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Falling in Love with Nigeria

Falling in Love with Nigeria

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

– Dreams by Langston Hughes

Odd, isn’t it…talking about love in this period when some Nigerians saw the first eight hours (or more) of 18th of March, 2023 as “war-time” of some sorts? In many “battle ground” states – Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Ogun, Bauchi, Oyo, Rivers, Delta, and quite a large swathe of the country – people were “sharpening” their PVCs, figuratively, to knock the existing order or status quo out of their long-lasting power reverie. Of course, the old mongers were not sitting on their hands – they pruned old and new strategies, both modern and traditional, to thwart the impudent affront of the youth brigade. And the signs were clear that whichever side eventually comes away with the victory plaque from INEC, the trajectory of electioneering and power politics would have shifted significantly out of its usual shadowy cocoon of inevitability and the fraudulent system of godfatherism obsessed with petty trading in power.

  Yet, it is love – in its purest ungarnished form – that propels the world to moments of greatness and incredible accomplishments. We are driven by what we love, where we love to be, and for whom or on behalf of those we love. “For God so love the world…,” the Good Book says…and if we indeed have the DNA of the Divine in us, then it is not surprising what some of us can do for or because of love. In spite of all the harrowing incidents and relentless reports of political failings, economic regression and wanton destruction of infrastructures of the past six decades, if we scratch beyond the bones, we have no doubt that there are real opportunities and possibilities of pushing this country into a space where it would command regard and admiration of comity of nations. However, that great dream can only be attained and sustained when her children hold her and treat her with unflinching love and an awesome sense of patriotism.

One is often intrigued when the younger generations write and talk with chuckles their mantra of “May Nigeria not happen to you!” The clear message is that their country is seen as some sort of gangrenous disease or, less bluntly, an unfortunate occurrence that could set back a promising life. How did we get to a point where the aura of your nation is seen as a delimiting ogre capable of destroying promising or infant activities?

Of course, there are obvious causes for this sorry state. Apart from the first ten years or so (1954 – 1965) of active nation building efforts of our pre-independence political leaders fresh out of British-trained conveyor belts, most of our history is littered with military interventions and social engineering (1966, 1975, 1983, 1985, 1993 and 1998). Most of our founding fathers meant well for their people, even when some of their ideas of nationalism were narrowed by regional considerations and tribal competitiveness. Yet, leaders like Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Aminu Kano, Ladoke Akintola, Michael Okpara, Jaja Nwachukwu, Dennis Osadebay, Anthony Enahoro, Muhammadu Ribadu, etc strove to knit some amalgam of contiguous but diverse nationalities to make a united country called Nigeria a thriving reality.

The military struck to correct what they thought was descent into anarchy, and to stem what they believed were steadily corrosive acts of corruption and state roguery. Of course, they failed spectacularly, leading us into an avoidable bloody civil war, with millions of lives lost in less than three years the war raged (1967 to 1970). All efforts to right the floundering ship of state failed consistently – as we tumbled from a Yakubu Gowon regime, to a Muritala Mohammed interregnum (which had a semblance of positive movement); then to the stop-gap Segun Obasanjo junta which produced a 1979 transitory election equally as bad as those organised by the politicians in 1964-1965 (from which arose the crises that led to the first military coup). Inevitably, the Shehu Shagari’s boisterous administration was helped out of its clueless bungling by the Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon palace coup of 1983, aftermath of a horrendously contrived national election. 

The stern-faced duo was up-ended by one of the subordinates, Ibrahim Babangida ìn 1985 – and thus began a meandering listlessness of political trickery, treachery and barefaced chicanery that still produced a Third Republic without the head placed on the statue of democracy. He annulled the 1993 election that would have climaxed with MKO Abiola as the duly elected president. Then, the dark-goggled one, otherwise known as Sani Abacha, trampled through the entire IBB cesspool, and flung out the baby and the bathwater. His power grab collapsed on his deathbed in 1998 astride some salacious pretty tales of Indian descent. Stories designed to deepen the suspicions of her citizens and becloud any hope of patriotic zeal germinating in the bowels of her younger generations surrounded and polluted our atmosphere as we trudged towards the fourth attempt at participatory democracy in 1999. And now, here we are…

 In our effort to showcase the power and agency of Love in moving our country into levels that will engender hope and inspiration in our youth, and a source of pride to all, we must be frank and truthful in confronting our confounding recent past. Let us face the shame and rigour of truth-telling such that resolution and retrievals of values, virtues and ethos are grounded and permanent in our subconsciousness – a re-engineered DNA, if you like.

Yes, while it may be true that a people get the type of leadership they deserve, our experience in Nigeria differs slightly from that aphorism. Our people, from the truncation of the first republic, have been dealt the short end of the pestle in the making of our national cake (more like Ogbono soup), and therefore the serving and eating have been grossly and wantonly disproportionately in favour of the ruler-class. 

Our military interventionists came with their suspicious missions of cleaning the Augean stables, and most, if not all, left with the treasury cleaned! In fact, one of them, still alive to brazenly interject in our current affairs once in a while, was beside himself wondering how the Nigerian economy had not collapsed with the relentless attacks launched at it by unscrupulous managers. Of course, the effect of all these years of pillaging, banditry and sporadic attacks on our economy, hopes, ambitions and infrastructures, and our people by persons who crashed their ways to power, would create in subsequent generations of Nigerians a frightening imagery of hopelessness in forward planning, fruitlessness in new thinking, rigid clutch onto power, remorseless schemes to frustrate peace and progress, and a general sense of strangulation by power addicts bereft of any progressive ideas. 

 In such a shocking state of dreadful lack of sensitivity or life-changing selflessness, how would the love of Nigeria germinate in any Nigerian youth? How do you prick the hearts of the young ones to plant seeds of patriotism? How would the usually resilient spirit – the can-do insurgent spirit of our youth – rise against the lethargic spirit of  the consumptive Nigerian establishment class, so as to reshape their national destiny?

Yet, we know that Love conquers all – as the Good Book says. Permit me to show you a window, please.

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