The excitement over the 100th anniversary of Nigeria’s existence is not altogether misplaced. A century is a milestone, even in the life of a nation. One year ahead, it is appropriate that Nigerians should be sensitized about what the centenary portends for them now and in the future. The significance of the occasion should, however, go beyond celebration. It is more appropriately a time for stocktaking and crucial decision-making.
Yes, the year 2014 will mark the historic Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria in 1914. It was the formation of one nation of several peoples. But the country, in essence, is 100 years behind the dreams of her founding fathers, and indeed the entire world that held Nigeria’s potential to greatness highly. While it is noteworthy that the union has remained unbroken in 100 years, it should be worrisome that even now questions about its cohesion remains.
This is an opportunity for Nigeria to review its scorecard in the comity of nations. That will provide the background for projecting her into the future and setting a vision for years ahead.
As with a balance sheet, Nigeria’s experience is a mixed bag of joy and sadness. The positive resolve from this will be the determination to avoid past mistakes and to set clear goals for the future.
The union, like an arranged marriage, is a “work-in-progress.” It is true that the country was merged by an external power, the British Colonial Authority that held the union together by sheer force and ruled until the process that led to self-governance. The first elections in Nigeria, into the 1954 Legislative Council, did not feature political parties.
Only individuals with impeccable communal record were selected by their peoples to represent them. Self-governance followed for the Eastern and Western Regions in 1955 and Northern Region in 1957. Independence from colonial rule was attained with the raising of Nigeria’s flag on October 1, 1960 at the Race Course, Lagos. Truly, that was the day Nigeria took responsibility for its own governance.
With the backdrop of its ethnic diversity, staying together was uppermost in the minds of nationalist leaders who emphasized unity. Thus the country’s Coat of Arms carried the predominant concern of the founding fathers: Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress. In emphasizing unity, the national credo reflected the paradox of the nascent nation.
Conspicuously missing in that list is Justice, a sine qua non for true unity, peace and progress. In that omission, it would seem, was the seed of subsequent and subsisting experience as a nation sown in our first one hundred years! Yet the primary principle in the traditional way of life of the Nigerian people is to do right unto all men, exemplified in the diverse religions of the people.
In the past 100 years, the world experienced two world wars. There were civil wars in many countries, Nigeria included. The map of Europe was re-drawn. Many nations have broken up. There was the rise and fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (all are now independent nations).
Peoples of the earth had always lived as language groups, but it was from Europe that the concept of nations had been exported to the rest of the world. Thus, when the original “European Steel and Coal Union” evolved into the European Economic Community, and attained unification of the original 12 member states in 1992, they did away with some symbols of statehood by adopting a common passport, borderless contiguous states (Schengener Staten) and eventually a common currency.
The question was loud and clear to the rest of the world: “What makes a nation?” About the same time, with the truncation of an evolving democratic culture by Nigeria’s military rulers in 1983, concerned Nigerians raised the question: “When is a nation?”
The focus for the next centenary has been defined by the country’s collective experience since Lord Lugard founded “Project Nigeria” in 1914. It is positive that the project is still on, but it is illusive to think that it can be sustained as it is. It has been a turbulent marriage but still a marriage, characterised by conflicting values.
It needs a national dialogue to redefine it and bring it close to the aspirations of the nationalists who struggled for self-governance. With their penchant for self-vilification, Nigerians have been vociferous about their problems arising from ethnicity, religion, greed and corruption, all resulting in stunted development.
Among Nigerians, cynicism is palpable. Half of the population, though below 30 years of age, nurses little hope of self-fulfilment. Seventy-eight per cent of the population are unemployed, thus making the future appear bleak. These are serious issues calling for sober reflection and concrete action. Therefore, beyond the euphoria of celebration, Nigerians can mark the event, with a resolve that the second centenary will post a nation of justice, stability and progress.
Culled from The Guardian.
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