Nigeria at 62: Journeying along

Some 62 years ago, the country called Nigeria in which we all now find ourselves and experience life, cut the umbilical cord that tied it to Britain, and gained political independence. The emphasis here is on ‘political’ for, though we are now independent and self- governing as a nation, our country is still very much reliant on foreign nations for a number of things, not least, consumer, industrial, technological goods and services. 

Nigeria has witnessed a lot over these years, as expected of a 62-year-old adult. But even at the elderly age of 62, Nigeria is still grappling with the ‘national question’ –issue of national integration, unity, etc. Today, the schisms among Nigerians is more than it was in the 1960s. 

Our fault lines have been amplified. Mistrust, hatred rules many Nigerians’ hearts. Evil now stalks our land. Life is no longer sacred as blood is now shed with reckless abandon all across the country by terrorists, bandits, unknown gunmen, men/women killing their lovers/husbands/wives and even children killing either of their parents out of anger or (hard) drugs- induced delusion. 

This spilling of human blood, alien to our culture, may be said to have started in 1966, barely six years after the country’s independence with the first military coup that toppled Nigeria’s first indigenous government.  In that coup, some notable Nigerian politicians and army generals were killed in cold blood. It led to three years of bitter civil war when the eastern part sought to secede from Nigeria. Then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon was the war hero, declaring at end of the war in 1970 that there was ‘no victor, no vanquished’, although people from the south east zone still feel marginalised to-date.  

There have been other military coups since then, including the palace coup wherein General Murtala Muhammed was announced as Head of state to replace Gowon who was attending an OAU meeting in Kenya at the time. General Muhammed was himself killed in a failed coup attempt on February 13, 1975. His second in command, General Olusegun Obasanjo replaced him.Obasanjo organised elections during his time and handed over to the elected civilian president, Shehu Shagari in 1979. 

He was sacked by the military in 1983 with General Muhammadu Buhari installed as Head of state Buhari gave way to General Ibrahim Babangida in yet another in the series of coups. Babangida was later to ‘step aside for General Sani Abacha who died in controversial circumstances and General Abdusalam Abubakar took over. General Abubakar midwifed the 4th republic in 1999, uninterrupted democratic rule sine then to-date. It may be argued that killings of whatever kind had always been with us from time immemorial.

Killings in Nigeria have multiplied tenfold since Independence and spread to the hinterlands. Where formerly they happened only once in a blue moon, now they are a daily occurrence. Our villages considered as the bastion of our ethical values are crumbling to the rapidly spreading fire of immorality.

Consumption of illicit hard drugs by especially youths is now almost as common in the villages as it is in the cities where this dangerous habit first emanated and is rooted. Nigeria’s population has also more than doubled since independence, from about 50 million to a projected 200 million today!  More than half of Nigerians living today were not yet born in 1960. 

A huge chunk of these were born in the 21st century, the internet age. They are called netizens, that is, internet bluffs. Internet-enabled phones are their constant companion. Always, they are tapping their phones, from sunrise to sunset and beyond, until nature forces them to fall asleep at midnight or thereabout. 

They refer to their parents as analog people and themselves as digital persons.  There was no internet at Independence and for many decades thereafter. Today, every adult in Nigeria has a GSM handset.    Cyber (interne) frauds have surfaced and ‘yahoo boys’ have emerged.

More children now go to school and Nigeria’s literacy level has increased overall. But the standard of education is falling unlike what obtained at Independence. One who passed out from primary school with a ‘First School Leaving Certificate’ in the 60s is equivalent to a secondary school graduate of today. Our school system has been tinkered in last 62 years; from the eight years primary school tenure where you graduate after Standard Six, five years secondary school, two years post-secondary education and three years in the University. 

Now we have six years of basic school that terminates in Primary Six; six years of secondary education thereafter (JSS 1 to 3, SSS 1 to 3). The accompanying certificates have also changed from General Certificate (GCE), Higher School Certificate (HSC) to West African School Certificate (WASC)/NECO. 

In the 1960s public schools were the preferred educational institutions, private schools were virtually non-existent. Today, there are as many privately-owned secondary schools as public ones in Nigeria. Private schools are even more in some cities; just as increasingly, many citizens are now having to provide certain amenities for themselves, social services that were wholly provided by government and taken for granted by the citizenry because their supply was steady in former times. Boreholes now abound in many residential houses. 

Many government -run water works that used to supply people water have packed up. The few that are still functional work only occasionally. In same vein electricity supply from the national grid is epileptic. This is despite the name change and reforms in the electricity sector since independence, viz, Electricity Company of Nigeria (ECN), National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), now split into three companies. They are Generating Company (GENCO), Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and Distribution Company (DISCO). Nigerians are slowly embracing a new way of getting electricity, namely solar energy. 

The British sovereign under whom Nigeria was colonised and whose subject gave us the name ‘Nigeria’ passed on nearly a month ago, on September 8, 2022. It marked the end of an era and beginning of a new one for our erstwhile colonial master, Britain. King Charles 111 is now the new sovereign and Head of the Commonwealth of Nations of which Nigeria is a member. 

A new chapter shall also open up for our country, Nigeria, next year with the February, 2023 general elections. It shall usher in a new president to take over from incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari whose constitutional two terms of four years each, ends in May. We shall begin to fill in the pages of the beckoning new chapter from May, 29, 2023. It will form part of the Independence chronicles.  

Ikeano writes from Lafia, Nasarawa state via [email protected] 08033077519

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