The Federal Capital City, Abuja and the 36 state capitals in Nigeria will radiate in resplendent Green-White-Green flags, ribbons and banners today to mark the country’s fifty-nine years of political independence from British colonial rule. For those who were mature and politically active at the epoch-making event in 1960, these three-score but one years may have come at jet speed. But Nigerians have every cause to celebrate the fact that the country has remained one indivisible whole in almost sixty years.
Several countries did not survive the challenges that Nigeria has passed through in the last fifty-nine years. Barely seven years after Independence, the country was plunged into a bitter civil war that almost tore Nigeria apart, causing the death of a million persons. It was a tough and delicate moment but three years after the conflict began, it ended on a happy note of “no victor no vanquished.” Apart from the Civil War, Nigeria has contended with diverse kinds of social conflicts. Probably the worst among them is the decade-long war against Boko Haram, which has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives, mostly in the North-East. Lately, bandits have invaded the North-West region, kidnapping, killing, raiding communities and rustling cattle. This ugly situation is worsened by the farmers/herders’ crisis, which has led to the death of thousands of Nigerians. In the heat of these hydra-headed conflicts Nigeria has survived to celebrate another Independence anniversary.
Nigeria’s Independence in 1960 came with enormous hopes and enthusiasm. The late Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the country’s first Prime Minister, expressed those emotions in his speech at Independence. He had said, “This day… is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal… We, the elected representatives of the people of Nigeria,… were not to be allowed the selfish luxury of focusing our interest on our own homes…Political independence is totally inadequate if it is not accompanied by stability and economic security, and if there is no genuine personal liberty with the freedom to express one’s own views and to profess whatever faith one desires…. Economic weakness lays a new country open to every kind of pressure, in other countries depriving its people of the freedom to choose the government which suits them best.”
Almost sixty years after the late Balewa delivered this speech, every line of it is relevant in today’s Nigeria. The country is yet to realize the economic independence that should complement political independence. Countries like South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and even Pakistan who were supposed to be our companions from the take off point of political independence have left us behind as a result of their long leap into economic development. Nigeria has lagged behind as a net importer of foreign goods, while these countries have expanded their economies and become exporters of goods and services. The reason for this setback is not far-fetched. Nigeria’s industrialization process was truncated as a result of policy inconsistencies over the years.
However, all hope is not lost, as it is never too late to begin the journey into the future. A country like China had a long history of economic backwardness, but it found its bearing between three and four decades ago and has become a nation to reckon with in the world. The ball of moving Nigeria forward is in the court of the country’s leadership. Though Nigeria is together as a nation, there is a thick and destructive division along religious, ethnic, regional and political lines. As long as these divisions persist, the country cannot realize its potentials. As a way forward, there is the urgent need to unite the country around the common goals of social and economic development. Nigeria needs unity of purpose that transcends individual interests as the country marches into the future.
Happy Independence anniversary!