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By John Daniel Obioma
Politics is a game that is characterised by smoke-screens, intrigues and booby-traps. Sometimes, when the government is bereft of ideas, it could just decide to make something an issue and play it to the gallery in order to: attract undue national and international recognition; divert public attention from sensitive issues of the moment; create the impression that government is working hard enough; and cause the opposition some discomfiture and loss of credibility.
The above synopsis captures the essence of the centenary celebration, or how else can one explain the philosophy, meaning and substance of such an unwarranted prodigality. For one thing, it is quite unreasonable to calculate attainment of nationhood from the period of colonial subjugation as in 1914 instead of 1960, the period of political independence and freedom. Of course, a country cannot claim to enjoy nationhood or exercise sovereignty while still in chains. For another, Frederick Lugard did not create Nigeria for Nigerians. The amalgation was done purely in the political and economic interests of the British, namely to merge the politically amenable North to the economically viable South under one colonial administration for cost effective Indirect Rule System. Colonial rule was an imperial domination, which actually employed violent means to extract obedience from the ruled. The imperial system was not interested in uniting or unifying the colonised people. They rather forcibly integrated them (pacification) to such a level that would enhance unhindered exploitation of their resources, at the expense of lives and the people’s freedom.
Indeed, rather than truly uniting the people, the colonialists employed divide and rule strategy which ensured that inter-ethnic communication was limited to only trade and marriage relationships. However, due to events that occurred rapidly after the Second World War, especially, with the strong emergence and activities of the educated elite, the divide and rule system quickly faded away. United against a common enemy, the educated elites agreed to forsake their differences in order to achieve independence from the British. To prove that the 1914 amalgamation and the consequent colonial machinery were not intended to unite Nigerians, the educated elites soon after independence in 1960, began to sing loud discordant tunes of ethnicism and regionalism. This partly contributed to the fall of the First Republic six years after.
Looking at the enormous cultural diversities posed by the over 250 ethnic nationalities, which weighed heavily against colonial administration in Nigeria, the British readily allowed the introduction of the concept of regionalism via the 1946 Richard’s Constitution. This was the only means to cast a shadow of governance over an otherwise ungovernable people.
The foregoing analysis is enough to show that the Nigerian people were forced to stay together, like strange bedfellows, for British selfish reasons. And they have remained so till date, “suffering and smiling”, complaining of marginalisation, intimidation and exploitation by one another. It is therefore wrong and myopic, if not pretentious; to say that the centenary celebration is necessary to express our happiness in staying together in one united country. Now, the pertinent questions are: are we celebrating Lugard’s victory in subjugating Nigerian tribal groups to British advantage? Put differently, are we celebrating the fact that a colonial warlord forcibly integrated 250 ethnic nationalities into one administrative unit but which cannot stand unified up till now? Does staying together signify unity or harmony? Taking into account what have transpired in Nigeria since 1966: political turbulence leading to civil war, coups and counter-coups, terrorism, acts of genocide dastardly committed against some selected groups, etc. Does it suggest that Nigerians are happy and truly united? Does it call for celebration and clinking of wine glasses? These are questions the government must sincerely answer.
By honouring Queen Elizabeth II and Frederick Lugard with centenary awards, the federal government is simply expressing its gratitude to the colonial masters for forging us together willy-nilly into a fragile union called Nigeria and for creating imbalances in its political system which have continued to subvert our quest for real unity. We are thanking our colonial masters (instead of demanding for reparation) for foisting on us a loose federation of sworn-enemy groups who, due to incurable distrust, always agree to disagree on issues pertaining to the survival and growth of the Nigerian nation. This is certainly the first time in history when a former colony would roll out drums to thank its former overlord for a job well done.
The flip-side of the centenary jamboree is another embarrassment called centenary city or millennium city project in Abuja. According to the Presidency, it is a private-sector-driven enterprise aimed at establishing an Eldorado-city of 1000 hectares of virgin land tenanted by 100,000 people or so. The unique thing about this “miracle-city,” is that all necessities of life such as power, water, schools, hospital, transport, employment opportunities, security etc, will be copiously provided and administered to work without failure. Modelled after great world cities such as Dubai, Monaco, Shenzhen, Singapore and Songdo, the Abuja Centerary City which shall be completed within a five-year development cycle, will provide conducive environment for world-class multinational/domestic investments, as well as a second to none tourist destination that hosts about 500,000 visitors daily.
Laudable as this sounds on paper, and without being unduly pessimistic, it is public knowledge that the Nigerian factor rooted in impunity, sycophancy, ethnicism, lawlessness and corruption, can hardly allow the good intentions in the project- design to work. The lack of patriotic commitment to manage ourselves, our resources, infrastructure and development projects has virtually become a culture. Thus, the millennium city may be another experiment in self-deceit and wastage. Besides, government rightly knows what to do for all Nigerians as it has abundant resources to tackle all development challenges. To that extent, limiting development to just 100,000 lucky residents of a city where all amenities will work well, while the rest of the country will remain dark and endangered, amounts to self-mockery.
Finally, a critical look at the centenary awardees attests to a statement about the Presidency playing to the gallery. Are these men and women proud recipients of awards for what they have truly achieved for Nigeria namely, national unity, quality life and nation-building? Most annoyingly, is there any justification, whatsoever in giving awards of honour to all former Heads of State? The picture shows that the Presidency obviously didn’t want to offend any of them. Apart from Generals Yakubu Gowon (who prosecuted the civil war to reunite Nigeria), Murtala Mohammed/Muhammadu Buhari (who fought to stamp-out corruption and restore values) and probably Abdulsalami Abubakar (who restored civil democracy in 1999); the rest left footprints that were tainted with greed for power, high level corruption and shame.
Many of the coup plotters gave Nigerians hope when they announced their plans to end corruption and get many wrong things right. But those promises were like the proverbial “sound of the bitter kola which soon became the opposite of its taste.” The message of hope and pursuit of national interest soon became a notice for vendetta, exploitation and pursuit of personal interests. To illustrate: General Sanni Abacha, probably seeing how the Gulf oil windfall was ‘managed,’ vowed to break that record in corruption technology during his regime. And he did exactly that, in addition to attempting to become a live-president. Others were in power for eight years and achieved virtually nothing for the nation. In fact, looking at them holistically, Nigeria’s past leaders have failed this great nation. In terms of patriotic leadership and vision, political unity and cohesion, infrastructure development, economic management/wealth creation and national security, our past leaders don’t deserve any award. Nigeria’s abundant resources are of no use to its people. Nigeria is about the worst place on earth for a child to be born. Child labour, almajirism, unemployment, hunger, insecurity and general hardship have reduced life expectancy to 40 and below from 60 a few years ago. Are we therefore making progress as a people? Can we say we are better-off today than we were 10 years ago?
The centenary celebration should have focused on what we have achieved out of Lugard’s political framework since 1914. In other words, what values have we added to our colonial legacy? Have we been able to feed ourselves, manage our economy or govern ourselves well? The celebration should also have highlighted the rich history of this country and the question of how we can benefit from our political, economic and cultural diversities. After a thorough assessment of Nigeria’s structural fragility, the United States of America, recently predicted that the country may collapse into different splinter groups by 2015. If that prediction comes to pass, we should rightly blame it on our colonial legacy and the unpatriotic activities of our heroes past. However, if it does not happen in 2015, we should expect it thereafter, unless the Nigerian people negotiate the terms and conditions of their further cohabitation. The on-going National Conference, if not stage-managed, is the only instrument that can defuse the time-bomb.
Obioma is an Associate Editor with The Economy magazine