Nigeria, you’re 63-odd years old today. Know what, I’m older than you by three bad years. So you’ll call me elder brother, okay? This anniversary is special for you because you have ‘elected’ a new president who is just four months old in office. A double celebration, may I say. At 63, will you say you have lived a fulfilled life? Or are only “managing”?
You won’t say, right? We lowered Britain’s Union Jack and in its place was hoisted the Green-White-Green flag. You got your independence, your freedom, by simply replacing one old flag with a new one. This is what you have been doing every October one since 1960. The symbol of liberty but where is the substance, the content? American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1941, set out the parameters of liberty or freedom. He identified “four essential human freedoms”. “The first is freedom of speech and expression…. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way … The third is freedom from want … The fourth is freedom from fear ….” When he spoke those lines World War 2 was just two years old.
So, Nigeria, let’s look at those 4 freedom postmarks. Yes, you have your flag in your hat which, this morning, you will let fly at full mast at Abuja’s Eagle Square. Soldiers, in finely laundered uniforms, will be stomping the ground in a ceremonial march-past and your new president, Tinubu, will make a long speech about your great potential that has not concretized into greatness.
And probably never will. He will say our democracy is “strong and reliable”. He will admit the times are hard but our customized resilience will see us through it all. After the ceremony, life will settle back into its eerie stillness.
I see you raise your eyebrows. You don’t accept that last statement, correct? Take Roosevelt’s third freedom, “freedom from want”. You house over 200 million people. How many of this number live above the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.92 a day? The bank says 133 million men and women. It explains why this is so. Sluggish growth, low human capital, labor market weaknesses, and exposure to shocks are holding Nigeria’s poverty reduction back, according to the bank’s new report “A Better Future for All Nigerians: Nigeria Poverty Assessment 2022”. A creditable international organisation, World Poverty Clock, recently described you as ” world capital of poverty”, displacing India that held that inglorious record for many years. It says “Nigeria has the awful distinction of being the capital of world poverty.” You say these are statistical concoctions of no-do-gooders? What is the proof? You only need to visit one or two places where petrol subsidy removal palliatives are being distributed. Men and women, young and old, fighting over small quantities of grain provided by the government. They spill the foods in the process. And instead of food, they leave the sharing locations with bruised heads and broken limbs. Or do you also doubt your own bureau of statistics? In 2022, the bureau reported that 63 percent of Nigerians “are multidimensionally poor”, 86 million in the north and 34 million in the south.
Now, you agree there is great want in the land. And you attribute the mass poverty to insecurity? Correct. Your prognosis brings us to Roosevelt’s fourth freedom. “Freedom from fear”. The whole land is paralyzed by fear of banditry, kidnapping, political and ritual killings, rape. People are on the move, day and night, in search of safety. Young men and women are voting with their feet and leaving the country. Or are getting ready to run out. Here is a personal story. One night, two years ago, I boarded a taxi-cab from Abuja’s city centre, heading for Nyanya, one of the capital’s sprawling suburbs. Seven passengers including the driver crammed into the old Toyota cab. Five of us, apparently, were college graduates returning ‘home’ after the day’s fruitless job search. They conversed endless, mostly complaining of lack of employment for university graduates and how corrupt politicians were the ones “enjoying” all the nation’s wealth. The solutions they offered ranged from “Andrew checking out” to killing “all the big government people (officials) and politicians chopping our money.” “A revolution (killings) is what we need in this country?”
shouted a voice from the back seat behind me. I turned in my front seat to look at the face of the speaker. “Yes, a revolution”, he said. “That means you will have to shoot the thieving big guys and their children from the second, third and fourth generations,” I spoke up for the first time.
“Chopping off just one head of a hydra will not kill it; you’ll have to burn it completely. Obliterating whole generations will start a great flood of blood. I’m not sure this is what you want!” “Yes,” the youngster replied emphatically. Just then, I reached my destination and came down from the noisy vehicle, the young men still arguing.
My point, you ask? Yes, Nigeria, my point is that our problem is we’re still in denial that all isn’t well with our land. We need to stop being an ostrich that buries its head in the sand so that he will not see the commotion all around him. It is high time we had the “eyes of our understanding” opened to see le gros tas de crotte (French for “the big pile of shit”) we have spewed. The strong stench will arouse us to take steps to get rid of the mess.
Happy birthday anniversary, Nigeria.