Centenary: A celebration with little essence

The 1914 decision by British imperialists to bond its Nigerian territory of Northern and Southern protectorates for administrative convenience and ease of exploitation has captured the imagination of the President Goodluck Jonathan government which has outlined a series of carnivals to mark what has been tagged ‘Centenary Celebration’.

A national committee coordinated by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, was last year inaugurated to plan how best to celebrate the event that is scheduled to last throughout this year. Billions of naira has been appropriated to be expended by government while private sector operators, including some private media organisations, have also been co-opted to market the celebration.

While the 1914 amalgamation may be considered a historical signpost, there is really nothing that makes that date so special as to command the dedication of huge resources and a year-long fanfare as the federal government has planned. Indeed, as a day marking an imperial decision for our suppression and exploitation, the most appropriate thing to do is to engineer a process of national rebirth in all aspects of our life.

It is indeed shameful that at a time our leaders are committed to squander billions of naira on a colonial legacy, there are millions of our citizens living in squalor, not being able to take three square meals a day and many more dying from the most common diseases and numerous other afflictions. We are practically left behind in every sense of the expression in an era of geometric advancement in science and technology when, with the kind of financial resources at our disposable, leaders of other nations with ideas and creative imagination have literally turned a desert into paradise thereby making it a global destination for tourists. Here we are battling with the most primitive of challenges that Sir Frederick Lugard would not lose sleep over if he were to be woken up from his grave and yet none of our leaders have the presence of mind to see reason that embarking on a so-called centenary carnival amounts to feasting while Nigeria is in flames.

The irony in the celebration is that the most profound symbolism of the amalgamation legislation which Lugard signed is unity but which contrasts with the political philosophy of our ruling elite. The violence and acrimony that today engulf the country are just two examples of the consequences of their inadequacies in bridge-building, a hallmark of statesmanship required in building a virile nation. That we have been unable to distinguish what ought to be tribal interests from what essentially are our collective national interests is a disservice to the spirit of the amalgamation which is unity.

The international communitylooks up to Nigeria to take the lead in charting the course for the African renaissance and emancipation, this time not only from the so-called neo-imperial forces but more realistically from ourselves, all of which had fused to truncate our prospects of entering the African Promised Land. Though the drums of celebration may have been rolled out and all actors in the centenary orchestra have done their calculations and profits to be made, it is yet not too late forgovernment to halt the party train and refocus attention on the more desirable theme of carving a new national ethics and value system. Essentially, our idea of celebrating the amalgamation is not in the form planned by government. Rather, it must be done by way of a strategic reflection on our history in order to be able to, like the late Chinua Achebe said, locate where the rain began to beat us.

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