By Abimbola Adelakun
Today is the 60th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence. Given the sheer indifference to this date that the people have exuded, it is hard to claim this as a joyful occasion. Nigerians are barely displaying any excitement at having come this far. Why should they? People are hungry and angry, and the gnawing precariousness of their social conditions has made the country so tense that our centrifugal impulses are being unleashed. There is perhaps no other time in Nigeria’s recent history that is as joyless and uncertain as this one. People are caught in the vicious cycles of raised expectations and concomitant dashed hopes. From North to South, East to West, Nigerians seem helplessly trapped in a vortex of despondence. Fatigued and frustrated, they reel from the dizzying effects of government cluelessness, incoherent policies, and official sadism.
When our leaders have been asked to speak to the state of the country and highlight the achievements that define our nation after 60 years, the only tangible thing they held up was the map of the country delicately stapled together at its fault lines. From the pre-anniversary speeches to even the logo designed to iconise today, the issues have mostly been about Nigerians staying together. A week ago, in Abuja during a press conference to outline the activities for the celebration, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, mentioned that they chose the theme of “Together” for the anniversary because, despite Nigeria’s bitter history, we have managed to remain together. Then, came the punchline that only someone in the mould of Mohammed could deliver, “Also, in certain cultures, the age of 60 is seen as the beginning of a new cycle of life, and is usually well marked. For Nigeria as a country, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari offers a new beginning.”
Since they have no important attainment to tout that matches the scale of today’s occasion, they opted for a celebration of the country’s togetherness. But, if merely being together is an achievement, whose is it? The people or the government? Nigeria’s togetherness would be an actual achievement if each regional unit had the means to exit the country but chose not to do so because they are doing well enough within the present contraption. Instead, what they are celebrating is a bad marriage in which the abused spouse has no means, legal and otherwise, to exit.
The Nigerian leadership’s choice to celebrate togetherness is desperation. In lieu of any worthwhile achievement, our leaders opted for low-hanging fruits. What is the point of the country’s togetherness when the conditions of existence within its borders are perennial abjection and bleakness? For whom does an undivided Nigeria currently work other than the nepotists in high places? For them, one Nigeria is about nothing more than siphoning its resources directly into their pockets. Does the average Nigerian growing crazy from the noise of many generators every night even consider the country’s togetherness remarkable? At what or whose expense has this unity been enforced, and has the price been worth it?
Several groups have organised protest marches for today to resound their frustration with Nigeria. I admit I have reservations about the various secessionist pangs currently wracking Nigeria, but let it be known that those who fail to see Nigerians’ increasing disenchantment with their country are both physically and morally blind. The tensions and divisionism currently plaguing Nigeria are not about liberal tolerance of one’s neighbour; they are an outcry necessitated by the growing irritation that the factors necessary to dignify our human existence remain lacking. Everywhere in Nigeria, people are restless. They are being seduced by secessionist rhetoric, and they are paying attention to those promising to help them explore the options that could lead to a more meaningful existence. Rather than our leaders confront the truth of the pain and anger currently percolating the country, they keep giving empty speeches on unity. Which one of us – outside our parasitic leaders, of course – feeds their family with Nigerian unity?
For two decades now, Nigeria has run a civilian regime. Unfortunately, our present sufferings are no longer distinguishable from our pre-1999 fate. We are back to where we used to be in the gloomy days of the military despots. There is no progress; we merely ran many miles to remain on the same spot. Our feet are tired. Even time has collapsed. The past has slumped into the present, and the weight of both impedes the future. The Buhari of the 1980s that sat on the destiny of millions of Nigerians as they groaned in despair is still the country’s President almost four decades later. His second coming has been worse for us than the first. The children whose destinies he ate up till 1985 have now all grown up, and many of them have their own children. It is a shame that he is still presiding over the affairs of the nation. His utter rudderlessness and the lack of a moral vision for the government imperil our collective future. There is not a single redeeming factor to this government.
United or not, Nigerians do not have a country of which they can be proud. Just lately, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland, Piotr Cywinski, and 119 others appealed to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), about the fate of a Kano child, Omar Farouq, who was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment over this farce they persistently call “blasphemy.” If the Buhari regime had any decency, they would have stopped these Sharia courts from handing out draconian sentences. But they will not do it. Buhari himself also lacks fellow feeling. He is precisely the kind of person who sleeps soundly at night knowing that a 13-year-old is imprisoned for the “sin” of blasphemy. Again, without the quality of life and reassurance of human dignity, of what use is Nigeria’s togetherness?
Their obsession with togetherness brings me to the bland logo designed for today’s occasion: a shiny diamond framed with the national colours of green and white. As pointed out by critics, the photograph of the diamond had earlier surfaced on the Internet appended to the report of a 51-carat Russian Dynasty Diamond that was sold in 2018. As prosaic as that logo is, selecting it to celebrate Nigeria at 60 was, in fact, astute. Nothing could have better expressed the lack of originality of Buhari’s regime than that logo. First, it was unimaginatively literal: an actual diamond to celebrate a diamond jubilee? They did not even try. Second, choosing a simulation of a Russian diamond for Nigeria’s birthday demonstrates how, as a country, we live on the fantasies of other people’s successes. We borrowed another country’s diamond to celebrate our 60th anniversary like we source for everything from abroad: money, resources, fuel, and even a good life. We behave like a country that has no history, vision, national creed, or even dignity. We borrow to exist, but that has not stopped us from adorning ourselves with bling jewels to blind our eyes to the reality of our vacuity. Our leaders have no answers for what ails us, and so they think unity is everything. What is the joy of national unity when the people are dehumanised by poverty?
It is hard to believe that people had really high hopes of change a mere five years ago. They wanted a switch from the clueless government that had haunted the country since the beginning of the Fourth Republic and seeded their votes to Buhari believing that he had the virtue and passion to change Nigeria’s poor fate. Today, people seem to have concluded that his regime has nothing to offer, not even mere hope for social flourishing. We seem to be stuck in this endless loop of hopes that are raised so high for no other purpose than for them to be spectacularly dashed. Those that thought Buhari was a seed and buried him in the ground of democracy are now pained to find that he was – and has always been – sterile.