Growing up, I revered Nigeria’s founding fathers. I still do. From early social studies lessons, I was taught how our founding fathers fought for independence from colonial masters. I was taught about Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and their contributions to the development of Nigeria. In later years, I picked up from older people’s political discussions that Nigeria started going wrong when we lost the visions our founding fathers had for us. People told stories of how their selfless and patriotic values have been and are still missing in subsequent generations of Nigerian politicians. People told of how their brand of politics was about people and nationhood. They said it went wrong when subsequent generations could not follow in their footsteps and replicate their kind of selfless politics.
So in this 50th year after Nigeria gained her independence from Her Majesty’s government through the efforts of our founding fathers, I decided to study for myself the visions of our founding fathers and their famous brand of politics. I decided to see their invaluable values and also to see how the deviations of subsequent generations from these values have put us in the sorry state we find ourselves in today. I decided to paint myself a clear picture of the great men that our founding fathers were, through the pages of history. Incidentally I started from the National Anthem at the time which was sung
Nigeria, we hail thee,
Our own dear native land,
Though tribe and tongue may differ,
In brotherhood we stand.
I expected the pages of history to corroborate my social studies classes and all the other stories I had unwittingly absorbed of the founding fathers. A few pages did. Majority told an entirely different story. I was (to say the least) surprised at the type of politics that was practiced under the watch of our founding fathers. The brand of politics was in summary, regional and factional.
Not different from the kind we have today. Corruption was rife and rampant. Nigerian legislators saw their elected offices as a platform to wealth. They earned even more than their British counterparts. I learned that 2 of the 4 most prominent of our founding fathers had allegations of corruption leveled against them by the then Colonial British government and the Nigerian government after independence. Of course this may be irrelevant as they were never convicted but the allegations were indictments on their integrity.
Elections carried out under their watch were rigged with the same impunity we have seen in all subsequent Nigerian elections. Census figures were bloated to gain regional supremacy. Chair throwing in parliament was recorded. Ballot box snatching and stuffing in Nigeria, I found to my surprise was over 4 decades old. Questionable charges were brought against opposition politicians just as mass arrests were carried out as witnessed in successor governments. Blatant lies and violence against each other were the order of the day. Thugs with machetes and sticks were used to intimidate people. More disheartening was that the founding fathers also viewed and treated each other with contempt and disdain. Each with a feeling of intellectual and tribal superiority over the other.
Even more surprising than the brand of politics and allegations of financial impropriety were the utterances credited to some of them. Without linking any of the following utterances directly to any founding father in order to maintain objectivity, I have brought a few into this piece.
“Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country. It is artificial, and ends outside this chamber!”
“I have one advice to give to our politicians. If they have decided to destroy our national unity, then they should summon a round-table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office.
I make this suggestion because it is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be a child’s play if ever it comes to our turn to play such a tragic role.”
“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the same sense as there are ‘English,’ ‘Welsh,’ or ‘French.’ The word ‘Nigerian’ is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those who do not.”
These quotes I found to be very bigoted and unworthy of any statesman let alone our much admired founding fathers. There would never have been any justification for these illicit statements. What manner of statesmen would hold such views on a nation they helped build? It is comments like these, over half a century old, that go some way in explaining the massacres of Nigerians by Nigerians. It is comments like these that explain the clamoring for power and suspicions of one another that have lived with us for half a century. The more I delved deeper into the workings of the1st republic and its politics, the wider the divisions were. I realized that the then national anthem in itself was a charade to goad the populace of the time into accepting an idea of Nationhood that those who fought for never really believed in.
After a more than recommended dose of Nigeria and her politicians from the pre-independence period in the mid 1950s to the violent end of the 1st republic in 1966, I have reached some very worrying conclusions. Nigeria is the way it is not because we lost the visions of our founding fathers, but because we knowingly or unknowingly still hold as sacrosanct their views. We are the way we are because we are the way they were.
Let me say I remain eternally grateful to our founding fathers but I believe that history should not right their wrongs. History should serve as national building blocks molded from critical references of the past and present to house an improved future.
In anticipation of the vilification I will receive for this piece, I call to my defense Mr. Horace Smith who said;
“Not to know what happened before we were born is always to remain a child; to know, and blindly to adopt that knowledge as an implicit rule of life, is never to be a man.”