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Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Independence of the Prodigal Son



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By Tochukwu Ezukanma

On October 1, 2011, Nigerians celebrated the 51st anniversary of the Nigerian independence. It was a day marked by the same usual festivities, civic rituals and elaborate speeches by the president, governors and other governing officials. For its part, the news media trumped up a litany of our national achievements and engaged in jingoistic discourses that skew historical facts, so as, to indulge the myth-encrusted images of the Nigerian founding fathers. And governing officials and an assortment of experts and pseudo experts made flowery and unrealistically optimistic predictions on the future of the country.

But as you turn around from these fanfares and verbal flamboyance, you are disconcertingly inundated by the country’s problems: pervading, desperate poverty; moral and ethical collapse; corruption and the depredation of the national wealth by piratical political elite; dysfunctional and collapsing institutions; etc. And the absurdity of the independence anniversaries, especially, the pageantry and extravagance (though somewhat low keyed this year) that attend them becomes evident.   

Nigeria is an artificial sovereignty. She is a collection of nations, peoples and cultures cobbled together by the exigencies of British colonialism. Sadly, thus far, no Nigerian leader has been able to redefine the purpose of this colonial imposed union and give the diversified nationalities that make up Nigeria a unified sense of purpose. In order words, since independence, the Nigerian leadership has failed to forge a cohesive nation out of these various ethnic and cultural groups that constitute the country.

A major problem of artificial sovereignties is civic indifference. The Nigerian independence failed to liberate the collective national mind from this shackling problem.  Civic indifference undermines a country’s rise to new heights of strength, progress and greatness because it saps patriotism, national pride and nationalistic vigor. Without patriotism, national pride and a sense of nationalism, the people cannot develop a sense of civic responsibility, the spirit of selfless commitment to the common good and the readiness to sacrifice material self-interest for national ideals. In the absence of these qualities, official lethargy, citizens’ apathy, greed, corruption, theft of public funds, abuse of office, etc reign in place of societal ideals like selfless service, civic dynamism, loyalty to country,  responsibility to the public good and respect for the law. Not surprisingly, the Nigerian independence failed to engender national fulfillment and greatness.  

Just like the story of the prodigal son demonstrated what freedom, riches and irresponsibility can do to a man, the Nigerian story dramatizes what a  mix of independence, wealth and irresponsibility can do to a country. The prodigal son demanded and got freedom and wealth from his father. He thought that independence associated with wealth will give him success. Paradoxically, his freedom (and its profligacy) and wealth got him not accomplishment but disgrace, retrogression and squalor because he clung to his freedom but abdicated his responsibilities. He did not know that every element of freedom, that is, independence comes with a corresponding responsibility.

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 Like the prodigal son, the Nigerian leaders are irresponsible and profligate men and women totally estranged from the people they supposedly represent and govern. The president, governors, ministers, legislators and other governing officials abdicate the rigors of governance and steal public funds with the ruthlessness that will dumbfound, even, the meanest and most dangerous armed robbers. At the economic strangulation of the Nigerian masses, they maintain such opulent and extravagant life-styles that will flabbergast, even the wealthiest of the world’s most affluent countries. This is why that despite the mammoth wealth that accrued to Nigeria over the years, the incidence of poverty, average live expectancy and other social indexes in Nigeria are comparable to those of the poorest and war ravaged countries of the world.  

The Nigerian situation has deteriorated to a point where she is, in some international circles, considered a failed state.  And this is not being hyperbolic for Nigeria is literally a failed state. And a few examples of the different facets of the Nigerian problems will buttress this point.

The law enforcement agencies, especially, the police are a lethargic, dispirited gaggle presided over by a corrupt and moribund hierarchy. Egged on by the police leadership, the average Nigerian policeman is an irredeemably corrupt individual. They are brutal and notorious for their extra-judicial methods. They behave as though they are beholden to a colonial power or deployed against their own people. With their inability to police the country and fight crime, coupled with the social dislocation wrought by years of crooked and inept governments, the crime rate in Nigeria is alarmingly high and variegated forms of violence abounds.  

Due to appalling, and sometimes, disastrous government policies, the level of unemployment is terrifyingly high and continues to spiral out of hand, as many Nigerian industries continue to close down and some others relocate to Ghana. As a direct consequence of the failure of the government to generate electric power consistently, high cost of privately (generator) generated electric power is rendering their businesses unprofitable. Generators in urban and industrial areas must be a global aberration. They must have been designed for the countryside where there is no electric power. But in urban neighborhoods in Nigeria, the generator holds sway. They make excessive, nerve racking noise; copiously pollute the environment and sometimes get the entire neighborhood smelling like a vast petrol station.

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Due to a national culture that expects harvest without plowing, lecturers and professors disdain the modest but prestigious lifestyle of academia, and instead, long for the sumptuous living of the business tycoon. And students desire good grades but lack the will to study for them.  The infamous blend of these two strains of a squalid national culture has been most harmful to education in Nigerian universities because many lecturers and professors mortgage academic standards for pecuniary incentives and sexual favors. And the Nigerian universities, once bastions of scholarship and intellectual distinction degenerated to center of intellectual slothfulness, sexual harassment and cult violence.

The transformation of the life of the prodigal son came only after his remorseful introspection. He awoke to the incontrovertible reality that he had struck a nadir because of his choices and actions. He did not seek lame exculpations for his actions. He took full responsibilities for them and decided to turn his life around. .

Similarly, a turn around in the Nigerian fortune will start only after a contrite reflection and soul searching by the Nigerian leadership. They must admit that, by their irresponsibility, thievery, arrogance of power, culture of impunity, etc, they have run aground this stupendously endowed and potentially great country. And as such, resolve to rise to the demands of good governance by obeying the law, becoming answerable to the people, stopping the looting of the national wealth and respecting the right of every Nigerian to share in the wealth of the country.

From every indication, the Nigerian power class is not prepared for this penitent introspection. Instead, they took to a flight into fantasy, the masking of failure in fanfares and bravado. The extravagance, grandeur and triumphalism of recent independence anniversaries are only a dimension of this distastefully colorful attempt to cloak failure and decadence in glitter and glitz. It was threats by agitation groups, and not the power elite’s change of heart or  resolve to be more judicious in expending public funds, that forced the scaling down of this year’s independence anniversary celebrations.

Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria


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