LAGOS – As Nigeria marks its 59th year of attaining independence on Tuesday, Nigerians have continued to express diverse reactions as to whether the 59th anniversary calls for celebration or not.
When the likes of late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Herbert Macaulay, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti who then were the heroes and heroines of the country’s Independence pursued the struggle for the country’s liberation, their immediate goal was national unity.
Though they engaged in different activities, they had as a cardinal objective the unity of those brought together within the borders of the territory called Nigeria, regardless of ethnic, cultural and religious differences.
So when Nigeria became independent on October 1, 1960, it was joy in abundance for her citizens because the day marked the end of British colonialism.
As at independence, the federal government was given exclusive powers in defense, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policy. The monarch of Nigeria was still head of state but legislative power was vested in a bicameral parliament, executive power in a prime minister and cabinet and judicial authority in a Federal Supreme Court.
In the last few years, insecurity has plagued the country as various sections of the country are tainted with insurgency, kidnappings, banditry and secessionist agitations.
In the North-East, the Boko Haram insurgency has continued to wreak havoc, despite claim by the current administration that the Boko Haram has been technically defeated. President Muhammadu Buhari in his 58th Independence Day address said there has been a steady improvement in the security situation in the North East. “We remain committed to ending the crisis and make the North East safe for all,” he said. Today, Nigerians can attest to the fact that part of the country is yet to know the definition of peace.
Kidnapping business continues to thrive in the country, as the plague has now become an everyday activity. With such besetting insurgencies, the mutual suspicion among Nigeria’s ethnic communities is energised to the point that political and economic considerations tend to be weighed on the scale of ethnicity. If this continues without let, in the next few years, the country’s independence may be jeopardised and the sacrifices of the Founding Fathers would have been betrayed.
It is so unfortunate that some countries that gained independence almost the same year or few years after Nigeria, have developed in various sectors of their economy. Some of the countries, especially in Asia, have joined the league of developed countries. They export their finished products to Nigeria.
While some Nigerians believe that there is actually nothing to celebrate at 59, there are others who expressed a contrary opinion. One of such people is the member representing Apapa Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, Hon. Mufutau Egberongbe.
According to Egberongbe, the country has so many things to celebrate even though there are challenges, which he believes are surmountable.
“We have so many things to celebrate. For the fact that we are still together, the fact that we have not gone to war, these are worth celebrating.
“Look at the Arab spring, look at the Sudan war and so many more, so I think we still have cause to thank God that we are still together as a nation. Though there are some challenges but those challenges are not insurmountable.
“Also, you will see that our democracy is gradually evolving, we have had a situation where a sitting president had been unseated and the transition went on smoothly without a war or any rancour, all these are still dynamics of an evolving nation.
“You have also seen the handshake across the Niger initiated by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu where parties came together to form another party, those from the South aligning with those of the North to form a new party and clinching the presidential office,” the lawmaker said.
While observing that Nigerians must learn to be patient with the government, he said, “Majorly, I think our people need to be patient with the system because state evolves overtime as a gradual progression. You cannot start walking without crawling.
“I must be quick to add that the hallmark of this administration still remains integrity on the part of the president. The issue of corruption even though there has been argument that it is one sided, but yet, you can still not fault those that have been apprehended and if you are not too comfortable, the court is there as an arbiter of justice.
“Most especially too, the ratio between our capital and recurrent expenditures is high in recent time that we are putting so much monies into developmental projects and I think that with time, we will actually get to where we are going.
“Going forward, I will expect us to declare a state of emergency on the power sector because electricity is so key to any development. We should do more on improving our electricity supply and let us get more of human capital development.
“Let us review our curriculum to entail more of vocational and technical education as an upshoot to technological advancement; let us do more of marine education, there are so many employment opportunities in the marine industry; let our academic curriculum be tailored towards the needs of the society,” said Egberongbe.
On his part, the Majority Leader of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Olumuyiwa Jimoh, expressed regret that after 59 years of independence, larger percentage of Nigerians are still living in abject poverty and while some are still living in slums. The lawmaker explained that this year’s independence should call for a sober reflection, while the government should work on improving the living standard of Nigerians.
Speaking further, Jimoh noted that the security situation in the country calls for concern, pointing out that, “The current situation is very worrisome I must confess, it is not just the land that is not secure, our waterways are not secured, our airway is not also secure. And what is accountable for this in my own understanding, is that decentralisation of governance… there is nowhere in the world where they run federal system of government and it is being centralised at the centre.
“Take for instance my own local government, if the Divisional Police Officer there is to report to the people in the local government, either the chiefs or the Obas, it will assist more than reporting to the Commissioner of Police somewhere else. Don’t forget, Aristotle made a point in his book, The Politics, that ‘people of the same tribe and ethnic groups can govern themselves better; they can police themselves better’. And what is accountable for that is that in your own local area, those who will be in charge of your security network should be people from that locality and they will do the work effectively. But imagine bringing someone from Ogoja to be a DPO in Ikeja, there is no way he will give you an adequate report because he may not know the geographical community of Ikeja.
“Let us decentralise the police to allow for state policing system. And issue of security should not be left in the hand of the security agencies alone, an average Nigerian should have knowledge of security. Though, there has always been this fear that governors may want to use the state police to persecute perceived enemies. Of course if you look at governors like Nyesom Wike and Ayo Fayose, you may assume they may misuse state police if it is approved. But we should know that the state judicial functions, I mean the third arm of government, which is the judiciary, was created by the state government, yet they have been giving judgment against the state government. Individuals have been getting judgment against the state government.
“If we don’t put these things into practice, we will not get anywhere. If it is on general assumption that the state police will be misused by the governors, then we can as well deduce that the federal police too are to serve the federal government,” Jimoh added.
Also, speaking a former member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Olusegun Olulade, was of the view that the country is not yet where it ought to be because of long year of military rule and 16 years of democratic governance under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which according to him did not bring much achievements for the country.
His words: “We would have gone far in terms of social and economic development if not for the fact that we had long years of military rule. Also, when we attained full democracy in 1999, we thought we were free and that things would get better. Unfortunately, the 16 years under the PDP was not really meaningful.
“But five years ago, the All Progressives Congress (APC) took over and we are beginning to witness even development in virtually every sector of our economy. Nigerians are now testifying to the fact that electricity is improving, we are fighting corruption, people are being encouraged to go into agriculture. So we are gradually moving even though we are not where we ought to have been and I believe that few years to now, our party, the APC will take us to the Promised Land,” Olulade said.
Chief Bisi Akande, former APC acting national chairman, recently warned that the prevailing fear in the country might cause Nigeria to never celebrate a 100th Independence anniversary.
Akande, who made this comment in Lagos few weeks ago, at the public presentation of a book, “The Bisi Akande Phenomenon?” pointed out that every Nigerian lives in fear; warning that though Nigeria may celebrate a 60th independence anniversary, but there may not be a 100th of such celebration.
According to the former governor of Osun State, Nigeria was most enjoyable 50 years ago, adding that, “Nigeria’s laws are military decree-based. It is high time these laws were examined.”
He said even though he believed in restructuring Nigeria, it’s difficult to actually bring it to reality. “The phenomenon of the country must be examined among three things and the first is our education. It seems to me that our education is colonial. It ends in literacy without numeracy,” he said.
The elder statesman said in order to advance the technological base of each community, the education of Nigerians at all levels must be science-based. “Secondly, these military decree-based laws cannot be used to sustain democracy. As long as we use these military decree-based laws, our democracy will never prosper.
“Thirdly, our religions are mostly imported and because of that, we seem neither to be good Christians, good Muslims nor good idolists. We merely live in fear and when there are problems, we have no laboratories to go, so we retire to Churches and Mosques for vigils.
“A country that remains like this may celebrate its 60th Independence anniversary but will never celebrate 100 years. I think until all these three are looked at and addressed, or let me use the word; restructured – I believe in all these ethnic and political restructuring, but they are difficult to restructure,” Akande added.
For Gbenga Soloki, the National President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), “this year’s Independence celebration is another jamboree by the government in power, as there is nothing meaningful to celebrate except that we are being ruled by Nigerians under democratic setting which invariably has its own challenges.
“Successive regimes from the military to the civilian, one thing is sure, the interest of the common man on the streets of Nigeria has not been their priority, but rather self-enrichment at the detriment of the people they are governing.
“When you travel to different parts of country, you will be confronted with decayed infrastructure, dearth of development plan, misplacement of priorities, inefficiency and above all, corruption in all facets of our national life. There is distrust among the ethnic groups that make up the federation, lack of confidence in government and heightened insecurity in the land.
“In all honesty, we can only celebrate when we overcome all these challenges plaguing us as a nation. The challenges of ethnicity, corruption, inefficiency in public corporations, reduction in unemployment rate, increased development plan, reduction in corrupt practices and lastly, prioritising our needs as a people.
“If I may ask, are we celebrating the near comatose of power supply, unemployment or the continued killings across the country? Nigeria will rise and take its rightful place in the comity of advanced countries if we all join hands to eschew divisions along ethnic, religious or political divides and focus more on achieving the dreams of our founding fathers.”
Prof. Gbenga Nubi of the Department of Housing, University of Lagos, Akoka, lamented that infrastructures in the country have continued to decay instead of multiplying.
According to him, “When the former President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, came to Nigeria during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, he said ‘America does not have great infrastructure because America is great but America is great because America has great infrastructure’.
“It is the infrastructure that will lead to economic growth and development that will make any nation to be great. So when you travel around the world today, what we call basic infrastructure such as electricity, water, good transportation system and so on, there is no room for comparison and the unfortunate thing is that quite other nations around the world are making amazing progress that you can see, and this blows your mind.
“You travel on roads that were once in good condition in this country and today, the roads have disappeared. Housing deficit is increasing and the only thing we can do is to interrogate why these deficits are increasing despite the fact that there were several programmes in the past,” he said.
He advised the government to go back to the basis and build infrastructure and that government should give room for viable mortgage system as a way of addressing housing deficit in the country. “Nigeria is not isolated from the comity of nations, we all run a global economy, your ATM card is the same they use in New York, it is only in this part of the world that a young graduate will work for five years and says he wants to build a house. If you get to the US, the UK and most parts of the world, what you hear is ‘I want to buy a house’.
“An average citizen of any developed nation buys a house, even the rich ones buy houses. But it is the reverse in Africa, especially here in Nigeria. Housing is commodity and until we begin to see it as that and we see a finance structure that will make you to purchase it as a commodity, we may not get it right.
“Mortgage is the source of purchase of any housing, you have a housing stock and mortgage is made available that you can buy a house and pay for it for 20 to 25 years. The solution is to look at how we can grow the mortgage sector,” Nubi added.
Though the federal government has assured Nigerians of the present administration’s commitment to improving their lives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, on Tuesday, gave the assurance at a news conference organised by his office to highlight some of the key activities to mark Nigeria’s 59th Independence Day Anniversary.
Mustapha who was represented by Gabriel Aduda, Permanent Secretary, Economy and Political Affairs Office, SGF office, said the struggle for Nigeria’s independence from its inception was not an easy one
According to him, it was as a result of intellectual prowess, patriotic zeal, as well as the love of country that enabled our forebears to succeed in their struggle.
“Nigeria’s leaders since then have made varied contributions to building our nation state.
“Above all, efforts have been made to ensure that the country remains united despite diverse challenges, which are not unexpected in a multicultural society such as ours.
“Independence Day for us is a joyous occasion, but also a sobering one because we are beset with a lot of developmental challenges looking at how far we have come.
“Ideally, we should be far ahead of where we are right now as a people, but never the less President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is not sitting on its oars. But working to ensure better livelihoods for the Nigerian people,” he said.
He reiterated Buhari’s avowed determination to bequeath to the nation, a long-lasting legacy of improved infrastructural facilities and a better economy across the length and breadth of the country.
By this time on Tuesday, lot citizens would be in joyous mood celebrating the country’s 59th independence anniversary, many will even be adorned in their green and white apparels but, these questions below continue to beg for answers. “Are Nigerians indeed happy with the current situation in the country?” “Is the country where it ought to be among the comity of nations?”