On 1st October 1960, West Africa’s most populous nation – Nigeria gained independence from its colonial masters. Ever since Independence Day has been celebrated, and particularly the decennial celebrations have provided opportunities for taking stock, reflecting on past achievements and setting out national aims.
Thursday, October 1st, 2020 will mark the nation’s 60th Independence. The President of the nation in the person of Muhammadu Buhari is sure to declare a public holiday to mark this day. Nigeria @60 is an occasion that will be celebrated by Nigerians here at home and will also be observed by members of the Nigerian diaspora in cities around the world, with many pausing to reflect on their nation's history.
The first European colonists to establish a presence in Nigeria were Spanish and Portuguese explorers, who traded with the locals from port towns along the Gulf of Guinea, first establishing Lagos as the key commercial hub it remains today.
The British Empire began to dominate the territory in the 19th century through the Royal Niger Company, fending off German competition for resources and establishing the borders of modern Nigeria in 1914 when the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria were formed.
When calls for the end of colonial rule swept the continent after the Second World War, Nigeria was granted its independence precisely 60 years ago by Thursday, October 1st, 2020.
Initially a parliamentary democracy under prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and governor-generals Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir James Wilson Robertson, the country became a federal republic when a new constitution was adopted on 1 October 1963, Azikiwe becoming Nigeria's first president.
Following a coup in 1966, Nigeria was ruled by a military junta until democracy was restored in 1979, again on 1 October, date of recurrent significance to the country and its people, a day on which it has twice been released from authoritarian control.
Looking at how far the nation has become, the challenges faced and difficulties as a nation one would ask: “Is there really anything to celebrate for Nigeria at 60?”
However, former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, reportedly states that that the country's success in remaining "one nation" over the past years – enduring decades of disunity, civil war, and over 30 years of military rule – is an achievement in itself.
But as the country clocks its sixty years of independence, it is essential to focus less on ceremonial independence and more on its development progress.
A decade ago, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) reported that the proportion of Nigeria's population living on less than $1.25 a day rose from 49% to 77% between 1990 and 2008.
In the run-up to the MDG summit, ActionAid reported that 26% of Nigerian children are malnourished and that Nigeria would need until at least 2025 to meet the MDG target to halve child hunger.
"For a country endowed with such rich and fertile soils and Africa's largest oil reserves, it should be doing much better," said the NGO.
It is this "gap between potential and fulfilment" that has enraged Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, demanding the Nigerian leadership give its citizens better reasons to celebrate. "Is it true when commentators say that Nigeria is blessed with potentials? The right of staying together as a country is worth celebrating but I find this embarrassing. I have raised the questions, what and when a nation is. We should find a genuine need for celebration," Wole Soyinka quoted from a Van-guard publication.
So while Thursday, October 1st 2020 marks the 60th anniversary of independence from Britain, Do we have a reason to celebrate? And do we have something to showcase with pride, like the Chinese are doing with their economy and the military in celebrating the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence?
The fanfare that greeted Nigeria’s independence in 1960 demonstrated citizens’ hope and aspiration on the prospects of self-governance, at the end of over half a century of the colonization of the present-day Nigerian territory by Britain. But after 60 years, the hope appears pitiful. Nigeria’s fundamental challenges as a nation since independence are threefold: leadership, national unity, and economic development. The last two are precipitated by the huge challenge of leadership. Factories, faced with a sporadic power supply and stiff competition from cheaper Asian imports, are shutting down. Unemployment is soaring.
It is undoubtedly true that the nation has other great achievements and goals accomplished as a nation. From the booming Nollywood film industry to the exploits of the Super Eagles on the football pitch, Nigerians have much to be proud of. The Nigerian music industry as well isn’t left behind, producing great talented artist who has put Nigeria on the map, the continent Africa at large. Nigeria has by far the largest population of all African countries, with an estimated one out of every five sub-Saharan Africans being a Nigerian. It is now one of the largest democracies in the world. Nigerians claim that its economy alternates with South Africa’s as the continent’s largest, depending on world commodity prices. Nigeria has traditionally played the most active diplomatic role in the world stage of any African country. Its cultural achievements also translate into “soft” influence on other African countries and elsewhere in the world.
The nation is indeed blessed but one could be tempted to say the woes and challenges faced by Nigeria are by far greater than the few accolades that could be recognized. Though it possesses extraordinary potential, Nigeria is truly the troubled giant of Africa.
The contention is that Nigeria’s economic stagnation of the last 60 years has been fostered by the corrupt political leadership class that shows more interest in the private, group or ethnic gains than in the general wellbeing of the Nigerian citizens. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari recognizes this illness and avows commitment to fighting corruption.
As already noted, the foregoing is not to say that Nigeria is a total failure. Evidence of minimal successes abound. The country has remained one. Progress in the agriculture, banking and telecommunication sectors is undeniable.
But for Nigeria to survive and thrive, the country needs patriotic and nationalistic leaders. Nigeria needs leaders with vision and commitments to implement a sustainable economic growth and development plan for the benefit of all Nigerians.
Apart from the cry for great leadership in place, there is a great responsibility for the people to as well to practically work towards the change they wish to see. It is easy to apportion blames but complains and sulking will do no good. All the people of this great nation need to arise and work towards restoring the hope of a great successful nation that was so widely expected that bright morning in October 1st,1960.
Ezekiel James is currently a student at Kaduna State University studying Mass Communication. He is also a blogger, music critic and tech freak.
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