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At 63, Nigeria needs urgent reconfiguration

On Sunday, Nigerians will mark the country’s 63 years of independence. It will be a celebration of our 63 years of nationhood, 63 years of political, religious and ethnic crises, tensions, lamentations, thrills and joys of our collective existence as one nation fashioned by the British imperial masters since 1914 when Lord Frederick Lugard and his mistress, Flora Shaw, named this entity, an amalgam of different tribes and tongues and better known as the Southern and Northern Protectorates, Nigeria. The name means the people of Niger area, a reference to the long River Nigeria that took off from Fouta Djallon Highlands in Guinea, passed through Niger Republic before entering Nigeria passed through Kianji and Onitsha before entering the Atlantic Ocean through Port Harcourt and other parts of the Niger Delta region.

Before independence and before even the coming of the white man on Nigerian soil, first by the Portuguese and then the British, who loved the land so much that he stayed for hundreds of years before he was forced to grudgingly grant us flag independence in October 1, 1960. According to Nigeria’s foremost nationalist and first ceremonial President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, we got our independence on a platter of gold, meaning that we did not shed blood before Britain agreed to allow us govern ourselves after years of slave trade, political and economic subjugation. Although we are free politically, we are still tied to Britain, our colonial lords both politically and economically and even culturally and emotionally.

After all, our lingua franca, English, is a colonial heritage, which in Chinua Achebe’s deduction was an ennobling colonial heritage in that it gave us the means to communicate with one another, which the over 250 Nigerian languages could not do. Some of us still bear English names, usually dubbed Christian names or Anglophone names. Our music, fashion and manner of speaking is heavily affected by our interaction with Europe and America, the same with our educational system and commerce.

Despite the real and perceived evils of imperial rule, Nigerians were comparatively speaking much better during that era than during the period of self-rule, in terms of provision of good governance, potable water, good education and good health systems. Since the black man took over the affairs of Nigeria, it has been a sad story of one crisis after another. It has been a sad tale of political instability, coups and counter coups, wars, religious and ethnic crises, insurgency, violent separatist agitations and economic and environmental agitations.

To most Nigerians, independence has brought with it great disappointment and disillusionment. Self-rule has unfortunately alienated many Nigerians from the government. Government has become a tool of repression, an instrument of internal subjugation and political bondage. This is why our 63 years of nationhood has become a monumental disaster. Within our chequered 63 years of nationhood, we fought a bloody fratricidal civil war, whose scars are still with us despite the government’s reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. Those efforts were feeble hence we still feel the scars of the Nigeria/Biafra war till today.

The wounds are yet to be healed, more than 50 years after the brutal war. Fifty-three years after a war of unity, we still regard a part of the country, the South-East, as not being Nigerian enough. We still see them as enemies or rebels as not belonging to the Nigerian establishment. We still see them as aliens and non-patriots, who should be perpetually kept out of our political equation and eternally banned from Aso Rock, the seat of the federal power. This maltreatment or marginalization of Ndigbo can explain the violent separatist agitation in the South-East. Mass unemployment of youths from the region must have exacerbated it coupled with absence of good governance. We cannot build a Nigeria based on alienation and hatred of a certain group based on a civil war fought to unite the Eastern region, now heaped as mainly the Igbos, with the rest of Nigeria.

The war ended 53 years ago, yet some Nigerians are still fighting the Igbo in political and economic fronts and ensuring that they are denied entry to Aso Rock. Yet we are made to believe that Gen. Yakubu Gowon fought the civil war on the basis of one Nigeria, one destiny. The paradox of our nationhood is that though Nigeria is one in rhetoric, in praxis, it is more than one. While we are Nigerians, some Nigerians are more Nigerian than others. Some people are discriminated against and made not to belong to the entity called Nigeria. That is why some of them are fighting for a separate existence. As long as the scars of the civil war are still with us and the hatred of Ndigbo is being intensified and amplified at topmost political levels, so long Nigeria will not know development.

On Sunday, our political leaders, including the president and governors and even local government chairmen, where governance at the grassroots level still exists, will regale us with lofty speeches on the ideals of patriotism and nationalism and the need for more sacrifices. They will tell us those sweet things that mean almost nothing, and which cannot uplift the lives of the citizens. Nigerian leaders do not lack capacity for making fine speeches and good references. They are not even short in pontifications and precepts. Unfortunately, they are very short in examples. Great leaders lead by examples and not by preaching. We can list good leaders from Europe to America and to Asia but not Africa, not Nigeria, the self-acclaimed giant of Africa. We are weary of their sermons. They should set examples for us to follow.

As we mark our 63 years of suffering and smiling, we must begin to reset Nigeria, politically and economically. We must begin to restructure the behemoth federal government and devolve most powers to the federating regions and not the present 36 states unequal structure with abnormal 774 local government areas, an unsustainable political structure. Nigeria as presently constituted is abnormal to a federal system of government. It is more a unitary arrangement than a federal system.

With the present structure of Nigeria, the country cannot work and will not work. The present arrangement is a recipe for a disaster. Let our so-called leaders stop pretending that all is well with Nigerians. They should not delude themselves that Nigerians are happy. The opposite is indeed the case. Nigerians are suffering and dying. Nigerians can’t breathe anymore. They may be asphyxiated soon. The present APC government model is not working. President Bola Tinubu’s hasty removal of fuel subsidy and unification of the exchange rates can still be revisited and fine-tuned in line with present economic realities. Things are not working. The palliatives are nowhere to be found. The value of the naira has been grossly eroded that one dollar is now more than N1000. Nigeria ranks 6th in global food inflation rates. Insecurity is all over the country and no zone is spared.

Hunger is all over the place and millions of Nigerians are daily pushed into poverty by government bad policies. Unemployment is steadily rising with graduates sitting at home with no hope of getting any job today or tomorrow. What does Nigeria mean to most of these jobless youths and indeed millions of other Nigerians? To them, Nigeria is not yet a nation. It is still an amalgam of unwilling tribes and tongues with each caught on a crossroads.

Patriotism means nothing to them. To some of them, education means nothing again. What is uppermost in their minds is how to escape from this huge prison yard. They want to escape from political and economic bondage. They want to escape from social emasculation. They want to migrate to Europe and America where they will be treated as human beings. We must reconfigure this country to a model that works. There are good models we can copy from other parts of the world. Tinubu’s silence on restructuring or reconfiguration of the unworkable Nigerian edifice with cracked walls is baffling. APC silence on the same issue is untidy and unpatriotic. Instead of having a lavish celebration of our sad 63 years of forming a nation without much success, let us sit down and reflect on our journey so far and come up with new templates to reconfigure the wobbling edifice called Nigeria. It is sad that India, which shares a similar fate with us in terms of slavery and colonization, has gone beyond us and landed spacecraft on the moon. And we are here shouting and enthroning tribes and tongues as enduring principles of state policy. Nigeria we hail thee, Arise our compatriots.