61st anniversary: This can’t be freedom, Nigerians cry out

Nigerians have said that what the country marked last Friday should not be said to be real freedom, as they were still in servitude in all respects.

Speaking with BusinessDay, a number of Nigerians said their lives were worse off now than a few years ago by every standard.

A commercial motorcycle operator was livid with anger Friday, when our correspondent said to him, “Happy Independence anniversary.” In response, he said, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I am not part of the celebration and I do not have any reason to be. For me, there is nothing like Independence. I graduated from a college of education in Ekiti State some years ago, and I ended up as an Okada rider, and you want me to be happy that I am a Nigerian?”

Some others who spoke to BusinessDay pointed to the escalating insecurity across the country, forcing some state governments to shut down telecoms network and outlawed some businesses in their domain.

Speaking on the dire economic implication of such decision in 21st century Nigeria, Aliyu Umar Babangida, a retired Army captain, noted that one of the main triggers of insecurity is poverty. According to him, when telecoms services are shut down, poverty increases.

“We must understand something here; you can’t give what you don’t have. The problems that led to the shutting down telecoms services did not start with a snap of the finger, but they started very small and morphed into an inferno. If you look at it, the biggest fire has to start with a spark. Your fire safety and fire prevention policies will determine whether you get an inferno or hell fire. So, when you see an entire state being shut down, and you know that everything you can think of today has to depend on the network. People are earning their livelihood from there; families need it for communication with loved ones,” Aliyu said.

“What they have done is like saying let’s shut all the forests down without thinking about the ecological implications; the green house effect; God knows what next we are going to shut down,” he said.

Many Nigerians have indeed not known real freedom despite the country attaining political independence in 1960. Sixty-one years after independence the country is still tied to the apron string of the West.

Read Also: How flawed elections cripple democracy in Nigeria since independence

It has continued to depend on foreign countries for everything. While the country marked 61 years of Independence last Friday, many citizens were in various categories of slavery and captivity.

Many were being held in kidnappers’ den. Some were being held in bandit’s dungeon where some hefty ransom was being demanded for their freedom. Many were being held in ritualists’ dens. It cannot be truly said that Nigerians are free.

Speaking in separate interviews with BusinessDay, they noted that Nigeria must reform the electoral process to aid the recruitment of credible leaders who are ready to serve.

Amid the spate of insecurity, increasing country debt profile and worsening standard of living which has resulted in the country being ranked as the poverty capital of the world, many Nigerians are determined that there has to be a change.

Femi Pedro, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said the country may be free from foreign domination and control, but stressed that leaders have to be ready to think outside the box, and listen to advice for the country to make any meaningful progress.

“Nigeria may be a free country now because we don’t have any foreign domination in any part of the country. Sixty-one years after independence we all agreed that leadership is a problem, governance has failed. I do not support what is going on now.

“Our leaders have to think outside the box. At 61 obviously, we are not where we should be presently. The problem is leadership, and the leadership recruitment process has to change,” Pedro said.

According to him, “Leaders have to listen to advice from elders; it is poor people that are hard hit with bad governance. They should think of the way forward, the future of the country and what should be done.”

Pedro added that Nigeria’s situation had aggravated because the wealth of the county had been wasted over the years.

“Things are really terrible now, in my own profession we have seen a Justice of the Supreme Court, taking plates to beg for food. We pray things don’t get worse. We have oil but we have not been able to manage our revenue well and you can see us going to beg. The money has been siphoned for personal pockets, which is the main issue here.”

The SAN also pointed out that “Going forward we have to change socially and economically. Our leaders have to think outside the box for governance to impact on the people.”

Speaking in similar vein, former National Publicity Secretary of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Adelaja Adeoye also carpeted President Muhammadu Buhari for leading Nigeria into a generational debt trap, saying what Nigerians needed to do last Friday was not celebration but sober reflection.

He said that the controversy regarding the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) between the states and federal government should not be what should cause rancor, adding that President Buhari should focus on tackling rising poverty in Nigeria.

“There is nothing to celebrate about the independence; check round the country, people are crying of hunger. No work, no food; even when government is borrowing heavily.

“In Nigeria, most of the borrowed funds end up in the pockets of the powerful, through one means or the other, which leaves the country to be fully exposed to her lenders,” he said.

According to him, “When President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999, one of his efforts was to get our huge loans, which were accumulated by the Military regimes forgiven, and he achieved that.

“The country started on a clean note again after 1999, but it is so worrisome that between that time and now, our country is now in debt to the tune of N33.107 trillion, which is not reflective in our national development, be it human or infrastructural development.

“The report from Debt Management Office noted that, Nigeria’s Public Debt Stock as at March 31, 2021. The Total Public Debt Stock which comprises the Debt Stock of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), thirty-six (36) State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) stood at N33.107 trillion or USD87.239 billion.”

He further pointed out that “The Debt Stock also includes Promissory Notes in the sum of N940.220 billion issued to settle the inherited arrears of the FGN to State Governments, Oil Marketing Companies, Exporters and Local Contractors. Compared to the Total Public Debt Stock of N32.916 trillion as at December 31, 2020, the increase in the Debt Stock was marginal at 0.58percent.

“Worrisomely, when President Buhari came to power, he told the entire world that he met an empty treasury, but shortly after, some states were given what they termed as bailout funds. Nigerians also witnessed that when an election is closer in some APC controlled states, a bail out grant of N10 billion was also extended to them.”

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