by Morak Babajide-Alabi

In a few days, Nigeria would be marking her 59th independence anniversary. It is indeed a time for celebrations as fifty-nine years in the life of a human being is not an easy feat, talk less of a country. This is symbolic, especially for a country that has been through many events that could have undermined her existence. We have examples of countries that are in turmoil since gaining independence from the colonial masters. Let us not forget the fact that Nigeria is a unique country, with various nations, put together by the British colonialists, for their own benefit.

Against many odds, the country is surviving, though some analysts have said it is progressing at an epileptic rate. Who cares? The Independence Day is therefore supposed to be a time of reflection on the journey so far. This is the thinking of rational citizens, but the political leaders, are most times not rational. They have reconstructed the annual event into the celebration of their achievements in office. The incumbent government usually rolls out the drums, the red carpets, with trailer loads of choice champagne and fizzy drinks to celebrate. As may be expected, public funds must go into the preparations and the pockets of some.

Let us make no mistake that it is the patriotic fervour that burns in these leaders forcing them to remember the labour of heroes past. No. The leaders see the celebrations as avenues to praise themselves, “commission” a few rundowns or reconstructed projects, and pretend to relay their visions for the country to the citizens. In most cases, programmes are organised to run for one week, culminating with a lengthy address by the President and the governors of the various states.

The political bosses of the local government councils are not left out of the charade. The unique difference is that they do not have direct access to the radio or the television stations to air their addresses. But they have a way around this – take up newspaper adverts to “praise” themselves. The celebration in Abuja is on the federal level, as the President and his team toast to a country on bended knees. The sizes of the cakes for the occasions do not typically reflect the extent of the woes of the country. Smile! Camera flashes! The governors replicate this in their respective states.

These festive celebrations mask the woes and failures of the country that was once touted as the giant of Africa. The programmes, parties, conferences and symposia are selectively arranged to deaden the pain of the citizens to harbour a vague hope of a better tomorrow. It is sad, that even the speeches by the political leaders have become monotonous to the ears of the citizens. They are used to the independence celebration routines. It is easy to guess what would be the focal point of the President’s address to the nation on Tuesday.

Hope is never in short supply in the country. But at no time is the currency of hope alive than around these Independence Day celebrations. To be fair to these leaders, they have nothing else to sell to the citizenry than hope. In the past, they have offered change, but the citizens struggle to identify any. They ask how long it would take for the promised change to happen as they struggle to perceive any benefits. The leaders must, therefore, sell something extraordinary. This is the time of the year they subscribe to the words of Martin Luther King: “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go in spite of it all.”

The political leaders are smart. They know how to “play the citizens” especially during elections. But they know, no general election is coming up presently, so the hope of a better tomorrow must be kept alive in the hearts of the citizens. The independence day celebration and the new June 12 (May 29) Democracy Day represent ideal opportunities for them to throw down big grammar and advise citizens that tomorrow will be better than today. They do not have to disclose their master plans on how to sustain these hopes. The “sermons” must be delivered to the people.

You can see through the leaders’ insincerity. They do not genuinely care as they know this is just an annual ritual to appease the citizens. The citizens appreciate the game, and they will not let this demoralise them. They know they have nothing to lose. They have a day off work, and this is massive to them. The religious ones spend the day in churches and mosques while the others attend the numerous parties and shows that have been carefully planned for the holiday.

A friend suggested last week that going by the number of churches and mosques in the country, the government could legislate that October 1 is a National Prayers Day. I almost laughed in the face of this eminent Nigerian in Diaspora. But on second thought, I see reason in his idea. It could be an opportunity to gather and pray ourselves hoarsely for the country to be delivered out of the myriad of problems. Maybe it is more divine to leave the “prayer” business to the numerous “warriors” that abound in every street of towns in the country.

No surprises as you recognize that the celebrations are more or less the same format in the diaspora. The citizens, with nostalgia for home, gather to honour the motherland. Fee-paying events are organised by smart executives of various cultural organisations. From London to New York, to Addis Ababa and Johannesburg, we have adverts for “Independence Day Celebrations.” It is all about merriment and no forward planning on how to move the motherland forward.

The country is on bended knees, struggling to stand straight. This is not the result of old age; rather it is the misuse of the resources – natural and human. The reality of today does not reflect the dream of Nigeria’s forefathers. They had dreams of a country with opportunities, jobs, housing facilities, better infrastructures, etc. None of them would have had a nightmare of a broken country that is bled by leaders with no visions. None of the founding fathers who fought day and night to liberate the country from the British colonial rule could have imagined their beloved Nigeria in the position it is now.

These leaders had dreams of a country that would become the giant of Africa and the world. To be fair, the country started off as a giant, living up to expectations for a short time. The leaders wined, dined, partied and forgot about tomorrow and eventually lost their consciences as they dipped their fingers in the commonwealth. This signalled the start of the woes of the country as individuals become comfortable diverting riches of the country to private pockets. This was the beginning of the end of a great nation. This was not helped by the khaki boys who took over and had no respect for either human right or the rule of law. Regrettably, they became laws on their own, as they launched the beginning of the conquest of a great nation.

All we do presently is pray for divine intervention. These political leaders are incapable of accomplishing anything. Individuals touted severally as messiahs and given mandates have become liabilities. The citizens worship the “messiahs” as “gods” and loudly chant “round and round” we go.

Happy independence anniversary, Motherland.

As written for the Diaspora Matters Column, Sunday Vanguard, September 29, 2019.