The Happiest-Looking People on Earth

by Jibril Sado

As the Nigerian flag fluttered in the air in celebration of the country’s 47th independence anniversary on October 1 this year, one man in particular would have been weeping. That man is Pa Taiwo Akinkumi, the old man whose idea gave birth to the Nigerian flag. He would have been weeping for having been neglected by the powers that be in this country; neglected to slowly die in acute senility and penury whereas his place in history as the architect of one of Nigeria’s national monuments deserves to fetch him a more tranquil old age and passing on. The old man would have wept for this country because the potentials which influenced his design of the Nigerian flag – a fertile land with vast amount of natural resources that should bring about unity, stability and progress – have not translated to socio-economic fortunes for the masses of the people.

And Pa Akinkumi is not alone in his despair. Millions of Nigerians share his despair about a system that has spectacularly failed its people, no matter what anyone would say. As Nigeria continues to junket around the African continent trying to export resources – political and economic freedom, stability and the rule of law – that it cannot even provide for its own people, socio-economic comparisons are invariably drawn between the country and others like India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, even South Africa and Ghana. And boy, how vast and sharp the contrasts are! It just seems like these other countries have enlisted the use of jets to continue their part of the journey they started on about the same pedestal with Nigeria while Nigeria has stuck to the use of her rickety bicycle for the same journey. The result is that, in a lot of ways, it is safe to say that the Nigerian government at all levels continues to act in ways that makes it seem that the labour of our heroes past have indeed been in vain.

But in the midst of it all, amidst all the chaos and despair, and despite their own individual negatives, it is the resilience of the Nigerian that remains the driving force. The Spartan drive and tenacity of the common Nigerian has continued to engender – if not freedom – some form of unity and peace – which provide us with a place we can still call Nigeria today. The only thing that has kept this molue called Nigeria trudging on is the sacrifice continuously made by millions of socio-politically battered (physically and psychologically) Nigerians – the Iya alakaras, baba Mulika the welder, Ekpo the panel-beater, the petty trader in Ariaria market in Aba, hordes of perennially underpaid and unpaid public workers – with the assistance of the media, despite its own shortcomings.

In spite of their political elite, the uncanny and almost insane sense of humour of the common man in Nigeria, to smile through a plethora of man-made catastrophe engineered by their own leaders, has continued to provide the veneer by which the world has, for almost five decades, labelled Nigerians ‘the happiest people on earth’. And to many people, as the sound of the national anthem rents the air in government quarters among rented crowds on Independence Day each year, the one thing truly worth celebrating about Nigeria is the combination of iron-cast will and a Mohammed Ali endurance of the Nigerian. It is the Nigerian man’s ability to survive situations that would easily lead to socio-political combustion a hundred times over in most other nations in the world that is truly celebratable here.

But with the sound of each aeroplane taking off from any of the country’s international airports comes the thought that that aircraft may well be another drain pipe; a pipe draining away yet another of our best and most promising brains because this entity has failed him or her. That realisation makes you wonder just how furiously our heroes past must be turning in their graves for the sorry extent to which their dream has been allowed degenerate. And with a seemingly never improving socio-political state of affairs you are tempted to ask just how many more punches this Mohammed Ali can take, just how many lives this wary old cat called Nigeria would be required to live on before it starts to get it right.

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