So there I was last week, preparing to compose this special Nigerian independence anniversary post and then suddenly realizing that I was in a dilemma of sorts. You see, I desperately desired to write a motivating and optimistic piece about the ‘celebrant’, yet one that was truly newsworthy. I had been trying for over two hours, it was now 12.42am and I was nowhere close to a solution. I made a mental note never to criticize CNN again for its failure to report cheery news emanating from Nigeria. Cheery news is hard to find.
I tried all manner of permutations; sector by sector, region by region, and each time I came to the same conclusion- NOTHING GOOD IS HAPPENING. Power supply is as erratic as ever, staggering facts revealed this week that Nigerians spend as much on fuel and diesel as our entire 2009 capital budget; roads are in bad shape, a trip from Lagos to Benin by road averages 6 hours and 42 police check points; the knowledge sector is in shambles, universities are closed and have been so for over three months at a time when the knowledge industry in other nations is powering a ‘soft revolution’ by overthrowing mineral resources as the chief source of revenue and employment. Yet nothing good seems to be happening here. Amnesty was supposed to give hope but there are ripples already, some who dropped arms are threatening fire and brimstones as they claim that the government is reneging on key aspects of their agreement. The Niger-Delta remains ever contentious, with the only difference being that there now exist a comatose Niger-Delta ministry headed by an incompetent. Maurice Iwu still reigns supreme in INEC and continues to wreak havoc on our electoral system with the most recent example being the Anambra APGA about-face. Our national assembly has even become more toothless and corrupt. And now, sports and particularly football that used to be a periodic source of consolation for Nigerians has unsurprisingly caught the ‘Yaradua flu’. So nothing good is happening.
But football- that most cherished of all sports- taught me something about Nigeria. NIGERIANS STILL HOPE. That was an important lesson. Even though we are always the least prepared of all teams, Nigerians always watch every football match with hope and ridiculous optimism. We believe that on a ‘good day’ we can beat anyone; the fact that oppositions spend more in preparations mean little or nothing to us. We refuse to give up on our soccer stars even though the ‘good days’ come less often. We get disappointed for a fleeting second only to get set to cheer them on the next time with renewed hope and more ridiculous optimism. On the face of it, this does not seem like much but it tells me that Nigeria is not finished yet. That means, just as it happens sometimes in football, Nigeria and Nigerians have what it takes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We have ourselves. We have Nigeria.
But as we clock 49, it’s about time that we begin to match hope and faith with tangible actions. Let us remember that a country does not always get the government it deserves; it gets the government that it demands. The more I see the ‘people power’ in other nations, the more I conclude that it could happen right here in Nigeria, if only we could overcome our intense risk-averseness as a people. The power of the American people is being heard loudly in their ongoing health care reform debate, in their tea parties and in their uproar which led to the sack of a key Obama adviser, Mr. Van Jones; the power of the Iranian people in spite of the repressive regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to their voices being heard all over the world and shook the foundations of the Iranian political establishment after the June 12 fiasco; we still remember the power of the Ukrainians that fuelled the Orange Revolution which forced the hand of the government of the day in 2004 and placed the people’s choice, Viktor Yuschenko, in power. Remember that theirs was a revolution without a single gun fired. In Nigeria, the Macaulay’s, Azikiwe’s and Enahoro’s gave their all that we might gain it all. The best gift we can give to our nation in commemoration of our independence is a solemn commitment never to let the labour of our heroes past to be in vain. And that means doing all it takes including civil disobedience, bold actions, strikes, protest, hecklings, honesty, integrity, voting, being thrown in jail and citizen journalism (take pictures with phones and cameras and place same in the media and online in order to stimulate actions and reactions). Do not think for one moment that our actions will favor only the elected officials who might come in from our efforts; it will favor us all. Because even if the officials fail to live up to our expectations, our previous experiences will embolden us; it will cause us to ensure that we are heard again and again until gradually change begins to flow in droplets and trickles and then in torrents and downpours. Only then would we know what it means to be called free. Continued confinement in the cozy enclave of a cocoon will only serve to delay and frustrate the revelation of the magnificent butterfly. Cocoons aren’t beautiful, butterflies are. But the more we choose to love our comfort zones, never risking anything, never sacrificing anything for the greater good; the more things will remain the same- ugly and uninspiring. But if we choose to hope and act and give and live, soon the sun will rise and something good may come. Happy Independence Nigeria! God bless Nigeria.