Unlike the usual National Day celebration, when Nigerians from every tribe and tongue mark the anniversary of Nigeria’s independence with pomp, restful holidaying and extravagant celebrations, the queries that have been raised about the state of our national wellbeing go deeper. Beyond asking the question, what is there to celebrate about 59 years of Independence, today affords discerning citizens a momentous opportunity to ask: what is Nigeria’s place in the black world.
For a long time, Nigeria has prided itself as the soul of the black world. The rich diversity of cultures of its about 200 million people is a quick glance of the whole of Africa. To have visited Africa, without stepping into Nigeria, is like knowing about Africa through a textbook. Besides, Nigeria carries the burden of being the Big Brother of the global black community. Many black people, outside the continent who harbour some spiritual and emotional attachment to Africa, look up to Nigeria as their symbolic home. As many of them in the United States experience recurrent waves of racism in a land that reminds them of the unfortunate past of their forebears, they can only wish that the state of affairs were right in this symbolic home.
But this is not a time to reel off any boring clichés about every one in five black persons being a Nigerian. It is not an auspicious moment to recount the exploits of the past as if such exploits amount to anything in today’s world. If the past would do anything, it is to make Nigerians have a rethink about what it means to be independent.
As a country, Nigeria, at the moment, showcases nothing to suggest progress or steady movement. For the global black community, Nigeria seems to have lost its moral compass as a rallying point. The narratives of development are mere rhetoric of naked power and opportunism. Apart from sparkles of personal development and individual breakthroughs that have emerged from resilient Nigerians who have risen above the crassness and mediocrity of state institutions, Nigeria is being dragged into the abyss of degeneracy with each passing day.
Virtually all the structures that make a country great and developed are controlled by dictates from outside. Our nondescript political structure, laden with innumerous abuses, is a simulacrum of what the presidential system of democratic government has so far offered us. The military, despite chest-beating narratives of past exploits, has curiously become a shocking spectacle of indiscipline. The same tale of stagnation, imbalance and sell-out is unfolded in the economy and the production process, all of which is an appendage of the west, and lately, China.
This newspaper thinks this is not how a truly independent country should carry on. If we go by the definition of independence provided by common dictionaries, namely, freedom from subjection, exemption from external control – then it could be said that this country lacks independence let alone retains it. That a country or nation-state has independence is not the ability to correctly ape the rest of the world to the detriment of our country. Independence is not about opening a country to foreign aid and paternalistic relationships. Genuine independence is the decisive capacity, to identify the needs of the people, and the autonomy to develop home-grown solutions to addressing those needs. It entails charting a course for positive, progressive change.
As well-meaning Nigerians know, charting the course of a new Nigeria is a daunting one. To chart a course for progress, Nigeria needs big dreamers and, more especially, people who would not want to do things the usual way. To justify any claim of being independent, Nigerians must first of all, ascertain the basis upon which they lay claim to independence. Do the different people that make up Nigeria see themselves first of all as Nigerians? Or do they lay claim to clannish or tribal allegiance as their most fundamental identity?
If Nigerians cherish their independence they must have a sense of national pride and national spirit, through which all the values, ethos and cultures from their different ethnic groups are harnessed. In other words, there must be a genuine sense of belonging in this country we call ours. To this end, the political class and ruling elite must not place a section of the country over others, or treat others as second-class citizens. They and the populace need to understand that leadership is not about ethnic domination or selfish power imbalance. It is rather a disposition of moral strength and sacrifice to genuinely carry out a mission for the common good.
Furthermore, there is the need for mental decolonisation through cognitive restructure of the Nigerian mind. Such kind of cognitive restructuring would centre on cultural education and enlightenment. By cultural education is meant not the shallow information dissemination that goes on routinely in our institutions of learning, but rather an advocacy for deep understanding of Nigeria’s historical and multicultural space. This kind of education demands a patriotic retrieval of problem-solving instruments and indigenous models from our repertoire of cultural experience.
This is the way forward-looking nations all over the world have addressed national challenges. Like great nations of today, countries from non-western civilisations have built upon the knowledge of their past to build their nations. With this kind of education narratives that collectively traumatize the black race would have to be revisited by presenting our own narratives about our history.
Above all, the true test of a great nation, a truly independent nation lies in the quality of leadership of a country, for great nations are built on the character of the people. Rosalynn Carter says “A leader takes people where they want to be. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” The renowned politician, stateswoman, and fourth Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, was known to have made a remark about the biblical sojourn of Moses-led Israelites to explain the stuff great nations are made of. Moses led the Israelites to a wilderness for 40 years to a place where there is no oil in the Middle East.
When one considers what Israel has done with a land without oil, one could imagine what they would have done if they had oil. In essence, a true nation is one that parades a leader who can make a people resourceful even if their country does not have resources. That is what true independence means.
This is the kind of leadership a truly independent Nigeria needs: one that can foster a Nigerian consciousness and vision. It is one that can pursue a Nigerian renaissance by capturing the ingenuity of the past for the country’s development and forging a new narrative about this country.
As Nigeria marks its 59th Independence anniversary, the true demonstration of its coveted state of independence lies in its exemplary leadership on the continent. It must demonstrate an ability to find home-grown solutions to its problems, provide basic human necessities for its teeming population, eschew corruption and respect the rule of law and place high premium on its human capital. This is the meaning of being truly independent.
Meanwhile, do the authorities and the people in the country constantly reflect on our responsibility to Africa and the black race as aptly captured by the iconic Nelson Mandela who once told us: ‘‘The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence…’’?