By Bola A. Akinterinwa
Britain is great in status but small in its metropolitan territorial size. When the factor of colonisation is reckoned with, the greatness of Britain is never in doubt, especially if we remember that Britain initially colonised the 13 states that united to form the United States of America on July 2, 1776.
Unlike the British, the greatness of the Americans has little to do with their territorial size or population, even though they are both big. It is always the agenda and the mania of executing it, hence the legacy to be left behind after such execution, largely explains US greatness in international relations. It is the attitudinal disposition of the American that serves as pull or push in the making of US greatness.
Ordinarily, Americans hardly believe or accept that there can be any person or anything better than the American. If they make cars, theirs will be an oversize just to ensure that what is American is different. Most countries use 220-voltage equipment, the American specification is 110 volts. The bumpers of US saloon cars are generally designed for heavy duty.
American cars are not meant to be fuel efficient. They are big with a lot of room space. What about the size of a typical individual American? What about American English? What need is there to re-spell organisation as reorganisation? Why change colour to color? Why is there a difference in the meaning given to â€˜to tableâ€™ and â€˜at table?â€™
The point being made here is the American pride, the American patriotism, which has it that anything American has to be original and typical. Anything American must be taken with seriousness of purpose and with a philosophy of difference. This philosophy begins with the distinction between â€˜July 4â€™ and â€˜Fourth of July.â€™ July 4 is simply a date but â€˜Fourth of Julyâ€™ is more than an ordinary date.
â€˜Fourth of Julyâ€™ is entertainment and enjoyment. It is the time for underscoring the importance of freedom and anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776. It is a public holiday during which all Americans are required to relax and celebrate the values of freedom. Indeed, the Declaration of July 4 was meant to explain the decision prepared by a Committee of Five. Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the draft decision. It should not be forgotten that the Thirteen Colonies that signed the July 4, 1776 Declaration had, two days earlier, separated themselves from Great Britain.
In June 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia already proposed the declaration of US independence from Great Britain rule. On June 2nd, 1776 the Congress debated and edited the Declaration. As put by John Adams, July 2, 1776 would be â€˜celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnised with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this Continent to the other, from this time forward forever moreâ€™ (vide The US National Archives and Records Administration)
John Adams could not have been more correct or predicted any better, as celebration by succeeding generations began on July 4, 1777 â€“ one year after the Declaration of Independence was approved. Put differently, Resolution of Independence took place on July 2 while Declaration of Independence took place on July 4, 1776. Hence, the first anniversary was in 1777.
Perhaps, more interestingly, â€˜Fourth of Julyâ€™ is taken more seriously to the extent that if any July 4 falls on a Saturday, it will be celebrated on the Friday before it. If it falls on a Sunday, it will be celebrated the following Monday. In 1779, it fell on a Sunday and the holiday was shifted to July 5.
Additionally, there is also every good reason to seek to celebrate July 4 of every year because John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were not only both original signatories to the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence, but also died on a July 4, in 1826, that is, symbolically 50 years after the Declaration.
And true enough, â€˜The Fourth of Julyâ€™, as it is popularly referred to in the US, or the â€˜Dunlap Broadsideâ€™ as the Massachusetts Historical Society calls it, is not about the grant of independence by Britain, but essentially about the celebration of a day when the people of America opted for self-determination. They were not granted independence. They fought for independence from 1861 through 1865 and had to declare themselves independent for various considerations.
First, it was considered that â€˜all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness (vide The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen united States of America in Congress, July 4, 1776.
The 13 states were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
In this regard, emphasis is placed on life of the individual, his liberty, and the pursuit of his happiness. In the declaration, the word Happiness is with capital â€˜H.â€™ It is also important to note that the origin of these rights was not only traced to the Heavenly Creator but also required all Governments, whose legitimacy must be derivable from the consent of the people governed, to secure all the Rights.
And more significantly, it was suggested that whenever these rights are not secured or are destroyed, the people must affirm their Right and secure their Safety and Happiness by either altering or abolishing the form of Government.
What is more significant, especially in terms of lessons of self-determination, particularly for people of Africa, is that the July 4 Unanimous Declaration in the Congress also had it that â€˜prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes, and accordingly, all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.â€™
Again, in this regard, how do we situate the problem of sit-tight governments in Africa, if it is advised that long-established governments should not be changed on flimsy excuses? Sit-tight leaders in Africa use the same democratic framework to alter the Constitutions and perpetuate themselves, and by so doing, threatening national and regional peace and security.
Secondly, it was considered that the King of Great Britain (then George III) was an absolutist and usurper, who denied the people of America the divine Rights ordained by the Creator of humanity. The Americans were not happy with the Kingâ€™s repeated dissolution of the â€˜Representative Houses for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.â€™
The King of Great Britain â€˜made judges dependent on his Will alone… He kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.â€™ And perhaps most annoyingly for the Americans, the King cut off US trade with all parts of the world, imposed Taxes without the consent of the people, transported Americans â€˜beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences,â€™ and American repeated Petitions were â€˜answered only by repeated injury.â€™
It was in light of the foregoing that the â€˜Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of the colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved, and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.â€™
As much as emphasis was placed on values of rights, freedom and independence, the same values were also major dynamics of threats to national agreement. For instance, initially, in 1870, the US Congress made the US Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees but the decision was reversed by the Congress in 1938 and again made a paid federal holiday.
This development might be a resultant from rivalries between the federal government and the constitutive states of the United States. It is within this context that the celebration of â€˜The Fourth of Julyâ€™ in Nigeria should be appreciated, evaluated and lessons learnt from it.
The Fourth of July in Nigeria
The first part of the celebration of â€˜The Fourth of July in Nigeria took place on Wednesday, 28th June in Lagos while the second leg took place in Abuja the following day, the political capital, where all accredited diplomatic missions to Nigeria are supposed to be based. Consequently, the date did not respond to the logic of a Friday or Sunday in Nigeria. Why is this so?
One possible answer may be in the sermon of freedom of choice, flexibility in decision-making, life made easy, etc, which the Americans are preaching to the world. In other words, there must be no rigidity in the choice of dates for celebration outside of the United States, especially when there are differences in time. Another reason might be security. There is the need for absolute security for invited guests. There is also the factor of convenience.
In fact, like it is the case with the Chinese, it might be because of due regards for the people of Nigeria. The national day of both China and Nigeria falls on October 1. To avoid unnecessary conflict of interests, the Chinese always hold their own celebrations before October 1 in due reference to the receiving state, Nigeria.
In the context of the United States, Nigeria does not have the same date with the US. However, as President Donald Trump has declared his policy direction, which is seeking to make America great again, and particularly with his style of undoing the US diplomatic tradition, the celebration of US Independence Day a week before the D-Day is possibly a pointer to a new direction.
It cannot but be a new direction, because the population of invited guests was about 130 as at the time I left. In previous years, more than an average of 180 invitees was recorded. Although fewer people attended the independence reception at the residence of the Consul General, the quality of reception was unprecedentedly very high, especially in terms of food diplomacy and courtesies extended by the consular staff to guests.
The fact that the venue oversees the lagoon, coupled with the green tree and leaves adorning it necessarily makes the air oxygenated and cool. The environment was natural. Security was tight. Music, varying from calypso to soft tempo, was supplied by Shuga Entertainment Nigeria Limited, whose three floor female dancers gave meaning to cultural diplomacy.
The organisers of the 241st US Independence Anniversary have the right to be wrapped up in the glory of the quality of Very Important Personalities in attendance. Chief Ernest Sonekan, former Head of State of Nigeria; Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a veteran diplomatist, former Minister of External Affairs and former Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations; His Royal Majesty, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, the Alaafin of Oyo; His Royal Majesty, Oba Rilwan Akiolu of Lagos; Her Royal Majesty, Abiola Dosumu, the Erelu of Lagos; His Royal Majesty, Pere Charles Aiyemi-Botu of Seimbiri Kingdom; Dr. Segun Mimiko, former Governor of Ondo State; Mr. Donald Duke, former Governor of Cross Rivers State; General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma rtd, a business mogul; Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, former High Commissioner of Nigeria to Ghana and former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, etc, as well as Members of the Diplomatic Corps were also there to raise their glasses in toast of the 241st Independence Anniversary.
Perhaps, more noteworthy is the aspect of food diplomacy: bar was inexhaustible. Snacks were not stricto sensu limited to American types. The anniversary was given needed support by Mirinda, Aquafina, Pepsi, Deloitte, Bristow, Andela, Rendeavour, Exxon Mobil, Delta Brittania, KPMG, Fedex, Aviat, Coca Cola and UPS.
The US Consul General and the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, in their advertised gratitude at the venue, said: â€˜thank you for attending our Independence Day anniversary… We thank our generous sponsors.â€™
In this regard, is the United States now broke to the extent that there is the need for private sector support? Of course not! The essence of the support is that the Washingtonian authorities believe in developing partnership with the private sector. Most of the companies are American. Americans back home celebrate July 4 very patriotically: hosting or attending a picnic or barbecue, decorations (balloons, T-shirts, etc), competitive fireworks, bonfires with accompanying patriotic songs such as the â€˜National Anthem,â€™ â€˜The Star-Spangled Banner,â€™ â€˜God Bless America,â€™ â€˜America the Beautiful,â€™ â€˜My Country,â€™ â€˜Tis Thee,â€™ â€˜This Land is Your Land,â€™ â€˜Stars and Stripes Forever,â€™â€™ etc
These patriotic songs are good and encouraging but they also raise questions of national unity and self-determination in Nigeria, as well as making America Great Again. Let us look at the song, â€˜this land is your land.â€™ Who owns the Biafra land in Nigeria? Who owns the land in America? President Donald Trump wants to make America great again but he did not explain how or the modalities.
From deductive analyses, it appears that he wants to borrow from the 1823 Isolationist Policy of the US by which the people of United States withdrew to themselves for national recovery, re-strategy for self-survival, growth and development. Globalisation is not a priority for Donald Trump. The United States is gradually withdrawing from various global commitments.
In fact, Donald Trump supports the idea of Brexit. This is precisely why the MASSOB, the IPOB and others agitating for self-determination in Nigeria actively supported the election of Donald Trump as President of the US. They are expecting constructive support from the Trump administration.
What informed the proponents of self-determination and Biafranisation to believe that Donald Trump can be trustworthy enough to be relied upon in achieving the goal of a possible Republic of Biafra is not yet clear. What is clear is that US Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, happily told all invited guests in Lagos why he was in love with Nigeria: diversity and national unity.
As he put it: â€˜wherever I meet a Nigerian, I ask â€œwhat do you like the most about your country? I like our diversity, our resilience, our energy, our warmth, our spirit, our foodâ€™ is the response. Just like the United States, Nigeria is a wonderfully diverse nation, whose differences and diversity are sources of strength and reason for pride.â€™
With these remarks, if we admit that the Ambassador spoke on behalf of his president and US government by extension, it cannot be rightly argued and submitted that President Donald Trump would support the quest for independent Biafra. This does not, however, also mean that the statement of Ambassador Symington was not meant to be declaratory and targeted at the domestic audience.
The truth in Nigeria as at today does not appear to lend any credence to Ambassador Stuart Symingtonâ€™s observation that every Nigerian he met was happy and anxious about Nigeriaâ€™s diversity. Ambassador Symington was quite right in advising on the beauty of remaining united and sustaining the countryâ€™s diversity.
However, this position is not consistent with that of Donald Trump. What really should the Nigerians hold on to: Donald Trumpâ€™s strong attachment to the principle of self-determination or non-divisibility of Nigeria? What is the position of the US government on the prediction by some US analysts that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015? 2015 has come and gone. There has not been disintegration. Is 2015 a coded year for the disintegration?
Whatever is the case, there is the need to be more cautious about statements on diversity as a source of strength, as it is precisely what is dividing Nigeria of today. No matter how diversity is managed, for as long as the management is not predicated on honesty, fairness, justice and evolvement of commitment to Nigerianess, the disintegration of Nigeria cannot but be a matter of time.
The implication of this is that, Nigeria, as a possible instrument of growing America and making it great under Donald Trump, remains at best a dream. America cannot be great by sowing the seeds of discord or championing self-determination activities in Nigeria. Another truth is that the United States cannot but be happier with a wounded or weak Nigeria that will not be able to confront US policies in Africa.
Besides, if Donald Trump truly wants a more united and strong Nigeria, he should make strenuous efforts to entrench a truly federal system in which more powers will be given to the various federating units. In the absence of this and with the federal governmentâ€™s politics of self-deceit on non-restructuring, national disintegration is imminent.