By Mike Ozekhome, SAN
MANY Nigerians at home and abroad, including Elder Statesmen and women, Rights Activists, NGOs, Journalists and social media Czars, have severally called upon me in the last one week to comment on my personal feelings about “Nigeria at 60”. I had hitherto resisted this invitation, lest I painted a horrifically gloomy picture of despondency. However, because the questions will not stop cascading in like a torrential rainfall, I am now compelled to share my honest, but very modest, thoughts about Nigeria at 60. I am extremely sad about Nigeria at 60. Very, very sad indeed. Surely, a 60-year and above old man or woman, is already a senior citizen; a grandfather, or grandmother. I am one. This means such a man or woman has grown; or is at least, presumed to have grown, in maturity and development.
But, I am sad that Nigeria, “our own dear native land” (words taken from the beautiful lyrics of the unfortunately discarded old National Anthem), has neither developed nor matured. I am sad that she has not even been allowed to take full advantage of the various Constitutions fashioned out by our Colonial Masters and various indigenous governments to give her meaningful nationhood, after she was named “Nigeria” in 1897. She was so named by a young British Journalist, Miss Flora Louisa Shaw who later married Lord Sir Baron Frederick Lugard, the Governor – General, who amalgamated the Southern and Northern Protectorates to found Nigeria, on 1st January, 1914. Flora Shaw (1852-1929), had written an essay in the LONDON TIMES on 8th January, 1897, where she suggested the name “Nigeria” for the British Protectorate on the Niger River. She had coined Nigeria as a name, because she desired a shorter name for the “agglomeration of Pagan and Mohammedan States”, to replace the rather lengthy official title of Nigeria, “Royal Niger Company Territories”. This name, to her, was too long to be used as the name of a “Real Estate Property” under the Royal Niger Trading Company. She therefore coined Nigeria (from “Niger-Area”, in preference to such names as “Central Sudan”, “Niger Empire”, “Niger Sudan”, etc. I am very sad that at the time we were forcibly coupled together in the manner described above, Nigeria was made up of already independent and autonomous Nations and Nationalities.
The entity called Nigeria already had, in no particular order, the great Benin Empire, Oyo Kingdom, Ife Kingdom, the Hausa city States, Kanem-Bornu Empire, the Afemais, Ijaws, Urhobos, Itsekiris and the Esans. We already had the Opobos, Ebiras, Tivs, Idomas, Igalas, Gbagyis/Gwaris, Zulus, Fulfudes, Ogonis, Efiks, Ibibios and Isokos. There already existed the Igedes, Mandaras, Baburs, Beroms, Mangus, the Bachamas, Eggons, Andonis, Chiboks, Bekwaras, and Atyabas. The Shuwas, Kanuris, Bassas, Nupes, Alagos, Aokos, Owans, Balis; the Komas; The Jukuns; Agatus and the Angas, already lived their lives “jeje”.
I am therefore sad that some new Sherriffs-in-town, erroneously believe we must live together, willy-nilly, by fire and by force, whether we like it or not. It does not matter that there is absence of social justice, equity, egalitarianism, mutual respect, religious and inter-ethnic tolerance. I am sad that we never utilized, altruistically, the 1922 Clifford Constitution, 1946 Arthur Richards Constitution, 1951 Macpherson Constitution, 1954 Littleton Constitution, 1960 Independence Constitution, 1963 Republican Constitution, 1979 Obasanjo Constitution, 1989 unused IBB Constitution and the 1999 Abdulsalami Abubakar Constitution (Decree No 24), which has already been serially amended and is still currently undergoing further amendments. I am sad indeed. I am surely sad that Nigeria is still practising, at best, “feeding – bottle – democracy”, or “come – and- chop – democracy”. I am quite sad that of Nigeria ‘s pluralistic 374 ethnic groups in Nigeria (Onigu Otite), only 3 to 4 are given primacy and preferential treatment – the Fulanis, Hausas, Yorubas and Igbos, in that order. We operate in Nigeria as if the other 370 ethnic groups count for nothing, or as if they were created by God in Nigeria, to be mere clappers, playground spectators, bystanders, hewers of wood and drawers of water.
I cannot join Nigeria and Nigerians in celebrating our 60th year anniversary of our mere “flag independence” that has made us remain as nothing but an ordinary appendage of neo-colonial interests. I am indeed sad because our successive leaders have woefully failed the nation, the present generation and future generations. I am indeed sad that we live by the river, yet wash our hands with sputum. I am sad that we are blessed with the best natural, human and material resources, yet, live in crass poverty, abject penury, ignorance and ignoble despondency. I am quite sad that we grow geometrically in population, yet, arithmetically in growth and development. Nigeria, by available UN data, at mid-2020, ranks number 7 (2.64 %) in the list of most populated countries of the world, with a population of about 206,139,589 people. I am sad indeed that we only operate civilian governments, but never democratic governments. I am sad that we only practise elections, but not democracy. Elections are carried out routinely as a mere ritual EVERY 4 years. (To be continued)
Thought for the Week
“Bad leaders believe that they have to project control at all times”. (Simon Sinek)