Nigeria and the high cost of Independence -by Tahir Sherriff

Filed under: Letters |

If we were to use the common phrase ‘a fool at forty, is a fool forever’ , then there won’t be much to celebrate over as we mark independence day celebration, but perhaps we can also use ‘ life starts at forty’ In that case we will have the enthusiasm of an adolescent 12year old, and a purely childish desire to celebrate. I do not think however that this complex nation of ours can be captured in phrases especially as we will soon be marking 54 years of Independence and freedom for self governance.

Independence is a condition of a nation, country, or state in which its residents and population, or some portion thereof, exercise self-government, and usually sovereignty, over the territory. Independence thus translates in other words to mean ‘freedom’.

The desire for freedom is one of the most enduring characteristics of humankind. For the European colonial powers to suppress freedom for other people even as they sought it was as unrealistic as it was unjust. Only reluctantly did they part with their colonies in Africa and Asia, and only after it became clear that they had no choice. One might have hoped that the colonial peoples of the world could have been spared the suffering they had to endure on their long road to freedom. But this was not to be, nor was securing freedom the end of their struggle. No sooner did these countries under colonial rule obtain their freedom than they had to confront the next and perhaps more difficult challenge: deciding what this freedom meant, and what they should do with it. Should they establish democratic institutions, or build the same institutions of repression they themselves had fought against? In many countries, the answers to those questions are still unclear. The answer to these questions is the true cost of independence.

Contrary to the meaning of the word, in the early years of Nigeria’s independence, the country was in actual sense still dependent on the British. British colonialism made Nigeria, joining diverse people and regions in an artificial political entity; the British, it is said, created a country called Nigeria, not a nation. The creation of this collage of people involved socio-economic and political troubles that the country once again relied on British advice and policies to help solve. Raph Uwechue, a leading journalist and editor-in-chief of Africa Magazine illustrates in his book ‘Reflections on the Nigerian Civil War’ that, in 1960, when Nigeria became an independent state, Nigerians temporarily had to accept the Queen of England as the Head of State, and for many years after her independence, Nigeria still had her policies influenced by England, and, to some extent, still feels her dominating presence as embodied in her membership in the British Commonwealth.

In the course of fifty two years after being granted that freedom, we have had three Governor Generals, fourteen different indigenous leaders, six political coups, two presidential assassinations, several government transitions, creation of new states and recognition of new interest groups, and we have arrived at the doorsteps of true democracy. Yet there are still gaps to be filled and complex issues to be resolved.

As pointed out by President Barrack Obama in a recent speech at the UN General Assembly, ‘the path to democracy does not end with the casting of a ballot’. Also beautifully contributed by United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 6, 1941, in his annual message to the Congress of the United States was that he envisioned a postwar world in which four freedoms would be guaranteed: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. In a world society based on these principles, he added, no nation would be able to commit aggressions.

At 52 Nigerians must be willing to pay these high costs to secure its continued independence. The cost of freedom of speech and expression is a higher level of education, understanding and tolerance; the cost of freedom of religion is a fair practice of faith guided by a secular constitution for all; the cost of freedom from want is vibrant entrepreneurship; and the cost of freedom from fear is an adequate and well organized security for the nation at large. There exists a variety of complex issues, at the heart of which is the how to continually handle the true cost of independence. This should be at the core of our perspective, as we are ushered into another year of our freedom.