The craving for the celebration by the Federal Government of the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates by Lord Fredrick Lugard in 1914 rose a notch higher last week, with the Presidency’s deliberations with the National Assembly on the matter. In its efforts to persuade the national lawmakers to agree to the proposal, the Presidency, through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, raked up some juicy reasons to back it.
According to Anyim, apart from his insistence that public money would not be spent, the centenary celebration, which will be a multi-faceted and multi-location event, “provides unique opportunity for corporate organisations to properly present themselves as part of Nigeria’s success story.” Anyim explained further that, with support and active participation of the private sector, the centenary celebration would provide, potentially, 5,000 jobs directly and over 10,000 jobs indirectly.
Obviously, the Presidency is up to some pranks. If the project is private-sector-driven, why is Anyim wasting time and taxpayers’ money in running around promoting it? Earlier opposition to this proposal last year forced the President to proclaim that a private sector funding for the project would be explored. As it is often said, there is no free lunch anywhere. Such funds, when doled out, are repaid through corrupt contracts or patronage network. Ultimately, public funds are siphoned. It is hoped that the federal lawmakers will appreciate the depth of the country’s disjuncture and refuse to appropriate funds for the jamboree.
The carnival is unnecessary and a waste of resources; it offends reason and existential realities. Interestingly, some members of the House of Representatives led by the Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, have questioned the government’s wisdom for the venture when the economy is being hobbled by unemployment put at 23 per cent, inflation at 12.21 per cent, unprecedented graft and serial failure in budget implementation. The Senate President, David Mark, also saw through the President’s insincerity with the caution that public fund should not go into the project under any guise.
Indeed, the foundation of the Nigerian state, viewed from either the 1914 or the 1960 independence prism, is structurally defective and irredeemable. It is therefore not surprising that it has failed every integrity test. Even before the colonising power departed, Ahmadu Bello, the Premier of the defunct Northern Nigeria, had begun what could pass for the most spirited public enlightenment on its defects, when he dubbed the Union “the mistake of 1914.” It was not long after independence before political convolutions overwhelmed the inchoate set-up. Blood cascaded between 1967 and 1970 in a civil war that claimed over one million lives.
However, no lessons were learnt. The country’s long caravan of failure, exemplified in sectarian crises, which have turned some cities in the North into graveyards of innocent and hapless Nigerians, mutual distrust among its over 250 ethnic nationalities and the conspiracy of the conservative political elite to perpetually undermine the well-being of the citizenry, every now and then, constantly remind us that something is amiss. The colonial master, Britain, ipso facto, corralled the Northern and Southern Protectorates into a non-orgasmic union for its economic and political benefits. Though a century is a very long time for the country to have morphed into a nation, this is not the case in Nigeria. Therefore, it is a day to despair at the wrong turns we have taken in 100 years of groping in the dark; not one to celebrate.
Oil is the hinge that holds Nigeria together. A cohesive society is one where people are protected against life’s risks, trust for their neighbours and institutions of the state is high, and work towards a better future for themselves and their families is respected. Rather than celebrate, the President should use the centenary to present the State of the Union address. If the President pretends not to know, he is invited to take note of the following incongruities: why are our industries not producing according to installed capacity?
A country of over 160 million people generates 4,503 megawatts of electricity in 2013, the highest so far in its history; yet, Brazil, which was on the same economic pedestal with her in the 1960s, has 100,000MW with a population of 190.7 million. South Africa with about 50 million people generates 40,000 MW. Nigerians and the world at large cannot figure out why an oil producing country imports refined fuel from abroad, even from non-oil producing nations.
In 2012, over one trillion was purportedly spent on oil subsidy. The figure is likely to rise in 2013. Paradoxically, as a former Minister and former World Bank Vice-President for Africa, Oby Ezekwesili, put it in a recent lecture, “The trend of Nigeria’s population in poverty since 1980 to 2010 suggests that the more we earned from oil, the larger the population of poor citizens.” This situation is awful and a big caricature of governance and the much-vaunted fight against corruption. Boko Haram, an Islamic fundamentalist sect in the North, remains a clear and present danger to our communalism, while peaceful co-existence of ethnic nationalities in Jos, Kaduna and in some other Northern cities presents a picture of a polity that is out of joint. Are these challenges worth celebrating?
Jonathan on January 14 forlornly observed that Nigeria was too old to disintegrate. “In 2014, we are going to celebrate our centenary; our 100 years of existence. You cannot stay in a marriage for 100 years and say that is the time you will divorce.” He is wrong. Such claim is a farce and does violence to history. Holding a country together is not anchored on wishful thinking and false pretences. He is well reminded of the dismemberment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; the emergence of Eritrea from Ethiopia; Southern Sudan’s breakaway from the Sudan; and Northern Ireland’s moves for self-rule. These are contemporary and illuminating impulses of globalisation and quest for nationhood.
Nigeria shares the same security mess with countries such as Mali, Somalia and Pakistan. Perhaps, the only difference is that the insurgents here are more furtive than their confederates in Mali. The President painted a frightening picture recently when he revelled that the ultimate goal of Boko Haram is to “take over Abuja so as to make me and those in government to go and hide.” These omens are sobering and this is why the centenary should be a moment for soul-searching and not for revelry.
The administration should rather squarely face the serious challenges of rescuing the country from the cliff edge and putting it on a stable and productive path.
Culled from Punch.
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