– Opiah Emmanuel
Today, the 1st of October, Nigeria shall be celebrating 60 years of independence from the vivid claws of the British Empire.
There has been a long lived misconception that the said date is the day that Nigeria celebrates her ‘birthday.’ However, it is pertinent to note that October 1st is not by any justification the ‘birthday’ of our great motherland, Nigeria. If at all any date of colonial existence is to be regarded as the birthday of Nigeria, then it would definitely be the date of the marriage of the Northern Protectorate of Nigeria and the Southern protectorate of Nigeria to become one nation under the law by Sir Fredrick John Lugard, in January 1914. That said, what Nigeria should be celebrating is the 100 years of its ‘birth.’
Notwithstanding, whether or not Nigeria has chosen to celebrate the date of its amalgamation or the anniversary of its independence, one must deliberate on the significance of such celebration and to move forward, we must reflect.
Most Nigerians are of the opinion that October 1st is no longer worthy of celebration. While some Pan Africanists opine that at the very least, it is important to celebrate the struggles of independence that our forefathers fought for; making sacrifices to see a Nigeria by Nigerians and for Nigerians. However, one may wonder what the position of our founding fathers would be if they were alive to see the present result unending scuffles brought by their decision.
To occasion an answer to that question, one must take recourse to history. On November 15, 1884, the ball was set rolling for the scramble of Africa and full blown British imperialism (in parts of Western, Eastern and Southern Africa) 14 countries namely: Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814 to 105), Turkey and the United States, converged at the Berlin Conference to share parts of Africa, as the legend Chinua Achebe put it in his book ‘There was a Country,’ like chocolate cake at a birthday party. Violence, aggression and force accompanied ‘diplomacy’ as these western states headed out to the golden continent of Africa to ‘civilize’ it while harnessing its natural resources. The area that is now known as Nigeria was not spared from this ambition and expedition of these so called western powers and in her case, she was the choice piece of the British Empire.
The British were received with mixed feelings in different parts of the ‘Niger area.’ While their policy of Indirect rule was easily favored and received in the northern part of the area which was majorly organized in an Emirate system, the same was not the case in the Southern part of the country especially in the area which today is known as the South East. In the north, the Emirate system was organized in such a way that the Emir or Emirs were both spiritual and political leaders and they enjoyed absolute control over their subjects. Thus governance in this area was streamlined and affairs of public administration were easily determined and controlled. In the south however, many of the tribes existed in small village units with each unit having some form of autonomy in determining its own affairs. No wonder, the British imperialism was more evident in this part of the country than it was in any other part as they had to forcefully install warrant chiefs for the people. The warrant chiefs acted on behalf of the British Colonial masters and although this development was not well received by the members of the community, the gun power of the British did the ‘peaceful resolutions’ and ‘peace keeping’ in such communities.
It is noteworthy that the Berlin conference did not mark the beginning of any form of voyage by European nations to the golden continent of Africa. Prior to the Conference, there had been various diplomatic relations between many Ancient African kingdoms and European nations. For instance, there are historical records showing that the Portuguese in the fifteenth century went on a diplomatic mission to the ancient Benin Kingdom during the reign of King Ozolua and by 1550 AD, the Portuguese had established diplomatic and trade relations with the kingdom of Benin under Oba Esigie. However, motives and goals became better outlined with the Berlin Conference and with the western states heading for accelerated industrialization.
Although the British made its first appearance with its imperialism agenda in Nigeria in 1851 when the British invaded Lagos, Nigeria did not become a protectorate of the British until 1901. By 1906, the colony of Lagos was incorporated into the Southern protectorate of Nigeria and as aforementioned, the Southern protectorate and Northern protectorate of Nigeria were amalgamated in January 1914.
The colonization agenda of the British grew steadily over the next five (5) decades. They established missionary schools, hospitals, government departments and agencies, the civil service, legislative houses, the judiciary etc. for what was maybe their most important colony. By 1923, Nigerians had acquired the right to vote indigenous persons to represent their interests. The right to vote was however limited as many Nigerians remained disenfranchised.
Nonetheless, this was a stepping stone in the establishment of the democracy that exists in Nigeria even up to date as the nation witnessed the rise of political parties such as the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) formed by Herbert Macaulay, as well as the rise of many indigenous politicians who became active members of the political province in Nigeria.
In 1953, 1957 and 1958, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Samuel ladoke Akintola and Remi Fani- Kayode respectively moved motions for Nigeria’s independence. As a matter of fact, Chief Enahoro in 1957 was the first Nigerian to move a motion for Nigeria’s independence. However his motion suffered a lot of setbacks and opposition from members of the Northern parliament. Chief Akintola and Fani-Kayode eventually revisited his motion for an independent state of Nigeria but it was not approved. By 1960 however, after much agitation by pro-democracy and pro-independence activists including the legend, Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, Nigeria was finally granted independence on October 1, 1960.
That date marked the beginning of an era.
What was thought to be born out of nationalism, nationhood and brotherhood will soon become the last piece of meat on a plate for a few greedy fellows to brawl over.
It was not up to a decade of independent rule before echoes of tribal politics and winds of ethnic grievances began to fill the political landscape of Nigeria. The very people that ‘had bound us in love, peace and unity’ by their actions began to show us that those words were only antics of selfish political gain meant for the maintenance of a structure that they could amass massive wealth and power from. After all, the nation had quickly emerged to become the pride of the black race being the most populous and perhaps the most progressive black nation.
By January 1966, a bloody coup staged by a group of young and ambitious soldiers, led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, toppled the existing parliamentary government led by His Excellency, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. I would like to relent from saying much about the coup as that is a story reserved entirely for another day appointed by God.
However, one cannot run too far from the irreparable damage that the coup as well as the Counter-coup which followed it caused. The nationhood of Nigeria up to date is threatened constantly by the actions of those over ambitious and selfish young soldiers. The two coups reeked of tribalism and ethnic favoritisms and the immediate aftermath was a civil war (from 1967-1970), between the secessionist state of Biafra led by Lt. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which will leave a deep scar in the minds of many generations of Nigerian origin. Nigeria today is like an over-worn garment on the verge of ripping itself apart. Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s mantra after the war, “No Victor, no vanquished” can only be counted as mere words as his rehabilitation agenda seems not to have done any real repairs to the broken hinges of nationhood that held Nigeria as one under the sun.
The after math of the war was instability in the province of political affairs. Almost every major political decision and action was backed by pure sentiments and absent of nationalism or nationhood. It was no wonder that Alhaji Shehu Shagari, in order to secure votes from the Igbos in his 1979 presidential bid ensured that the leader of the former secessionist state of Biafra was on his campaign team. The post-civil war period was also characterized by massive corruption in the political scene in Nigeria and various military coups with each new military government alleging impunity and corruption by the overthrown government as the reason for the staged coup. The irony was that with each successive government in Nigeria, the polity experienced near-irreparable decay: corruption grew on a steady slope, the civil service depreciated, National and cultural values become extinct, poverty rose to irredeemable levels, insecurity in the country became a norm and moral decadence in public service and administration became the order of the day.
This remains the state of the post independent state of Nigeria, even till today. This leaves us with the question once again, “what and why are we celebrating?”
Many colonial sympathizers argue that the state of affairs in Nigeria would have been better if the British had been allowed to continue to govern us. According to them, we were not prepared for self- governance.
However, I argue strongly that whether or not the British ruled for a longer time than they did, so far as the state of Nigeria remained the same in terms of the prevailing ideologies and geographical organization of its people, nothing would have been different, it would have only been a matter of time before the delayed causes of nature came into being given the fact that the elite political class had remained in power for selfish gain and had seen things only through the myopic lenses of greed and ethnic sentiments.
For instance, It may be recalled that in a BBC interview in 1960, His Excellency, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Saraduna of Kaduna, when he was the Premier of the Northern region, made certain tribalistic remarks against the Igbo people, referring to them as ‘people who are always eager to dominate’ and stating plainly that he had made efforts to ensure that Igbos were denied access to job opportunities and hoped that such policy would remain permanent in the successive governments that would emerge.
Albeit, what we should be more concerned about as citizens is realigning ourselves with the cultural values, political principles and economic arrangements that can strengthen our individual developments and corporate growth as a nation.
The events of the past are past. The future is unseen and is beyond us but the present is entirely within our control. In the present, we can redefine nationhood and systematically cleanse the nation of long held ideologies that have continuously eaten deep into our political, economic and social structures bringing our wheel of progress to a halt.
In today’s world, colonialism is absent and even forbidden. Regardless, I would say that colonialism has only been restructured to birth what is termed ‘neo-colonialism.’ Neo-colonialism has been defined as the use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence other countries, especially former dependencies. Many African countries today are victims of neo-colonialism, including Nigeria, and the absence of concrete foreign influences has made many Africans complacent in the struggle for total liberation.
Neo Pan Africanism, on the other hand, is an ideology that aims to achieve unity for all people of African origin through diverse means of promoting African culture and values; and to revitalize the African nation making it the most desirable and attractive center for the next age of socio- political and economic transformation by restoring Africa for Africans.
The headline goal of the ideology is to prepare Africa to lead the next era of transformation and global change by restructuring old Pan-African practices and beliefs. To achieve this, young people must first begin to realign themselves with values of nationhood and brotherhood by consciously effecting positive changes in their community.
The ideology poses to inspire a subtle and non – confrontational reaction to neo-colonialism. To achieve this, we must look to one of the strengths of liberation in the modern world— economic power. The ideology postulates that if young people who engage in business across various fields (ranging from agriculture to sports, to entertainment, media etc.) do so with the consciousness that ;
1. They are African 2. Their profits should be put back into local businesses (for instance by purchasing raw materials from local producers) 3. Their businesses have to be a hallmark of change in whatever community or society they find themselves in by committing a part of their profits to environmental sanitation, empowerment programmes, sensitization of Africanism etc. 4. That they as individuals regardless of whether they are business owners, students, employees etc. commit to the consciousness of Africanism at all times, taking deliberate steps to reshape the African nation from the bottom-up by volunteering, making donations, making publications etc. for/to the cause of Africanism and African liberation, for an Africa for Africans.
In summary, while we celebrate the illusionary independence which has been given bad riddance by constant benchers of the political class, young people must forge ahead in brotherhood and consciousness towards the goal of true liberation, and it is no longer news that all we need for ourselves, we must create by ourselves. For the sake of posterity we must adopt African consciousness as a lifestyle, purge ourselves of ethnic, religious and political sentiments, unite as one body bound by African origins and golden potentials and commit ourselves to true liberation of Africans in Africa and in diaspora, for only when this has been done shall we be proud to celebrate a day of true independence as Africans and Nigerians.