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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Nigeria @57- The 57 Wahalas- Sodiq Lawal


Anniversaries are usually times for celebration, sober reflection on the past and planning for the future. Now that we are celebrating   phase of Nigeria’s 57th anniversary, it is time to take stock of our achievements and failures during the past 57 years, and the challenges we still face, and then determine what we need to do in the years ahead in order to realize the dreams of our founding fathers.

At independence in 1960, Nigeria’s founding fathers had lofty dreams, some of which were encapsulated in the country’s first national anthem (1960-1978), “Nigeria We Hail Thee”, which was composed by a British lady, Lilian Jean Williams. Parts of the lyrics of the national anthem read:

“Though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand,… That truth and justice reign, …To hand on to our children, a banner without stain,….O God of all creation, help us to build a nation where no man is oppressed, And so with peace and plenty…Nigeria may be blessed”. These phrases from the national anthem capture the dreams of the founding fathers, which included unity in diversity; truth, justice and equity for all; and  a peaceful and prosperous country where subsequent generations (children) will live better than previous generations (parents). In a sense, these dreams which have not yet been realized constitute Nigeria’s unfinished agenda at 57 years after independence.

I remembered when I was younger, Nigerian Independence Day was kind of a big deal.

My friends and I would paint our faces , don our flags and head down to Stratford Rex (or wherever the big Independence Day party was ) and dance the night away in celebration.

What exactly we were celebrating was somewhat abstract. None of us had lived in Nigeria or had a particularly detailed knowledge of Nigerian history.

It didn’t matter though, we all felt a sense of pride. We embraced the fuzzy ideal of our founding fathers kicking against ‘the man, ’ throwing off the shackles of the ill that was colonialism and marching confidently into a bright future.

In contrast my first Independence Day in Nigeria was muted . To my surprise (I was much more naïve back then), no one was really in the mood to celebrate. Celebrate what? I remember one of my friend asking, How far we haven’t come since 1960 ? It was difficult to argue with that.

Even more surprising are some of the arguments I’ ve heard since moving here, seemingly in favour of the colonialists. Saying that British left too early, and had they stayed longer things would be better as Nigeria wasn’t prepared for Independence . I was shocked , but it’s a telling indicator of just how bad things have become. Independent Nigeria was supposed to rise. It was supposed to be the leading country on the continent . It was supposed to be great. I wonder how it must have felt to experience October 1 st 1960.

The excitement, the hope , the belief that anything was possible and that the brightest days of the country lay ahead . I wonder what’ s on the minds of those who experienced that first Independence Day, today . The country that was once full of promise is in disarray on almost every front; sectarian violence, disunity, poverty, economic crisis , the list goes on .

We should ask ourselves , is there anything to celebrate ? For some people,
there is . One of  the most endearing  qualities about Nigerian people is our capacity to believe, the capacity to hope that one day things will change for the better . Those celebrating will be lauding the enduring resilience of Nigerian people, the country ’s potential for greatness, the belief that ‘one day we will get there. ’

This capacity for hope is as good as it is terrible. This idealism keeps us stunted, prevents us from asking the right questions, and most importantly thinking critically. This lofty idea that ‘we will get there’ isn ’t rooted in reality. Get where ? What does ‘there ’ look like? What steps (not speeches ) are being made to ensure this happens? Is there a tangible or clear plan that ensures in 50 years’ time we are not still complaining about the same old thing ? Hope is a good thing, a necessary thing, but without tangible action it is useless.

Development and progress aren ’t borne from wishes. There is the argument that Nigeria is still young and has yet to redefine its post - colonial identity . The name ‘Nigeria ’ was given and there are many systems in place today that are simply leftovers of the colonial era . In a lot of ways we are working within a system that was not built by us or with us or our best interests in mind. So how can we expect it to work for us? It raises the question, what exactly are we free from?

Yesterday I again asked some friends their thoughts about Independence Day , there were various answers but one that struck out the most was this: ‘What is freedom without responsibility ?’

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