I was born into and grew up in The Apostolic Church (TAC). Whilst I have been to and attended a number of other denominations in my few years, I am yet to come across any like the TAC that bombarded my life from its infancy to adulthood with praying for the nation and the leaders of Nigeria.
Every church service, every prayer session (as a church or in individual families) always had an element of prayer for the nation. So, at least twice a day, for over 30 years, I was praying (like numerous others) for a country and its leaders that refused to get better, rather getting worse.
Please note that I believe in the efficacy of prayer. However, I am not ignorant like some Christians. I acknowledge that the Bible says faith (prayer) without works (action) is DEAD (DEATH). If you have faith or pray tirelessly but do not back up your faith/prayers with Godly and legitimate activities that will transform your faith/prayers into reality, it is a waste of time.
Just imagine, when the Israelites were told to march around the walls of Jericho 7 times in a certain manner, if they did not follow the instruction to details, I am certain they would not have witnessed the spectacle of Jericho’s wall falling flat.
That is why I chuckle to myself when I see students who have not studied one bit, but are asked by some marketers/419ers masquerading as pastors to sow a seed in order to get 7 As in an examination. They forget that the Bible says God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth so he shall reap.
As Ebenezer Obey sang, “Eni r’owo he l’oju ala to ndunnu, e ni ko t’epa mo’se e nitori ebi”. That is to say, you sow laziness and indolence, you shall reap failure (straight F9s) and poverty.
Even though the Israelites did not engage in war to gain access into Jericho, they still had to manually/physically exert themselves in singing as well as marching around the city seven times with a thunderous shout at the end for the city’s wall to fall down.
As such, I do not subscribe to the mentality that prayer is the only key to resolve the challenges Nigeria has faced and the crisis it is now facing in all spheres of human endeavour. I am convinced that Nigeria has had more than enough prayers in the last 50 years.
My point therefore is that there is a place for faith/prayer and there is a place for human action. Both are complementary. They are not exclusive of each other.
Now is the time for action by every Nigerian including our leaders to ensure this nation does not completely fall into ruin.
I have decided to write this short, reflective travel blog or article against the background of 3 key Nigerian issues which were highlighted recently by write-ups from Okey Ndibe, Pius Adesanmi and Simon Kolawole. These include: the state of Nigerian airports, the unprofessional and sometimes utterly unfriendly attitude of Nigerian service providers, and the insecurity of lives as well as properties.
Beyond being hooked on reggae music like a number of people with whom I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, my years of sojourn in the United Kingdom afforded me the opportunity to forge an enduring relationship with folks from some of the Caribbean Islands. Over the years, these friends have tried unsuccessfully to get me on the plane to visit their beautiful countries with them. The result of such failures on my part are yet to be drunk bottles and bottles of rum/gin in my bags in the UK.
In view of the above, I am grateful to God and to my dear friend as well as brother, Johnson Babalola for affording me the opportunity early this year to fulfil a decade old desire to put my feet on Jamaican soil.
Montego Bay Airport
Even from the air, as your plane is descending from the sky and the pilot is aligning the big bird for landing, Sangster International Airport looked small, orderly, maintained and clean in comparison to Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos. This first impression is reinforced on your entrance into an effectively cooled and well lit terminal. The cleanliness of the terminal interior as well as the conveniences effectively competes with the standard you will expect from any international airport worth its salt.
As we approached the immigration desks, we were met with friendly professional officers telling us what we needed to do to get through immigration quickly. Landing forms were checked to ensure they had been filled as required and mistakes were highlighted for correction as appropriate. There were more than 6 (six) staffed desks each with an individual to check traveling and landing documents in comparison to Nigeria’s usual two/three desks staffed with two officials inefficiently passing your documents between themselves with endless waiting in a very hot and humid airport devoid of any effective cooling system.
Passing through immigration at Sangster was like a breeze for us, but given our large group, we waited for others to clear immigration before heading to the luggage area to collect our checked-in items. Well placed directions guided us to the luggage collection area where I sighted at least two working conveyor belts. As I approached the one designated for our flight and discovered that it was practically empty of any bag more than 45 minutes after we had landed, alarm bells started ringing in my head.
I did not need to worry. Airport staff at the luggage area, tired of waiting for our group of travellers to show up and collect their personal effects, had taken all our bags and suitcases off the conveyor belt. Apart from taking them off the belt, the bags were carefully put aside and grouped together where they could match surnames and flight origin. Furthermore, in a number of cases, such grouped bags where already put on trolleys waiting for the family members to appear and whisk their items out of the airport.
Beyond those officials that needed to attend to us as part of our entrance into Jamaica, not once did any other person approach us to talk less of harassment or being asked “Oga, wetin you bring for us”. We did not have to pay for a trolley, there was no Jamaican with his/her eyes “extra-bright” waiting to ruffle through your bags to see if he/she could extort some dollars from you, and definitely no loiters or touts within and outside the terminal buildings.
For a black nation, one that is not classified as “developed”, the closest I have experienced in terms of such a dutiful, friendly courteous and effective airport service was during my trip to Ghana a few years back.
Friendly Customer Service Attitude
I believe there is a difference between friendliness and impeccable customer service. When you experience a combination of friendliness and impeccable customer service, it is delightful. My personal opinion is that most British service providers emphasise and diligently work towards impeccable customer service while most of their staff tend to be unfriendly. Most Canadian service providers possess friendly staff but lack customer service orientation. Nigerian service providers? They completely lack both. As I forewarned, this is my personal opinion.
In Montego Bay, it was a sublime experience. My very good friend, Andy Azike with whom I shared a room and spent most of my time throughout the trip does not suffer fools gladly. Like two kids having an adventure of a time with some bit of mischievousness, our numerous attempts to rattle the courteous temperament of the Jamaicans that attended to us during the trip were unsuccessful. At the end of our trip, we could not but give a very high score to the impeccable friendly customer service we got throughout our stay.
As a traveller, a migrant and a student of international politics with special interest in migration and the African Diaspora, I know that every race, ethnic group and nation has its own pocket of “ugliness”. However, for a large number of people, hasty generalisations about a country or/and its people are more often than not drawn from just a single encounter with this pocket of ugliness, more so against the background of stereotyping by most Western press.
Quite a few people in our holiday group expected a certain level of insecurity in Jamaica based on the “little” they have heard about the country as well as their “Nigerian experiences”. I cannot fully judge this expectation on the basis of a few days. However, as we went on sightseeing driving through some of the Jamaican parishes and going to shop, I did not see buildings with high fences, massively intimidating security gates, or terrorising security wires.
Our hotel rooms (just like any decent hotel rooms anywhere in the world) had provisions for a safe to lock away items, but they could only take small items like jewelleries, payment cards, currencies, and traveling documents. In any case, I have never seen the need for making use of them simply because: my cash and card always fit perfectly in my wallet, my card holds the barest minimum credit thus limiting my loss in case it gets into the wrong hand; and practically, I always carry my travel documents on me in case there is a need to “take flight” (not because of anything sinister on my part) at any point in time.
Throughout our stay, we had no cause to be worried about our personal safety or the security of our possessions. Most of us had too much technology that we could not practically lug about every minute and these were left in the hotel room. It was not strange to find in a single room at least two laptops, two cameras, an iPad if not two or more, many smartphones, etc. all lying around with the occupants away. Yet, no one complained of losing anything. Even, when a member of our group decided to give one of the hotel maids an item she had bought which did not meet her need, the hotel maid refused to accept the gift unless the giver signed a document to show that the item was freely given and not stolen. The children had a time of their lives doing their own thing with practically little adult supervision and no parental cause to worry about abduction, molestation, etc.
The only blight for me (and I guess for everyone on the Jamaican trip) happened some minutes before we left Montego Bay. In between clearing security and the boarding gate of our flight, JB’s wife lost her iPad. Since a number of us in the group were Apple junkies carrying a combination of iPhones, iPods, iPads and Macs, the first question I asked when I was told of the loss was if she had “Find My iPad” set up on the gadget so that we could locate the item whilst in the airport. Unfortunately, she did not.
In spite of all frantic efforts, we could not find the iPad. Although, glad of our holiday experience and already resolved to work very hard to save and go back, we left Jamaica a little bit on a sour note because of the lost iPad.
Guess what my dear friends? 13 days after our return from Montego Bay, I received an email from JB that his wife’s iPad has returned home breathing in the freezing cold air of Canada. Montego Bay airport security staff found and returned the iPad by FEDEX. I know Nigeria still has good, honest, trustworthy and sincere people as Pius Adesanmi as well as Azuka Onwuka attested to. But in a nation where it seems pockets of honest citizens have been greatly overwhelmed by a large retinue of evil minded human beings, would that iPad ever see Canadian daylight again if it was lost in Nigeria, more so not being found on the spot and the owner already departed from the shores of the country from which they were both parted? Your guess is as good as mine.
Jamaica and Montego Bay in my mind
In as much as over 40% of the Jamaican population are of African descent, and specifically of Nigerian Igbo origin, I felt naturally at home especially in the midst of people who knew more than I about Nollywood, its actors and actresses. I cannot but laugh when I remember the scene where AA and I were thought to be part of the Nigerian movie industry because he looked like one of the Igbo actors and I was carrying around a telephoto camera.
However, as a Nigerian, I was ashamed the day we got into Montego Bay (and as we got into the coach taking us to our hotel) when the young Jamaican chap who was giving us guidance boasted that at least 95% of the island’s residents had treated pipe borne water, and that we do not need to worry about diarrhoea, wasting our money on bottled water because the Jamaican tap water is safe and drinkable.
The little road network I saw in Montego Bay was not fanciful – mostly paved single lane carriageways with no pot holes. Our tour guide had warned us of CJ’s, not Chief Justice in Nigerian parlance but Crazy Jamaicans [drivers] who execute dangerous driving manoeuvres in unexpected places. After highlighting three of such experiences, I laughed to myself that the Jamaicans were just students in the art of crazy driving who are in need of visiting Nigeria to learn from the Masters.
Overall, what did Montego Bay reminded and still reminds me of?
Montego Bay of 2013 reminded me of Nigeria in the early 1970s – paved and well maintained roads, uninterrupted electric supply, ever flowing treated pipe borne water, houses with no or low fences, and a naturally endowed serene and beautiful environment. Above all, it reminded me of a friendly and courteous people engaged in their labour providing goods/services with smile, dignity and pride.
Jamaica reminds me of a country with no vast mineral endowment (unlike Nigeria) but natural beauty and tourist endowments (like Nigeria). It showed me how a nation without oil and other mineral deposits can thrive and be economically viable on the basis of developing its tourism and arts industry as foreign exchange earners (unlike Nigeria where our tourism potentials – Yankari Games Reserve, Ikogosi Warm Water Spring, Olumo Rocks, etc – have been deliberately killed). Until now when the Ministry of Tourism is promoting investment in our tourism sector, and in Ikogosi’s case, Dr Kayode Fayemi’s government saw the importance of the warm spring as an effective means of employing the teeming masses of Ekiti Youths whilst boosting the internally generated revenue (IGR) of the state.
My Jamaican trip taught me a lesson in management. That a business is dead-from-the-start the moment you employ managers who do not have a sense of prioritising tasks that would enable the enterprise to grow and achieve its objectives. That when a country has at the helms of affairs managers who can only identify schemes that will run the nation’s finances aground (whilst benefiting a few), that country is in the fast lane on a highway headed for doom.
Jamaica highlights to me the bliss Nigeria and Nigerians should be enjoying had it been we managed well all the natural, mineral, cultural as well as human resources God endowed us with.
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In the course of my doctoral field work in Nigeria about 6 years ago, I became privy to information that made me to start pitying a Nigerian Policeman as one of the oppressed rather than an oppressor. Ever since, I had intended to, but never did write, about the rot in regards to policing and the police in Nigeria until the recent brouhaha about the state of the Ikeja Police College made me put pen to paper.
This is a picture of the hostel of the trainees at the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) Training College in Ikeja, Lagos.
Will you put your dog in a room like this? I am sure the emphatic answer is No.
My initial thoughts were to opine that the blame for the rot in the NPF cannot be put at the doorstep of the Goodluck Ebele Azikwe Jonathan’s administration – albeit every buck stops at GEJ’s desk as our current President. As late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would say, the decay (a minute reflection of the putrefaction in the larger Nigerian society) started “long, long, long, long time ago” even before the days of Tafa Balogun’s acclaimed looting of police funds. I was going to pontificate that GEJ should only be held responsible if he does not reverse the de-humanising trend as well as bringing to book all those that contributed to man’s inhumanity to man in our police training system.
Not until I heard President Jonathan castigate the press as purposely out to embarrass his administration through the feature report on Ikeja Police College. I became speechless (or writeless if there is such a word). Oro Pesi Je.
Did those words really come out of the mouth of the President and C-in-C of Nigeria?
How many Nigerians know that the clothes they see on the ubiquitous policeman (especially from the rank of Inspector downwards) are more often than not bought and sewed from the individual officer’s meager salary?
When you see a policeman on official duty, uniform tattered and patched in many places, wearing not a boot but slippers made from disused vehicle tyres, have you ever wondered what happened to the annually budgeted millions that was meant to professionally clothe him as a respected image of law enforcement in Nigeria?
Have you ever visited a police barrack? What is your impression of the living condition of the officers and their family squashed into tiny little places?
As a “not too brilliant” student of Dipo Fasina aka Jingo’s course on logic, is President Jonathan saying that he was part of the mess that the Police College became? If not, why would he feel embarrassed by the expose of a situation he is not responsible for?
President Jonathan should go to the British Police Training College in Hendon which I had the privilege of knowing about 17 years ago. I am sure the condition there has not only been maintained but facilities made even better to make trainees the envy of the “bloody civilians” in the main society.
If our policemen are being trained in an environment like the one depicted in the picture above and the Channels TV expose, do Nigerians have any justification for complaining about police inhumanity and brutality? It is impossible for someone who has been dehumanised and brutalised to behave in a contrary manner especially when in control of a gun (a weapon of terror).
If Nigeria really is a sane country, some people both past and present should by now be cooling their heels in some equally God forsaken jail in Nigeria similar to the Ikeja Police College room in the picture above.
Yet, my dear President neither raised the questions nor dealt with the critical concern in regards to all those who have had responsibility for Police Affairs in Nigeria for the last couple of years – Ministers and IGs. To what extent did they preside over the rot, and what efforts (if any) did they make to reverse the trend of events if not contributing to it?
President Jonathan is not God and is unable, in a sweeping glance, to see the length and breadth of Aso Rock to talk less of the whole of Nigeria.
As such, for one who professes to have a transformation agenda, one would expect gladness (and not sadness) that there are independent individuals and groups in Nigeria that would tell him the true front-line situation in contrast to all the sycophants surrounding him in government.
If we do not currently have learned people remarkably doing well in the political administration of Nigeria (people like Babatunde Raji Fasola SAN, Kayode Fayemi PhD, etc), I would have done a double retake on this fixation of ours that academic intellect translates to political leadership and diplomatic/administrative prowess.
Did I make a mistake in 2011 thinking a man with a PhD who has the antecedent of growing up without a shoe would become the beacon of light to a nation in darkness?
Did I lose or is someone else losing the plot?
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I am hoping HE GEAJ can do something about our missions abroad.
Please, explain to me why submitting an application for the issuance of an e-passport in replacement of the current one (including electronic capturing of bio-data) should take 7 (seven) hours to achieve at the Nigerian High Commission? For a nation spending a fortune to celebrate 50 years of independence, this is scandalous. As far as all the Nigerians I met at the high commission are concerned, Nigeria is celebrating massive failure in all areas of endeavor.
The behaviour of some high commission officials is downright rude and arrogant, and they lack every form of customer service training and attitude of care. They forget that we are not getting the passport for free, we are also paying them £20 a piece for what they call a processing fee.
If I am spending £10 of my hard earned money in a restaurant, the staff have to be of the best behaviour at all times. So, why not the high commission officials whose salary is being paid for by our taxes and our fees?
No wonder Nigeria does not know how many of its citizens are outside because no one wants to have anything to do with most of the staff in the missions.
I know years of misrule cannot be wiped away in a short day, but please, our embassies should be APPROPRIATELY equipped in terms of resources, both human and material.
We cannot expect foreigners to accord us an iota of respect and dignity if our own people who should look after us outside the shores of the nation, snarl like animals at us given every opportunity that comes their way.
Adeleke Otunuga’s article of September 1, 2004 is a welcomed and opposing response to my article of August 19 2004. I am glad that Otunuga accepts that the stories revealed in my article are “sad as they are reminders of the tales of calamities that abound back home”. He however got the wrong end of the stick by his assumption that my conclusions “were as sporadic as they were hasty”.
I do not live in the United States, and even though I have visited the country countless times, I will refrain from commenting about every day life in America. In view of this, I will advise Otunuga not to examine crime and race relations in the United Kingdom from a newspaper reader or television news watcher perspective. However, I wish to respond to some of the points raised by Otunuga in his article as follows.
It is true that crime abounds in the advanced nations, and each country has its own peculiarities. The fact in the advanced nations is that there is no communal living. You may not say a single word to your neighbour for the next five years, and as such no one has a sense of responsibility for the other. It is in this kind of lax society that paedophiles abound and operate, and therefore you are unable to allow your children out of your sight for one second. On the other hand, in Nigeria especially in a small town environment where everyone knows each other, it is relatively easier to allow your children to run around freely without “too much” close watch. I say too much because we all know that children are preyed upon and kidnapped in Nigeria for various diabolical means. As such, Nigeria is not “kidnapped” free as Otunuga will want us to believe.
Damilola Taylor’s tragic death and the collapse of the prosecution reflect the intricacies of the British society and legal system. However, the truth remains that justice was sought, and the Taylors had the opportunity to pursue it regardless of the end result. Thus, in the UK, you can expect a greater probability of investigation, prosecution, conviction and justice when a crime is committed in contrast to Nigeria where money buys every thing.
Racism, and the negative image already created by a few bad eggs, is what gets you pulled over by a white cop in a white neighbourhood. In Nigeria where they share the same colour with the inhabitants who are supposed to be their countrymen, Yorubas and Igbos have to look over their shoulder whilst daily living in the Northern part. It is sheer stupidity therefore to think that you will be accepted on equal footing in a foreign land, where your colour, and years of prejudice already sets you apart and condemns you as an “inferior” human being.
Ten years ago, most Nigerians in the UK would run and scamper away when they are not in the wrong, just because they have no papers. In view of this, the “Jamos” took advantage and saw every Nigerian as a soft touch. With settlement papers came more liberty, and ability to fight for and claim one’s right. Thus, today’s Nigerian-Jamo relation in the UK is different from that of ten years ago which the writer painted in his article. I can assure him that I have run retail shops in “Jamo” occupied areas, and mutual respect took over when it was realised that this Nigerian is not to be pushed over or around. Mr Otunuga’s friend that abandoned his car at the scene of an accident in the UK “and dared not pursue the matter” must have told him a half truth as to what happened. The UK system may be institutionally racist to a large extent, but if the friend was not in the wrong, and had nothing to hide, justice would have taken its course.
As far as I am aware, the Neighbourhood Watch in the UK is not subscription based, and it is a local community based effort to keep an eye out for events within the local community such that if crime is ever committed, there will be enough information from local residents to help the law enforcement agencies in their enquiries and prosecution. In contrast, MASSOB and OPC are ethnically based organisations that have metamorphosed into unofficial security outfits. The question to the writer then is where is the like to like comparison of MASSOB and OPC with the Neighbourhood Watch?
Therefore, when we talk of absolute security, I agree it “is a mirage even in the so-called advanced nations” my “UK inclusive”. However, I am talking of relative security, a comparison of security in Nigeria with what obtains in Diaspora. And the point is that while every day, the advanced world is thinking of and devising new crime combating strategies, Nigerian leaders are busy worrying about their individual pockets and egos. This is why our senators will go on “strike”, an indication that they do not see themselves as occupying their positions by the mandate of the people. In such a circumstance, how far off the track is El Rufai?
In conclusion, and for the benefit of other readers, I wish to disabuse Otunuga’s mind from the notion that I aimed in my article to charge Nigerians in Diaspora to stay away from home. The article apart from being a satire had two main aims. Firstly, to make Nigerians who have slaved in foreign lands to become what they are, to think twice before losing all their life’s work by ignoring the reality of living and investing in Nigeria.
Secondly and more importantly, to highlight to our leaders that a lot of Nigerians are willing to come home and help to develop the country, only (and if only) government can and will provide an enabling, secured environment. It was this environment that the Malaysian and Japanese governments provided, and this is why both countries are a success story today.
Until an enabling secured environment is evident in Nigeria, I am afraid that the choice of a greater majority of Nigerians in the UK will remain “I love my country, I no go lie, but outside am, I will live and …”
As much as I love stories, I am discovering that when they reflect present day experiences of ordinary people in Nigeria, they are sad and painful. As a die hard enthusiast for the enterprise called Nigeria, I have been at the forefront of encouraging friends and acquaintances I have met in foreign lands not to forget home, to invest in Nigeria and to work towards going back.
Today however, given the high level of insecurity within the country, I ask myself if I have not been advising these friends to proceed in the wrong (and dangerous) direction.
Story number 1.
This one is about a work colleague who became an adopted sister. The day she told me she would be going home for Christmas after a number of years with her child and siblings, I was quite happy. However, she was bewildered when I asked her entourage to sleep at the airport till the next morning given the time they would be getting into Lagos. My response to her enquiry as to why, was that it would be safer for all of them.
Four weeks later, she came back to me with dejection on her face. In agony, they had cancelled their flight home for Christmas losing money in the process. It later transpired that her uncle and aunt, whose daughter she would have been travelling home with, had just been attacked in their home in Lagos, beaten black and blue with hammers despite their old age.
What crime had the old folks committed? Their crime was travelling abroad to felicitate with their daughter who had recently graduated from university. Their absence from home for four weeks, and eventual arrival back in Nigeria was the ticket for hoodlums (that same night they got back home) to assume they had been picking pound sterling up on the street of Great Britain, and were back home with sack loads.
Story number 2.
I have a very good friend who has sworn never to return to Nigeria. Just as he seems to be changing his mind following persuasion from me, this story about his brother-in-law has steeled his resolve never to have anything to do with the country.
Armed hoodlums have attacked my friend’s brother-in-law three times in his own house in the last one year. From all indications, the hoodlums seem to be the same set. The first time they visited, they struck him with an axe and shot his brother. The second time, they stole all they could cart away from the house, “plus including” food items. The third time which was a few weeks ago, they threatened to kill him in front of his wife and vice versa, and threatened to kill their children in front of the couple and vice versa. Despite neighbours frantic call to the police on their behalf, the law enforcement agencies never turned up.
The most disturbing aspect of this second story is the robbers’ parting shot. They asked their victim to apply for licence to have a gun. As far as I am aware, such guns are meant for wild life gaming purposes. However, the night marauders intention is to come back to collect the gun from him within two weeks, and your guess is as good as mine as regards the usage to which the gun will be put. Failure to acquire the license and gun, his entire family will be wiped out when next they come calling and they are found still living in the house. Of course, the man packed his family out of the house the next day to look for a rented accommodation.
Given the above true life stories, I therefore ask myself if this is the Nigeria I have been asking my friends to return to? Is this the Nigeria Obasanjo, NIDO, and Joe Keshi are asking Nigerians in Diaspora to come and invest in? How many similar or worse stories than the two above, have been recounted by Nigerians in Diaspora on the basis of first hand experience or occurrences that touches their relatives?
With the killing of Bola Ige, the attorney-general and minister of justice of the federation like an ordinary fowl and without any visible sign of justice months after, I identify with the argument of Nigerians in Diaspora who have decided not to go back home, either to visit or to settle. It is sheer madness to work so hard (and against all odds) to legally acquire properties abroad, only to move back to Nigeria and lose all in a few hours to marauders – if one’s life is spared.
Gone are the days when we all came abroad with the hope of sojourning for just a short while, and returning home. These days, home is where you can sleep at peace, where you do not have to barricade yourself in like a prisoner, where you can invest without thinking of the probability of losing everything by the following morning. Home is in a foreign land.
It is ironic that in a foreign land where you are seen as a second or third class citizen, you can walk freely and go about your business anytime of the day without any concerns. But when it comes to Nigeria, your own fatherland and motherland, you develop a morbid fear of travelling home, fearful of who is aware of your coming, scared of revealing the date of your arrival and departure. Arrival in Nigeria turns you into a fugitive, sleeping in one place today and at a different address the following day. Your life is constantly in your mouth. The mere backfiring of a vehicle in a traffic hold up is enough to send every one diving for cover, and children playing with fireworks unannounced in the middle of the night is enough to keep you awake till the next morning praying to your God to deliver you (from armed robbers’ bullets).
Thus, the most important factor that discourages Nigerians abroad from visiting home, to talk less of thinking of investing and living there, is insecurity. Daily living in Nigeria, and definitely a visit home by Nigerians in Diaspora, is playing lottery with one’s life.
Unfortunately, Obasanjo seems to have misplaced priority. Instead of using his powers as President to deal with those that are making life, property and investment insecure in Nigeria, he is busy flexing his muscles in Owu, and terrorising the kingmakers who are not ready to dance to his tune in the selection of a new Olowu.
Until the federal government provides a secure environment for lives, properties, and consequentially investment, it is a difficult road to tread trying to attract Nigerians home to share their knowledge, skills and resources in moving the country forward.
Lucky Dube, the South African reggae singer asked in his “Taxman” album, “Do you wanna be a well fed slave or a hungry free man?”
When push comes to shove for Nigerians in Diaspora, I guess our song will be a twist of Professor Wole Soyinka’s classic, “I love my country, I no go lie, but outside am, I go live and die”
The military has always been an important element in African traditional political history. It was an instrument of achieving political objectives in as much as “war is a continuation of politics by other means”. The military which as at that time consisted of only the land forces (these days referred to as the army) was used in prosecuting wars against antagonising communities or states in achieving political as well as other benefits that go hand in hand with an exercise of political power. However, the pre- colonial days’ armed forces, besides being an important instrument of achieving political ends, did not participate in the political and decision making process of their individual kingdom or states.
It was thus with apprehension and alarm that Nigerians greeted the first military coup d’etat of January 15, 1966 when it occurred. Writers and scholars, both foreign and indigenous, have busied themselves in trying to find out the factors that led to the coup which ushered the military onto the Nigerian political scene. The factors can be grouped together under political, socio-cultural and economic main headings, while however interdependent, interacting and self-reinforcing.
The foundation for the political factors was laid with the advent of colonialism in Nigeria. With colonialism came different methods of administering the various political entities within the geographical barrier now identified as Nigeria. These numerous societies, not withstanding their differences in economic, political, social and cultural history were later fused together to form a Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria. In 1914, the Northern and Southern protectorates were in turn amalgamated to form a country, one political administrative unit. The British did this under the guise of an indirect rule system in order to cut down the cost of running the colonial units in terms of human and material resources. Indirect rule as a policy however led to different social, political, economic and cultural developments for both the North and the South, and thus the seeds for the political crisis that later rocked Nigeria were planted.
The divide and rule tactics of the British brought antagonism. Directly and indirectly, Nigerians became politically conscious and militant. Nationalism grew up, and its fierceness led to several constitutional arrangements for the country in 1922, 1946, 1951 and 1954. The 1946 Richard’s constitution significantly divided the country into four main units for administrative purposes. These were the Northern, Western and Eastern provinces, and the colony of Lagos. In effect, regionalism came into the Nigerian political system and the second step towards the coup d’etat came into being. The 1951 constitutional arrangement made the regions stronger, weakened the Federal government while the one of 1954 not only strengthened the divisions further, but also gave a legal backing to the formation of political parties based on regional hegemony through the domineering presence of each of the three major ethnic groups in the political parties based in their respective regions. Ethnic bickering therefore got on the increase. When it was not the East against the West, it would be the North against the rest of the South. The situation continued like this until the election of December 1959.
As each of the political parties reached out for the central reign of power, it naturally encroached on the others’ “sphere of influence and control” and this further aggravated the situation. Nevertheless, the political parties concurred together to make independence a reality on 1st October 1960.
The first post-independence political crisis resulted over the Anglo-Nigerian defence pact signed at independence. Violent demonstration ensued all over the country and the federal government was forced to abrogate the pact. Following was the 1962 Action Group (AG) crisis in which prominent Nigerian political leaders from the South – notably the leader of the party Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and others – were put under house arrest, later tried and imprisoned on charges of treasonable felony. This together with the creation of the Mid-Western region out of the Western region, the smallest of all the regions, did not go down well with Nigerians in the Western region, the political base of the Action Group. 1963 came with the national census which was alleged to be riddled with malpractice, inflation and falsification of figures. The census was re-conducted and later accepted, albeit, with some reservations. Between 1962 and 1965, the Tiv people began to demand for their own autonomous state in rebellion against the domineering presence of the Northern regional government under the control of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC). The 1964 general election came, and there were counter-accusations of rigging and corruption by each of the major parties against each other. The 1965 Western regional election with the attendant breakdown of law and order, arson and deliberate murdering of political figures finally broke the camel’s back politically.
Socio-culturally, the Nigerian society is made up of various ethnic groups each with its own different political, economic and cultural background. This was neglected or relegated into the abyss of forgetfiilness by the British when Nigeria was being put together as an entity. In as much as ethnicism results from the urge by a certain group of people who share the same political, economic and cultural orientation, to achieve either power, influence or wealth, ethnicism has always been a second nature to all societies in the world, Nigeria inclusive. However, the various constitutional arrangements enumerated above brought it into a greater foreplay in Nigerian politics, and in as much as Nigerian nationalists were able to master its use and dig deeper into their respective regions, it could not but lead to crisis.
Revenue allocation also played its own part, although not prominently, as an economic factor that shaped the smooth pathway for the coup. The process of determining the percentage to be paid to each region out of the federal purse created wrangling among the regions and political parties. Also, differences in recommended and actual disbursement of revenues generated a lot of bitterness and led to a fear of domination by one particular region over the others. Besides the issue of revenue allocation, the revenues that accrued to the regions through the sale of the three main regionally endowed export cash crops – Cocoa for the West, Palm Oil and Kernel for the East, and Groundnut for the North – only served to make the regions or rather, the regionally based political parties and their domineering ethnic groups more powerful by giving them the economic strength to wage the political war between them.
Thus, socio-cultural differences in the Nigerian society was reinforced by a series of political and economic developments, and all created a situation or state of political instability in the country. Since the military was part of a society that was politically conscious as well as politicised, most of its members got involved in the political crisis that rocked the country. With no hope of the civilians settling the conflict amicably, the military saw itself as an alternative to the political leadership, and came onto the scene to fill the leadership vacuum.
The break of dawn on January15 1966 indeed witnessed the break of a new dawn full of uncertainties and hopes in Nigerian history. The coup d’etat had as its ring leader a young but radical officer in the person of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. The coup itself was planned and executed under four main phases related to the four existing regions then, and the objective was their effective seizure and control by the troops carrying out the coup. While the coup was fully successful in the North where Nzeogwu himself was in command, it was partially successful in the East, Mid-West and West. However, it failed totally in Lagos, the political and administrative centre of the country. Because of this, the coup as a whole failed although it led to the demise of the then Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and a host of others who were especially members of the federal cabinet.
According to Nzeogwu in his broadcast from Kaduna, the coup aimed at establishing “a strong, unified and prosperous nation free from corruption and internal strife”, but succeeding events did not give Nigerians the chance to know whether this claim was the truth or a farce.
Although the coup did not succeed eventually into bringing into power the planners and the executors, it nevertheless opened a page of successive coups, countercoups, and the emergence of the military as political leaders as well as alternative political leaders in the annals of Nigerian history.
History is nothing more than “a register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind”, and for bringing the military onto the Nigerian political scene, January 15 1966 will always be a day to remember by Nigerians. And as it comes around once again, past, present and future leaders of this great country should think deeply and see whether the mistakes of the past have been corrected or not. For it is only by doing so that we can build that great unified country of our dream for which future generations will be grateful to us.
Published in “The Standard” of 16 January 1989 under the heading “Anniversary Essay”