Forget all the fine words of so-called Nigerian statesmen and patriots: this nation is yet to be founded. The country literally exists in a vacuum. The mere fact that Lord Frederick Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 and got his paramour Flora Shaw to name the country Nigeria does not in itself make for the discovery of a nation. A lot of people may not know that the River Niger after which Nigeria is supposedly named bears the imprimatur of the offensive word “Nigger”. This way, Nigeria only stands for “Nigger area”. In short, there are so many questions needing urgent answers before we can truly talk of the real discovery of Nigeria.
Nigeria’s first President Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe famously said that the country won her independence in 1960 “on a platter of gold.” But Zik’s great rival Chief Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of the Western Region” did raise the crucial issue of Nigeria being “a mere geographical expression.” Against Zik’s charge that the many nationalities of Nigeria should forget their differences to forge ahead, the Northern Premier then Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, upped the ante by asserting that the clear and present need was to understand the differences of the diverse peoples. It is amid the cacophony of voices that Nigeria has foundered over the years without any leader actually emerging to lend a measure of direction to the country.
The country courted disaster from the very beginning. The colonizing British authorities did not hide the fact that amalgamation was effected to get the Southern “lady of means” to keep alive the arid North. It is against this background of insincerity that the country was launched forth onto flag independence standing on three unsteady and unequal legs. The early politicians simply saw themselves as inheriting the mantle of leadership from the departing erstwhile white masters. Democracy was compromised from the very beginning to ensure a script of hegemony authored in Westminster!
The five young army majors who idealistically staged the bloody 1966 coup did not reckon with the acidic dimensions of the country’s diabolical geo-politics. The bloodier revenge coup of the selfsame year was forged as a means of secession by the North, with cries of “Araba” renting the air, until the British masters ordered a rethink on the part of the hotheaded lot obviously marching to arid extinction. The inheritor Yakubu Gowon’s initial speech that “there was no basis for unity” in Nigeria had to be changed to some patriotic marshmallow.
Of course the civil war supervened, but ages on, no lessons have been learnt. The country continues to teeter on the brink of disaster. It has to be admitted that Gowon distinguished himself as a humane war leader, but he was quite naïve in the grave business of founding a country, especially when it is remembered that he told the wide world that Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it!
General Murtala Muhammed who succeeded Gowon had too much baggage in his past to really make the difference. In his haste to clean the Augean Stable he ended up ruining the civil service though he must be given the credit for raising Nigeria’s profile in the fight against imperialism.
General Olusegun Obasanjo has enjoyed two incarnations as the leader of Nigeria, but he cannot in good conscience be credited with showing any kind of direction toward the discovery of the nation. He did receive worldwide applause for quitting power in aid of the enthronement of democracy during his first coming, but the election he organized was fraught with problems in view of the Twelve Two-Third imbroglio that pitched President Shehu Shagari against Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Even so, it was in his second coming, this time as a supposedly elected democratic President that Obasanjo completely exposed himself as lacking in the necessary credentials needed in the founding of nations. He empowered and kept the company of toughs such as late Chief Adedibu and Chris Uba as opposed to nurturing the intellectual ferment needed to give the country a place in the sun. Unlike nation-founders and discoverers such as Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Dr Mahathir of Malaysia Obasanjo lacked the gumption to understand are not built on platitudes. Of course time soon ran out on the man from Ota while he was furiously campaigning for the elongation of his tenure. The man he handpicked as the nation’s leader, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, has since shown that Obasanjo’s legacy was built on quicksand.
In President Yar’Adua the country is, for the first time, seeing in power a man who went through the four walls of the university. One is not saying that a university education necessarily makes a great leader. President Yar’Adua ought to apply a measure of the thinking that education imbues not to make the pathetic mistakes of the past leaders. But he is already failing so scandalously. He appears as a clone of the pathetic Shehu Shagari of the Second Republic, only that he is worse as he readily allows himself to be led by the nose by Obasanjo.
Every nation in history must confront and master its own road to Damascus. Mighty America, for instance, used to be a fiefdom of Britain. It took the writings of fine minds, especially Thomas Paine in his pamphlet Commonsense, to challenge Britain’s superintendence over America. This was the intellectual muster needed for the American War of Independence, culminating in the true discovery of America by its founding fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as opposed to starry-eyed adventurers like Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci!
Even nearby Ghana is a veritable example for good old Nigeria. The founding father of Ghana, the inimitable Kwame Nkrumah, gave inspirational direction to not just his country but the rest of Africa only for things to fall apart due to multiform reasons. The country was as good as buried until the advent of a certain John Jerry Rawlings who shed blood and sweat to lend requisite direction for the remaking of Ghana.
When the Libyan maverick Muammar Ghaddafi dismisses the so-called Giant of Africa as “a big-for-nothing country”, no amount of patriotic bellyaching can come for the salvage of Nigeria. The recent damning dismissal of Nigeria by the visiting American Secretary of State Mrs. Hilary Clinton appears to be the final nail on the abject ineptitude of the Yar’Adua regime. The resources of Nigeria alone could have powered the entire African continent, but getting our act together is getting worse with the passage of time. Public officers are more interested in earning fat pay instead of championing a course for the redemption of the nation. The woman claiming to be heading the fight against corruption is a dandified clown.
The heart of the matter is that a country cannot forever exist in suspended animation. Something has to give sooner or later; why not now? Nigeria is thus poised on historical contradictions that must be resolved one way or the other. The current leadership in Nigeria must understand that it is running against time. It is a clear case of emergency because if the issues are not addressed fast Nigeria’s many millions may end up imitating George Orwell’s animals in Animal Farm by overthrowing their oppressors. This definitely will not be a pretty sight. Already James Baldwin’s preface to his immortal book, The Fire Next Time, rings true: “No more water, the fire next time!”
What faces Nigeria today is the eternal question posed by Chernychevsky in old Russia: “What is to be done?” It is a truism that leadership is lacking here. A true leader can found Nigeria by showing personal example in dealing with the clear and present dangers in the country: true federalism, a workable constitution, devolution of power, fiscal diversity etc.
The beginning of the end is here with us now that we can’t even boast of a leader with any sense of purpose. It is the fire this time!