New Telegraph

Nigeria@60: Is there anything to celebrate?

A diamond jubilee celebrates the 60th anniversary of a significant event related to a person (e.g. accession to the throne, wedding, etc.) or the 60th anniversary of an institution’s founding –Wikipedia

In five days’ time, the nation called Nigeria will reach a landmark year, which in all ramifications call for celebrations. In the life of any man or woman, hitting 60 years is no mean feat as anyone celebrating the ‘diamond jubilee’ will want to tell you that many of those they began the journey with some six decades ago are no longer around. That alone, is enough to give thanks to the Almighty, for ensuring that they defied all the odds to make it – especially when one considers that life expectancy in this part of the world is only 53.95 years (according to 2017 data).

This means that such a person is at least been given a ‘jara’ of roughly 6.5 years, which is a lot of ‘extra’! So why shouldn’t our ruling elite, politicians and even the average Nigerian not roll out the red carpet, pop champagne (or the best non-alcoholic wine, if the person is a Muslim) and dine on the best of cuisine in celebration of the ‘Giant of Africa’ hitting the unique milestone of 60. As usual, one can predict with almost 100 per cent certainty what our leaders are going to say on Thursday; they will go out of their way to paint rosy pictures of the current situation in the country. Of course, they can rightly point out that the nation has defied the doomsdayers who predicted that that Nigeria would not have been in existence as a nation now because it would have broken up due to the many problems – both local and external – it would confront. Even when the nation got to the brink of breaking up with the outbreak of the Civil War (July 6, 1967 – January 15, 1970), it was able to survive the costly war with the nation still intact.

Then military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon must be commended for playing a major role in ensuring that the wounds of the war was assuaged as much as possible with his “no victor no vanquished” mantra. Rather than gloating that the ‘Federal troops’ had triumphed over the “Biafran secessionists’, he bent over backwards to try to integrate the losing side back into the entity called Nigeria.

They can also harp on the fact that our latest attempt of government by the people for the people has lasted some 20 years uninterrupted despite the numerous tests it has faced. Four major elections have been held by civilians and even though they have not been perfect. But at least, we still have elected officials in place at all levels of governance. Which was not the case with the first democratic ticket bequeathed the nation by the British, when they gave us independence some 60 years ago.

That experiment only last six years before the khaki boys struck. Another attempt was made in 1979 with the Second Republic and that only lasted about four years before the men in uniform once again on December 1, 1984, decided to leave their barracks and take up the reins of government.

Incidentally, then Brigadier Sani Abacha, who announced the takeover, said among other things in justifying the action: “You are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years. I am referring to the harsh, intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged. We have become a debtor and beggar nation.

There is inadequacy of food at reasonable prices for our people who are now fed up with endless announcements of importation of foodstuffs. Health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment.

Our educational system is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Unemployment figures including the undergraduates have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions. In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of eight to twelve months and in others there are threats of salary cuts.

“Yet our leaders revel in squandermania, corruption and indiscipline, and continue to proliferate public appointments in complete disregard of our stark economic realities…” This time the military rule then lasted another 15 years during which time we had Muhammadu Buhari (1984 – 85) and Ibrahim Babangida (1985 – 93), before the contraption called the ‘Interim National Government’ came in after the Military President ‘stepped aside’. However, the ING, which was headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, only lasted from January 2, 1993 to August 26, 1993 before it was overthrow by General Sani Abacha (1993 – 98). Ironically, virtually everything he said in justifying the takeover in 1984 he did with more impunity so much so that 22 years after his death we are still hearing of “Abacha loot” being returned to the country. General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who took over when Abacha died, ushered in the Fourth Republic in 1999, which has lasted till present day. But then the million naira question is: are the general citizenry better off now than they were back in the day – the answer must be no.

Two decades after late military dictator blamed the politicians for the country’s woes, the military also added to the plight of the people along with our elected officials. The education system is still in a deplorable state, our health services are still in shambles while our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment, while unemployment figures, including the undergraduates have reached alarming proportions and enjoying decent meals is becoming more difficult as inflation bites harder. Ten years ago, when the nation celebrated its ‘Golden Jubilee’ a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said that the proportion of Nigeria’s population living on less than $1.25 a day rose from 49% to 77% between 1990 and 2008. And in the run-up to the MDG summit, ActionAid reported that 26% of Nigerian children are malnourished.

“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. Sadly the figures rather than go down have both increased so much so that Nigeria has now been officially recognised as the “poverty capital of the world” replacing India with this unwanted record. But rather than our ruling elite making genuine efforts to improve the lot of the citizens, they are still largely feeding fat of their sweat, which has meant that the privileged few are almost totally immune from the struggle for daily existence of the bulk of Nigerians. However, at the end of the day, despite the doom and gloom pervading the land, we should still give thanks to the Almighty, that we are still alive to see it and continue to pray that perhaps one day, during our lifetime, we shall actually see a Nigeria of our dreams – a land full of milk and honey!

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