Nigeria took off as an independent nation on 1, October 1960 as a democracy with orientation and great sense of responsibility for our destiny and our future as a nation. The Britons did so well to have birthed us into nationhood with a constitution less acrimonious and less expensive to maintain yet promotes healthy economic competition that promotes national development that catapulted Nigeria into world reckoning and regional power within the first decade of her independence.
The parliamentary system of government and the regional structure limits cost of governance with the real theatre of governance depicted by the regions as against the federal government which was more or less for administration of our common interests and management of a scanty sixteen items on the then exclusive list.
That system no doubt had its own issues but with benefit of hindsight, they were issues borne out of developmental competition by selfless leaders who tried everything humanly possible to keep their regions and not themselves ahead of others. It wasn’t unexpectedly a perfect system but the spirit and orientation of leadership was service to ones motherland.
Our trouble began with the knowledge of the prospect of an oil economy with the attendant unceasing flow of ‘income without labour ‘ and the accommodation for corruption of such an economy. Oil was first discovered at Oloibiri in 1958 in the then South-eastern region but perhaps the depth of the reserve was not ascertained until after independence in 1960.
This prospect of unending free money became an intoxicant which fuelled the first military putsch in mid-1966. It was a coup of the Easterners by the Easterners and for the Easterners though they tried to give it the toga of a revolutionary putsch by sandwiching a Yoruba Major into the list of the coupists. They massacred Northern and South western political leaders at the expense of their South eastern counterparts. The south eastern elites and legal stars became the drafters of the draconian ‘unitarisation’ decrees that destroyed our federalism, the labour of our heroes past in a moment of stupor. It was sheer avarice, greed and aggrandizement but hardly did it settled down before a revenge coup by military officers of the Northern extraction booted out Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi who was killed alongside his host, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi, the Military Governor of the then Western region. This happened in July 1966 as the Northern Elites counter coup and contest for the control of the crude oil economy of Nigeria. One thing led to another within the military and the aberration became a fad for almost four decades.
The failure of the Eastern region to secede as the Republic of Biafra in the three years civil war (1967-1970) was the last straw that broke the camel’s back and subsequently the resignation to fate as one nation with neither spirit of nationalism nor ethos of nation building. Thus we can trace the foundation for our culture of irresponsibility to the discovery of oil in commercial quantities and then the aberration of the military rule.
Until this time, much earlier in 1920s the British had instituted the warrant chief system in the Eastern part of Nigeria to execute their indirect rule system of government. These warrant chiefs were becoming laws unto themselves, oppressive to their fellowmen for doing nothing extra than merely being appointed; but things came to a head with the new 1928 tax regime which was to introduce taxation to market women and their animals.
A particular encounter sparked off the women’s revolt in what was popularly known as the Aba riot of 1929. Though not less than fifty women lost their lives in the freedom fight which covered over six thousand square miles, the British administration was forced to drop the idea of tax imposition on the market women and to immediately curb the excessive powers of the warrant Chiefs. Women status improved generally and the riot became an eye opener and contagious with many events such as the 1938 tax protest, the 1940s oil mill protests in Owerri and Calabar Provinces down to the tax revolts in Aba and Onitsha in 1956, all as offshoots of the 1929 Aba women riot.
The Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti led Abeokuta Women Union (AWU) started their own revolts from 1946 in series of protests against harsh tax laws to the Alake’s palace which were met with assaults, molestation and sometimes arrest and detention of their members. These women refused to back down but rather wax stronger until they forced Alake Idowu, the Egba monarch at the time to abdicate the throne and forced the British administration to relax the tax policies and changed the Egba Native Authorities which for the first time had four women appointees.
The Agbekoya Parapo revolt of the late 60s, by the Yoruba Farmers’ Guild against unfavorable commodities’ pricing and exploitation and the student union’s resistance of the Anglo – Nigerian Defence Pact of our early independence days, all points to fact that we once had a culture of taking responsibility for our common destiny. Docility was therefore neither in our gene nor was it locked in our stars but a product of political confusion and economic pauperization taking to the level of “states-craft” by our political elites.
Nigerians no longer take responsibilities for anything in their environment today. They have become so confused and mesmerized that working for months without salary, they will still file out to celebrate their governors’ birthdays and wear “also-ebi” on workers day. If people cannot take responsibility for their legitimate source of livelihood, how then would they ever raise a finger about either the collapse of electricity or the antiquation of public taps, the dilapidation of all public roads or the conversion of all public hospitals to mortuaries, or the decimation of our public ivory towers or the de-standardization of education or in fact, total collapse of our values and system?
Our culture of irresponsibility expectedly has extended to our “not-too-young-to-rule” generation. These are the product of our ivory towers in the last three decades. They graduated largely into a dancer, singer, and joker or con artistes either in the senate, the state houses or in the “oil subsidy scam”. We are all certain as to the fraud of over -invoicing in our public procurement system and very equally certain that none of our procured infrastructure will deliver as much as 35% of value and yet we have lost our sense of responsibility to act. Waiting for the godot has become our national anthem as life continues to plummet and the political class continue to perfect the act of crass irresponsibility and shenanigans.
Despite increased population of universities and polytechnics with aging faculties of engineering, our roads, bridges and buildings continue to collapse most embarrassingly such that our collapsed buildings and collapse roads struggles to outdo themselves in casualties. Yet no student union body not even the almighty NANS, has ever stopped on an on-going road project to alert the public and call attention to the fraud going on. We have an ASUU that has become specialist at declaring strikes for rituals sake but will never speak to any ill in the system. We have got ICAN / ANAN that never got perturbed that money grow wings and fly out of our national treasury with audit pencils as their exit pass. Our Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) seemed AWOL or criminally quiet in the face of gruesome engineering failures of all projects passed by its proud members.
Our churches and mosques are anything but definitely not a hallowed chamber of piety or any pretence to holiness. Rather, merchandise of titles and profane religious observances culminating in induced expectation of miracles and magic have taken centre stage.
We have government institutions that are not responsible to anybody for anything: a police notorious for bribery and keeping off the road for armed robbers; an army that once led in desertion record for the fear of rag-tag Bokoharam terrorist group; Intelligent services whose only achievements in a decade of terrorism is the warehousing of over #13 billion Naira at the Osborne suites and the criminal diversion of $2.1billion arms money for 2015 political campaigns and yet nobody to be held responsible for our years of failure in battle against BH. That is the real country now called Nigeria.
We have a National Assembly notorious for their display of criminal ignorance of anything close to the heartbeat of the people. As Nigerians from across the length and breadth of the country are wondering aloud on how best to restructure the country for productivity and efficiency, these legislatures voted against strengthening our federal structure and rather further compounded us into a unitary state in their “excellencies” as the honorable members and distinguished senators of the federal republic. This 8th National Assembly is indeed the official seal of our national irresponsibility, political thoughtlessness and directionlessness as a country. Woe betides Nigeria if it tarried to wake up. In a democracy, the people get the kind of leadership they deserves a la carte. Therefore the earlier we wake up, the better.
Afolabi Ige Esq contribute this column from Concerns for Democracy & Good Governance in Nigeria, Abuja. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.