Nigeria at 60: What Has Colonialism Got to Do With It?


The reason your life stays the same is because you think everyone else is the problem. Stop pointing fingers and placing blame on others. Your life can only change to the degree that you accept responsibility for it
–Steve Maraboli

Nigeria turned 60 last Thursday, 1st October 2020. While the few born on that same date sixty years earlier, and lucky enough to secure some of the scarce jobs in Nigeria, were celebrating their retirement, the debate was just beginning on whether the nation was finally mature or was still a toddler. Simply put, were Nigeria a human being, and had been enrolled in its civil service, it should be qualified for pension by now. Nevertheless, 60 is a milestone birthday which is worth celebrating. Many people are not eager to share in the reveling and it is within their right to disagree. There is widespread pain and suffering in the land. If, as is often said, it is all about the economy then there is no reason for the people to rejoice. The economy has not been in a worse shape for a long time. Leadership seems to have lately taken refuge in the global pandemic and the drop in oil prices but we all know that over the six decades, it has been anything but visionary. There is therefore, enough reason for anyone to stay home and not join in the Independence celebratory party.

Several attempts have been made to explain what is wrong with this adult, which ordinarily qualifies to be admitted into the league of Senior Citizens, but which sadly still has its bum in the kindergarten creche. The explanation for this retarded growth which we find most intriguing is the one that places practically all the blame on British colonialists who granted Nigeria Independence in 1960. The “British-colonialism-did-it” school of thought seems to be gaining currency once again, particularly with the recent separatist agitations aimed at the dismemberment of the country. It is usual to hear comments about the creation of the “contraption” called Nigeria in 1914, which emerged after the Northern and Southern Protectorates were merged. This argument goes further to say that the crafty oyibo knew that the union was going to be dysfunctional as the people were not the same in terms of weather, culture, tribe, religion and world view. Sooner or later, therefore, the union would fall apart as they could not live together in peace. These theorists insist that the only reason the colonialists set up this system that they knew would collapse someday was for their own selfish interests. In fact, some argue that the whole essence of the union was to set the stage for the eventual crisis which would give them an excuse to stage a come-back on the pretence that the new country could not govern itself. These and other arguments may sound plausible on the face of it.

When we take a deep look into history, we will find out that Nigeria’s problems as a nation, started even before independence. In fact, it is reported that after the struggle to end colonial rule had been won and the three most prominent leaders from the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo from the West and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe from the East, went to London to collect the “paraphernalia” of independence, the entire trip was marked by bickering, and cloak and dagger manoeuvres. They reportedly bickered all through – on their way to the place, at the place and even after leaving the place. If we are to advance the conspiracy theory that implicates the British, one would want to believe that it was the colonial authorities that set up the bickering on that day in 1960. The white men had just started their mischief. It was them who made sure that we had a false start leading up to accusations and counter accusations of corruption in the first republic. They were the ones that set up the military and the officers were recruited and trained by them. It was therefore understandable that the colonialists would manipulate the military to stage the first military coup on January 15, 1966, barely 5 years and 3 months after Independence. The military had been trained to kill by the colonialists so they shot and killed many of the leaders of that time, again at the behest of the colonial masters.

Still not done with their mischief, they masterminded the installation of the first military Head of State, General Aguiyi Ironsi. To ensure that there was confusion everywhere, they again manipulated a section of the military who organised a counter-coup assassinating their colleagues and installing another military Head of State. As two-faced traitors, the colonialists engineered disagreement and subsequent killing of one section of the country by the other and the altercations and pogrom that resulted in the Nigerian civil war. Their interest in this war was to sell their arms to the stronger side and have access to the natural resources of the country. They assured the stronger side that the war would end in a matter of weeks and everything would then return to normalcy.

As it turned out, the war lasted for almost three years and millions of our people perished with it. Five years after the civil war, they again masterminded another coup and a change of government, and a year later, yet another military putsch that threw up one military general after another who were loyal to the ever conniving oyibo. When the country insisted on having democratic rule, they reluctantly agreed but being their usual mischievous selves, they manipulated the process that threw up their preferred candidates who eventually assumed positions of leadership. When it was looking like the Shagari government did not have their loyalty any more, they sponsored yet another coup that terminated the Second Republic and installed another Military General who they were to discover only later, was not going to do all their biddings.

They then corrected this error of judgement by quickly terminating his government and bringing in General Babangida, with his toothy smile and political skills that out-rivaled that of any civilian politician. When Babangida was to leave, they realised that Abiola was going to win and not willing to have any of that, they ensured that the arrangement was truncated. They influenced the take-over of government by an interim government. And just like its name implied, that government was short lived and General Abacha was invited to supplant it. When they fell out with Abacha, they quickly arranged the forbidden apple and bumped him off in the infamous ‘divine intervention’ episode.

Enter Abdulsalami Abubakar who was there just for a year and handed over to Obasanjo for his second stint at the office, who this time had dropped his Khaki. He was the President for two terms and handed over to Yaradua who died in office. The conspiracy theorists would argue that the set up knew that Yaradua would not last in office and had arranged for Jonathan to succeed him. By the time Jonathan was completing his first term they had planned for Buhari to stage a comeback and here we are, everything planned and executed by the imperialists, first and foremost for their interests which is over and above everything.

Let us even for a moment believe that all these are correct. One would want to ask a few questions. Assuming the British installed their preferred leadership on us, how about followership? Did they also manipulate the followership? How come most of us do not ask questions? How come most of us have joined the clapping and ‘follow follow’ gang? Who prevented us from participating and showing interest in governance? How many of us will stand up to be counted amongst courageous and outspoken citizens, who opposed such conspiracy, if it really was?

As it is said, we are often the last to criticise ourselves whenever we are looking for excuses. Pray let us ask a few penetrating questions? What has happened to our education? How come the standard of education in this country has fallen to such ridiculous level that the top 10 universities in Nigeria are ranked between 1233 and 3182 in the world? And in Africa, we are trounced by South Africa whose 6 universities came out in top ten, in fact South African universities occupy first 4 positions. Two universities in Egypt, one each from Uganda and Algeria made it to the top 10. Two Nigerian universities managed to come in at No.5 and No. 10. Was South Africa not colonised and even much longer than Nigeria? Why have we refused to fund education properly? Why are we not worried about the quality and standard of education which has continued to decline at a precipitous and shameful rate? For many of us who schooled in Nigeria, please ask yourself when last you visited your alma mater. This question is more for those who left school some decades ago. Were you proud of the school you attended? Secondary and primary education in the country are not left out of the rot. Should it then be said that our educational system was set up to fail so that we would send our children and wards to be educated in the UK? Again, who created and armed the bandits harassing the entire country today?

Do we have better stories to tell about our health care delivery system? Until recently when the coronavirus pandemic grounded all of us, weren’t most of us trooping abroad for quality health care? What happened in this sector then? Was it also the Colonialists that asked us not to fund or pay attention to the health of all of us? In the electricity sector, did someone ask us to watch our generation capacity decline from our installed capacity of 12,500 megawatts to an average capacity of about 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts? Did we need to be told that the less the electricity we generated, the lower the level of productivity in the country? Didn’t we know that no serious industrialisation will take place when we are unable to fix our power sector? How about our ability to refine petroleum products? Is it colonialism that made our four refineries to operate at less than 20% of installed capacity in the last decade or more? Is it of any concern to us that even though we produce and export crude, our local demand of petroleum products has to be met by imports? How do the imports benefit the colonialists? Who ordered the de-industrialisation of the country where most of the companies involved in local production of goods and services have either been left to decay, relocate, or simply die? When the country was littered with industries, were the workers from the UK or were they employing Nigerians?

Did anyone stop us from diversifying our economy given all the human and material resources this country has? Who asked us to place all our attention on crude oil? Why didn’t we realise that oil prices like any other product goes up and down and when we found out what did we do in sixty years? Was it the imperialists who forced us to be dependent on imports from every part of the world and assuming they did, how come we didn’t realise that the more we imported without commensurate exports, the more pressure we put on the small foreign exchange that we earned? Who taught us how to steal? Granted that prebendalism has been in this country for long, how come we have graduated to what someone described as “chopping Nama and chopping Aboki”? Can we actually explain the level of corruption in this country in virtually all the sectors such that almost everything and everybody now has a cost price?

The summary question to us is did the colonial masters manipulate our brains away? Did they hypnotise us such that we can’t think and proffer solutions to our domestic problems? The reality of the situation is that we have always had the opportunity of fixing our dear country. We have chosen to do the contrary. And we are looking for whom to blame. We could justify those excuses in the sixties, seventies and probably eighties. We read all the books, like “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, “The Wretched Of The Earth” and so on. They may have made sense then, but we cannot continue to plead colonialism in 2020. Even where all the ills were possible to be traced to colonialism, there is a saying in my place that as a parent whose infant child fell asleep in your arms, you are free to lay him down in the position that pleases you but the child is also free to change to the position that pleases him. Of course, that presupposes that the child wakes up, knows the comfortable position and is able to change positions. Our problem is that the country has remained an infant that has refused to wake up or grow up, has refused to pay attention to the comfortable position to lie and those who know, have refused to lift a finger because of selfishness, lack of courage and lack of patriotism.
We should therefore, accept responsibility for the parlous state of our nation and society. And that is All of us! Lest I forget, happy 60th independence anniversary fellow Nigerians.