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Preliminary notes on Nigeria at 61

Very soon, this besieged country will celebrate its Sixty-One years of existence as an independent nation. In view of these sad times, the mood is likely to be somber. Still, the occasion will provide an opportunity for us to re-examine ourselves. After all, the Great Book admonishes us to number our days so that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

On this note, it is important to appreciate here that every nation sets out a larger picture for itself. Something really of a manifest destiny. In consonance with evolving realities however, such a vision or better still larger picture can be subjected to modifications. In the bid to consummate this vision, there must necessarily be a dialectical inter-play between both the leadership and followership. Some countries have continued to pursue this kind of goal on behalf of their respective social formations.

In view of much of the foregoing, it is possible to contend that Nigeria and Nigerians too must have bought consciously or otherwise into the larger vision or picture, as regards the way in which we want to be viewed.

Incidentally, variables like, geography history and population, have gone a long way into seeking some form of Manifest Destiny for Nigeria. The last of these is such that, given our demographic profile as the most populous, black nation in the world, it was easy to see ourselves as the leader of the black race. Such indeed is this notion that a scholar has contended that, in view of our assumed centrality in the black world, if the black man does not make it in Nigeria then, he can never make it anywhere in the world.

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Again this larger picture has been reinforced by the circumstances of geography. Here we are, a behemoth, surrounded by francophone countries. In the process, the country had to contend with an intrusive, extra regional power like France. Subsequently, we have had to assume the role of a regional power. In fairness to us however, we have attempted to play these two roles in the course of our chequered history.

Thanks largely to oil revenues, it was easy to see a Nigeria, reaching out to almost all the corners of the world in the name of black solidarity. This was most obvious in a context like Southern Africa, where we committed huge resources to the liberation of that part of the continent. We even dared to confront a Super Power like Washington in the process of playing this role. Moreover, we chaired the then Anti-Apartheid Committee of the United Nations.

On this note, it is possible to remember the historic speech of Muritala Mohammed on the then Angola debacle. According to him, Africa had now come of age and she would be responsible for her destiny. Meanwhile, world leaders caught on to this profile of Nigeria, and to this extent, Lagos the then capital became a Mecca of sorts. However, discerning observers could still see that all was not well. That what we were going through was just some kind of euphoria. And let us face it, euphoria remains what it is: euphoria.

Incidentally, one of these observations came from the besieged Boers in the then apartheid South Africa. They were so prescient about the ongoing struggle in their country, that, they were able to look into the crystal ball, and foretell what would happen in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. According to them, apartheid as a doctrine and ruling policy will have to end one day. But thereafter, it was deposed that, the next phase of the struggle, war and instability would be North of the Limpopo!! i.e. the rest of Africa.

Despite the fact that this was coming from the enemy, it must be admitted that the Boers have turned out to be right. Since the end of apartheid, our country Nigeria has been engulfed in various crises such that, the larger picture of a manifest destiny has remained elusive. The ensuing situation probably lies in the quality of the leadership-civilian and military. As regards the former, what vividly comes to mind is our Second Republic. Very few will appreciate that the prima donna of that system, Shehu Shagari had one of the best CVs in the world, yet the period was one of unmitigated disaster which set the pace for other human disasters like Babangida and Abacha.

Shehu Shagari had one of the best CVs in the world, yet the period was one of unmitigated disaster which set the pace for other human disasters like Babangida and Abacha

On this note, I want to regale the reader with an insightful comment by a French Professor at a seminar on Nigeria’s Foreign Policy in Oxford. He spoke to what he called-Nigeria Threat Potential. In his presentation, he made the rather startling observation that, the threat potential to Nigeria, is Nigeria itself!! I was shocked! And, almost on a reflexive basis, I broke the rules of scholarly engagement by asking him, why he had deposed thus. This was more so, in view of the fact that, he made his statement in the presence of Nigeria’s foreign policy elites.

In response, the French scholar averred that, looking through, there was some formlessness about the Nigerian State. And interestingly enough, he quickly retreated that, actually, he did not know much about Nigeria!! If anything this retreat can be regarded as a cop out. What he had said about Nigeria’s threat potential, would clearly be one of the most guarded secrets in Paris and other Western capitals.

Taken on its value, and inner dimensions, the French scholar was right. For how do you truthfully view a state, where medical tourism is the norm as shamelessly practiced by its political elite. Meanwhile, very much the same odious situation can be observed in the area of education.

Meanwhile, these inclement variables have been complemented by features like a deeply fractured society in which separatist and secessionist passions continue to determine the narratives on the streets. This is apart from the various shades of insurgency in the land. As things stand, the current managers of the state continue to grapple with all these problems most of which are avoidable.

One major consequence is that the larger picture as regards Nigeria’s manifest destiny becomes increasingly blurred. So blurred that as we approach our 61st anniversary, I am wondering how the speech writers of the President, and the President himself will come across on October 1. The chances here are that, they will not be able to thump their chest about Nigeria’s manifest destiny or large picture.For such indeed are the anomy and despair which currently grip the most populous black nation in the world. Nevertheless, here is still wishing all our compatriots out there-Happy independence Anniversary. After all, hope eternal, springs in the human breast, despite these sad times

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