Chiemelie Ezeobi, Peace Obi, Peter Uzoho and Ayodeji Ake take a look at the journey of Nigerian at 58 from its independence to the numerous coup d’etats, the transition to democratic rule and what today’s anniversary portends for the nation
Born some 58 years ago, her birth was received with joy, high hopes and expectations. She was born into a family blessed with abundant resources both human and material. Welcome to Nigeria.
For Nigeria and Nigerians, October 1, of every year has been sacrosanct since 1960. The reason is not far-fetched. It was the day Nigerian gained its independence from Britain. The day has become a blueprint for subsequent independence celebrations.
As tradition demands, the day usually starts with a national broadcast by the Head of State (as was obtainable under the military regime) or the president (under the democratic dispensation). This is afterwards followed by a march past by the armed forces, paramilitary institutions and students. Cultural activities are also observed.
Journey to Independence
After decades of colonisation under the British government, Nigeria officially became an independent nation on October 1, 1960. However, the path to the creation of the country, Nigeria was paved with the British government’s formal annexation of Lagos in 1861. As an entity came up, Nigeria came into being on January 1, 1914 when the Southern and Northern protectorates were merged by Lord Frederick Lugard, the first Governor-General of amalgamated Nigeria. It was a marriage not many of the people were in support of. In 1953, Anthony Enahoro moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence which was not granted until a follow-up motion S.L. Akintola and Remi Fani-Kayode in 1957 and 1958, respectively. In 1963, Nigeria became a republic, three years after it gained independence.
On that fateful day, a teeming crowd found their way to the Tafawa Balewa Square, Onikan, Lagos in their cultural attires. Emotions ran high as the people waved the new green white and green flag. It was Independence Day. It all seemed surreal until Princess Alexandra of Kent, who represented Queen Elizabeth II of England, arrived amidst pomp and fanfare. She was in the company of Sir James Robertson, who was the then Governor-General. Going down to business, Princess Alexandra handed over the letter to Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, signaling proof that Britain had relinquished its sovereignty over to Nigeria.
This was received by a tumultuous and thunderous cheer either by those watching the live proceedings or those watching from their television sets at home. At the stroke of midnight, the nation’s green, white and green flag was hoisted accompanied by display of fireworks.
One would have thought that with the much clamoured for independence, the nation would only go on to become a better version of herself. The opposite was the case as the first coup took place six years after, leading to several other coups. These succession of coups sent the fortunes of Nigeria spiraling downwards.
The bloody coup claimed the lives of notable individuals like Sir. Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria; Chief S.I. Akintola, the Premier of Western Region; Balewa and Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh. This was one of the events that led to the Nigerian Civil War.
Yet to recover from the January coup, another coup occurred and it lasted from July 28 to 30, 1966. It was staged by three young military officers from the Northern extraction. Popularly known as “Nigerian Counter-Coup of 1966”, it was led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and led to the death of the Head of State, Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi; the Military Governor, Western Region, Francis Adekunle Fajuyi and other military officers. Major-General Gowon was sworn-in as the military head of state.
Eight years down the line, another set of soldiers stirred up the hornet’s nest in 1975 and overthrew General Yakubu Gowon-led government in a bloodless coup. The mastermind of the coup, General Murtala Muhammed took over power from Gowon the same July 1975. Gowon was reputed to have established a Supreme Military Council during his regime. On February 13, 1976, Mohammed was assassinated in an abortive coup by Lieutenant-Colonel Buka Suka Dimka‘s loyalist. Notably, the Dimka coup as it is called, claimed the lives of three senior military officers which included, the Head of State, Mohammed; Governor of Kwara State, Ibrahim Taiwo and his ADC to Muhammed, Lt. Akintunde Akinsehinwa. Records revealed that one civilian along with 38 military officers were executed. The civilian involved in the failed coup was a staff of Radio Nigeria, Lagos.
General Olusegun Obasanjo who became the Head of State after Mohammed initiated the transition process that terminated military rule in 1979, when he peacefully handed power to a democratically elected civilian president. This ended the military regime and ushered Nigeria into her Second Republic.
On December 31, 1983, the military in a coup reared its head again and overthrew Shehu Shagari-led democratic government. General Muhammadu Buhari led the coup and was appointed the Chairman of a new Supreme Military Council of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces by the junta. He had only ruled for a year and eight months when General Ibrahim Babangida in a coup overthrew him. The August 27, 1985 coup popular known as “Palace Coup” was led by Babangida, who also appointed himself to the position of President of the Armed Forces Ruling Council of Nigeria. Upon ceasing power, Babangida promised to return the country to democratic rule.
In 1986, Major-General Mamman Vasta-led a coup barely one year of Babangida’s regime. In March of the same year, Vasta and 10 other military officers were tried and executed.
On April 22, 1990, Gideon Okah and his loyalists staged an aborted coup in their bid to unseat the government of Ibrahim Babangida. It was described as one of the bloodies coup with the largest execution of coup plotters in the country’s history. Babangida ruled for eight years, and temporarily handed over power to an interim head of state, Ernest Shonekan.
On October 2, 1993, Lieutenant-Colonel Abubakar Umar, an army Colonel and Commandant of the elite Amoured corps centre and school was alleged to have led an attempted coup d’etat, but the ninth coup was on November 17, 1993, when General Sani Abacha staged a successful palace coup and ousted Shonekan. Just like Babangida, Abacha appointed himself Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council of Nigeria.
Transition to Democracy
On June 8, 1998, death struck and snatched away Abacha. This brought General Abdulsalami Abubakar to power. Abubakar midwifed the transition of the country back to a democratic system. The successful conduct of the 1999 elections brought Obasanjo back to power for the second time but as civilian President. This ushered the country into her fourth republic.
Obasanjo handed over power to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who held sway from 2007 to 2010. While in office, he fell ill repeatedly and later died in office. His then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan , finished up his tenure for his principal and again ran for office on a fresh candidacy in 2011. He won and preceded to rule till 2015 when the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari won him at the polls and became the second head of state under the military rule to become president under the democratic dispensation, after Obasanjo.
Days of Economic Boom
In the days of yore, Nigeria’s economy boomed. This was attributed to the yields from agriculture. The agricultural sector was the focus of interest during the 1990s, with food self-sufficiency the goal. In 1990, agriculture was the subject of a separate three-year development plan involving public and private spending targets concentrating on the family farmer. The program included price stabilisation and schemes to revitalise the palm oil, cocoa, and rubber subsectors. The Agricultural Development Projects continued through the decade, but implementation of goals was difficult. That was until the oil boom, which pushed agriculture to the back burner.
In 1958, oil was discovered in Olobiri in the Niger Delta. That was the beginning of another era of boom until prices came crashing. Undoubtedly, oil
plays a vital role in Nigeria’s economy as energy resources gotten from it includes oil, gas, coal and water. Since its discovery, it has dominated the economy since the early 1970s and today, Nigeria is the largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa and since 1971 a member of OPEC, with an estimated production volume of 2.413 million barrel/day (2005). This makes it the world’s sixth largest producer. Since 1960, Nigeria has reaped an estimated US$600 billion and more in oil revenue.
World Poverty Capital
Yet, despite the era of boom, exactly 58 years later, this question resonates; is there anything to celebrate about this nation? Blessed with abundance of resources, her future looked so bright and promising. Her early years was so eventful. Everyone worked tirelessly and diligently to secure her fortune. Expectedly, she was crowned the giant of Africa. Her name rang a bell ; her name began to ring a bell and she flourished.
Suddenly, her fortunes turned for the worse . At 58, Nigeria has maintained a consistent decline on almost all fronts, winning laurels for the wrong reasons. Recently, Nigeria was crowned the poverty champion of the world having emerged as the country with the highest number of poor people in the world, leapfrogging India.
This was contained in the Brookings Institution’s data from the World Poverty Clock which showed that Nigeria now has over 87 million people, more than half of her population,living in extreme poverty. The report reads: “According to our projections, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor in early 2018, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo could soon take over the number two.
“At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million.What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall.”
As a nation, the challenges facing it are numerous but chief among them is insecurity. Ranging from kidnapping for ransom, to mass murders, suicide bombings, militancy, killer herdsmen, insurgency, armed robbery, car snatching, terrorism, abduction of school kids, piracy, pipeline vandalism and so fort, the list goes on.
Given the huge budgetary allocation for security as approved by the National Assembly, the loss of lives and destruction of properties continually leaves a sour taste in the mouth of all. In 2014 alone, five Northern states had planned to spend N30.4billion on insecurity. The figure has tripled as at today. So the question which lingers in the mind of virtually all is; “Why does insecurity especially terrorism still thrive today with the huge funds allocated to fighting it?
When the Buhari-led administration listed one of its key drivers as tackling insecurity it was received with mixed emotions. This was because insecurity had at that time, eaten deep into the fabrics of the society with millions of people displaced from their homes, especially in the North-east.
Another issue that has bedeviled the nation is that of religious and inter-ethnic crises. Among the prominent one is the Southern-Kaduna crisis that resulted in many deaths. Also, the religious clashes in Taraba claimed many too. Communal clashes in Cross River, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom and Anambra also resulted to deaths and wanton destruction of properties.
For all who want to see Nigeria thrive again, their aspirations are quite simple- provision of basic amenities, infrastructure and security. The emphasis on security is because there is a correlation between it and economic growth. A nation that battles with insecurity, will certainly have its fortunes decline as it’s practically a turn-off for would be investors.
Therefore, Nigeria must effectively tackle the problem of Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, kidnappings, Niger Delta militancy and herdsmen attack in order to improve its economic growth and development. Healthwise, insecurity also has a negative impact as the displaced persons have limited access to adequate health care services.
At 58, is there is still hope for Nigeria? The solution to this question can only be actualised if our leaders shun personal aggrandisement, corruption , nepotism, surround themselves with round pegs in rounds holes.