NIGERIA @59: Between the sad and happy stories of a Republic, By Muntaka Dabo

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Nigeria, the giant of Africa (as some people called it), attained independence from British Colonial Masters on the 1st day of October, 1960. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, from Northern Nigeria, headed the then executive council as Prime Minister. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, from Eastern Nigeria and a pioneer of West African Nationalism, became the first Governor General of the then three (3) regions of the country. They were the Northern, Eastern and Western Regions with Lagos as the federal capital. The regions were headed by Premiers with Governors as ceremonial heads. The Office of the Governor-General was later re-designated as “The Office of the President” under the 1963 Republican Constitution.

Other prominent Nigerians like Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Chief Obafemi Awolowo worked tirelessly for Nigeria to gain her independence from our Colonial Masters and became what it is today. Despite their religious and tribal differences, these leaders put the interest of the country first before their personal, regional and tribal interests. All they had in mind was to make Nigeria a greater country that can stand on her own and compete with other world economies. They provided infrastructures and social amenities for the masses. They worked for a true and united Nigeria.

Indeed, it was a rough journey for them. They were able to succeeded because they were focused and had a sense of positive thinking. They were also united whenever it comes to issues that have to do with the development of the country. Nigeria at that time depended largely on farming. It was the major source of revenue for the country. The production of groundnuts from the Northern Region brought a lot of income to the country. This was because the region is endowed with vast fertile lands for farming. That was when Nigeria had good leaders with vision of transforming the country, not minding which part of the country the income-generating resources came from. They were indeed heroes and role models worthy of emulation.

The good journey started deteriorating in January 1966 when the Premier of the then Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, and the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, together with other prominent Nigerians were brutally killed in a coup d’état led by Nzeogu Kaduna. This was the first military coup in Nigeria and General Ironsi became the first Military President of Nigeria.

Shortly afterwards, Nigeria experienced her first civil war (Biafran war). It started in 1967 during the military regime of Colonel Yakubu Gowon. The motive was to divide Nigeria and create the Republic of Biafra. It is on record that foreign powers like America, Israel and their allies supported the Biafran secession led by Colonel Ojukwu. However, Ojukwu lost the battle after thirty (30) months of fierce fightings. Thousands of innocent lives were lost and properties worth billions of Naira were destroyed.

To harmonize the country, states were created by General Gowon and the policy of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (known as 3 Rs) was formulated. The compulsory National Youth Service (NYSC) was also enacted. There were counter coups by other military officers before the country returned to democratic rule after thirteen (13) years of military rule.

In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was elected as the first Executive President of Nigeria. However, hunger, poverty, economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, election fraud and lack of focus characterized his government. This prompted the military coup of 1983. Major General Muhammadu Buhari was installed as the Head of State. Buhari’s tenure was short but most remembered for its War against Indiscipline and Corruption.

A bloodless coup in August 1985 brought Major General Babangida, the then Chief of Army Staff, into power. The misuse of power, violation of human rights and the government’s failure to deal with Nigerian’s deepening economic crisis were the justification given for the overthrow of Buhari’s regime. Babangida restored freedom of the press and released political detainees that were held without charges.

Statistics and opinions of the people suggested that Babangida recorded a lot of laudable achievements. The country turned into turmoil when he annulled the June 12 election of 1993. Most observers said that the election was free and fair. The result showed that MKO Abiola, a wealthy Yoruba businessman, won the election. Babangida’s Government was forced to hand over to an Interim National Government (ING) that was led by Chief Earnest Shonekan, a prominent non-partisan Yoruba businessman. But after three (3) months in power, the Minister of Defence, General Sani Abacha took control of the government and forced Shonekan to resign in November 1993.

   General Abacha dissolved all democratic political institutions. He replaced elected governors with military officers. Abacha’s regime was somehow peaceful. The “No Non-Sense General”, popularly called “Dodon Turawan Yamma” (The Monster of Western Powers), did not condone indiscipline and misbehaviours. His government was focused and determined to deliver at all levels. Abacha hardly left the country in the name of the so-called “World Summit”. The security of the country was very tight. Hardly will you hear cases of robbery, kidnapping, or violence (unfortunately, it’s now becoming the order of the since the return of democracy in 1999)

Indeed, Abacha’s Government recorded a number of achievements that made meaningful impact to the lives of Nigerians. Can you remember the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) Program? General Buhari was appointed the chairman of PTF by Abacha. It is a well-known fact that PTF recorded huge success in the areas of education, road constructions and other infrastructural development programmes. Abacha also tried to pay Nigeria’s foreign debt before its due date, but the Western Powers refused to accept the payment. As usual, “the monster of western powers” did not bother about them, and did not give them any room to influence his government.

Abacha promised to return Nigeria to civil rule. He also publically showed interest to contest in the election even though he was criticized by civil societies. All registered political parties, with the exception of the then Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJ), adopted him as their Presidential candidate. However, Abacha did not live to actualize his dream.

General Abdulsalam Abubakar became the Head of State following the death of Abacha in June 1998. In the eleven (11) months of his government, Abdulsalam is best remembered for handing power to a democratically elected president after sixteen (16) years of consecutive military rule. But something worthy of mentioning here is that, the billions of dollars saved by Abacha to pay the huge foreign debt of the county got missing during Abdulsalami’s tenure.

29th day of May 1999 saw the return of democracy to Nigeria. General Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military Head of State, became the President of the country. Violence and insecurity confronted his government shortly after its inauguration. Despite the dictatorship of his government, he took bold steps to end the communal violence that married his early days in office.

The discovery of more oil wells during his administration put the Northern and Southern parts of the country into a “war of words”. This was due to the agitation of Southerners for increase in their monthly allocation and what they call resource control. Shouldn’t this prompt you to ask if such preferential treatment was given to the Northern Region of Nigeria when farming was the major source of revenue for country? What will they say now that oil has been discovered in Sokoto, Kogi, Borno, Taraba and other States in the North?

For the first time in the history of Nigeria, a civilian government successfully handed over to another civilian in May, 2007 after a controversial election that was strongly criticized by both national and international monitoring observers. President Umaru Musa Yar’adua was sworn into office. He admitted that the election that brought him to power was full of irregularities, but he promised to reform the electoral process. He then proposed a Government of National Unity in which two (2) opposition parties, ANPP and PPA, agreed to join the government.

Yar’adua’s Government lasted for about three (3) years before his death in May, 2010. However, he recorded remarkable achievements in a short period of time. Yar’adua was able to tackle serious national issues hindering the development of Nigeria. He created the Ministry of Niger-Delta to address the incessant crises in the region. Also, he reduced the prices of petroleum products, and recognized the autonomy of the Judiciary and other arms of government. His death caused a vacuum in Nigeria that is yet to be filled.

Goodluck Jonathan, the then Vice-President, was sworn into office as the President of Nigeria in May, 2010. However, the insecurity in the country increased beyond our imagination when he assumed power. Kidnapping, bombing, robbery and killing of innocent people on our high ways became the order of the day. Bombings in Northern Nigeria, kidnappings and shootings in Southern Nigeria are no longer news. From 2009 to date, thousands of people have died and many have been rendered homeless. People are no longer enjoying the benefit of the so-called democracy. We have no clue what the future holds for us!

How will you think for a bright future when the security of your life is at stake? The insecurity of the country mainly affects the poor masses that are powerless. But despite all these, President Jonathan and his cabals always jet-out of the country for summits when their attention is most needed at home. Nigeria was further thrown in a sorry state of insecurity!

Similarly, corruption under Jonathan was so common that it is no longer an issue. The Subsidy Investigation Report revealed that most of the indicted people are relatives and children of top government officials in Aso Rock. There is no doubt that corruption has eaten deeply into the fabrics of our polity.

Failure to address the issues of insecurity, corruption, mismanagement of natural resources by few individual cost Jonathan his seat during the 2015 general elections, thereby making him the first sitting President to lose election in the history of Nigeria. Surprisingly, Jonathan concede defeat and congratulated Muhammadu Buhari even before the election result was officially announced by the Independent national electoral commission.

Muhammadu Buhari assumes duty in May 2015 amidst Jubilations and high expectations from Nigerians. He was given a rousing reception and a lot was expected from him. Many Nigerians, to their belief, Buhari is the only ‘messiah’ that will bring Nigeria out of its predicament within a blink of an eye. Not to the expectations of many Nigerians, the present administration under Buhari didn’t live up to the expectations of people that voted for them in 2015. It’s not exaggeration to say things are becoming worse from 2015 to date, and a lot have begun to lose hope, saying that the kind of change they voted for is not what they are seeing now. Living expenses is gradually increasing and price of commodities are shooting every second, people are finding it difficult to feed their family and many have lost their job under the government that promised to create more jobs for them during its campaign prior to the general elections in 2015. Statistics shows that about 4.58 million Nigerians became jobless under Buhari as revealed by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. Corruption has taken a different dimension and the president surrounds himself with corrupt and incompetent cabinet, and at the same time fighting corruption with corrupt people within his corridor.

Insecurity under this administration is another topic on its own. Kidnapping has become so rampant and people are now afraid of travelling from point A to B. you hardly hear a week pass by without hearing a case of kidnapping within the country. The killing of innocent people has not stopped in Maiduguri and Yobe (though credit must be given to our soldiers for their tireless effort in bringing a lasting peace within the two most deadly places of Borno and Yobe) but a lot needs to be done in tackling the insecurity so that our mothers can go back to markets without fear of being kidnapped, and our brothers can also go to school/work without being shoot by stray bullet.

Nigeria, the once vibrant and powerful black nation is 59 years today since gaining her independence on the 1 October, 1960. But let’s ask ourselves: “is there any need for celebration?” What are we celebrating when eighty per cent (80%) of the citizens cannot afford three (3) square meals a day? How can you celebrate when ordinary Nigerians cannot pay for medication when hospitalized for minor injuries? Do we celebrate when we live, speak and sleep in fear? Why should you celebrate when fellow Nigerians have become orphans and widows due to insecurity? Are we celebrating the pathetic condition of our hospitals, dilapidated roads, fallen standard of education, increased unemployment, or the closure of our industries? What are we celebrating when payment of minimum wage is still an issue? What are we celebrating when kidnapping is now rampant across the country? What are we celebrating when Kaduna-Abuja road has become the most dangerous road to ply in Nigeria? What dividends of democracy do Nigerians derive in the twenty (20) years of uninterrupted democratic rule? Shouldn’t you wonder what we are celebrating for?

Dabo writes from Zaria. He tweets @muntakadabo

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily 

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