Tuesday Column with VICTORIA N. IKEANO
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In the days of yore all roads literally led to the various squares (Independence, Tafawa Belewa, Eagle, etc., etc.,) on the first day of October each year. As you rise from sleep and step outside in the morning dew you immediately scented the air of independence as you would be greeted with the shouts of ‘Happy Independence’ from neighbours, friends and opponents alike. The air was filled with conviviality and joie de vivre; you could sense the happiness in people’s heart, glad to behold the independence day (October 1) when Nigeria broke the umbilical cord that tied her to Britain, its erstwhile colonial master for decades, and set out to prove that the black man is as competent as the white man in self governance.
Bus drivers, motorcycle riders, pedestrians and motorists dressed appropriately for the occasion, many of them heading to the squares for some fun; the squares were usually filled to capacity as spectators, foreign and indigenous, watched with gusto the filing out of various organisations, including school children in march pasts. And the military also displayed for the audience with air force planes doing acrobatic ‘dancing’ in the air. As the events officially end, several impromptu dance groups emerged from among the crowd to continue the entertainment as they trekked home, singing and dancing. Most got home late in the evening, still brimming with happiness……
These days, October firsts, literally pass by largely unnoticed in Nigerian neighbourhoods. Many of our younger ones do not even understand the essence of the day. Consider my nephew, a secondary school leaver, whose appreciation of October 1 I tried to gauge by asking him what he knows of Sardauna, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Awolowo. He starred at me in oblivion. Alas! I understand History and Civics are no longer taught at schools. In contrast my aged mother who never saw the four corners of a school can reel, off hand, names of everyone of our leaders from independence to the present time and what each is noted for.
Today, October 1, no longer conjures something special for many Nigerians. For millions and millions of Nigerians, it is like any other day, they care less. Also there are many Nigerians who wished that October I, 1960 never happened; they are calling for a re-colonisation of Nigeria by Britain! Their argument is that Nigeria is worse off since independence, asserting that we would have fared better under a colonial master. This is a dangerous descent, indicating that many are beginning to lose faith in the ability of the Blackman in general. As it is, these people would rather be second class citizens wherever, as long as their bread is buttered. Yet freedom is an intrinsic yearning of all human beings without which we do not feel really complete. Nothing compares to freedom.
Many others are yearning for carving out of Nigeria into independent countries in the belief that they would be able to solely control their ‘God-given resources’ and develop faster. They argue that the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates to form present-day Nigeria was a
forced marriage that should not be allowed to endure. They call it a mistake. Those who hold this view ought to be reminded that nothing happens by accident. There is no accident in Creation. The establishment of the country called Nigeria is for a divine purpose. That the country has not been able to fulfil that purpose is solely the fault of its people, followers and leaders alike who have been following by- paths. The challenge for the country and the populace is to be able to recognise the straight road that leads quickly to the goal and toe it accordingly. This requires constant regeneration and fine-tuning until we find it and get things right. And in this regard the current clamour for “restructuring” should be put in perspective. It should be done with love and respect for all of the country’s constituent parts. The rich parts should extend a helping hand to the poor segments for our fates are intertwined.
As I stepped out on October I, 2017, the cool morning breeze is one of solemnity, there is a scent of nostalgia in the air and as I survey my environment with darting eyes; it is as though Nigerians are in a kind of silent, covert mourning, as though we are burdened by something, inwardly longing for something which we cannot immediately decipher while putting out a plastic, smiling face, pretending all is well. I say ‘happy independence’ to my neighbours and the reply I get is a half-hearted, perfunctory, blurt, ‘same to you’. There was no enthusiasm in their voices.
Independence Day celebrations have also changed at the national level for some years now as this monumental event in our nation’s history is now marked in a low-key manner. What has not changed is the usual presidential/head of state address at 7a.m. Unlike in bygone days however, these days, the speech can be heard on air and on line – on radio, television and the internet at any place and any part of the world live and anytime thereafter. After the public holiday, our fleeting memory of Independence Day recedes, overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of eking out a living in these challenging times.