We’ve Still Not Learned From Our Journey
Usually, people celebrate anniversaries when they feel a sense of achievement and self-discovery in their pursuit of something. In that journey, it is a pertinent rule of life that mistakes would be made. Mistakes are acceptable as long as one learns from them and use them to make improved decisions for the future. In our journey since Independence, we as a nation have made mistakes. But what did we do with the mistakes? Did we learn from them or just repeat them over and over again, oblivious of what was to come?
All my life, I’ve seen my country struggle to attain that she should be: the giant of Africa, the pivot point for Africa’s political and economic excellence, a shinning example of a vibrant black nation. It seems to me that I have been watching, hearing and reading about the failure of this struggle for as long as I can recall. What is it about Nigeria that seems to defy any kind of modern governance or civilized behaviour by government? Could it be that we hadn’t made mistakes or, if we had, we were unable to learn from them?
Nigeria formally achieved independence in 1960 with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as the republic’s first president. However, on January 15, 1966, junior officers calling for radical reforms triggered by alleged corruption attempted a coup. The coup failed but the federal cabinet surrendered power to General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi. In July 1966, Operation Araba was exercised when army officers killed Ironsi and overthrew the government; as a result, Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon became head of state. Triggered by violence in the north, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaimed that the eastern part of Nigeria was now the independent Republic of Biafra in May 1967. On July 6, a civil war between Biafran secessionists and the federal government broke out. The war ended in January 1970. “No victor, no vanquished” was affirmed by General Gowon with a promise to return Nigeria to civilian rule in 1976. However, on October 1, 1974, General Gowon announced that the 1976 date for handing over power was not practical. Complaints about corruption and government inefficiency surfaced and led to a bloodless coup on July 29, 1975, when Brigadier General Murtala took over. He reinstated the promise to return to civilian and constitutional rule in 1979 but, six months later, he was assassinated while in a traffic jam. There was public outrage and the chief of general staff, General Obasanjo, reluctantly took over in February 1976. Over the next three years, a new constitution was drafted and an American-style presidency was adopted.
Nigeria was returned to civilian rule in 1979 with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as president. Public disillusionment rapidly set in as the politicians began to pilfer. When the elections in 1983 appeared to be inconsistent, the military took over power again in a popular coup led by General Muhammadu Buhari on December 31, 1983. The government promised to crack down on corruption and introduced a heavy-handed War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in an effort to reorient the social order. However, this was not to be as, in another bloodless coup, General Babangida ousted General Buhari with a promise to vacate office by October 1990. The government again pushed the date for handover back to October 1992, but on April 22, 1990, middle-ranking army officers attempt to overthrow Babangida. General Sani Abacha, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and chief of army staff, reaffirmed the military’s loyalty to Babangida.
The coup leader, Major Gideon Okar, and 42 of the soldiers were executed in July with 27 more executed in September. Presidential elections were conducted on June 12, 1993, and Chief Moshood Abiola ostensibly won. Observers and the vast majority of Nigerians agreed that it was the fairest election Nigeria had ever held. The military government annulled the election, called for a new election and banned Chief Abiola from participating. Protests and controversy followed, forcing General Babangida to step down on August 26, 1993. Power was handed over to Chief Ernest Shonekan, head of an Interim National Government(ING). General Abacha overthrew Shonekan’s ING on November 17, 1993. However, pressure for Abiola to form a government continued and he was obdurate. On June 23, 1994, he was arrested, charged with sedition and jailed. Implicated in a phantom coup, General Olusengun Obasanjo was also jailed in 1995. Unexpectedly, Abacha died on June 8, 1998; ambiguity surrounded his death but the official cause given was a heart attack! Abiola was to be released but in the course of meeting with a US delegation on July 7, he died after drinking tea; the official cause given was a heart attack! After the death of Abacha and Abiola, General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over and began a transition to civilian rule. On February 19, 1999, Obasanjo won election to the presidency in a relatively free and fair election. However, in the 2003 elections, INEC declared that he won a second term amidst widespread controversy and suspicion.
Apart from my brief recap of Nigeria’s history being a mouthful, the mistakes are quite evident. Many believe that ,if there is any good coming out of the bad years of military dictatorship and ineffective civilian governance, it’s that we have made enough mistakes to learn meaningful lessons from them. It appears that all the time the government has failed, it has been either due to massive looting and corruption, outrageous rigging at elections, extensive tribal marginalisation or an unnecessary and unfair extension of the agreed period of rule by the government. Obviously fraudulent elections and chaotic economies are some of the excuses used for takeovers.
If those were reasons for governmental invasions, it could be argued that all our past governments were in the throes of death almost straight after their inception. If the theory still is correct, then military takeovers become a kind of euthanasia because, in nearly all the cases of the breakdown of government, there was a repeated pattern of corruption and cheating. Our governments never seemed to learn from the past mistakes, yet always ended up with the same fate - failure!
I, for one, saw this Fourth Republic as a clean slate given to Nigeria despite our past misdeeds so that we can start our quest for greatness afresh. We had the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and break the vicious circle of pre-doomed governments. General Abdulsalami, in his speech made in 1999 during the inauguration, most appropriately described it when he said, “To us all beckons the historic opportunity to break, once and for all, the cycle of instability and mistrust that have wracked our political life since independence”. That seems a lifetime ago as Nigerians realise that these new breed of politicians have rapidly adopted the old ways of patronage, rigging and corruption, and the mistakes of the past are being reenacted all over again with a vengeance, meaning that we haven’t learned anything from the past.
It seems all the trauma and hardship this nation has gone through has not taught us anything. If we choose to turn a blind eye to the effect of misrule and cheating, then, that is a serious indication that we are still not ready for that greatness we were destined for; our forefathers struggled and died for absolutely nothing. This is an even more serious threat to Nigeria’s democratic experiment and development.
We must start all over again – never to move forth until we reflect on our blunders and apply it in a positive way to the betterment of this land. This is one of my wishes for Nigeria. Therefore, as we conclude our 52nd year celebration after colonial rule, I hope to be around to celebrate, at least, the first year of the rebirth of a corruption-free, rigging-free, power-hungry-free Nigeria, fresh from the lessons of the past. If those that have the power choose to drive our homeland to the brinks of death or even kill her, then, we shall one day celebrate the first year of her recuperation or reincarnation. Either way, one day we shall celebrate for motherland. It will be then and only then that we shall truly have a free and independent nation to celebrate for.