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Nigeria @ 54. What does it mean to be independent?

by Sanusi IsmailaOctober 1, 2014

Nigeria is 54 today! Yippee!

When I was much younger, I looked forward to October 1st, Nigeria’s Independence Days with so much anticipation—and it wasn’t because it would be a holiday and I could choose to sit home and devour a book, or watch cartoons till it was cool enough to go to the sports complex, a few metres from my house to play basketball or football.

On the contrary, I looked forward to marching in the town square in my school uniform, “eyes-righting” in salute of the state governor or military administrator, whatever the case was.

I carried this enthusiasm into Secondary school at Kings College when Buba Marwa whom I admired was military administrator. Everyone seemed to think he was doing a good job  – a rare thing to hear about leaders in those days.

It was such a big deal – I got it. We were a people. We ruled. We made our decisions, our laws; we weren’t just a business annex of another country. That was such a cool thing. I was young…and so was Nigeria – we both had hopes,  dreams and desires.

Today, I went through my archives, intent on celebrating the many benefits of Nigeria’s Independence.  Alas, it occurred to me that I am no longer enthusiastic or excited about Independence Day. I can’t find enough to celebrate, besides the “Independent” tag.

For starters, given the security challenges in the country today, most  school children don’t gather at stadia and town squares to mark Independence day, the result of a 2010 bomb attack on Eagle Square in Abuja  while the president attended the celebrations. So, a tradition that began decades before, which shaped a culture of patriotism in children and adult has been lost, perhaps forever.

I’m no economist, but with the type of debts we racking up on a daily basis, can we truly say we are independent? Really, can we?

Moving on…

So what then are the benefits of being Independent for a citizen, like me who proudly carries the Nigerian Passport? (Which isn’t good for much except identification at the bank…but that’s a separate issue entirely for later, for me or someone else).

Just the other day, the lights in my house went out at night and I went to the PHCN office to complain. I guess given the service levels we are exposed to and accept, I should have been thankful that the guys on the nightshift showed up at work in the first place. Long story short, I had to “find them something” to come and replace a fuse in the transformer.

I had to.

Not before explaining the concept of tax, me paying my bills, their salaries and the relationships between all of them. Even as I gave them an earful, I knew it was pointless because they were “Independent” in a different way.

I’m too young to know what it was like pre-independence but I can’t help but wonder how different, perhaps better my life would be if Nigeria was still under British rule.

Conjecture perhaps –  Please indulge me.

I was a bright kid growing up. I collected prizes every other month and represented the State I lived in at national competitions. I got offered admission at King’s College because of my high common entrance scores and . That’s how you got in back in the day – on merit. You got offered admission and you accepted or declined. Is this the case today.

I can’t help but wonder if some colonial headmaster would have nominated me for a scholarship, as was the practice in those days. And maybe after studying at some of the best schools funded by money “pillaged” from my motherland, I would be in the employ of Her Majesty, The Queen.

I would help her pillage my country in exchange for good roads and constant power, pipe-borne water and better health care.  I would help her in exchange for a better system where justice reigned. Where “Men of God” were charged with negligence over needless deaths or with money laundering.

I would help her in exchange for a system where I wouldn’t have to “drop something” to get people to do their jobs and deliver services paid and  taxed for; a system where goat thieves didn’t get sentenced to death, while those stealing the budget equivalents of mid-sized countries receive  slaps on the wrist.

Let me stop here; stop before I sink into depression.

It’s not all bad though.

The fact that I think it’s not all bad is the first thing that is good about being an independent Nigerian.. For one, since Independence, our tolerance levels and ability to endure have shot through the roof.

We are a happy people, our humor can’t be suppressed.

Bomb blast? A joke can be made about it, insensitive or not. Kidnapped children? Missing billions? Super Eagles reduced to ostriches with heads in the sand? Humor to the rescue!

This resilience, character and passion for the things we care about is our common denominator as a people, as Nigerians, try as hard as divisions want, along religious and tribal lines.

It is this same resilience that makes me appreciate this country’s Independence as broken as it is, over what it was 54 years and some hours ago.

I believe that someday, one day, we will collectively channel that force into shaping this country into one that our children would be proud of.

Till then…

Happy Independence.

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Sanusi Ismaila
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