OUR country marks its 55th independence anniversary today. In a very fundamental sense, Nigeria’s story is also the story of my life, because I was born in the very last month of colonialism in our country, on September 5, 1960.
I grew up in those early years of an independent country and found consciousness against the backdrop of the hopes generated by freedom as well as the anxieties that were associated with the problems of underdevelopment and the inability of the post-colonial ruling elite to find the consensus to build the new country, leading almost inevitably, if tragically, to the years of the Nigerian Civil War.
I lost cousins in the war and one of those who returned suffered the dire consequences of what we would know many decades later, as Post- Traumatic Stress Syndrome. But when I reflect upon the early years of my life in our newly independent country, the motif was hope.
Hope about the possibilities that a free country can give to its people and the hope that we would be the generation that will build our country. I think that was a feeling that most members of my generation felt and they have conditioned our relationship with our country’s troubled history.
And why won’t we be hopeful? We were part of an incredible period in human history. The worldwide movement for independence had also produced truly remarkable individuals in the colonised countries, whose charisma; organisational abilities; intellect and engagement with history inspired hitherto dormant peoples to storm the heavens of colonial exploitation.
The achievement of independence by Nigeria, just like other African and Asian nations, represented one of the greatest achievements of humanity. And even when we feel disappointment about how the promises of independence panned out in the long run, its historic significance cannot be underestimated.
We grew up in a Nigeria where the promise of independence was the backdrop against which life was lived and state institutions worked for the people, and citizenship seemed to have a content and meaning. The backdrop allowed members of the independence generation to flower and they have made remarkable contributions to Nigerian development in various fields of human endeavours.
Complex problems today: Today the problems that Nigeria faces have become even more complex as the population has blown up beyond our wildest imagination. Similarly, we live in far younger country than at any point in the past fifty-five years. The young people who make up the majority of our population today did not experience the hopes which came with independence or the remarkable strides associated with the decade of the seventies that provided the balm which soothed the pains of the Civil War years.
They have inherited a broken, non-caring and very unjust country. The ruling class today does not possess the broad vision and commitment to nation building, which were central to the thought and praxis of the independent era elite of our country.
We now deal with an elaborate process of heist as the central purpose of governance and since 1999 a new phenomenon emerged in Nigeria, where those who have ruled states ended becoming richer than their states. Kwara state is a typical example of this criminal trend! It is therefore no surprise that younger people today do not see patriotic exertion as the natural order of their engagement with their country.
They want to be rich and would do anything to be. Where are the positive role models to copy? Very few indeed! But all around us are criminals in the public and private sectors and because they evidently get everything, crime seems to pay. The state has becoming increasingly de-legitimissed and preying on its processes has become an avenue to stupendous riches today.
All hope not lost: Yet, I remain an incurable optimist about our country’s future. I see no other way, because my worldview was constructed within the era of hope which conditioned my upbringing in an independent country. I think in the fifty-fifth year of independence, we have the opportunity of a new government dedicated to a process of change for the better, to kick-start a renewal of patriotic exertion and honest labour, for the betterment of our country. A new Nigeria is possible!