By Joe Okei-Odumakin
Anniversaries are occasions for celebration, merriment, and rejoicing, especially when they bring fond memories.
Sixty-one years ago Nigerians saw off the British colonial masters and fellow Nigerians took over the mantle of leadership.
There was celebration everywhere. Victory at last! The struggle for Independence had been long-drawn and sacrifices had been made. But hopes were high.
The first few years – as well as those immediately preceding Independence – gave those glitters of hope. Giant strides were taken and, if morning shows the day, the prognosis for the future were bright indeed.
Alas! The First Republic derailed so quickly. The politicians blew it and the military took over power. Unfortunately, they, too, proved incapable of resolving the logjam created by the politicians. Rather, they threw the country into the tailspin of a three-year Civil War which set the country
Decades of intermittent military rule followed, interspersed with the civilian interregnum of a few years witnessed in the Second and Third republics.
The Fourth Republic, which began in 1999, is the longest stretch of civilian rule that this country has witnessed. Unfortunately, rather than this calling for cheers, it has become the harbinger of despondency, despair, disappointment and frustration.
To start with, since 1999 civilian rule has not translated into democratic governance. Democratic and fundamental human rights and civil liberties have been trampled by the powers-that-be. It is instructive that two out of four so-called civilian presidents had been erstwhile military dictators.
Insecurity which started like a joke in one corner of the country in1999 has now become a Franskenstein monster that has enveloped the entire country.
The Hobbesian state of nature of the war of one against all, where life was brutish, nasty and short cannot be any worse than what Nigeria approximates today.
Going by every parameter and measurement indexes, the economy is at its lowest ebb ever: high cost of living, galloping inflation, mind-blowing unemployment rate, decrepit infrastructure and a crippling debt burden with little or nothing to show for it.
What is more saddening is the fact that Nigerians no longer give a hoot about washing our dear country’s dirty linen in the open. As a result, agitations for the restructuring or breakup of the country have reached a crescendo within and outside the country, such that at the just-concluded 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York, USA, President Muhammadu Buhari was ceaselessly heckled by agitators demanding the dismemberment of the country. We have never had it this bad!
Life is hard at the moment for the average Nigerian. The middle class has virtually been wiped off. It is now either you are rich or you are poor. The government and its supporters delude themselves when they parrot nebulous economic growth indexes that do no translate into better life for the Nigerian people.
And, as they say, who feels it knows it. The average Nigerian wears the shoes. Therefore, he knows where the shoe pinches. No amount of propaganda and spinning by Presidential spin doctors can draw the wool over the people’s eyes anymore.
But time is no longer on anyone’s side. The time bomb is ticking already. Before we get to our teethers’ end, it is necessary that the authorities do the needful.
A vast majority of Nigerians are crying for restructuring. They are insisting that Nigeria cannot continue to wobble and fumble like it has done these past many years. There is the need to tinker with Nigeria – and to mend it.
It may be, then, that it would survive and that this Independence anniversary or the next will not be its last as many have predicted. A stitch in time saves nine!
The times call for solemn reflection and not any ostentatious or flamboyant celebration that runs counter to the mood and circumstance of majority of Nigerians.
Let the government show sensitivity to the plight of Nigerians. Let the leadership rise above petty sentiments and primordial interests to salvage the country.
That, then, will be the most befitting independence gift that the leaders can give to the people on this occasion of the country’s 61st anniversary.
While wishing my compatriots happy Independence day, we enjoin all to keep hope alive.
All hands must be on the deck to salvage Nigeria. This is the only country that we can call ours.
-Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin is the President, Centre for Change.