October 1st is here again. Yet another time to roll out drums, to celebrate this time; fifty-one years of the birth of the nation called Nigeria. If we can approach this ritual with any sincerity of purpose, we must collectively admit that only the days of the civil war in the late sixties can rival the mood of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Our country has been severely fractured by preponderant conflict, our democracy has cost us so much but is yet to deliver anything close to good governance, our roads are death traps, our hospitals are expressways to mortuaries, our infrastructure have decayed progressively and our institutions are failing.
Our population has become almost completely polarized by ethnicity and religion, our political elite revels in unbridled corruption, our national direction is in a continuous flux and our citizens are desperate and desolate.
Someone once described Nigeria as “an amorphous amalgam of individuals busy pretending to be a people”. I agree. Others criticize the amalgamation action- that hasty decision that brought together all the tribes that make up Nigeria for colonial convenience.
That experiment did not work as it is so clear that even after fifty-one years of independence, it has only managed to produce nationalities but not yet a nation. The fastest route to increased insight into the complex contentions of Nigerianess is in a deeper understanding of her ambiguous social constructions and nebulous ethnic atomization.
Wherever you see a Nigerian, he prefers to see himself as Ibo, Yoruba, Hausa, and Ijaw etc before ever being anything Nigerian. It is an identity of convenience – a garment that we wear for reasons that are mundane and never inspired anything patriotic. Our inter-tribal linkages are mere artificial alliances is short-lived and is often coitus interruptus!
Our so-called democratic resilience is sustained by our addiction to primitive distributional politics. It is my contention that the life span of the Nigerian nation is intricately intertwined to the flow of oil revenue.
I strongly doubt if the our pretentious claim to any form of national cohesion will last us ten years after the oil wells in the Niger Delta dry up. Those tiny and loose threads that hold us together will soon give way as soon as the reasons that inspire the congregational plundering by our vampire elite disappear.
At that point, history will expose those who have been drumming the violent dances in the dark for our unemployed, disgruntled and ever ready young dancers during the day.
They are beneficiaries of the conflict economy. In exchange of the bombs and the grenades they procure with stolen public funds, they are rewarded with juicy committee positions and they gather around the table for regular pontifications.
They cannot tell the truth because it will keep them out of relevance.
Impunity and lack of political accountability has led to reckless (mis)appropriation of public resources meant for the delivery of public good. Public office holders convert public funds given to them on trust into private dynasties to service their greed and profligacy. This has led to the complete collapse of the trust that a responsible citizenry will bestow on a responsive government.
Every Nigerian leader since independence has sermonized about development while in their hearts they conspire and conjure remote justifications for taking the country to the path of national shame and deceit.
Successive regimes whether they are, democrats or despots have repeatedly betrayed the hopes of the citizens. Cutting corners to fill protruding pockets have been elevated to a state policy as both Directors General and even office messengers met each other in the business of betrayal of any form of public trust at their disposal.
The civil service has become parasitic to the state and every bureaucrat is patiently waiting for his or her turn to loot. Our private sector remains a mere conduit for furthering public sector decadence. And the vicious circle continues.
It is a language that everyone understands as even those whose duty it is to preserve and protect the state have lost the inspiration to do so; because they know the Nigerian state seem non-existent.
The little national ray of hope we had, came from our vibrant media and energetic civil society. As a collective, they were steadfast in confronting military dictatorships until democracy came to pass. Sadly, many of them have swallowed several forms of democratic sedatives and have turned 360 degrees to divert their enormous energies and talents to become supportive liars and propagandists for the same political hyenas they once criticized.
Nigerian best brains are excelling in other countries where there is stability and rule of law.
Our education sector is lying prostrate. Our parents now dream of how to pay our expensive school fees in countries like United Kingdom, Malaysia, South Africa and even Ghana.
These are good reasons for the same bureaucrats to justify more looting and capital flight. Our green passports have become invitations for high-level alertness at every international airport we visit. We are now classified alongside failing states like Afghanistan, Somalia etc.
At fifty-one I see the shell of a cursed giant with oil flowing from her veins. I see political viruses and hypocritical partners; all positioning to insert a piercing and sucking device to take a share. I see a growing vampire elite and an irresponsive citizenry who are aloof and ever willing to turn to another direction or even take other citizenships as soon as the blood meal is over.
Whatever will make us great whenever must purge us of these backward and primordial tendencies. We must to tell the truth about our mistakes and genuinely take collective remedial steps. We must eschew divisive tendencies and see our ethnicity only as an accident of fate and not a call to build walls of political antagonism and oppressive fiefdoms.
We must recalibrate the institutions in our public service and courageously eliminate all the reasons that have made them ineffective so far. We must not wait to be told that oil is a non-renewable resource that will soon dry up and so we must diversify our economy.
This is a time to allow for our maturation to nation hood and deliberately permit this manifest in our daily conduct of national affairs. At 51, we need to urgently adopt both a proactive and preventive attitude to avoid that frightening possibility starring us in the face. A national epitaph boldly written in bloody ink: Here lies the remains of a nation that never was!
By Uche Igwe.
Uche Igwe wrote from Africa Studies Program Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) Washington DC. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org