By Luke Onyekakeyah
One character of the Nigerian political leadership that has become entrenched and which has not been in the overall interest of the country since independence in 1960 is the penchant of the leaders to always underrate serious national issues.
The reason is that Nigeria has passed through several turbulent challenges and managed to survive but not without serious and permanent bruises. This attitude of leadership has often postponed the evil day as the country remains in limbo. I want to say unequivocally that 106 years is more than enough for Nigeria to manifest whatever potentials she has in every ramification. But that has not happened because the country is not working.
There are myriad of problems confronting Nigeria at all times, the worst seems to be now.
I have anchored the failure of the Nigerian leadership to address fundamental national issues right from independence in 1960. That was when Nigerians took full control of the affairs of the country. But it is important to reiterate that Nigeria did not start in 1960. Nigeria started in 1914 with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates into one entity called Nigeria. The grafting of the hitherto two disparate colonies into one was accomplished by the British colonial overlord, Lord Lugard, the first Governor-General of what was reconstituted as the colony of Nigeria. Why and how he did it, including the resistance of people in the south, particularly in Lagos, where it was opposed by the political class and the media were well recorded in history.
The amalgamation marked an important watershed in Nigeria’s history. In one consideration, the British did it, maybe, out of the love they have for Nigeria. Maybe they wanted to create a sub-regional power, for there is no other country that is as big and potentially powerful in the West Africa sub-region as Nigeria. But I don’t know what love would make a colonial power to weld different nationalities into one powerful state that could challenge its authority. It would be foolhardy to do that. And, if that were the case, the creation of one Nigeria (there were two before 1914), could have been for something other than love. But I won’t call it to hate because the amalgamation of Nigeria has its inherent advantages, which I think is actually what the British wanted to explore. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as expected between 1914 and 1960, a period of 46 years before the British relinquished power to Nigerians.
The British colonial masters did not treat Northern and Southern Nigeria on equal terms. For instance, in the South, the money needed for development projects like railways, harbors, and hospitals was raised from taxation on imported goods. But that same taxation was absent in Northern Nigeria, which accounted for the low development situation in that region. That trend has remained until today—more development in the south than in the north. For Lugard, the taxation was a form of punishment; hence, the northerners were spared. Consequently, the north was bequeathed with a weak development philosophy, which persists till today. The reverse is the case in the south where the people were made to work hard and drive development. The difference between the two regions is glaring.
Even though the country has managed to survive for more than 100-years (Nigeria clocked 100 years in 2014), the events of the past 50 years since the British colonial masters relinquished power to show that a re-examination of the entire Nigerian structure left by the colonists (not Nigerians) is needed. That seems to be the only way this entity called Nigeria would make headway. After all these decades, Nigeria ought to have become a black superpower but she has sadly failed woefully on every front.
I must not fail to say that the British, to a large extent, laid a buildable foundation that should have provided the springboard for Nigeria to rise like the Asian Tigers but all those have been destroyed in the wake of post-independence ethnic rivalry and mistrust. The people do not seem to agree with the British and the post-colonial Nigerian leaders that the grafting of two autonomous entities into one by Lord Lugard was the right thing to do. The two regions had laid a viable economic foundation for development before they were merged in 1914. It would have been superb if this experiment had worked. Nigeria’s diversity could have been her greatest asset, but it has turned out to be her greatest undoing.
That Nigeria fought a fratricidal civil war shortly after independence from 1967 to 1970, which was preceded by a brutal uprising and killing of Easterners in different parts of the country, showed that there was pent-up anger throughout the period of British colonial rule that was suppressed but which was let out following independence. Ever since then, peace, unity, and progress have eluded Nigeria, which shows the futility of the amalgamation experiment.
What would have been the situation if there was no amalgamation? The worst-case scenario is that both Northern and Southern Nigeria would have been like Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Benin Republic, their immediate neighbors. Though these countries haven’t recorded tremendous progress they have relative peace. On the contrary, Southern Nigeria could have recorded more tremendous progress than these countries given huge intellectual capacity, abundant agricultural and natural resources endowments, which most of the neighbours lack.
All the crises the country had faced and is still facing today are direct fallouts of the failure to address fundamental national questions of Nigeria’s cooperate existence. The time has come for the leadership to buckle up and rise to the challenge of dealing with the hydra-headed problems, which are at the root of Nigeria’s backwardness. This is better than running helter-skelter in a futile effort to fight the consequences of inaction. The time to do the inevitable is now since no one knows the illness that will kill the sick man. No one knows the challenge that will drown the country.
The nearly sixty years of Nigeria’s existence as an independent state have been bedeviled with troubles that have often brought her to the precipice. Today the country is on the brink, tomorrow she manages to wriggle out. Tomorrow again, the country is at the precipice, again she manages to come off it. The next day, it’s the same story. It is more like one day one trouble, no respite. These troubles, which are entirely man-made, are responsible for the sordid state of affairs in the country. You cannot develop a country without a workable structure. National development is premised on a functional framework. So long as the framework or foundation is weak, there’s nothing anybody can do. Trouble today, trouble tomorrow, how much longer shall we remain in this unsteady state?
The fact that the country has always managed to wriggle out of troubles is no indication that she would always survive. In fact, it is an indication that there is danger. A person who relapses into bouts of ill health every now and then cannot be said to be healthy even when he manages to survive. Such a person can never be sure of his health condition until a comprehensive medical examination is carried out to establish the cause(s) of the frequent ill-health. Except that is done, if the person believes, erroneously, that he or she would always get well when sickness comes, he risks unexpected death from what may seem to be a recurrent ailment.
We have got to a point where ethnic nationalities are no longer merely agitating for justice and equity. They have gone to the extent of having armed militias that are ready to fight and defend territorial enclaves. And, the Federal Government is more or less handicapped. That government knows that there are ethnic “armies” in different places but can no longer stop it is ominous.
At this juncture, the question is who are the lovers and haters of Nigeria? There are two groups. One is those calling for the renegotiation of Nigeria in order to ensure equity, justice, and fairness and two are those resisting such a discussion out of unfounded fear of the unknown. Interestingly, all the ethnic nationalities are speaking with one voice in calling for the restructuring of Nigeria. For me, they are the lovers of Nigeria.
On the other hand, the Federal Government is unwilling and afraid to implement such a framework. One elderly compatriot once explained that the leaders are carrying Nigeria like an egg; no leader wants the egg to break in his hand and that is where the fear comes from. I think these are the haters of Nigeria. It is ironic that our leaders who have everything to gain or lose are shying away from their historical responsibility. The Federal Government should think through this matter once again in the interest of Nigeria.