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Ruminations of a Republican Baby

14 May 2013

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The Wig & Skirt, By Funke Aboyade, Email: Olufunke.aboyade@thisdaylive.com

The Republic was born in 1963. And so was I. That makes me, I suppose, a Republican Baby. It also makes me feel a certain affinity with the Federal Republic of Nigeria, much like a loved sibling.

And what a ride it’s been, these last 50 years.

And so, today I ruminate over the trajectory of my life and the signposts of that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Readers familiar with my column over the years would have gleaned from it snippets of my early years. For the most part I grew up in pretty much an idyllic environment, the University of Ibadan. There, I spent my time playing Cowboys and Indians (the cowboys - I was always a cowboy - always won), climbing trees, swinging from branch to branch like Tarzan, generally running around the garden or riding my bicycle with friends around the whole campus. Those were tumultuous times for the country, but somehow we children were in the main, shielded - for which I’m immeasurably grateful, for with time I realised it was, sadly, not the same for other children, particularly in the East during the days of the civil war.

As for school, it appeared I never wanted an education. My earliest memories date back as a two year old, running away from play group and heading back home all on my own - and I know some readers who never fail to recall, any time they see me, my father’s teasing chant, ‘Isansa ma tun de a le ko lo ko le lo!’ I would cry when he sang that song, but evidently it wasn’t enough to deter me; I would simply just run away again the following day, and the next and the next…

I began Kindergarten just as the First Republic was unceremoniously brought to an end. When I eventually got into primary school, I seem to remember fibbing (alright, lying) a lot to my mother about doing my homework because I’d simply played the whole afternoon away. I never got any lie past her though, she seemed to have eyes everywhere! ‘Bring your homework’ she would say. And my lie would collapse like a pack of cards. Again, it didn’t deter me. Playing was simply so much more fun than doing some tedious homework.

Yes, growing up was idyllic. But it was also laced with lots of discipline. My father’s cane seemed in constant and generous use – with me being a consistent beneficiary.

Through it all, the spirit of excellence was drilled into us and ingrained in us, no exceptions were made. I remember coming I think 14th position in Class 4 – this, after a year in Elementary School in the United States where the curriculum, and school year, was obviously quite different from back home. We’d arrived Nigeria just a few weeks before the mid-year school examinations began, yet we’d had to write the exams. So I thought I’d done pretty well coming 14th out of I think perhaps 25 children in the class. I’d arrived home rather pleased with myself, well rested on my oars and proudly presented my report card. My father though had a very different perspective. Did the other children who had done better have two heads? No? And he got that message through with his good old cane - no one ever accused him of sparing the rod and spoiling the child!

The post-war years witnessed significant infrastructural development in the country. There was hope and a can-do spirit in the air. I finished Primary and Secondary School and gained admission into university in a period our University education – and our country - commanded respect around the world. It was a great time to be a Nigerian.

By 1979 when the Second Republic was born ending 13 years of military rule, I was a second year law student at the University of Ife.

In 1983, five months before the Second Republic was booted out, I was called to the Nigerian bar. By then the country had begun a gradual slide and decline into underachievement.

The military government of General Buhari which ended the Second Republic was big on discipline having indentified the lack of it as the bane of our problems, and succeeded in great measure, in spite of its short tenure, in ensuring that a largely undisciplined citizenry imbibed disciplined ways. Corruption, the main reason for the coup, had also by that time begun to make significant inroads into governance.

By the time the gap toothed and charming (or so the people thought) IBB sent the Buhari government packing in 1985 I had obtained my Masters Degree and returned home. I had rather fancied going to the United States for the Degree. Harvard was on my mind. My father was having none of it. Having been offered admission at Cambridge (incidentally his Alma Mata) he was determined I would go there. I refused. Faced with the threat of being disowned, I buckled. He did assure though that I would come back and thank him. I thought not. Feeling very sorry for myself, I went off to Cambridge in floods of tears. He was right. I did come back to thank him, right after I received my LL.M. It had been one of the best years of my life. For Nigeria though, the times were uncertain.

Well, thank God that in spite of my best efforts to grow up into a Cowboy or Tarzan I did manage to get a decent education and even love school into the bargain!

So that pretty much sums up my early growing up years, my values and my essence. Great premium was put on education, on hard work, on excelling.

No one spoke or thought about amassing great wealth or acquiring this or that next asset, whether by corrupt means or not. You were judged by your character, your intellect, your thoughts, your ideas, your scholarship, your industry, your ability to reason things out, not by the size of your bank account or your social standing or other mundane or inconsequential factors. And certainly, you were shunned by right thinking members of society if you had or you displayed ill-gotten wealth.

It also sums the Nigeria I grew up in. A nation where character, education and intellect were valued and great premium placed on them. And where the spirit of excellence was the norm not the exception. Cast a look back at the stellar array of academics, civil servants, public servants, politicians, policy makers, diplomats, federal and state Commissioners, legislators, judges, regional leaders, governors, heads of government et al of that time.

This is not to say there was no corruption then - corruption has been around since the dawn of time - it was just that it was not the norm.

In 1989 the Third Republic - such as it was - was born. Following the fiasco of the June 12, 1993 presidential election annulment the Third Republic, which never really took off, was aborted along with the man who had led us down that experimental route.

The Abacha years which followed are best forgotten.

After 16 long years of military rule, Nigerians, in 1999, welcomed the birth of the Fourth Republic with great hope and renewed faith in the future.

Today, the Fourth Republic stands tottering at the precipice. There is great insecurity and fear in the land. Terror attacks in the North and parts of the Niger Delta, kidnappings in the South (we are the kidnap-for-ransom capital of the world and as I write, the latest distressing kidnapping, of my friend and colleague Doyin Rhodes-Vivour and her daughter, Michelle, enters Day 3), unresolved killings all over, religious and ethnic conflicts occur at the drop of a hat. Corruption has assumed unthinkable dimensions in terms of sheer scale and impunity. Our value system is completely warped. Nigeria is currently rated the worst country on the planet to be born. Life expectancy is 51.9 years, the lowest in the sub-region. Some 10,000,000 plus children are not in school, a sitting time bomb if ever there was any. Youth unemployment has hit unacceptable highs - some statistics indicate as high as 70% - another festering time bomb. We’ve barely had any infrastructural development as extensive as those of the post-war years, in fact we are in many instances still dependent on those mostly now decrepit infrastructure. 50 years after the birth of the First Republic, it’s not a happy picture.  Admittedly, all this didn’t just happen overnight, they have been years in the brewing, but we are all now paying the price.

Yes, there are some bright sparks here and there, but the overall prevailing gloom and doom unfortunately overshadow them.

I had hoped we (the Republic and I) could both celebrate our Golden Jubilees under happier circumstances. As it is, I hit my Golden years shortly, grateful to God for His infinite mercies, but deeply concerned about our country’s future. It’s hard to be in a celebratory mood when something or someone you’ve grown up with is not doing so well, is in fact hobbling into her own Golden years, with no assurance of even making it there.

Getting old, they say, is inevitable, growing up is optional. It’s time for the Federal Republic of Nigeria to grow up. She cannot and must not remain a baby forever. Our leaders must decide whether selfish, partisan and unacceptable behaviour trumps putting our country first. And we, the people, must help them make that decision – by the power of our vote.

Wouldn’t it be great if 10 years from now we both, if the Lord tarries, celebrate our Diamond Jubilees with a blast?

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