At this year’s Independence Anniversary declaration, we are compelled to analyse the history of Nigeria once again. The first imperative is that although a lot of people try to make it appear a complex and peculiar incredible series of events and situations, the history of Nigeria is in reality just a tale of three generations. Those three generations, in all their actions and inactions, are the key to understanding everything Nigerian and therein also lie possible solutions to the woes of the country. The troubles of the country are many and obvious for all to see; there will be no awards for predicting that many analysts and commentators will be understandably delving into those woes this week.
On my part, I will like to make it clear that I am firmly convinced that there is nothing wrong with Nigeria that cannot be cured; all we need is the personal courage to make eye contact with reality, regardless of what it looks like, and to have the collective ability to live with the consequences of our actions and inactions.
The three generations to be followed in the tale of Nigeria are the generation of dreamers and inspirers; the generations of squanderers and survivors, and the generations of redeemers. The latter generation is yet to come and with them lies all our hope as a people. Yes, civically speaking, the beautiful ones are yet to be born.
The first generation of dreamers and inspirers are those we refer to as our founding fathers. Conventional wisdom in Nigeria uses the names and images of the trio of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Namadi Azikiwe and Sir Ahmadu Bello plus that of Sir Tafawa Balewa to symbolise that generation. A better list, even if minimal, should always include the names of Herbert Macaulay, Eyo Ita, Alvan Ikoku, Udo Udoma, Aminu Kano, Anthony Enahoro and Michael Okpara.
A major trait of the generation of dreamers and inspirers is their visions for their country and African continent. They all had grand ideas and ideals for their country and people; they wanted both to be free and great. In their minds, they were not just in politics to administrate power, they saw themselves on a mission to rescue their race. They communicated their visions and aspirations with their speeches and writings. Their rhetoric was always grand and they never shied away from challenging injustice, rather they seemed to enjoy the confronting of power.
Once in power, this generation of Nigerians put the masses at the heart of the actions. They knew they had to build institutions and infrastructures and they went about it diligently. Awolowo led the way and others swiftly followed suit in a creative competitive way that became a winwin situation for all. From the free education programme, to the establishments of Ikeja Industrial Estate, Aba and Port Harcourt Industrial layouts and Kaduna and Kano Industrial areas. The fruits of their labour were real, clear and are still yet to be surpassed. International analysts saw them at work and predicted that Nigeria was destined for greatness. There is still a lot to be learnt from and about that generation.
The second generation, the generation of squanderers and survivors, came into office wearing uniforms and seized power with the use of boots and bullets. These were bullets and boots that we gave them to defend the country against external threats; keep an eye on your “maiguard” if you have one. They never bothered to inspire or convince, they simply scared, tortured and subdued their fellow citizens. With their decrees and dismissive orders they ruined the institutions they met and annihilated the middle class that could check them.
After they had wrecked all they could and utterly disgraced themselves, they eased their ilk into power to continue their misdeeds. While the squanderers were destroying the country, the other part of that generation, save for a very few, did not fight back. Most of them who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or simply didn’t stand up to leaders, turned looters. They simply resorted to finding means of surviving. Many left the country to seek greener pastures; the ones that stayed became beggars and hustlers. Rather than being proud of their ideas, dedicated to their professions and be protective of their ideals, they, in the name of survival, became accommodating to rascals. Just to survive they lowered their standards, wasted their knowledge and allowed mediocrity to thrive.
Terms like dignity, duties and rights have been trashed by many in this generation; fathers of family are proud to identify themselves as someone else’s boy, professionals beg for appointment, contractors and suppliers beg and bribe to be paid. Rather than protect their schools, they look for private schools for their children; rather than campaign for good roads, they buy jeeps; rather than insist on stable electricity, they queue to buy generators.
The generation that will save the country from all these rot will be the generation of redeemers. They have a strong battle in their hands for they have few examples at hand to support them. Yet they have no choice but to find their voices and chart their own course. They will have to face reality, see where survival mode has gotten the country and they will need to realise that only dignity and dedication can lead to greatness.