A SPEECH PRESENTED BY THE EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN OF AMUWO ODOFIN LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA, COMRADE AYODELE ADEWALE AT THE 3RD PANAFEST COLLOQUIM, ON THE THEME , “NIGERIA CENTENARY: HOW FAR,HOW WELL. CHALLENGES OF NATION BUILDING.” HELD AT THE NIGERIAN INSTITUE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, KOFO ABAYOMI STREET, VICTORIA ISLAND, LAGOS, ON THE 5TH OF DECEMBER, 2013.
I am highly delighted to be here to share some thoughts with this distinguished audience at this auspicious occasion of our 100–year–old Amalgamation of the Protectorates of Northern, Southern and the colony of Lagos.
Let me also congratulate the PANAFEST Foundation for organizing this lecture where Nigerians need to understand the concept of unity in the midst of our diversity, as well as sustain the democratic institutions and principles.
I am indeed glad that the PANAFEST Foundation in its characteristic manner has sustained the culture of occasionally engaging invited guests to share their thoughts on issues of national interest and of great concern to Nigerians at home and abroad.
Distinguished, I am very humbled and indebted by the decision of the organizers of this topical and august programme for considering me worthy to give a speech on this germane and contemporary subject of discussion. “Nigerian Centenary: How Far, How Well. Challenges of Nation Building.”, especially as we approach the Centenary Celebration, in spite of our ethno-religious and socio-political challenges.
Distinguished, ladies and gentlemen, permit me to emphasize that our country requires constant political and socio-historical evaluations considering our peculiar multiplicity. We are a nation of ethnic diversities often characterized by competing aspirations. We must therefore explore our diversity for strength, adopt the approach of unity and peace for harmonious co-existence, adopt a system of forging integrative and interdependent relationships based on common ties, language and aspirations.
So, how did we get here? For me, it is important we revert to history to appreciate where we are coming from as a people. The journey of Nigeria as a sovereign nation might have begun around January 8, 1897, with reference to Miss Flora Shaw’s publication in the Times of London when she suggested the name ‘Niger Area’ (Nigeria), for the British Protectorate on the Niger River.
In her essay, Shaw Was making a case for a shorter term that would be used for the “agglomeration of pagan and Mahomedan states” that was functioning under the official title “Royal Niger Company territories”. In summary, Miss Shaw christened Nigeria as a geographical entity.
By January 2014, Nigeria, the product of the amalgamation of Southern and Northern Protectorates of the British colony in 1914, will be exactly a hundred years. A hundred years of what some have described as marriage of the hardly willing colonial masters.
A marriage that has within a century witnessed civil war that claimed the lives of many patriotic and innocent citizens, where results of elections hardly reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people as expressed through the ballot box; a union that has transformed from Northern and Southern protectorates to three regions, before metamorphosing to 36 states and a Federal Capital Territory.
Without sounding conceited, I am truly grateful to God that we are still together as a nation. We had a civil war from 1967 to the 70s and despite it, we are still together. When I critically evaluate Nigeria since the amalgamation, I observed that though Nigeria, since 1960, was slated among other nations of the world to emerge as great nations by the turn of the twentieth century, with countries like India, South Korea, Brazil, among all these countries, it is only Nigeria that has failed to really achieve this dream. I paused to ask this, what happened to the beautiful dream of our founding fathers? What happened to Nigeria’s industrialization?
Looking back, I wondered why we can no longer have factories that packaged and assembled products in Nigeria, factories that were packaging together a lot of manufactured products, from automobiles, Peugeot, Volkswagen, etc, to electronics and beverages. Companies like the Lever Brothers, Nasco Group, etc and of course, the Textiles companies in Nigeria, all these have collapsed over the years while poor infrastructure, lack of education, poverty, corruption, insecurity etc have now bedeviled the country. We have indeed deviated fundamentally from the plans of our founding fathers.
It is fundamental to note that the trajectory of Nigeria’s arrival at the post-colonial status remains the most debilitating obstacle to its development. While I cannot put all the blame for its backwardness squarely and solely at the feet of colonialism alone, it is however difficult not to argue that today’s myriad problems of disunity and contemporary backwardness cannot be wholly resolved unless and until the root causes have been identified for proper interrogation.
Is Nigeria really a nation or just a mere state? I cannot totally resolve this, but to let us know that the controversy will subsist for as long as Nigerian rulers prefer to play the ostrich and pretend that all is well. In my candid view, Nigeria remains far less than the ‘nation’ that those in government love to claim it is. A nation is not the product of mere wishful thinking; it is a much more serious proposition than that!
Distinguished, be that as it may, celebrating the centenary of its founding fathers, in my view, calls for caution. I love my country I no go lie (apologies to Wole Soyinka) but Iím not one to pretend that it is a nation as yet. Artificial states and conglomerate societies can gradually become nations if the citizens are given the reasons and opportunities to move in that direction, or they may remain fragmented and disjointed, because of the political ineptness of those in charge of their affairs.
It is true that the colonialists who cobbled Nigeria together and ran it as a single colonial state for five and half decades deliberately kept the people from forging a sense of unity before they bequeathed it to us in 1960. Handing over the reins of power to their preferred local successors, the British still expected that the rickety contraption would survive and even thrive.
At independence, we had our hopes, expectations and aspirations as a young democratic nation. But like a child pampered with a gold-plated glass mug, we had one but allowed it slip off our hands, dropped on a marble floor and shattered. Fifty-three years after independence, it has been extremely difficult for us to put the pieces together.
Nigerians are today defined more by primordial criteria, while faith in the so-called nation is waning at such terrific rate that the prediction by the US intelligence community that Nigeria could vanish from the world map by 2015 risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Even as things stand today, the political maneuvering towards the 2015 general elections are being predicated not on nationalistic issues of how to get the best men and women to run our country but rather on primordial considerations of where power should rotate to and which ethnic group(s) should produce the president!. While I do not claim to know all that nation-building entails, I can at least tell that faith in the continued existence of the country is daily eroded by youth unemployment and adult under-employment, general insecurity of life and property, decaying physical infrastructure, unbridled elite corruption and ostentation, and pervasive feeling of hopelessness in a country so well endowed yet so cursed by lack of visionary leadership.
The leadership deficit question is another area that has engrained selfish, parochial and unsavory tendencies in the psyche of those who hold power in the country. The resultant systemic rot caused by repeated looting of the treasury has left Nigeria in a vicious whirlwind of underdevelopment in the midst of plenty.
Sadly, the wealth of the country is concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the greater majority of the country to languish in penury Ė leading to all forms of tensions earlier mentioned.
Distinguished, we therefore need to constantly remind ourselves that nation building is concerted exercise. The delicate but glorious marriage that now transcends into unification of the various ethnic tribes calls for a new realism, where attitudinal change is understood as key ingredient.
I therefore call on all Nigerians to be forward looking as we continue as one nation with a keen sense of history to guide our activities towards patriotism. We must show sound understanding of the serious crisis of nationhood afflicting the country to properly chat a roadmap for a virile and prosperous Nigeria.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we should do everything possible to create solid foundation for the fulfillment of our collective potentials as a people through moral, ethical values for a stable and united nation.
With our vast resources, huge talents, robust indigenous private sector, formidable demography and of course, a clear sense of direction, we have what it takes to compete excellently among the committee of nations. As a matter of fact, we can as well entrench as part of our national monument, divine union that is beyond divorce or disintegration. Nigeria will not be dismembered because of our ethnic, religious or political differences; rather, we shall wax stronger and come out of our present challenges with greater promise. We must fight corruption, inequity and injustice.
Also, there is the urgent need for our leaders most especially at the center to refocus, re-engineer and re-invigorate efforts at nation building where equity, peace, justice, merit and diligence reign.
This has the potential of replacing peopleís pessimism with optimism, disillusionment with hope and enthusiasm, disloyalty with patriotism and mutual mistrust with trust.
Finally, it is important to underscore the fact that the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 is the foundation and the beginning of our journey to a great future as a nation. As a nation, we have experienced challenges that have severally challenged the unity of Nigeria, it is on this fundamentals, I am calling for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), which I strongly believe that the outcome will re-negotiate the basis of our co-existence.
Thank you for listening.
COMRADE AYODELE ADEWALE
AMUWO ODOFIN LOCAL GOVERNMENT