Nigerian Nationalists, Struggle for Independence and the Present Rot in Nigeria
I beg to differ on this undue emphasis about the ÔÇśsacrifices' of our nationalist leaders. While not trying to diminish the fact of their achievement of independence for Nigeria, we need to clarify the extent and scope of their struggles for independence in Nigerian which should not be confused with the struggles which were matters of life and death in most of the African countries before independence was finally achieved.
I am reacting to an article I read on NVS by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde titled ÔÇśNigerians: The Desperate Attempt to go into Exile' where the writer noted that ÔÇśAlmost fifty years after Awolowo, Dappa Biriye, Azikiwe, Osadebay, Balewa, Ikoli, Enahoro and hundreds of extraordinary men and women risked their lives so Nigerians can be free from the manacles of humiliation, servitude and oppression -- we are back where we started: struggling. Today we struggle against tyranny and want; we struggle against fetid social conditions and diseases; we struggle against ignorance and mental slavery. We struggle for the most basic of all basic human needs. And so, one cannot but believe that the goal and the labor of our nationalists have been wasted'.
This is very true indeed and he was spot on but in as much as I have no problem with according respect to our nationalists (I still admire persons of integrity like Pa Enahoro who is still struggling for a better Nigeria when his mates are sitting on their armchairs and reminiscing about the good old days. Gani Fawehinmi and Professor Wole Shoyinka also came to mind in the same mould as Pa Enahoro), I think the struggle for independence in Nigeria and the contribution of the nationalists who became the political elite after independence needed to be further clarified and compared against the struggles in other countries and how the struggle for independence has shaped the psyche of the people in these countries.
The thrust of the article was commendable in that it highlighted the plight of Nigerians who are running out in droves to go to other countries in Asia, Europe, Far and Near East, Africa and Australasia with the believe that any other country must surely be better than Nigeria as presently constituted and governed. I feel affronted that a country like Kenya could recently go on the airwaves to talk about ÔÇśeasing immigration restrictions' for Nigerians to stay in Kenya! This is a country that has virtually nothing and depends on agriculture, tourism and foreign aid to survive and you are ten times more likely to be killed, robbed or mugged in Nairobi, its capital than even in Lagos where we thought crimes have reached levels that are not tolerable.
Yet, Nigerians flood to Kenya in droves, looking for the proverbial ÔÇśgreener pastures' with the attendant risks of harassment and humiliation from police and immigration officers that are even more corrupt than our own much maligned police here in Nigeria. It is the same story in Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Botswana, South Africa and even Zimbabwe, with the highest recorded official inflation rates in the world at any time in history of mankind. Nigerians still go to Zimbabwe because they believe their dreams could come true there rather than at home. All these smaller and poorer African countries deign to look down on Nigerians because they find it difficult to believe that all the stories about Nigeria being the so-called ÔÇśgiant' of Africa were not true and that the Nigerians trying to enter their countries are not criminals.
I was once harassed in Addis-Abbaba, Ethiopia of all places while on transit from Sudan to Nigeria. Once I confirmed my nationality as a Nigerian to the Receptionist, he insisted on holding on to my passport till I was ready to check out and go to the airport in the morning while the passports of Africans from other countries were not collected. I refused and a shouting match ensued. I cursed the poor guy and informed him that he must be stupid if he thought I would leave Nigeria to come and stay in Ethiopia. I asked him if Ethiopia was that good, what were his sisters doing prostituting themselves in Dubai and other Arab capitals and why are his brothers serving as cleaners, janitors and gardeners in the same Dubai. The issue was resolved by the Manager whose spoken English was better than that of the Receptionist. The Manager informed me that the hotel has had cases of Nigerians on transit through Addis disappearing from the hotel and not joining their flights and surfacing later on when they have been apprehended by the police. I informed him with all the dignity I could muster that I was not one of those and will not stay in Addis even at gunpoint but the point made by the Hotel Manager was that, even if I was not desperate enough to do it, there are other Nigerians who have done it and others who would try it.
If Nigerians are being molested, harassed, humiliated and intimidated in Africa, then we can imagine what they are going through in countries like China where thirty Nigerians were executed recently for undisclosed offences and then cremated by the Chinese authorities. The Nigerian government spouted the usual lame rhetoric and the matter has been forgotten. Thousands of Nigerians are rotting in jails in Asia for immigration-related offences and are tried in courts where English are not spoken. Most were found guilty of offences they never committed because they were not able to defend themselves. Travel to North African countries and you will see young girls in their teens from Nigeria prostituting themselves for two dollar a pop to Arab boys and men.
My main disagreement with the article was only on the mention of our nationalists and the impression created that they risked their lives for this country. I do not share that sentiment. I am of the school of thought that believes that Nigeria got her independence too ÔÇśeasily'. I am against colonialism in all ramifications but a bit of struggle and some bloodshed while struggling for independence would have prepared us better to deal with the present rot we are experiencing in the country.
Our nationalists never 'risked' their lives as the article claimed. If you do a comparative analysis of struggle for independence in countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Algeria and recently, South Africa, you will discover that Nigerians were handed their independence on a platter of gold. Our elders never had to go into the bushes as rebels to fight the colonial masters unlike what happened in the other countries like Kenya (Mau Mau), Namibia (SWAPO), South Africa (ANC) and Zimbabwe (ZANU-PF) and this is the source of the problems we are having today because our minds are not conditioned to fight injustice.
Nigerians have turned to asylum seekers today because of the political class and their bacchanal tendencies, but it will be very difficult to get them out because we have no history of struggling against injustice. It is easier to coax a cow to lay eggs than to convince Nigerians of the need to fight for their rights. They prefer to 'leave everything for God' while their lives become meaningless and the political class continue with the looting.
The efforts of the religious classes in the struggle for independence in places like Kenya, Zimbabwe, Algeria and South Africa never happened in Nigeria. We do not have any religious leader, dead or alive, who spoke and ranted against colonialism, oppression and corruption like Arch-Bishop Tutu of South Africa for example. Our religious leaders are busy preaching about ÔÇśpossessing' our empty ÔÇśpossessions' and waiting on ÔÇśthe Lord' for our miracles while they smile to the banks and live like pop stars. The self-anointed ÔÇśreligious leaders' in Nigeria (Christian and Muslim) are too busy reconciling their bank accounts, investments, assets and cozying up to the politicians to get import waivers and giving the same political leaders ÔÇśanointing' to think about speaking out in unambiguous terms against corruption that has made the majority of their members paupers whose lives are not worth anything.
Although some of the nationalists were detained and some jailed for short periods. Nigeria cannot boast of a freedom fighter in the mould of Robert Mugabe, Steve Biko or a Mandela or the school children of Soweto (of blessed memory) who were mowed down in their hundreds while protesting against apartheid in South Africa. Most Nigerians has never had occasion to protest against anything but whine, grumble and according to Fela Anikulapo all they do is ÔÇśsuffering and smiling'.
In the days of yore, student activism used to be a vehicle for imbibing the spirit of struggle against injustices of the ruling class but this has been corrupted. Did anyone note the conferment of award for ÔÇśexcellence and leadership' on Umaru Yar'adua by the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) recently? It does not get worse than that.
The writer can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org