CELEBRATING A CENTENARY OF FAILED PROMISES AND MISSED TARGETS?
Since the 1st of January 2014, Nigeria has been celebrating the 100 years of the founding of Nigeria as a Nation. Though the celebrations have been kind of subdued, overshadowed by the political drama of defections and realignments, a series of events have been held as part of the elaborate commemoration of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates. Indeed the events started since last year with the SGF on the driving seat.
It must be acknowledged that the centenary celebrations are in a way different from the usual. The usual fanfare that characterises our National events seems to be subdued in planning and execution. We are told that not much of Government's money is involved in the celebrations, that most of the events are sponsored by the Private sector. Perhaps, the greatest innovation is the idea of a Centenary City. This 21st Century city to be built around Abuja will equal or surpass Dubai and it will be driven by artificial intelligence, offering breathtaking ambience and entertainment and totally owned by the Private Sector. Great great ideas!
But the question is what are we really celebrating? Many Nigerians feel that there is really nothing to celebrate. And they say so with good reasons. Many believe that the quality of life of the average Nigerian has not improved to any significant degree over the last 100 years.The aged in the Nation, the octogenarians for example, speak with nostalgia of what great fun and life they enjoyed when Lagos was a colony. They point at the quality of education, where a primary 6 or standard 6 ( as it was called then) graduate spoke and wrote better English language than Masters degree holders of today! They point to our poor healthcare and tell of how local dispensaries and general hospitals offered better healthcare than some of the teaching hospitals of today, where the doctors and other healthcare workers are perpetually on strike with fake drugs all over the place.
Those who think there is nothing to celebrate, cite the depressing level of poverty among the populace and the widening gap between the extreme rich and the extreme poor. They speak of hunger in the Nation. The extremists allege that the amalgamation of the North and South is more of a curse than a blessing. They claim that the South has been slowed down by the North while the North has been made lazy and corrupted by the oil wealth from the South, diverting them from the properous Agriculture-based economy they were running. They blame the unhealthy rivalry between the North and the South and the perpetual struggle for political power with its debilitating effect on the ordinary People on the 1914 amalgamation. They posit that both protectorates will have made more meaningful progress, standing alone than being joined as one Nation. They point at the instability created by the security breaches inflicted on the Nation by the militancy in the South and the Boko Haram insurgency in the North and blame it squarely on the Poltical struggle for supremacy and access to National resources.
While some of us disagree with some of these postulations, present happenings in the Nation seem to lend some credence to their position. It is distressing that 100 years since the amalgamation and 54 years since the attainment of independence, our political sophistication is still so rudimentary and mundane. The centrepiece of our political discussions and disputations today is on "whose turn" it is to rule . After 100 years as a nation, we are yet to be fully wielded into a truly united Country. At this time we ought to have lost our tribal and ethnic consciousness and differences and should be thinking ' Nigeria'. Our political disputations should be on 'what is best for Nigeria' and not what is best for the North or the South. Infact, it is so distressing that many people even contemplate the disintegration or dissolution of Nigeria. Today, that seems to be our greatest fear with so many predictions from home and abroad. Why must this be so? Why does such threat not exist for America even with its multi racial and multi ethnic foundation?
In my attempt to answer the questions posed above, I came to the conclusion that our political class - whether civilian or military have failed the Nation with litany of failed promises and missed targets. A thorough and dispassionate analysis shows that Nigeria is less united in 2014, than we were in 1914. As of a truth, our unity as a Nation was stronger even at independence in 1960 than it is today. The problem in my view is that many Nigerians seem to see no real benefit in belonging to the Nation. They seem not have any real ownership of the country. Rightly or wrongly, many feel that they have no share in the Country and that the Country does not belong to them but to some 'other people'. If the country were theirs, why would they want it destroyed. Why even would they speak evil of the Country?. Who ever speaks evil of his own or works to destroy what he or she owns?
People were promised, 'health for all' and what they got was 'death for all'. They were promised 'housing for all', what they got was 'housing for a few'. They were 'promised better life for all ' but they got 'better life for the privileged'. They heard ' Justice for all' but they see 'justice for the affluent'. Some can afford four 'square' meals a day, but many can not afford even one 'rectangular' meal a day. So what is the joy in belonging to a Nation that seems not to care for you but actually suppresses you? Young men finish school and five years after have no employment, so they decide to trade but they can not buy expensive and inflated local government market stalls. And then they build their own shops and then the shops are termed 'illegal' and are pulled down by bull dozers, without alternative locations or compensation.What is the joy of belonging to an oil producing region when you can not get clean water to drink, neither can you drink the oil. Many People who come from the oil producing areas still live in absolute squalor and poverty despite the oil derivation money being poured into the region.In the North, the divide between the political class and the rest is so sharp and deep. All the beautiful houses are owned by councillors, local Government chairmen or senior Public servants. The fastest and shortest route to good life is now through politics.
Things can not continue to be so and must not be allowed to be so, if we want a united Nigeria that is owned by All Nigerians. Ownership is critical. Yes, it is true that a lot of effort has been made in recent years to reduce poverty, disease and the alienation of the underprivileged and the poor. Starting from the Millennium Development goals (MDGs) and the special allocation to pro poor projects with the Debt forgiveness savings by the Obasanjo regime to the current Social Safety net projects of the Jonathan administration like the Maternal and Child healthcare(MCH)program, including the conditional cash transfer(CCT), the Community social, women and Youth employment (CSWYE) scheme and the Public Works for the Youth programme. But if the truth must be told, these are far too little to correct the many years of imbalance. The welfare of every Nigerian must truly become the centre piece of every government policy and expenditure. Our political leaders must set themselves free from the hostage they are held by the political and business classes who pretend they are working for the masses but are truly only concerned about themselves and their families and cronies, and walk around in the communities to feel and see the real sufferings of the people and design programs that will deliver service and succour to the people. When they fly in aeroplanes and helicopters to get to their luxurious homes and only meet and talk with their like, they have no chance of truly feeling the pains of the people. And so the majority of Nigerians will continue to feel alienated and will feel disenfranchised and so do not see the need to defend the unity of this Nation.
As we begin the Political manouver and competitions for 2015, I humbly request the Political class and their private sector collaborators to take a deep breath and ponder how we can Create an all- inclusive Nation where non will be oppressed. All the tokenisms we see from time to time must give way to a coordinated and strategic plan to open up the economic space for all Nigerians to participate and derive benefits. We need to evolve a Nigerian equivalent of the ' American dream'. That is the only way in my view that we can ensure that Nigerians become patriotic about our country, leading to true unity. If the Nation can make this the focus of our celebrations, then there will be something worthwhile to celebrate.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR