Nigeria: The Next 100 Years By Eddie Iroh
I have a strong feeling that in spite of all the planning that went into the centenary, the event still caught Nigerians at crossroads. They did not know precisely how to receive it. Is it a celebration, a commemoration, a rejection, a reaffirmation, or a distraction? Would it be appropriate to hail it in the same manner we celebrate October 1 (“Happy Independence!”)? Happy Amalgamation does not exactly roll off the tongue, does it? And really would it be wise to shout Happy Centenary! for a colonial concoction that was forced down the people’s throat more for the convenience of administering the colony than the long-term good of the people? Indeed is it not true that some of the people described it as the “Mistake of 1914”? Judging from social and mainstream media reactions of Nigerians, I believe that the centenary means all these to different strata of Nigerians. And in their heart of hearts many are saying, let us just mark the occasion and move on to the perpetually recalcitrant challenge of trying to blend and distil something more potable and palatable out of that concoction.
But I am agitated more by the unanswerable question: what would Frederick Lugard say if he were to look back today on his (or rather his colonial boss’s) creation 100 years after? I am aware that every 100 anniversary of American independence, an incumbent American president is required to envision his nation for the next 100 years: its hopes, dreams, dangers, promises, prospects and possibilities. History would dare him to make prognoses and predictions for a future he would almost certainly not live to witness. I consider it the ultimate challenge of pure statesmanship to envisage your country beyond your time, beyond your tenure, and place your wisdom at the mercy of events you can never anticipate let alone control in politics where careers are made or marred by the unscripted and unanticipated deluge of events. When, for instance, George W Bush squeaked through by one of the smallest of electoral college votes in 2000, there was no clairvoyant who could have predicted that there would be a 9/11, an event that changed America for ever; or that Bush’s macho, gung-ho response to it would eventually ensure his re-election landslide in 2004. But this is the call which an American president is required to make every 100 years.
His thoughts would be put in a time capsule and stowed away in the nation’s archives for another hundred years. I recall that the last US president to do this was Gerald R Ford in 1976. It would have been extremely fascinating to read a similar document by Lugard 100 years on. What sort of Nigeria did he and the colonial government have in mind? Did he, for instance, imagine that a century after, Nigeria would still be an amalgam of fractious and cantankerous ethnic nationalities, with one bloody civil war under her belt. Not to mention one that is divided by the natural resources which in other societies would provide the building blocks for national growth and unity. Would Lugard have imagined a nation that is united only once in a while when the national football team plays a match?
It is quite possible that neither Lugard nor the Colonial Office in London gave much thought to what Nigeria would become 100 years after amalgamation because their primary purpose was to ensure administrative convenience, easy collection of revenue for the British treasury, and maximising the benefits of colonialism before the inevitable wind of change that began with Ghana’s independence in 1958. I truly doubt that Lugard foresaw the emergence of the Nigerian Colossus, the Giant of Africa, the Black world’s most populous nation, in more than purely geographical terms, notwithstanding that the British described the new Nigeria as the India of Africa.
Much more important, it would be worth a wager or two to know what Lugard really envisaged for the disparate cultures, languages and religions that he corralled into the union of 1914. Did he see any prospect of achieving unity considering the differences of the newly merged groups?
But really whatever Lugard might have envisioned at his time, it is, for all practical purposes, quite academic now. What is immediately relevant is what Nigeria thinks about the next 100 years; how Nigeria sees herself in the next century. This is not only the more compelling challenge for the country; it is also a pretty difficult one. Of great concern is that Nigeria has not proved to be the land of Martin Luther King, a fertile land of dreams that came true in the lifetime of those who heard the promise of the dream, as it has happened for African Americans. I am not sure that there is any Nigerian who can stand up today to proclaim that he or she has a dream that “one day this nation will rise up to the true meaning of its creed” of UNITY IN DIVERSITY.
And that one day a Muslim from Sokoto in the North, can reside in peace and safety in Calabar in the South, side by side with his Christian brethren, and rightfully seek and achieve the highest office in that state or the nation without anyone asking to know his state of origin, or run the risk of being “deported” in the dead of night as if he was an illegal alien. Or that one day, a Christian from Abakaliki in the East can run for the office of governor of Lagos State with no more requirements than those prescribed by the constitution of the Federal Republic; just as George W Bush was born in the State of Connecticut but eventually settled in Texas from where he rose to be the governor of the state and later president of the United States. Indeed Nigeria will need to recapture the true meaning of its glorious past when unity meant that an Nnamdi Azikiwe residing in Ibadan could win election into the Western Regional House of Assembly, and an Alhaji Altine Umoru was elected mayor of Enugu in Eastern Nigeria. We should have a dream…that although we may not be there at the end of the next 100 years, we can confidently affirm that this agglomeration of disparate and contending groups and interests will have found a durable modus vivendi that would enable them achieve the greatness that is their destiny.
I firmly believe that the challenge for Nigeria for the next 100 years is not merely the question of development because, with the right kind of leadership, that is assured given the bounties of natural and human resources that God bestowed on her. But with all these and the best of intentions, the dream may still be elusive unless Nigeria faces up to and achieves her stated goal of unity in diversity. It is my hope that the centenary should not be merely remembered as a ceremony, but as an opportunity for reaffirmation of the nation’s determination to fashion a united nation out of what began as a colonial “mistake.” For if truth be told, in the 53 years since the British left Nigeria to her own devices, the country has not achieved measurable progress in creating a unified entity out of her diverse ethnic nationalities.
Tragic landmarks like six military regimes, a bloody civil war, at least four exercises in re-aligning the federating units, with still clamour for more, plus the current state of affairs in the county, all point to yet unsuccessful efforts to achieve the dream of unity in diversity. This has to be the overriding challenge of the next 100 years, and a sine qua non for national growth and development.
We should stop deluding ourselves that big means great or that growth means development; or even that six per cent growth in GDP can lift Nigeria to super power status if we cannot achieve peaceful coexistence. If you look at some of the existing super powers like UK and the USA, or emerging powers like China, India and Brazil, they have had to forge relative unity of their multi-ethnic and multi-cultural communities before they could maximise their potential. Thus the current mantra of “Nigeria is poised to overtake South Africa as Africa’s largest economy” will mean nothing in the absence of unity and peace. South Africa, and indeed the world would gladly make way for Nigeria if our actions show that we are marching forward in unity and strength, and not as a coterie of choleric market women squabbling over who gets what stall in the market place. It is only after Nigeria settles the issue of unity in diversity that she can stand tall as a true giant of Africa and the Black race.
Having done this, Nigeria should then begin her journey to greatness by recognising that best practice is not a slogan but a goal; that excellence is an achievable habit, not an option. We must bear in mind that true life is lived when little changes occur, and that the man who wants to move a mountain begins by carrying small stones; not by establishing an Obasanjo Space Centre in Abuja when you cannot scratch made-in-Nigeria matches without setting the kitchen on fire. Then shall we no longer boast of 120 universities that together do not qualify for one world class university. By the end of the next century we shall have gone beyond the present state where small things still defeat us; where three out of every six elevators in our public buildings are out of action. And in our body politic we would have reached the stage where our politics would no longer be regarded as politricks; where no one can have the temerity to refer to our senators as sin-ators, our representatives as representathieves, or our heads of state as commanders-in-thieves. So help Nigeria God!
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JAMES F. BLUE III email@example.com
Making the Rounds in Davos
ARISE News begins a week of broadcasts from the heart of Europe at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Organised around the theme of ‘Reshaping the World: Consequences for Society and Business,’ the hope is to establish a blueprint for the world in 2014.
This year, Chairman, Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, will serve as a meeting co-chair. This is an important role as it not only acknowledges the emergence of Nigeria as the leading country in Africa but also one of the leading countries in the world.
Arriving a day before the events begin has given me a chance to get my bearings and to focus on our agenda. We will speak to ministers and presidents and business leaders. Sometimes being here, it is hard to remember why it matters and I had an encounter that reminded me of that.
En route, I met Binta Brown. She is typical of the types of people that come to Davos. The daughter of a successful Washington Post journalist, Binta is a lawyer by training but that is just one of her interests. She quickly became partner at Kirkland & Ellis, a major US law firm and at 40 stepped away from that full time to focus on studying the intersection of business and human rights law. She is a Young Global Leader and is tasked with trying to push forward the mission of the World Economic Forum.
A member of the Council on Foreign Relations who was a foreign policy adviser to the presidential campaign organisation of former United States Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Binta is upset at the lack of women on corporate boards and thinks in her position she can do something about it.
“The issues recently around Twitter that they could not find someone” is indicative of the problems we have. Currently a fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, hers is the idealism that fuels Davos and helps contribute to some of the good that flow from here.
More of the happenings and the meetings when they start tomorrow. We’ll talk to the Gates Foundation and hear from leading members of South Africa’s business elite. Stay tuned and read it here.
•Blue is the Director of Special Programmes, Arise Television
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