On the eve of that day, Ayo, a young Customs officer in Lagos had called me to wish me happy Independence Anniversary in advance. Soon after this, he added a caveat! “Sir, is it true that prices of petrol might be hiked tomorrow?” Initially, I was speechless. Then I quickly put myself together and replied: “I don’t think so. No sane person would do such a thing on Independence Day of all days.”
“But remember sir that the last fuel price hike was on New Year Day, January 1, 2012, and people are already doing panic buying”. In spite of this, I stood my ground and asked him to perish the thought. That is the extent of the mortal fear that has been etched into the sub-consciousness of the average Nigerian.
Anyway, the following day, October 1, I listened to Mr. President’s broadcast that morning as he reeled out his achievements so far. It was reassuring though. But statistics aside, what Nigerians actually need this time is to measure the quality of their life. Has there been any improvement in the last 13 years of democratic governance? I say this because I share the admission of Mr. President that he alone and not one man alone can change the fortunes of Nigeria.
We have passed through decades of decay, decadence, indiscipline, corruption, embezzlement of public funds and all that. That Nigeria is still standing as one nation today is probably due to the benevolence of the Almighty God. Every sector, every section and every age bracket have contributed to the morass of underdevelopment the country has been grappling with.
Under the military interregnum, there was a common enemy, as various aspersions were cast on the military as if they were some foreign elements or strangers who had cornered the reins of power to foster a selfish agenda. We never took cognisance of the fact that, except for the head of state, military governors or military administrators of each state and a few aides, all other members of the cabinet were civilians. Even the civil service, the engine room of government, was run solely by civil servants. Not one of them was a military man.
So, if the military rulers stole money, they did not perpetrate the looting alone. They were aided or, even in many instances, goaded by the civilians in high places. It was the civilians in sensitive places who taught them how to steal and what to steal. Today, the civilian collaborators of the military are walking freely and causing problems everywhere with their ill-gotten wealth, but nobody is talking.
That brings me back to 1999. We all know what we passed through to achieve democratic governance. Many precious souls were lost in the titanic struggle to ease off the military from power. But how many of those who stood before the barrels of the guns are in power today? The political firmament is being dominated by the offspring of those who brought the country to its knees prior to the events of January and July 1966. Many of the political parties, that is, if they can be called as such, are populated by crooks and known criminals. Their agenda: to loot the public till in order to oil their selfish and extravagant lifestyles.
“In the rat race to empty the treasury, strange bedfellows are now cohabiting. It is no longer “what we can offer, but what we can get”
In the rat race to empty the treasury, strange bedfellows are now cohabiting. It is no longer “what we can offer, but what we can get”. That is the reason why there is a permanent fratricidal war going on in most of the political parties. When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. As our politicians are embroiled in an open war of attrition, it is the people and the development of the nation that bear the brunt.
No other time in Nigeria has the drums of war by ethnic nationalities been so high than today. Those who have been schemed out of the political equations in the country have resorted to championing the parochial interests of their ethnic and sectional groups. This, they intend to use, as bargaining chips for political ascendency. To achieve this, they must heat up the polity to breaking point.
While the ethnic jingoists are doing their own, others are using religion and other pretences to conceal their real intentions. Besides, all the present form of criminality – kidnapping, violent robberies, internet fraud and social media crimes – are the manifestation of a society where the craze for materialism at all costs has reached an alarming crescendo. It is like those who cannot join the politicians to loot have devised their own ‘ingenious’ means to amass wealth even if it means that blood must flow freely.
Look at Boko Haram or whatever it is called. Though the lethargic security system in the country could be blamed for not nipping this nonsense in the bud, the increasing number of new converts to the rapacious and rampaging gang is worrisome. It means some people are profiting from the entire brigandage. In a country where religious pluralism holds sway, is it not pure eccentricity to assume that a rudderless group of people could foster a particular religion or doctrine on the country?
Now, it is getting increasingly clear that the gang of marauders has the blessing and active connivance of some unscrupulous security agents, which is why their activities have been proving intractable. Yet, what is really at stake is the struggle for the control of the levers of power. All is about power, not to change or improve on the destiny of the country but to rape it ceaselessly and mercilessly.
As I write, I can imagine the life of squalor and destitution the victims of the recent flood disaster in the country are facing. Do the politicians care if they are washed away by the surging flood? As people are driven out of their places of abode, petty thieves and robbers are all over the place making away with any property they could lay their hands on. The government that should have provided the needed succour seems to have no solution to the problem. Consequently, many of the displaced Nigerians are now left entirely to the vagaries of hunger, disease and untimely death.
That is why I see this year’s independence anniversary as a contradiction of what I witnessed in the United States of America, USA, on June 4, 2012. That day was America’s Independence Anniversary.
Independence Day in America is always a huge celebration. You could smell the festivities before the d-day. Various manufacturers and shopping outlets unleash a deluge of promos, discounts and lotteries on the public, while people scramble to arrange for barbeque all over the place. People travel far and wide for revelry.
In the afternoon of that day, I accompanied my friend to their church – a newly commissioned Redeemed Church of God at Richmond area of Houston, Texas. The place was packed full with picnickers who were all Nigerians. Apart from a cow on a barbecue, sausages, corn and every item of merriment were also in abundance. As I watched the joyous multitude, what ran through my mind was: “Here are Nigerians celebrating the independence of another country almost 7,000 kilometres away from home with such élan and excitement. Even though many of them could hardly live above subsistence level, they were sure that their conditions can only improve, not get worse like that of their fellow men back home.
The lesson from this is that we must wake up from our deep slumber, eschew all forms of unhealthy rivalries – ethnic, religious or political – bury our parochial interests and join hands to move this country forward.