By Mike Kebonkwu Esq
I saw a sarcastic post on my wall, one of those mischievous posts, that ‘Nigeria is 61 years old and has reached the age of retirement’. Even though I am not exactly a wine tester, I am aware that a good wine taste better when it is old. It is probably not so sweet for Nigeria; the road has been rough all the way that one can see a mix bag. Growing up in the 1970s in a rural community in Bendel State which is now Delta State, we looked forward anxiously to the Independence Day with great expectations, adults and children alike. The 1st Day of October is Nigeria’s birthday, the only birthday we know which we celebrate with pomp and pageantry. Parents who could afford it cooked rice and served like our individual birthdays. School children were not left out, our local primary school slaughtered cows and cooked rice and we the children took our plates to school where we were treated to sumptuous meal of appetising jollof rice.
I recall then that I had no idea of any birthday as a village boy. Life was simple and safe that you could travel to entirely a strange community without fear of being hurt. That was Nigeria and we had a big dream as we played together without discrimination as to our ethnicity and religion. Nigeria gave so much to our leaders who today rather than give back are taking food out of the mouth of the ordinary citizens. These same leaders enjoyed scholarship with all expenses paid with ready jobs at graduation but today, they have killed our public schools and the healthcare delivery system has virtually collapsed with our doctors on strike without hope of resumptions of duty anytime soon, while others have voted with their legs.
Our old National Anthem of, “Nigeria, We hail thee” fame was quite electrifying in its moving lyrics and rhythm and remains relevant today but for the warped sense of change by our leaders who decided on a new anthem, with little animation and no force of unification of the ethnic nationalities. Notwithstanding the trauma of the civil war, Nigerians mixed up freely with little or no suspicion living together again in brotherhood.
Today, 61 years down the line, Nigeria has remained a divided country with leadership that subconsciously promote tribal supremacy and religious intolerance. We have religious zealots and fanatics fanning the flame of intolerance and division. The country has not been able to produce a national leadership that has grown beyond the pretentions on patriotism and the indivisibility of the country beyond a mere cant. Take away the self-opinionated General Olusegun Obasanjo, there is no other Nigerian leader so far that is not coloured by tribe and religion. The fault lines had never been so ossified like we now have under the watch of the All Progressive Congress (APC)’s President Muhammadu Buhari.
National discourse has been reduced to cleavages of the north, east, west, middle belt or the minority ethnic groups. The same way political alignments are through narrow ethno-religious prism and geo-political settings of either South West, South-South, South East, Middle Belt, North East, West or North Central. We are in a situation of catch-22, we do not want to let go while the cost of staying together as one Nigeria is so prohibitive in human lives and security. With skewed and lopsided political appointments that ignore federal character in favour of nepotism, there is no chance that we can hold on for too long with inflammatory ethno-religious rhetoric.
One Nigeria has become a mere political phrase and cliché for sharing resources, political offices and patronage. Nigeria is only serving as a cash cow for the different interest groups especially the elites driven by the quest for the spoil of office.
Our interests and taste as a people within the same geographical entity do not coincide by any means whether in culture and socio-political organization. While the north is today agitating for open cattle grazing routes or RUGA and demographic dominance including laissez passér for every person of Fulani extraction from any part of the world, the south is fighting for anti open grazing law and or VAT collection, resource control and power shift to produce the next president come 2023. After struggling for about 61 years, we are not able to build Nigerian citizenship as we remain incurably Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo while other minority ethnic groups struggle under suffocation as beast of burden.
Today, we are burdened by the yoke of insecurity made worse by poor political leadership. The economy is sinking into deeper mire while our debt profile is second to none. The money government is borrowing is not deployed to improve on infrastructure but consumed as overhead and on luxury goods for the elites. Instead of wealth creation, there is capital flight and huge deficit with increasing unemployment and loss of jobs.
No empire ever rises on the pillar of debt and consumptions. Whatever campaign we embark on, if we do not first build Nigerian citizenship, our ship of nation will not withstand the storm that is to come, and it is imminent. It is a matter of time and everything will come crashing down like a pack of cards. We honour rogues and buccaneers that have taken over our political space. We name national edifice after them. We name our roads, streets, parks and boulevards after those who have ravaged our common patrimony. We seem not to know what we want as people and multi ethnic nationalities under one geo-political space.
Today, our elites and political leaders are fixated on 2023 elections and who and where the president of the country should come from, north or south. At the moment, methink that where the president comes from or his ethnicity or religious persuasion is of least concern to an average Nigerian who is daily traumatized by fear, insecurity, unemployment and hunger.
We have had presidents from the north and south that have not elevated the fortune of the country. The minorities have had a shot and it proved to be the same disaster which goes to show that it is not where the person comes from but from the content of his character and philosophical standing. We are still at daggers drawn, engaged in fierce ethno-religious fighting fuelling hatred and animosity. To build a nation, we need leaders with unifying character, honour, integrity and a desire to serve not narrow personal interest or our appetite.
This brings me to the distraction of the recent defection of Mr Femi Fani-Kayode to the APC and the warm embrace of the President and the party chieftains. With all his uncouth vituperations and verbiage on the party, it is astonishing that he is given such a royal welcome into that same party with leadership he hitherto vilified and identified as satanic. I hear that he is now led by revelation to hold Nigeria together. To build which country together and with what credential and pedigree, one may ask? You cannot give what you do not have. Mr Femi Fani Kayode is foul-mouthed and does not appear to be a stable character with honour and integrity. He is perpetually fluid and vacillates more than the ocean. One wonders what he is bringing on board to APC besides hauling missiles of insults and garbage on opponents. 61 years of nation building, the journey so far needs a re-calibration and re-engineering to bring back the pristine spirit of a truly independent nation.
The author is of Koyen-Hi Kebonkwu Chambers, Abuja, Nigeria