My dearest five-year-old Nigeria,
I’m writing you this letter fully knowing that you’re going to think everything I’m about to tell you is complete rubbish, because at the stage you are now, you’re a nation with so much promise and hope; a nation that is out to conquer the world. Okay, right off the bat, I will tell you that your plans to conquer the world are not going to happen.
Today, October 1, 2019, I am 59 years old and you are five years old and I’m writing you this as a warning of things to come. For you, it has been five years since your illustrious children such as Herbert Macaulay, Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe helped gain independence for you from the British colonial masters. And even though that journey was riddled with several road blocks, on October 1, 1960 when you were granted independence, you came out of it in the end with a hope for a very bright future. Oh what a time, what a time! I, myself, remember very fondly the pride on the faces of my young children back then, the hope in their hearts, the beauty that lay across your breadth, the envy of the world at the promise you held…Behold the giant of Africa; behold Nigeria!
But as you read this letter, very shortly a chain of events will occur that will have such a disastrous and far reaching effect and give way to the circumstance that propels me to write you this warning letter today.
These chain of events will start on January 15, 1966 in a military coup. I wish I could tell you everything to stop your children making the same mistakes mine did, but I can only say a few. The rest you have to figure out yourself. There is so much you need to know about the things you will be going through very shortly. Some of this won’t make sense for a long time. And some of it will go against everything you know about yourself. But it needs to be said by me to you.
I know it may sound ludicrous to you now, Nigeria at five, but there is so many hard truths to tell. You are going to be a nation that is reviled and mocked the world over and your children are going to harbour such a deep and innate hatred for each other, the likes of which created such catastrophe and pain during Hitler’s Holocaust and the sectarian massacres in Rwanda.
Extremism will run so deep in the veins of some of your offspring that they would commit the most monstrous of acts against one another. Bigotry will eat at the heart of your very own that their spirit and soul will only exist in the dark corridors of loathing and hatred. Those of your decedents, whom you bequeath the mantle to lead your kingdom will betray you in the worst of ways; they will bastardise their position and loot your treasures dry. Selfishness, greed, corruption, pain, poverty, suffering will come to define your children as a people and you as an entity. Your children will kidnap each other, commit crimes against each other and render your land with the most dire of security situations. They will be scared to go out of their homes or even be in their homes because of this insecurity.
One day, you will be a 59-year-old, who will be immature and have no sense of direction. Your many years will be marked by nothing apart from nonsense, lawlessness, crumbling infrastructure and little power infrastructure. All you will be able to boast of at 59 will be dilapidated schools and glorified universities where strikes, violence and cult reign supreme. At 59, you will have an epileptic election system and an elite force that cares little about the mass population in your space.
As I write this to you, I can only boast of a few major achievements other than terrorism, kidnappings, armed robbery, stealing of public funds, political instability and 419. Today, you are one of the poorest countries in the world despite the huge human and natural resources you have had at your disposal.
You will be seen as a tragic love story, looked upon as a pathetic entity and as a reprehensible excuse for a nation. As big and populated as you are, you will feel minute and unworthy whenever you face those that should not even square up to you and those, who have not had the opportunities and resources that you have been endowed with. Africa and other nations on our continent will be suspicious of you. Your fellow Africans will carry out senseless xenophobic attacks against you. And if you look past what you may consider to be a cruel assessment by your continental siblings and by myself, lives a hard truth that you must come to terms with before you can make right what is wrong within you.
When you look at your existence since 1914, you will see many of the mistakes you could have avoided and many of the bad choices that you made. As I stand here at the age of 59 writing to you at the age of five, to my five-year old self, I don’t think either of us could have imagined we would be living a nightmare at the age of 59.
When you get to where I am now, you will recall all the incidents that led you to where you are and you will regret that each incident wasn’t addressed and tackled there and then.
In 1964, when we were doing well, we ignored the eruption of several crises such as the fractionalisation of the Action Group Party in the Western Region, the census crisis, the electoral crisis, Tiv crisis and the agitation by minority people for greater autonomy and we swept those troubles under the carpet ignoring the fire they would ignite.
As I reflect, I remember the mess created by the toppling of the civilian government of Sir Abubukar Tafawa Balewa on January 15, 1966 in a military coup that was led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.
When the Prime Minister, the Premiers of the Northern and Western regions, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Akintola were all killed, it was inevitable that the embers of ethnic nationalism and regionalism would be inflamed but we did nothing to mediate between our children then. A lot of damage control could have been done then.
Then there was the civil war. Yes, the civil war! Believe it or not, your children will go to war against each other, be cruel to each other and massacre each other. After the war when it was announced that there would be ‘No victor and no vanquished,’ we knew that the proclamation was complete rubbish. After all, how can groups of people go to war in which one group is decimated and they be expected to feel like a victor and not the vanquished? Again we did nothing to settle our children’s minds.
During the course of our development, when the military was playing Russian roulette with the leadership of the country by overthrowing each other, we never tried to heal the deep scars that the nation carried within the psyche of the individuals that participated in this macabre dance. Up until now, that dance is still being played with the same actors still actively participating and sabotaging each other in politics.
When the military promised to give way to civilian rule, yet annulled the freest and fairest elections we have ever seen, it was amazing that it never occurred to us how much the course of our route would be changed. The military danced with your future and made a mockery of the proposed democracy on our land.
When we eventually had a constitution, which was to guide our new democratic dispensation and within that constitution, no state was allowed to adopt any religion as the state law, many thought it was because we wanted to protect the country against the rise of religious extremism. Yet when some of our children went ahead to develop religion as a state law, we did nothing to remind them that civil aspects of religious law was already part of the state law because the Penal Code included civil parts of Shari’a law. Out of fear, we watched as some governors used religion to gain political favour and we kept silent when that seed grew to a point where people are justifying the mass murder and decapitation of fellow Nigerians in a misrepresented interpretation of faith.
When we drowned out the fighting and drama between our own children, in our own home, we gave way to the negativity of the few bad spawn within our midst. And this is what has shaped what I am and what will, in due course, shape who you will become.
I am giving you the chance that I never had. I am telling you that you have no choice, Nigeria at the age of five, but to make yourself right, to battle your demons and heal yourself from within. To give your coming generations a fighting chance, you must desperately fight to escape what I represent today. I need you to realise the effect that my grown-up actions and the actions of our children will have on the next generation of Nigerians, who watch and learn from the bad example I have set.
I know that you cannot get everything right and you cannot be perfection, but what is important is for you to try to be better than I am. You have got to get it together and fight for your future my dearest Nigeria at five.
I understand that some of our children and even you sometimes think that the problem of Nigeria lies in the creation of Nigeria in itself. There is no doubt that the underlying objective for the fusion of the colonies and protectorates that eventually made you a nation was purely economic from the point of view of the British colonialists. This has led to the view that Nigeria is a failure because she was cobbled in such a manner. But even as some describe us as ‘a mere geographical expression,’ we should never subscribe to that view. After all, there are so many countries with great industrial, military, economic and political powers that were artificially created in the same manner. That has never been and will never be an excuse.
That is just the tip of the iceberg Nigeria at five. Like I earlier mentioned, I felt the need to write this to you because in 54 years’ time, you will find yourself in the middle of confusion, which may be the precipice of your existence. This should be your wake-up call. See the beauty and virtue of your differences and diversity and you will realise that your cup is half full, not half empty.
My failures leave you with many valuable life lessons. Use this to your advantage in order to make sure that your greatest weakness actually turns out to be your greatest strength. I know it’s a tough one to swallow, but it will only be upon that realisation that you will be able to start turning things around. Even if the differences that represent us are not going to go away, once we learn to harness it, it will lead us from a rather self-destructive path to a highly productive one.
You must not let anything distract you and blind you to what’s really in front of you. And what really is in front of you Nigeria at five? Do you know? Well, I think that…You are! You are young and you don’t even know yourself yet. You think you know and you want to assert that you do, now that you’re a certain age, but you don’t. What’s in front of you is a whole world of mistakes and bad choices beyond your imagination. And my warning to you is to tread with caution as you move ahead, Nigeria at five.
Put yourself, and your growth and development first, grab the unity that you promised your children who were the forefathers. Unity…Yes unity! That is the key. If you dissect your innermost problems Nigeria, you will find that in the core of each and every one of your problems and mistakes lays the lack of unity and the religious, ethnic, tribal and regional dichotomy that drives your children and drives a wedge in our necessity of that unity.
You must teach your children that the unity of you, as the nation, Nigeria at five, must come before the unity of any tribe or region. It is only then that you and they will be able to objectively separate the good from the bad and ostracise the bad and uphold the good in the interest of the nation. It is only then that you can see facts clearly through clear vision not through bigoted and jaundiced eyes.
Everything you do, every thought you have, every choice you make creates a legacy that you will hold within your entity and that will come to define your history. It’s imprinted on you as a nation and on generations of your children and it affects you all in the most subtle ways; ways that you may never be aware of.
I am at a place now that I can only describe as the tipping point. Those leading my children are putting together a ‘Next Level’ agenda that has the potential to turn my fortunes around, to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. Will that happen? Only time will tell. Only those at the helm of affairs have the power to steer us clear from more mayhem and put us back on the course of development. Will and can they do it? Only time will tell if they can and will.
With all that in mind Nigeria at five, please be very conscious, be very careful, be very God fearing, be very just, be very honest and be very smart. God’s speed little brother. I wish you the best for the next 54 years when we shall hopefully merge again as one. I will be watching with high hopes for you.
Sincerely and forever with you always,
From Nigeria at 59.
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