebuilding our nation. I admit that those fraudsters are my brothers and sisters. I would not condemn them. I would rather take issue with a system that has conditioned us to behave like irrational beings. We have lost precious Nigerians to the hot deserts of North Africa as they attempt to seek better living conditions in Europe and elsewhere. Their bodies will never find decent graves, even as those they left behind continue to wait endlessly for their return. Nigerian women have become victims of modern day slavery as hundreds of them find their way to Europe as sex slaves. The citizens of the most populous black nation in the world have become refugees in peacetime. What a shame! The bonds and commonalities of suffering, law enforcement brutality, deprivation, language, skin color, and territory preclude me from denying my association with them.

Nigerians populate the prisons of many countries for crimes associated with survival efforts, and back home, we are supposed to gloss over a report that a serving minster used a whooping N10bn of public funds to maintain her private jet, in addition to other misappropriation of public funds leveled against her. And, just last week, about 20 fellow citizens lost their lives in NIS employment screening exercise. Such arrogant displays of acts of wickedness shock the conscience. If you are not angry with these, I am.

My story is a quintessential Nigerian story. I grew up poor. My father served the colonial government as a young military office in the war in Burma. He gave his youth to that war, a war that he never orchestrated. The colonial government used him and his fellow citizens and dumped them. No one, not even successive Nigerian governments acknowledged their sacrifices or demanded reparation from the British government on their behalf.

Yet, Nigerian government has continually approved the payment of pensions to former officers that served in the colonial administration. My father died many years ago, but his grave continually cries for justice. We have all experienced the consequences of bad governance by successive Nigerian government, though differently.
Perhaps what is so painful is that we operate a system founded on lies and half-truths. Our political operators would have us believe that part of our problem is our multiculturalism. We have been deceived to believe that, due to our religious differences, we cannot live peaceably. However, when they share our collective wealth, they forget that they were from different tribes and religion. The Muslims, Christians, Animists and citizens of other faiths and persuasions have participated in the despoliation of our public treasury. In spite of the alleged differences, what aggregates their interest are elitism and corruption.

That said; I still believe in Nigeria. I believe that the energies that drive Nigerians to succeed where others fail could be channeled to productive engagements. I believe that our different tribes and religions provide a social kaleidoscope, which would be the envy of other nations if we applied ourselves to rebuilding a stable nation. From the Muslim imam that calls the faithful to prayers in the mosques in Sokoto, to the pomp and pageantry of the bishops that hold services in Christian Churches in Lagos. From the glamorous hills of Jos to the rich vegetation of the Niger Delta, from the resilience of the Igbo businessmen and women of the east to the rich cultures of the Yorubas in the west, Nigeria is blessed with a mosaic of beautiful people. But, we have yet to reap the benefits of this exquisite arrangement.

I believe that given a friendly environment and a level playing field, we can turn our country around for the better. I believe that an equitable distribution of our resources is possible, to ensure that no Nigerian child goes to bed hungry. I believe that the doors of our schools and colleges could be thrown open to ensure that the right kind of education is provided to our young people: the kind of education that is relevant to our needs. I believe that our hospitals could be made functional to meet the health care needs of our growing population; I am waiting for the day when Nigerians do not have to travel overseas for a routine health check-up. I believe that every Nigerian has the right to aspire to the highest office in the land, irrespective of his or her tribe or religion or pedigree. I do not advocate for the balkanization of Nigeria according to tribal or religious lines. Rather, I urge that each ethnic group and religion is recognized and respected.

We will continue to dream of a better Nigeria if we continue with business as usual. My position on the National Conference has been articulated in my previous essays. My concern is with the composition of the delegates. The antecedents of some of them make me uncomfortable and I had argued that they lacked the moral justification to speak in my behalf. My idea of a national conference is not even close to the jamboree and taxpayers’ money being wasted in Abuja. I believe that “what unites us is greater than what divides us.” Our republic may have been an accident of history, but we can make it work if we put our minds to it. There “ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough” to obstruct the Nigerian spirit, but we must act as if we mean it. The Nigerian experiment is worth dying for and everyone, irrespective of his or her religion or tribe, must place hands on the same plow to till the same earth. If we must tear down the colonial walls that divide us, if we must overcome the differences that our leaders have underscored to gain undue advantage over us, everyone has to be involved. Let us work for freedom and justice. Let us work together to heal our land. We owe a responsibility to “hand on to our children a banner without stain.”

Unfortunately, the banner that we have hoisted for over five decades is putrefied and has become a source of reproach to our children who have yet to open their eyes to a new world. We have rendered our university diplomas useless. Our children hardly stay in schools because of incessant strikes and school closures. We soil the banner when we encourage nepotism and favoritism. We soil the banner when we rig elections. We soil the banner when we allow an individual to appropriate our collective wealth to build empires for his family to the detriment of our society.

I believe that Nigeria can bounce back to relevance. We will emerge from this dysfunction if we knew that this is the only country we could call our own. It does not matter if you are from the north, south, east, or west, Nigeria is our home. We must rebuild Nigeria for our own sakes. But, as I have always argued, it will take the enlistment of all Nigerians, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Igbira, Idoma, Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Etsako, Efik, Gwari, Gwoza , Gokana, Gusu, Gwandara, Gombi, Gure, Gudu, Igalla, Irigwe, Itsekiri , Hona, Ichen, Ijumu, Holma, Iyalla, Jaba, Jaku, Jero, Jarawa-Dutse, Karimjo, Kataf, kilba, Kwaro, Kenton, etc. . We must decide to stand up together or fall together. We have failed our country so badly for too long; it is time to begin to fix our broken polity.

Each of us has a role to play. We must cease observing things and events from a worldview colored by tribe and religion. We do not necessarily have to be politicians to affect our world, but wherever we find ourselves, we can make a difference. We make a difference when we correct a recalcitrant child even if he or she is not our child. We make a difference when we call out a politician who uses stolen wealth to build a church or a mosque, though we worship there. We make a difference when we interrogate the source of money a public official uses to build a private university. We make a difference when we provide intervention programs to our kids in elementary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. A seed of change sown today in the life of a young mind has a potential to change our history. Let us identify with an ideal that is larger than we are. Let us begin to change, one person at a time. Let our consuming priority be to rebuild Nigeria, an all-inclusive Nigeria where everyone will have a sense of belonging.

Nation building has a price tag. It is not a gift. If we desire a nation where justice flows like a river, where anyone could live anywhere without being characterized as a non-indigene, where anyone would be free to contest elections wherever he resides, we must be prepared to fight for it. Our desire for a stronger Nigeria must be matched by a genuine effort to defend against those poisonous ingredients on the Nigerian diet. I am waiting for the day when an Igbo person will be the governor of Kano State, when a Yoruba person will be asked to move into the government house in Enugu, when a Hausa man will freely contest and win a seat in Oyo State.

I am waiting for that day when we will take pride to call ourselves Nigerians irrespective of the part of the country in which one was born. Let us work with singleness of purpose for our Nigeria. We must move from the present refrain to another stanza in our song. We must move from this monotony to another line in our narrative. We need to turn a new chapter as we have been on the same page for too long. We must acknowledge that no one will build our nation for us. We cannot shift this task to a white man. We must not lose faith because we have what it takes to “build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.”

Nwike (S) Ojukwu is Doctor of Laws (Cand) The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law