Almost half a century ago, the colonial frontiers of the British government were rolled back and the freedom to attain sovereignty was accorded the geographical enclave called Nigeria. 49 years ago, Nigeria had all the makings of an uplifting tale: an emerging socio-political and economic African (and possible world) power with all the trappings that made the not-too-willing colonial masters break their siege on Africa’s most populous and promising nation at that time. The extrapolated trajectory of this country’s future made even the most affluent nation in Europe and the Americas green with envy. Everything looked possible, but alas 49 years thereafter everything went awry.
Many Nigerians reminisce the emotion of great delight and patriotism that engulfed them as they watched the British sentinels lower the Union Jack while the green-white-green striped flag climbed in its stead. With the rising of their symbol of independence rose the promise of a future with endless possibilities. 49 years later, most of those senior citizens could only stretch their memory band to relive the ‘good old days’ in order to escape the misery of the present as they continue to gape at and question what went wrong for a country that had it all. For many Nigerians who never witnessed this symbolical event, they might have been saved from such agonies of past-present comparison (or better put, contradiction). Howbeit, the horizon holds no promise for them either. 49 years subsequently, a nation that was expected to dictate the socio-political velocity of a continent is still bugged down with the basics of starting a journey to nationhood.
As a young Nigerian, though I may not have been opportuned to have lived in the ‘good old days’ I have heard, read and before my very eyes, seen how a country with utmost potentials crescendoed to lofty crest of fete and how it unfortunately descended to the miry trough of discomfiture. Ours is a land where the only thing that is predictable is dashed hope, where certainty only spells uncertainty and the future indeed is what it is – futuristic! Of a truth, we may have enjoyed occasional stints of resplendence and (inter)national honour that once in while prop our self-pride and patriotism as Nigerians, often times the norm is that of failed governance, collapsing institutions and infrastructures, shame, sectarian violence, political murders and assassinations, malformed morals, corruption and other brothers in arms. Week in, week out, searching for a pint of good news is akin to looking for a pin in a haystack. Even those events we usually fall back on (like watching our national football teams play) in order to temporarily drown our despair have conspired to add to our gloom.
Of course, I can hear the ‘positive’ Nigerian telling me if I look around enough, I would definitely find reasons why I should roll out the drums on the eve of another Independence Day celebration. While I may not be the most optimistic, patriotic Nigerian that constantly hopes against hope in the face of almost a failed nation, I have often times stuck my neck out for my dear country in spite of realities that do not support this stance. True, I can count (on my fingers, though) a number of instances and individuals that have brought our dear country to brilliant limelight as they stamped their clout on the world stage.
Indeed, what shall I say of literary giants à la John Pepper Clark, Dan Fulani, Ken Saro Wiwa, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, Chinua Achebe, Helon Habila, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Mention must be made of music icons in the league of Fela Kuti, Stephen Osadebey, Batili Alake, Àsá, King Sunny Ade, Beautiful Nubia, Dr. Victor Olaiya, Lágbájá, Dan Maraya Jos, Bobby Benson, Comfort Omoge, Tunde Nightingale, Sir Victor Uwaifo, Roy Chicago, Onyeka Onwenu and many others. I shall not forget to list many accomplished individuals in their various fields of endeavour and who through intelligence, initiative and industry have brought pride to our collective existence as a nation: Adeoye Lambo, Oluchi Onweagba, Mary Onyeali, T.O.S. Benson, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Hakeem Olajuwon, Nuhu Ribadu, Philip Emeagwali, Dora Akunyili, Aminu Kano, Nwankwo Kanu, Richard Mofe Damijo, Okonjo Iweala, Wande Abimbola, Sheikh Adelabu, Gani Fawehinmi, Aliko Dangote, Ben Enwonwu, Justus Esiri, Murtala Mohammed and many others. In fact, the list is endless.
However, on scrutinising this catalogue there exist a couple of discouraging issues. The very obvious is the fact that these names are always reoccurring in our register of (inter)national honours. That is pointer to the reality that we (as a nation) have not moved forward and if we had, many a time we have retraced our step backwards from a much desired destination. Secondly and not too evident: most of these people achieved based only on their individual efforts that exclude an enabling environment that should be a given in their homeland. This can be extended to explain the reason why many Nigerians have resorted to self-help: A situation where every individual battles to meet their needs in order to ensure continued existence. Therein lies our problem (and probably, solution) as a nation.
Individual efforts, self-help/-government can only ascertain individual achievements and most assuredly a disjointed and disorganised society where everyone aims to preserve self. Everything rises and falls on leadership! Until we get the leadership project right, we may continue to wallow in abject failure as a nation and possibly proceed on a retrogressive trail. As Nigeria prepares for another general election to change leadership batons at various levels of government, this serves as the ultimate poser: ‘What manner of leaders do we desire?’ Of a truth, a leader cannot be different from the society and process he emerges from. We must tinker the process that produces leadership. It will be foolhardy to expect our situation to change either by expecting a credible leader to emerge by chance or through our usual laidback attitude. In fact, it is folly!
While we may not be able to correct the leadership errors of the past that have maintained us in a state of doldrums and subnormality, we do have the opportunity to determine our future by addressing the national leadership of the present. A word of advice to President Umar Musa Yar’Adua: As he prepares either a we-have-reason-to-celebrate or this-is-a-sombre-time-for-reflection Independence Day celebration speech, let him be aware that the onus lies on him to determine how we celebrate next year (and many more) Independence Day.
Being honest and possessing an amiable mien are not the fundaments of leadership. You can be the meekest and most incorruptible individual and still be an off-beam material for headship. Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Moreover, courage is a principle he may want to adopt. A leader must always have the courage to act against an expert’s advice. Whoever is providing leadership needs to be as fresh and thoughtful and reflective as possible to make the very best fight. Most importantly, vision is key to the success (or otherwise) of a leader. A leader is a visionary and not just a propagandist of mere agenda or beautiful catchphrases.
While I am still in a confused state of either ‘counting our blessings’ as a nation or switching to a reflective mood on Independence Day, I would want to implore Nigerians who are jaded by the present conditions to take active roles in determining the quality of leaders that will take over the reins of affairs in the coming years. If we fail to do so, I will be saved the hassle of writing anything different from this, in the years t
o come, except maybe changing the ‘49’ to ‘89’.