By Elvis Ogenyi
Change is a constant social reality credited with acceptable norms in the society. Obvious and unstoppable, change is seldom overlooked by thoughtful and credible leaders. The clamour for change by Nigerian youths is therefore, not bizarre but in keeping with tradition.
While the youths were amenable, those of violent pedigree, mostly youths, infiltrated them and turned their laudable cravings into a treacherous act. Rather than approach the matter judiciously, many have taken positions that underline the political and regional differences trailing the nation since its inception. Granted that the fusion of two dissimilar regions, north and south by the British colonial government had resulted to the birth of Nigeria in the early twentieth century, the colonial administration perceived the amalgamation on January 1st, 1914 as a need for cooperation for the moral and material advancement of the people.
The material advancement of Nigeria was envisaged due to the successful exploitation of agriculture by the British colonial government. Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy of Nigeria and crude oil discovery in 1956 was only supportive. Cocoa in the west, groundnut in the north and oil palm in the east; rice, roots, tubers and vegetables in the north central and other parts of the country underscored the riches of Nigeria.
But the political freedom of the people was important therefore, the British government responded to a prolonged nationalistic struggle led by youths especially, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro and other southern leaders to grant independence in 1960.
Ethnic contention and regional supremacy characterized Nigeria under the British colonial rule. This intensified in the first republic and denied Nigeria the foundation for unity. In Independence address to the nation on October 1, 1960, the Prime Minister, Sir. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa declared that the independence of Nigeria was premised on the expectation of elected representatives proving the ability to manage the affairs of the nation without the selfish luxury of pursuing their personal interests.
The first republic saw the practice of the British parliamentary model with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as president, and a fellow youth, Tafawa Balewa was the head of government. Ethnic, regional and personal pursuits of elected politicians superceded nationalistic interests and a group of military revolutionaries perceived a falling cooperation for the moral and material advancement of Nigeria. They also realized the failure of elected politicians to manage the affairs of the nation due to selfish luxury. Therefore; the young military officers staged a military coup and sacked the government in 1966.
The military, headed by Gen. Johnson Aguyi Ironsi came to power after the coup, dissolved the government and established a unitary system that made the central government very powerful. Ironsi contended with a rising ethnic tension in the country and suspicion in the military. He was assassinated in a mutiny after six months in office and Nigeria drifted towards disintegration.
Gen. Yakubu Gowon succeeded Ironsi. Opposed to the choice of the youthful Gowon as head of state, young Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu later declared Biafra and plunged Nigeria into a thirty-month civil war to reclaim its lost territory. The war ended in 1970 and Nigeria’s rehabilitation preoccupied the Gowon administration.
The integration of the secessionists after the civil war by Gowon helped to weld the broken edges of the country back together. His overthrow in 1975 was considered a cog in the wheel of progress in this regard but his successor, youthful Murtala Mohammed rekindled the hope of Nigerians with programmes that promised the rebound of the nation’s economy.
Abundant revenue from oil under Gowon helped in employment generation, the provision of infrastructure and a drift from agriculture. Corruption, indiscipline and ‘false prosperity’ were features desiring a change in Nigeria under Gowon. Soon, the new head of state launched a frontal attack on corruption but personal and ethnic interests influenced his assassination after a few months and young Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was enthroned in power.
Obasanjo produced the first elected president under the American federal model in 1979. The U.S federal system concedes a greater power to the states but Nigeria under the 1979 constitution witnessed the ambience of a unitary system. Under President Shehu Shagari, the moral and material wellbeing of the nation suffered neglect, corruption heightened and Nigeria declined economically.
The overthrow of President Shagari by the military in 1983 was therefore, hailed by the public and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari came to power waxing vicious on indiscipline and corruption and striving to redeem the image of Nigeria. He ruled with a heavy military might while disorder and indiscipline declined in a climate of oppression. He was overthrown in 1985 and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida emerged Nigeria’s first military president.
Under Babangida was the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP with the devaluation of the Naira that weakened the economy irretrievably.The climax of Nigeria’s anti democracy posture was witnessed when Babangida annulled the presidential election believed to have been won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola in 1993. Ethnic discords in politics trailed Nigeria into independence and was a suspect in the June 12, 1993 presidential interruptions.
After nine years, Babangida left power for an Interim National Government. The government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan, was forced out of power by Gen. Sani Abacha after three months in 1993. Abacha’s sudden demise in 1998 brought Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar to power. Abubakar restored democracy by handing over to President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
Nigeria’s return to democracy was guided by the 1999 constitution feared as responsible for the current flux and unwholesome political experiences. However, armed with it, President Obasanjo ruled for eight years with unprecedented commitments to the extermination of corruption through the establishment of the Independent Corrupt Practices and allied offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
However, Obasànjo failed to bring corruption to its knees and Nigeria wallow in the deadly condition. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua succeeded Obasanjo in 2007 and was succeeded by his vice, Dr. Good luck Jonathan after his death in two years of his administration. President Jonathan lost election for a second term in 2015 to President Muhammadu Buhari who, like his predecessors, is fighting corruption and battling with insecurity and an ailing economy.
It is sixty years since Nigeria’s sovereignty was granted by the British. A lot has been achieved as a nation and much more has been missed. Never was military regimes contemplated at independence. What was on peoples’ mind was a prosperous Nigeria in a democratic political setting. It has been twenty one years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria and ethnic and religious influence in politics and governance of the colonial era has not abated. In addition, corruption, insecurity, mismanagement, ethno- religious conflicts and unhealthy political system remain the nation’s albatross.
A principal oil producer globally, Nigeria has earned billions of dollars from oil export to Europe, Asia, America and Africa in sixty two years of production enough to actualize industrialization and infrastructure development for the material well being of the people, 50% who currently wallow in extreme poverty because of the obnoxious enterprise of corruption and leadership crisis.
The material well being of the nation envisioned in the colonial amalgamation of Nigeria and the sacrifice of elected leaders to advance the nation politically declared at independence, each has remained doubtful despite military and civilian leaderships since independence. Despite this, the future is bright for Nigeria, and a departure from corruption, mismanagement, ethno-religious sentiments in social and political affairs advocated.
This was the conviction of youths who took to the streets in peaceful agitation for an end to corruption, unemployment, insecurity, Police brutality and a craving for a saner leadership and governance obtainable in constitutional review and character transformation. The culture of politics as a cash cow has to end for Nigeria to advance. Then, can the revenue for infrastructure, employment and health care delivery, education, agriculture and industrialization beckons. The yearning for change in Nigeria may not have reached its turning point.
By Elvis Ogenyi