On the 1st of October 1960, Nigeria became independent. Nnamdi Azikwe became Governor General, the first Nigerian to hold that position. In 1963, Nigeria became a republic and achieved full independence. The British were either ignorant of the fact that blood runs deep, or they just simply ignored it. Between 1963 and 1966 there was enough political turmoil to rupture the stability of any country. The Yoruba west was in chaos at this time and Samuel Akintola and Obafemi Awolowo were central to the mayhem. Awolowo, one of the founding fathers found his way to prison. Corruption began to creep into political life, and Okotie-Eboh and his cohorts were having a field day with it.
On the 15th of January 1966, some army boys popularly called “the 5 majors”, who had read about Marxism without fully understanding it, felt it was time to write their names in the books of history and since fortune supports the bold, as Machiavelli suggests, decided to lead a revolution to liberate Nigeria from the hands of the ‘evil’, corrupt Balewa government – or so they thought. They were unnecessarily blood thirsty, and ate up the lives of so many powerful men – one could see indeed that idealism, without reason, would always find its way into darkness.
These revolutionary leaders failed. Unfortunately, fortune abandoned them at the last minute – but not before they had set a dangerous precedence the country would never recover from.
The government was in a state of disarray. They felt they could not handle the situation, and the leading military officer responsible for foiling the revolution asked them to hand power over to him, so they did. Some say it was voluntary, while others say it was by force. But then, the failed revolution was popular in the troubled west; it brought peace at that time. But with time – as always – public opinion would change.
“Are all good soldiers necessarily good statesmen?” Bernard Odogwu asked when Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi- Ironsi assumed the position of Supreme Commander. Indeed he was a horrible statesman, completely blind to the circumstances surrounding him. Men, when pushed to the wall in a time of chaos, believing that they do not have the power to control the situation, resort to familiar structures for protection – the familiarity of ethnic groups and tribes. Ironsi’s carelessness in not recognising this resulted in the 29th July 1966 mutiny and his eventual assassination.
After this time, pogroms, attempt genocides, and rebellions became the order of the day culminating in the civil war, with Ojukwu and Gowon on opposing ends.The war was conducted in complete disregard of the Geneva conventions, and interpreted in so many ways that even today still ignites partisan sentiments across the populace. In my opinion, prosecuting those men and their minions for war crimes would have found more legitimacy than the Nuremberg trials.
After the war came a series of ethno-religious conflicts that soaked our motherland with innocent blood, public officers openly looting the national treasury, bank CEOs stealing depositors’ money and going free for it because of their political clout, embarrassing policies by a legislature who seemingly have nothing better to do than sit down and collect scandalous remunerations for boundless mediocrity, decline in the public education and healthcare systems, breakdown of law and order all over the country, powerful plutocrats influencing policies and public opinion like the country is their personal fiefdom, and ultimately the rise of terrorism embodied in the menace called Boko Haram.
Indeed, there has been no period of sustained respite for Nigerians.
Irrespective of this, we believe there is still hope. We find this in the average Nigerian. We find a hope orchestrated by sheer resilience and enhanced by critical cynicism. This resilience, innate in our nature, is what pushes Nigeria forward and keeps it away, albeit by a couple of inches, from the status of a failed state. It is this combo that acts as the perfect panacea to prevent and cure the disease of ‘the Nigerian factor’ – a colloquial moniker used to describe the travesties of Nigeria and its people.
By cynicism, I do not mean being apolitical – because that would be a very dangerous thing, considering the turmoil in our political landscapes – I mean in its utilization as a shield to the ever increasing abuse by Nigeria on its citizenry. Because without this, one would begin to wonder how anybody could survive in this country.
So today I hail these cynical and resilient Nigerians, without whom the dark chasms of nothingness would have been our destination.
I hail the uneducated man, who after suffering from the pangs of financial and economic injustices and could not find solace in his country’s welfare plan, found his way to China, learnt Mandarin, brokered business deals with Chinese businesses, briefly integrated himself with the Chinese culture, then returned to Nigeria to start a lucrative business, acting as a liaison to the Chinese companies in Nigeria, creating value for himself and the country – giving back to an economy that gave him nothing.
I hail the young boy, who decided he would go to school no matter what the situation of the public school system looked like. With the lack of teachers, and having to sit on the floor to take lectures the boy persisted on. I hail the young boy who with the lack of electricity studied under candle light, since he had to help his parents in the small kiosk they manage after school during daytime. He still found his way to university and had to finish two years after the stipulated time because of the chronic strikes in the higher education system, and would eventually go on to become a powerful entity in the corporate world after so much pain and depression that could have been avoided had his country, a cesspool of institutionalized corruption, gotten its priorities right.
These are the Nigerians I hail, and it is because of these people that indeed Nigeria might have a future. Indeed.
About the Author: Tam Kemabonta is a writer based in Lagos. He also writes a personal blog at www.tamalexblog.wordpress.com