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Nigeria at 52: Restoring hope in our nationhood

Okechukwu EMEH (Jr.) a social researcher based in Abuja, who wrote in via, believes that all hope is not lost in revamping our chequered nation and insists that we can still achieve the dreams of the founding fathers… 

If the dead are really conscious in the great beyond, some of our fallen national heroes and founding fathers would be turning in their graves over the increasing fading of confidence of many Nigerians in the ability of our fatherland to achieve greatness 52 years after gaining independence. Personages like Dr Herbert Macaulay, Rt Hon. (Dr) Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and others of the blessed memory had envisioned a post-colonial Nigeria that would be the giant of Africa and hope of the African race on account of her abundant human and material resources that was primed to be the linchpin for her political, economic, social and international accomplishments. They also had a lofty dream of a nation state that would be a melting pot of cultures, notwithstanding ethnic and religious differences. Equally inspirational was the philosophy of life of our founding fathers, as underpinned by simplicity, humility, patriotism, statesmanship and social altruism. Of course, despite their human frailties, they were political leaders who thought through their convictions and lived by them.

Today, more than five decades of nationhood, Nigeria is at a critical stage after experiencing years of devastating coups and counter-coups and civil war. Turning a harsh light on this as we commemorate our 52nd independence anniversary with sobriety at these times that try the soul are a pot-pourriof political, economic and social crises nudging to undermine the future of the polity. Politically, Nigeria is pervaded and befuddled by a miasma of tense and volatile atmosphere arising from dissonance and bitter rivalry among members of our political class, decline of clean hands in politics, leadership uncertainty, travesty of democratic values and deficiency of popular participation in governance.

Economically, there is unease and disquiet in the country over harsh economic realities, official corruption, mismanagement, widening gap between the rich and the poor and deterioration of public infrastructure and social services. And socially, the gradual erosion of spiritual, moral, family and social values and the attendant loss of sense of compassion and solidarity are threatening the foundation of our national community.

Already, the ripple effect of some of our political, economic and social crises has cascaded in the unprecedented wave of violence, bloodshed and acts of impunity now stoking insecurity, uncertainty and sense of vulnerability across the land, including communal insurgency, terrorism, armed robbery, assassination, kidnapping/hostage-taking, vandalism, cultism, murder and ritual murder. In the face of this, many of our compatriots are day by day losing hope in our nationhood. During the trying times of British suzerainty in Nigeria, the nagging question on the lips of most Nigerians was: when would the oppression of colonialism end?

Today, many of our people are wondering when the hard times of independence would be over. Others are wondering when they would reap the dividends of democracy and the accompanying remarkable improvement in their standard of living.

Although no national society is devoid of bad times in the annals of its history, the prevalence of critical political, economic and social problems in Nigeria on continuous and aggravating scale in recent years is disturbing and completely unacceptable. Also giving cause for concern in the country is the short supply of political leaders who are genuinely committed to public good. Equally worrisome is the gradual disappearance of the towering ideas of peaceful coexistence, tolerance, forbearance and reconciliation in the lexicon of many of our people who seem to be bitten by the bugs of ethnic nationalism and religious fundamentalism that have become a political force, as fuelled by real or imagined grievances, with such fierce identity-driven passions and mobilisations frequently ricocheting in an orgy of violence and bloodletting in the polity in recent times.

Presenting a sad commentary on the state of national consensus in Nigeria today is the sectional card being played by almost every ethnic, religious and regional group in the country. This is not to glide over the resurgence of the old North-South division, which is rearing its ugly head through the babel of contentious issues like presidential power shift, on-shore-offshore oil dichotomy, derivation, fiscal revenue sharing formula, indigene/settler controversy, secularism, state creation, restructuring of the federation, sovereign national conference, constitutional amendment and state police.

Now to the crucial questions: Is there any likelihood that the mounting political, economic and social crises in Nigeria would coalesce and conspire to wreck the country through breakup, as feared in certain quarters? Can Nigerians, with one accord, make aggressive efforts to pull the polity back from the brink and start rebuilding from the ruins of our multifaceted problems? These questions could receive an affirmative response. With regard to the first one, Nigeria could implode and go the unfortunate way of the dissolved Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and suffer dismemberment like Ethiopia (through Eritrea) and Indonesia (through East Timor) if our political, ethnic and religious leaders did not close ranks and make supreme sacrifices to save our federation. On the other hand, we can rebuild from our ruins considering that once there is a will there will be a way out of our difficult situations, which are not irredeemable. In view of this, both the political office holders and the led in Nigeria should demonstrate a resolve to chart a new course that will guarantee all of us a better future. After all, forward-looking countries like the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany, Japan and India had experienced tough challenges and upheavals in one time or the other without losing hope of recovery and are today in the forefront of global political and economic leadership. The same could be said of countries like South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda, which are reckoned as the promising face of African renaissance after passing through national adversities.

In essence, Nigeria still has the opportunity of undergoing positive change and renewal despite her chequered history. Interestingly, by 2014, the country will be marking the centenary of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914 by the erstwhile arch-colonialist, Lord Lugard. Both the amalgamation and the political statehood of Nigeria on 1st October 1960 should be an important milestone in our quest for self-actualisation through national unity, peaceful coexistence, nation-building and national integration rather than the subject of national controversy they have become today. Therefore, despite our different conflicting perceptions as members of particular ethnic nationalities and cultures with certain traits and identities, we should try to understand our differences and rededicate ourselves to the elevating idea of one united and indissoluble Nigerian state based on our shared colonial experience and common humanity. This is a clarion call on our divergent communal groups for mutual trust, respect, tolerance and forbearance, as well as unalloyed commitment to unity in diversity. Without question, both our diverse cultures and immense human and material resources have the necessary ingredients for building a formidable multinational state, provided there is a will and sheer determination by all and sundry in Nigeria to cohere and work with common purpose and spirit of comradeship.

At 52, the cliché in certain quarters that “Nigeria is a British creation” or “a mere geographical expression” or a putative or imagined society like Rwanda and Burundi (which are, somewhat, wracked by implacable Hutu-Tutsi animosity and bloodbath) should be discarded given the historical reality of the sustainability of our national state, having survived the civil war. We should now start thinking of Naija-optimism-a vision of a renascent Nigerian state with a rosy future on account of participatory democracy, accountable governance, the rule of law, respect of fundamental human rights, true federalism, sense of national belonging by our federating units, multi-culturalism, social justice, human welfare, robust economic growth, even development, international clout and prestige and what have you. Such an envisioned national order would help counteract the notion in certain quarters about the so-called Naija-pessimisma dismal picture of Nigeria whose future and prospects are overshadowed by gloom and doom as a result of her somehow insuperable problems.

To reinvent the lofty dreams of our founding fathers, those in our corridors of power at federal, state and local government levels are implored to eschew dishonesty, greed and personal aggrandisement in order to exercise leadership needed for peace, stability, progress and common good in our time. They should also show strong political leadership to clear the swamps of relative economic deprivation, huge income gap between the rich and the poor, chronic unemployment and mass poverty and the associated suffering, alienation, frustration, despondency and desperation that are spreading trouble everywhere in the country through violent crimes and insecurity. In particular, the Federal Government is urged to maintain its willingness to enter into sincere and productive talks with armed groups like Boko Haram and various factions of MEND in order to break the cycle of violence and revenge threatening to soak the country in blood and open the door wide for chaos, anarchy and disintegration. Such groups, however, are called upon to forsake violence and embrace negotiated settlement given the tangible benefits of peace, such as security and sustainable development.

Considering that in most cases we have war-like leaders not people, some opinion leaders of political and socio-cultural groups in Nigeria, regardless of the grievances and demands of their people, are besought to cool their hot rhetorics that could add fuel to the flames of our already turbulent situations. They should recourse to dialogue, compromise, reconciliation and social accommodation with a view to helping in healing social divisions in the country. As the watchdog of the society, the media in Nigeria are duty-bound to contribute their quota to the healing process needed to make all Nigerians to get along by being a tireless advocate of strong, stable and accountable government, the rule of law, separation of powers, constitutionalism, social justice, empowerment of the popular masses and peaceful coexistence. On the part of the populace in the country, they should rise to the challenge of discharging their civic responsibilities and obligations, including being law-abiding, orderly and peaceable.

In truth, such a desirable nexus of leadership – civil society far-reaching commitment to Nigeria, along with reinforcement of our core spiritual, moral, social and traditional family values now being overtaken by mundane ambitions, is the path to the realisation of our Manifest Destiny as a great nation state. With these imperatives, the coast will be clear for smooth political, economic and social sail in the country. Therefore, restoring hope in our nationhood is a prime task that must be accomplished in our time. And we must pursue this task that should be seen as our second liberation struggle with intensity, determination and courage. May God give us the will and ability at this crucial moment to build a new Nigeria that will bring succor and hope to her resilient people.

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