By Rogers Edor Ochela
In 1960, Nigeria was a democratic toddler. We started off with the parliamentary system of government, which though worked for Britain with the unfailing precision of a Swiss clock failed to work for Nigeria. Within five years, it crumbled like a cook book cake and Nigerians found themselves searching for under the rubble of the events of January 15, 1966. And the presidential system that we copied from America has been so badly bastardized that the Americans can hardly recognize it.
54 years after, we are still wobbling and in between is a vast stretch of spectacular wreckage teaming with tyrants, false messiahs, frustrated redeemers, aborted dreams, abandoned road-maps, man-made topographies of hell on earth and assorted cannibals and carrion feeders feasting on the remains of a black project.
Nigeria is today walking on crutches having been amputated by the corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency of its leaders. That is the bitter truth. That our nation has over the years been largely plagued by a largely misguided and utterly selfish leadership class, a class that has proved a burden to the nation rather than the blessing it ought to have been. The paramount desires of these leaders have not been to develop the country and improve the common lot, but to perpetuate themselves in power with minimum disruption to their enjoyment of its perquisites and reward.
In all sectors of human endeavour, Nigeria seems to be on all fours and in dire need of redress. Political instability has not only continued to be the albatross for development, the crisis that have trailed our national life pose a sordid source of discomfort. There seems to be a complete lack of capacity by the state to stick to its social contract of guaranteeing the lives of the citizenry in all ramifications. The attendant lack of faith in the country is demonstrated in the people’s penchant to cut corners to survive the harsh weather of life.
Over this last 54 years, we have recorded a phenomenal growth in the realm of negative values and criminal distortion of the African traditional values. More appalling is the realization that there is no end in sight to this bewildering drift in spite of remarkable political re-engineering and social re-orientation. Economic crimes arising from greed has engulfed the nation’s leaders and citizenry and is manifested in uncontrollable corruption, squandermania, treasury looting etc.
Today, corruption and indiscipline have attained a disturbing dimension that no matter what people say or write about it, all you get is a deafening you-can-go-to-hell silence! Jesus Christ spoke of the difficulty of the head of the camel passing through the eyes of the needle. Of course, Jesus was not a Nigerian! Otherwise, he would have known that in Nigeria, an elephant even if it carries a Hippopotamus on its back can easily pass through the needle’s eye. Here, giant camels of corruption easily pass through the eyes of the needle with ease. Sadly, the prognosis and diagnosis of successive governments have yielded little or no result. Government’s anti-graft campaigns have been long on platitudes, but miserably short in implementation.
After 54 years of independence, our economy lies prostrate, bogged down huge debt, dilapidated infrastructure, social strife and general feeling of insecurity, with the citizenry brooding over the bleak future of the nation.
The collapse of the economy is a large dirge for the collapse of everything else. Education is in the throes of death; our morals are already interred; our politics born into extremely inclement weather suffered a few gasps and immediately became comatose; our hospitals, too morbid a joke to be generally considered mere consulting clinics, have given way to a general endorsement of the babalawo.
With a political class that has lost its vision if it ever had any, a judiciary that has been brow-beaten into impotence and a traditional institution that has become a historical calamity, Nigeria is a shamble of failed institutions.
The legislature which is supposed to be the real symbol of democracy that differentiates civil rule from dictatorship has been pocketed by the executive. It has been castrated by the sycophancy of its leadership. While the executive beats the drum of misplaced ethics, the legislature regretfully sways to it with nifty bootlicking steps. Sadly, each step resounds with a revolting echo of retrogression.
54 years after independence, palpable sense of failure and angry frustration is reverberating across the length and breadth of Nigeria. The nation remains a sorry assortment of tribes– poorer, hungrier, and weaker than it was in 1960. Less assertive than it was in 1980 when it called the shots that saw to the independence of Angola and Zimbabwe. Nigeria @ 54 lies descript and crestfallen like an abandoned hut.
Falsehood has been elevated into an art. Jonathan swift, a great satirist once said that:—‘’The devil is the father of lies, but subsequent generation of men (read Nigerians) have rendered him inconsequential in the field because of the tremendous improvements they have made in his art.’’ Consequently, lying, falsehood and deceit have become lucrative. Evil is returned unopposed. It is increasingly becoming difficult to winnow the chaff of lies from the grains of truth in Nigeria today. Patriotism is long dead and interred. Loyalty is first and foremost to self, then ethnic nationality in that order.
This reinforces the fact that the Nigerian project is more in the imagination than in reality. The Nigerian project is not just lopsided; it is built on the quicksand and with blocks of fraud. And all these in a nation replete with a cornucopia of Imams and Bishops! This is not really surprising because it has been established that there is no positive correlation between religious piety and strong morality. The emphasis has been on extravagant display of religious symbolism and other worldliness and rituals with hardly any wholesome impact on the socio economic behavior in the society.
This is utterly reprehensible. The pertinent question to ask is: how did Nigeria find herself in the vice grip of these despicable elements—the intellectual dinosaurs and impervious ideologues? For the founding fathers of Nigeria and most of their lieutenants, whatever their limits and limitations had colour, dash and an appreciable measure of integrity. How is it then that with only a few exceptions they managed to sire the current scoundrels and dishonorable rabble? Great politicians of yore like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello etc would not have approved of the sort of mindless opportunism that drives our current politicians.
If this anniversary loosens your tear duct, remind yourself, brother that the founding fathers did not promise us a picnic. So, the occasion of the nation’s 54th independence celebration remains largely an anniversary without cheers devoid of the traditional clicking of glasses. Happy birthday Nigeria!
Roger Ochela, a former newspaper Editor and now media consultant, is based in Abuja.