As usual, on October 1, 2019, Nigeria held her annual ritual: the commemoration of Nigerian independence. The day that was celebrated fifty nine years after is October 1, 1960. On that historic day, the Nigerian Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Belewa, concluded his speech with, “I open a new chapter in the history of Nigeria and of the Commonwealth, and indeed, of the world”.
Understandably, Nigerians were overjoyed by the new chapter in human history that the prime minister opened on that momentous day. They were proud of their nascent country. They were hopeful and optimistic because with her enormous mineral and agricultural resources, and the most educated work force in sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria was potentially “Africa’s superpower and a stabilizing democratic influence in the region”.
Lamentably, fifty nine years later, our pride in Nigeria has been battered, our hopes dashed and our optimism sullied. The entire spectrum of the Nigerian society is troubled; every institution is dysfunctional. There is hunger and disease, violence and bloodletting, lawlessness and strife, in the land. The political class is contemptuously indifferent to the plight of the Nigerian masses. Thus, social injustice and inequity thrive; and the economic gulf between the elite and the masses deepens and widens. The level of corruption is terrifying, and threatens to unravel the social fabric of the country. Not surprisingly, despite its historic significant, the independence anniversary lost its luster to many ordinary Nigerians. They find little or nothing worthy of celebration in an oil-rich country, where the generality of the masses are consigned to ignorance, poverty, joblessness and hopelessness.
On the other hand, in their total disconnect from the people they supposedly represent and serve, the power elite were, on that day, in a celebratory mood. Attired in meticulously spruced-up agbadas and sheltered in the VIP dais, they gleefully relished the pomp and spectacle of the occasion. After the event, the Senate President, rhapsodically, declared to the press, “Nigeria at 59 has achieved a lot”. What achievement was he talking about? It must be this false sense of achievement that informed that baffling and disgusting triumphalism that marked the event. And to the press, the Secretary to the Government preached a disingenuous sermon, “The change must begin with each and every one of us. …we must begin to change our attitude, our ways of doing things, become lawful citizen….” His sermon was self-serving sophistry because any realistic moral and ethical change must start from the top and filter down to the bottom. The change he demands must start with the power elite, not the masses.
The Nigerian rulers should change; they must stop behaving like colonial masters or Apartheid elites, totally estranged from the plight and yearnings of the people. They must change the present unconscionable system that relegates Nigerian workers to vegetate on the lowest minimum wages, and makes our legislators the highest paid legislators, in the world. State governors must stop embezzling between five hundred million naira (N500m) and one billion naira (N1, 000m) each, every month, as “security vote”, in a country where 70% of the population live in poverty, and some state government employees labor for months without being paid their salaries.
Nigerians are nostalgic for the 1960s and 1970s, when corruption was an aberration, and our leaders were relatively accountable to the people. Despite the enormous powers of their offices, the likes of the prime minister, Tafawa Belewa, and premier, Michael Okpara, remained relatively impecunious because they were not corrupt. Then, the notoriously, incorrigibly corrupt were accused of misappropriating ten percent of the cost of government projects. “NEPA” “did not take light”. Electricity supply was virtually uninterrupted all year round. Street lights functioned, almost faultlessly. They automatically came up at 6pm and went off at 6am. It was when Nigerians respected the sanctity of human life; and the levels of crime and violence were extremely low. In the days preceding the civil war, the police were not armed with guns; they could maintain law and order with just batons.
Across board, academic standards were very high in Nigerian schools. Admission to the universities was on merit, not through bribe and connections. The lecturers were content with the impecuniosity of their prestigious and venerated profession. Thus, they did not sell hand-outs, sort out, trade good grades for money and sex. Nigerian universities met global standards, and the University of Ibadan, especially, its medical school was world renowned. Nigerians were not as selfish and insatiable; expectations were modest and reasonable. Money was expected to be earned based on individual abilities and resourcefulness. Illegitimate wealth and unexplainable riches were despised and excoriated.
Unfortunately, over the years, everything changed dramatically for the worse; and at 59 years old, Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries of the world. Even, ordinarily, strongholds of morality and integrity, like the judiciary, academia and the church are corrupt in Nigeria. Those in power are not accountable to the people, and have no qualms in stealing everything within reach; they steal public funds with the ruthlessness that will flabbergast, even, the most vicious armed robbers. Electric supply collapsed and darkness holds sway over the country. We lost our sense of outrage, and Nigeria degenerated to a bastion of moral squalor honeycombed with bandits, kidnappers, killer herdsmen, armed robbers, con artists, ritual killers, etc. An exhaustive catalog of the woes of Nigeria is beyond the scope of this article. The point however is that without being figurative or hyperbolic, Nigeria is totally “jaga jaga” and everything about her, totally “skata skata”. Therefore, October 1, 2019 should not have been a day of celebration, but lamentation. We should have lamented the unfulfilled potentials of Nigeria and the indescribable rot and wretchedness that engulfed our beloved country.
A onetime American Secretary of State, Mrs. Hilary Clinton, once summed it up, “They (the Nigerian ruling elite) have squandered their oil wealth, they have allowed corruption to fester and now they are losing control of parts of their territory because they won’t make hard choices”. It is the refusal to make hard choices by a series of irresponsible and corrupt governments that explains our seemingly intractable multi-facet problems. With the much-hyped selflessness, incorruptibility and gutsiness of Mohammadu Buhari, Nigerians justifiably expected his presidency to be a watershed: a break from the past. This did not happen because he refused to make hard choices.
He cannot make hard choices because President Buhari and his entourage, and the shady and self-seeking cabal that pulls the oligarchic strings from behind the façade of democracy are benefiting from the anarchy and corruption that suffuse the land.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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