Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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Nigerians by and large were in no celebratory mood on October 1, 2018, strange as it may sound. Yes, the weather was clement, cool, text messages from friends, colleagues and corporate organisations wishing everyone a ‘Happy Independence Day’ flooded our mobile phones. But beneath the veneer and the perfunctory morning greetings laid an inexplicable sombriety all around us, in the air and on the ground. It was as though our hearts were filled with nostalgia, forlorn longing for the ‘good old days’.
This year’s Independence Day celebration was overshadowed by the political tensions in the land occasioned by the fact that the two major parties in our land were having their gubernatorial primary election at about same time, to select their candidates for next year’s general election. The politicians and officials had retired to their hamlets to plot their final onslaught. And with the stakes seemingly so high, all eyes, ears and talks were focused on the primaries. Thus after the Independence Day reminder in form of President Muhammadu Buhari’s nationwide morning address, the rest of October I, 2018 for the citizens was spent on discussing politics, politics, politics.
The fact that the third and fourth-ranked citizens of our country, after Mr. President and his vice absented themselves from the official Independence Day celebrations diminishes its lustre somehow and speaks a lot of how divided we are as a country and people at the moment. Consider: a monumental, non religious, non sectional, non political event as October 1, the day our country gained independence from Britain as a free people, united under one destiny, became a day to expose our fault lines in disunity, mired in divisive political discourse as political gladiators ‘fight to finish’ over primary elections. Many of the squares and stadiums were taken over for political events on this Independence Day with security personnel blocking large sections of the main and adjoining roads, making them inaccessible to the larger citizens and traders in those areas as some of the primaries spilled over from Sunday 30th to the afternoon of October 1.
Compare this to the days of yore when all roads literally led to the various squares (Independence, Tafawa Belewa, Eagle, etc., etc.,) on the first day of October each year. Then, as you rose from sleep and stepped 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 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 headed 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 durbar. 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. The day 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 “restructuring” of the country 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. In this wise the clamour for “restructuring” 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.