I feel Professor Tomori’s pains over the loss of our beautiful country and its glorious past where, with government provision of an enabling environment, honesty, probity and hard work determine how fast one climbs the social ladder. Speaking in an emotion-laden speech, penultimate Monday at the National COVID-19 Summit in Abuja, Tomori, a world-acclaimed professor of virology, who is proud to have been entirely minted in the old Western Region, Government College, Ugheli; Ahmadu Bello University, and University of Ibadan, all in Nigeria, had said “Mr. President, the generation of Nigerians we have today is much smarter than my generation. Give them one-tenth of the enabling environment opportunity which good governance gave my generation, and Nigeria will be donating vaccines to poor Europe as India is doing; Nigeria will be providing loans to China, and not the other way round”.
For Professor Tomori: “COVID-19, Lassa fever, yellow fever, monkey pox and cholera” are not the enemies but mere symptoms of greater malaise which finds expression in our continued underdevelopment and backwardness nourished by unpatriotic, self-centred corrupt and shameless leadership.
For our today’s frustrated youths, Tomori’s ode to our glorious past was evidence that we once had an organized society as against the anarchy that today defines our social interaction whether in politics, business transaction, herdsmen torching subsistence farmers’ houses in the night or burning of buses along with their passengers by bandits.
How did our much cherished past turn into a nightmare before our very eyes? How did we squander away the promises and abundance of possibilities of a glorious future after a smooth take-off? What are those forces that truncated our triumphant march on “Nigeria Path to freedom”? And why are we finding it so hard to retrace our journey back after 55 years in the wilderness?
Our founding fathers including Obafemi Awolowo back in 1947 admitted Nigeria was ‘a geographical expression’ while Tafawa Balewa in 1948 described her as ‘a British intention”. Zik, who out of political mischief insisted our differences was exaggerated by accident of colonial rule, was reminded even by the colonial masters that ‘we are a multi-ethnic nation where some groups are social, some anti-social and where the Bantus of the Benue valley are different from the Hausa Fulani of Zaria.”
It was for this reason that our constitutional development starting with the 1954 Lyttleton constitution, to the 1957 independence constitution gave each region powers over law and order, education, economic development, social welfare and public information.” This was the platform upon which our glorious past, Tomori so poetically eulogized was built.
But driven by greed for power to serve self and not necessarily the masses on whose back they rode to power, the Igbo and Hausa Fulani political elite solemnized a marriage of convenience in 1959. Their first act of betrayal of the new nation was the undermining of the constitution by 1962 just to derail the West’s giant stride. By 1963, the coalition had collapsed, predictably over sharing of perks of office.
It was obvious the interest of ordinary people did not feature in their bargaining. For instance, Eastern Region which by 1953 had 65% of her children in primary school as against 35% of the West, 105 secondary grammar schools to West’s 25 made no significant improvement while the marriage of convenience lasted. The Igbo ministers in Balewa’s government were more interested in exploiting their participation in government to raise personal fortunes that would allow them build ‘palaces of the people’ among the squalor of the poor inhabiting ghettos that defined most Igbo urban jungles and rural areas of the period.
While ordinary Igbo got little or no value from the coalition, and the only legacy of NPC, the main coalition was that of “labourer born labourer and almajiris sired almajirirs”; the opposition AG’s half a million primary school enrolment, on the other hand went up to one million pupils, secondary school with 25 with less than 7,000 students to 139 with over 84,000.
Dumping NCNC its junior coalition partner, whose serving ministers refused to step down following directive of their party, NPC the controller of the honey-pot at the centre dangled the carrot at a faction of opposition AG which Akintola, the embattled governor, found irresistible. He was to justify his position with Igbo domination of the Balewa-led federal government, making jokes about “ Ikejiaani, Iketaani, Ikerinani” while Yoruba was completely missing. Our self-serving political actors eventually infiltrated the military resulting in the January and July 1966 coups that finally led into an inevitable civil war.
Our glorious past was dealt the final deadly blow by Obasanjo’s dismantling of all social and economic institution he inherited in 1975 while his centralization of institutions that had stood the test was to lead to paralysis in the universities, along other institutions of society. Driven by greed, the political elite constituted itself into a powerful pressure group to influence who gets what and when in the sharing of our common patrimony through ill-executed Babangida’s commercialization and Obasanjo’s privatization policies.
Many, after taking over the commanding heights of the economy went on to establish their own media outfits to propagate the values of economic liberalization and promote their own variant of market economy where government was the source of capital injected to the business concerns including banks, insurance, telecommunication, hospitality and the power sectors before they were sold off, according to a House of Representatives probe report, at ‘give away prices’ to the new owners.
It is therefore not an accident those who have benefitted or are still benefitting from the ongoing anarchy continue to insist they don’t understand the meaning of restructuring, fiscal federalism or devolution of power. Tragically, it was this hypocritical president’s crowd that was entertained by sobbing Tomori during his latest outing. But Tomori is in good company even if public sobbing changes nothing.
Obafemi Awolowo one of the architects of the glorious past, the subject of Tomori’s melancholy, after creating enabling environment for Ughelli College, free education, free health services and other pro-people policies struggled through the rest of his life to replicate them in the rest of the country. For his pains he was imprisoned for 10 years by those who boasted he would be too old by the time he returned to question how they govern Nigeria. Some of his lieutenants including Chief Tony Enahoro, Abraham Adesanya, Michael Ajasin, Bisi Onabanjo who out of frustration suggested the colonial masters be invited back, all failed in their quest to re-create the West in the rest of the country the enabling environment responsible for the miracle of the West between 1952 and 1962.
Those who blocked ‘Nigeria’s path to freedom’ prefer darkness to light. Awo himself likened them to ‘a few people holding down a fattened cow that is being milked by some powerful individuals. They are in politics as kingmakers, in business as monopolists and in churches, mosques and traditional institutions. Their laws are our laws.
Nigerians have no illusion about the invincibility of these owners of society who messed up President Obasanjo and his PDP between 1999 and 2015. But Buhari was thought to be uniquely placed to confront those who have continued to hold Nigeria down because of his record as defender of the nation’s interest against IMF and World Bank during his first coming as military head of state and his passion for Nigeria.
Above all, since Buhari has nothing to lose, many informed Nigerians had expected him not only to confront those holding the nation down but also resolve our political problems through creative application of absolute powers of an elected sovereign.