Two centuries ago, Brigham Young said that “True independence and freedom can only exist in doing what’s right.” Those words are as true as the knowledge that the earth is spherical. Whereas some persons view independence as being free to do whatever they like however they like, such persons have a myopic view that points to immaturity. When one is truly independent is when one comes to appreciate that independence implies a responsibility to do the right thing. It is the Nigerian state’s inability to understand this logic that has kept it in shackles for fifty-six years.
Today is October 1, marked across the most populous black nation as the day it gained independence from its British colonial masters. This day in 1960, at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos, Nigeria’s then capital, the union jack was lowered, giving way for the hoisting of the green-and-white flag of Nigeria. Having existed as an amalgamated country since 1914, and having some important natural resources, the newly independent nation had so much promise. The colonial shackles its people wanted loose had been removed. As an eagle, it was expected to soar. Alas, it didn’t!
The Nigerian people simply exchanged one shackle for another. The colonial shackle was replaced with the shackle of independence, championed by insatiable leaders and a people who never understood nor seemed to appreciate the import of responsibility. What Nigerians did not see was that without freeing the mind to know what is right, and to choose to do what is right, independence was a mirage. In fact, it can be argued that colonialism was better for Nigeria. One strong argument against colonialism is the exploitation of the subjugated by the colonialists for their own selfish benefit. When this is ethically opposed, the assumption is that the locals would selflessly use their resources for the good of all. However, Nigeria’s half-century of independence has proven otherwise.
If the British had remained, would they have continued exploiting Nigeria’s resources? The answer is indisputably a “yes!”. Definitely, as colonialists, they would set giant conduit pipes into Nigeria’s bloodstream to tap as much as they can. However, as “shrewd businesspeople”, they would have put things in place to ensure that their host remained alive so that the flow of resources would not cease. They would have maintained an economic setup that would mirror their own country, and would surely help Nigerians, though Nigerians would be second-class citizens in a fairly prosperous Nigeria.
If the idea of continued colonial exploitation seems unpalatable, what would be said of Nigeria’s present setup? If colonialism was bad, Nigeria’s long line of so-called leaders have shown themselves to be worse than the colonialists. Since 1960, leaders at all levels in Nigeria, no matter the pretended benevolence of some, have instituted a system that perpetually exploits Nigeria’s resources for their own selfish interests. They steal brazenly, and then move such stolen resources across Nigeria’s borders to safe havens abroad. How is this different from the transfer of Nigeria’s resources to Europe by the British?
Far from being different, it is worse by far. Nigeria moved from being robbed by outsiders to being robbed by family members. That should count for blood betrayal. This new set of thieves have basically haemorrhaged the country. Unlike the British who would likely have considered “sustainable exploitation”, the Nigerian model is to “steal as much as you can, as fast as you can”. This has resulted in the present state of the Nigerian economy where Nigerians are reeling under a gruelling recession, and the leaders calmly say “recession is just a word”. With millions of Nigerians jobless, many Nigerians cannot point to the benefit of independence on them. This sadly, is very true.
Am I extolling the “benefits” of colonialism? No! Am I saying that Nigeria should not have gained independence? Far from it. I am simply pointing out that for the average Nigerian, independence has been an exercise in futility. The local leadership that was supposed to maximise the supposed freedoms of independence simply did not exist, or at best, failed to turn up. The “leadership”, if they even deserve to be called leaders, cheerfully took the reins of authority from the Queen’s representatives, and proceeded to enthrone themselves as the new colonial masters to reign in perpetuity.
I have been in the UK for less than a week but with the “little” I have seen, I cannot understand why a successive string of Nigerian leaders chose to keep their own people in bondage. Virtually every Nigerian military leader was trained in the UK, and so had first-hand experience of how a country should be run. Even the pure civilian leaders surely had encounters in the West before ascending top roles in Nigeria. Yet, they too joined the elitist cabal in a collision to impoverish Nigerians. Then when Nigerians complain, someone would spin some bullshit blame about racism, colonialism, and the West being responsible for our problems.
We simply have not acknowledged that until we do what is right, our independence is worthless. Independence on its own would neither build schools nor roads, nor power plants, nor provide a solid educational system, nor guarantee good healthcare for Nigerians. It is human beings who would plan and implement policies for such development. We flaunt our independence, and brag about being the “Giant of Africa”, but every day, our nakedness is exposed, and the world sees that in the real sense of the word, we are not independent. We are subservient to greed and unwillingness to responsibly do what is right.
As Nigeria clocks 56 years today, may we begin to think about the responsibility of independence. Such thinking should start from the top where the power is concentrated, to the Nigerian on the streets. If we can dump the delusional grandeur of pseudo-independence, then we can work towards achieving real independence— one that benefits everyone, elite and proletariat. Then, whenever it’s October 1, and people say “Happy Independence Day”, it would be because they believe in Nigeria’s independence, and not because they are following a meaningless custom.
Happy Independence Day!
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