Centenary celebrations or jamboree?
Celebrations to mark 100 years since the amalgamation that created the country we call Nigeria today have begun in earnest with the centenary dinner that held at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Monday, Feb. 4. Although the main events have been scheduled to hold across the country between now and January 1, 2014, the dinner at the Villa, which was meant to unveil the Centenary Logo and theme song, have already set the tone and mood for the festivities. According to the plans outlined by the government, a completely new city would be built to commemorate the anniversary in addition to other gigantic projects that could gulp billions of naira.
Nigeria evolved following the 1884/5 Berlin Conference where the partitioning of Africa into European colonies was concretized. In 1914, the colonial masters, at the instance of the then Governor General, Sir Frederick Lord Laggard, for administrative convenience, merged the Southern Protectorate and Northern Protectorate.
While the federal government is making elaborate arrangements for a memorable celebration, including plans to spend a stupendous amount of the tax payer’s money, each of the 36 states of the federation is duplicating that effort, all in a bid to celebrate a centenary that may not add value to the quality of life of the average Nigerian.
Despite the claims by the organizers of the centenary that the celebrations would be bankrolled by the private sector, there is public skepticism as to the sincerity of the government. The skeptics suspect, not without a basis, that it might as well be another white elephant project meant to be used by government officials as conduit to divert the already depleted public funds into private pockets.
Such skepticism is borne out of our past experience of government officials making frivolous budgetary provisions for such events, and in the current circumstance, billions of naira might well be on their way into private pockets.
The question on the minds of the majority of Nigerians is whether the country truly needs such a celebration at a time when so many families have been bruised and shattered for losing their loved ones to the insecurity in parts of the country. Are we not fooling ourselves by rolling out the drums when many families cannot even afford three square meals? When many people go to bed hungry without hope of getting food the next day? The resources that will be wasted on the celebrations, they reason, could be ploughed into the agricultural sector to, at least, encourage the production of food for subsistence, since the efforts of government to stabilize the power sector that could have helped to raise the economic fortunes of rural dwellers is still a mirage.
There is the question also whether it will not be a misplacement of priority for a country to celebrate its corporate existence at a time when there are agitations for restructuring by those who feel they have not benefitted from the federal structure as it is. They feel that what is being celebrated is a country of unequal opportunities, where the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Much as we do not support a stupendous budget for the festivities, we believe this is an auspicious time to accommodate proponents of a so-called sovereign conference to address their concerns since the government is averse to the idea. They deserve a vent to let out steam.
We also suggest that spinners of the centenary celebrations take a close look at these issues and many more in order not to justify the fears in some quarters that government is trying to generate as much money as possible to prosecute the 2015 elections.