Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine


Nigeria At 24 - Nothing To Celebrate?

One of the reasons Major-General Muhammadu Buhari gave to justify the intervention of the Nigerian Armed Forces in the political life of the country on December 31, 1983 was the urgent need to restore the pride of Nigerians in their country again. Towards achieving this aim, a grand operation has been undertaken aimed at teaching Nigerians just that. The entire War Against Indiscipline (WAI) launched by the Federal Military Government (FMG) is supposed to be the key to solving all of Nigeria's problems - economic, social and all. The third phase of WAI in particular is supposed at its completion to have turned all Nigerians into patriotic and nationalistic citizens.

It is therefore most surprising that Gen. Buhari has banned all celebrations of Nigeria's National Day for austerity reasons. October 1, 1960 was the day Nigeria became an independent sovereign state and unless in Gen. Buhari's scheme of things, the day of his coup, December 31, ought to be ranked higher, then he surely has been ill-advised to allow October 1 to pass without any celebrations.

For the past nine months, he and his colleagues have been trying to teach their fellow countrymen how to be patriotic and nationalistic and more importantly, how to cut their coats according to their cloths, something which the politicians seem incapable of doing.

Here then is a great opportunity for the disciplined group among Nigerians to show how to celebrate, on an appropriate scale, without wasting the nations's money and to demonstrate that indeed, the things they have been talking about can be done.

Here is an even greater opportunity for the FMG to test and see how far their message has been accepted by their countrymen.

If there is ever a case for waving flags, October 1 is that day and if there is a need to rededicate oneself to the nation it is on the national day. There is a dangerous suggestion here that it is only when a country is rich and prosperous that a people can demonstrate their pride and joy in being citizens of that country.

Surely it should not cost the nation any money if soldiers stage a march past or could it be that the soldiers these days are so busy conducting affairs of state that they cannot afford the time, or, having become the rulers, marching is now somewhat beneath their elevated status?

There is the sad but inescapable conclusion therefore to be drawn from the FMG's ruling on the non-celebration of the National Day that they believe that at the age of 24, Nigeria has nothing to celebrate, an admission that would do more damage to the psyche of the nation than a physical assault on the country.

But then the re-emergence of the military in politics nine months ago was the clearest demonstration that in the eyes of the soldiers, Nigeria was still a child over whom a whip needs to be held and who ought to be ordered to do everything.

For, if the civilian population cannot be counted upon to conduct the affairs of the nation 24 years after the attainment of independence, at what age then will it be considered qualified?

Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the two elder statesmen of Nigeria who played such momentous roles in the fight for independence might not have agreed with their political rival Alhaji Shehu Shagari about the running of Nigeria between October 1979 and December 1983, but it will be surprising if they thought at the time that they were trying to gain independence that their labours would be only for soldiers to condemn all politicians 24 years later.

Today, military governors are promising prizes for people who would do anything that can be construed as patriotic or nationalistic! A state of affairs which must surely make the true patriots of Nigeria - the silent uncomplaining majority shed tears of humiliation. People who go about their daily duties quietly and with dedication, people who farm the lands and brave the seas to fish, people who drive rickety buses from barely accessible parts of the country, they are patriots and do not expect any rewards. There are many such people who have never done any of these things that makes people like Gen. Buhari feel an overpowering urge to become heads of state, and yet they do not think they ought to be congratulated or given any special prizes.

These people responded to the Awolowos, Azikiwes and Shagaris in their millions, they braved all kinds of weather to listen to them and cast their votes; the civilian politicians managed to strike a responsive chord in the hearts of the majority of the people, without any coercion, intimidation or promise of reward.

Might it be that Gen. Buhari and his colleagues have discovered that they are unable to touch that responsive chord in the Nigerian and are faced with the prospect of empty stands if they should try to organize celebrations on the National Day?

Is it possible that the FMG has realised that it takes more than threats and guns to bring out the nationalistic fervour in the people?

Could it be that even the strongmen of the FMG have lost their nerve and cannot summon enough courage to organize any celebrations because of the widespread hunger and devastation they have brought on the country after nine months of being in power?

The FMG and various members of the body have stated on occasion that they would not be swayed by public opinion since they are convinced they know what is best for the country. Nine months into their rule, therefore, it is a pity that they have passed over the opportunity to test public opinion on their performance so far. There couldn't have been a better test than the turnout of the National Day observation ceremonies.

The medical doctors who recently went on strike because of the deteriorating conditions in the hospitals gave the clearest indication yet of the judgement of the nation: if things were so bad under the politicians, under the soldiers conditions are intolerable.

The FMG have authenticated that opinion, by making it official that after nine months of military rule, Nigeria has nothing to celebrate.

talking drums 1984-10-01 Nigeria at 24 nothing to celebrate - Cameroon why the april coup failed