By Felix Oboagwina, Tunde Opalana & Bolaji Saka
Palpable despair and a measure of hope have enveloped Nigerians as they observe the country’s 60th independence anniversary.
Had the organised labour not called off its strike planned for Monday September 27 at the last minute, today’s commemoration would have been dogged by an outpouring of anger and workers shutdown of the economy in the wake of new policies of the Federal Government considered unfair to the masses.
One of the prominent Nigerians who argued that sixty years on, the nation has nothing to celebrate is Honourable Wale Oshun, Chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG).
In an exclusive interview with Daily Times, Oshun, a former Chief Whip of the House of Representatives (1992 to 1993) and former General-Secretary of NADECOAbroad, said: “For me, there is absolutely nothing to celebrate, other than having a big introspection as to what can be done to streamline nationhood to ensure that every national has a sense of belonging.
And that is where the work that needs to be done lies.
“It is not just about talking about the past but looking into the future and asking: What are the steps that should be taken to ensure that the country remains a united country and that its citizens have faith in the country?
And that requires a lot of hard work. It requires that the country looks at itself and restructures itself.
“Any pretence that it is okay as it is; that the structure and social infrastructure are okay as they are, any pretence about such can only mean that we are totally uninterested in having a nation in another five to 10 years, maximum 10 years.”
Speaking on the need to renegotiate the nation’s future, Oshun said: “Even the British that coerced us into one single entity comprises of nationalities –the English, the Scottish, the Irish and the Welsh.
And you can see that Northern Ireland is a country on its own. There was a long-standing dispute about the Republic of Ireland.
The Scots have just voted on whether to leave or to stay and they voted to stay. That of the Soviet Union where, for instance without any war, they had a dissolution into component units of countries.
“This is to say that because we are all human beings and there must be these changes from time to time, countries and nationalities do get to a point where they get tired of one another or of the system that they are ruled through and from that moment they may ask for a reworking.
And that is what several component parts of Nigeria are now asking for.” The Afenifere chieftain came down hard on the government’s plan to celebrate the anniversary, describing it as a “misplaced priority.”
According to him, “There is nothing indeed to celebrate other than acknowledging that YES we still remain a country, but a country that is drawn at its seams by everybody.
This is to say that there is work to do and defining the workload and being committed to that workload.
It is about defining the structural modifications that need to be attended to so that the country can remain firmly on a foundation.”
He said further: “The corrosion now is as deep as the foundation. So the job that has to be done is looking into how to reform or rebuild that foundation so that at the end of the day the country can survive.
“It is not about celebrating, celebrating what? Is it that we have about 80 percent of our school children in school?
Is it celebrating that literacy rate is 90 percent and above? Is it celebrating that our average lifespan has increased from 48-52 years to 75-80 years as obtains in a few other developing countries?
Is it celebrating that the average level of living is of a nature that can compete with countries that are in the process of developing?”
Former Vice President Abubakar Atiku was equally not excited about celebrations, stressing: “Our nation is in dire need of healing.
We must foster unity and douse the tense atmosphere which is breeding feelings of alienation. We must promote freedom of speech and freedom after the speech.”
In a statement he signed personally, Atiku pointed out Nigerian UFC champion, Israel Adesanya, who recently defended his title, as a metaphor of the country’s “indefatigable spirit”.
He said: “Truth be told, there are many Adesanyas in every nook and cranny of our land. They give meaning to our aspirations. Sadly we have failed them.
The structure on which we have hinged our political and economic emancipation has equally failed us. We do not hope to continue doing the same thing with jaded and unworkable system and expect to get a remarkable result.
“We may have missed countless opportunities to reset our mindset moving forward as prosperous people, but this 60th anniversary of the life of our nation offers introspection.
The youths of Nigeria represent the future wealth of the fatherland and the only way we can tap into them is through quality investments in education and skills acquisition.
“Through the creativity that they inject in their passion, the excellence of the Nigerian youth is a global signature in diverse fields notably in sports, as they can be found in medicine, in education, in business and finance, agriculture, and in our entertainment industry.”
The former vice president also bared his mind on the country’s economic trajectory, warning: “As a nation, we asserted our independence in our infancy by lending to other nations.
We must be careful not to lose the hard-won independence of our heroes’ past.
By learning to live within our means, we can put a stop to the needless borrowings that threaten our economic independence.”
On his part, National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus said: “We have some explanations to make before God over what we did with what was made available to us as a country “This country needs a resetting and our leaders deserve some spiritual reawakening to get their acts together and be able to utilize the abundant gifts for the elevation of the citizens.”
He added: “The heavy burden on the daily lives of ordinary citizens is too much. There is the need to address hunger in the land as well as insecurity.
The multiple taxation policy in the country is killing business especially at this challenging time. The government must address this burden.”
Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, insisted Nigeria is not a failed state despite its numerous challenges.
He told newsmen in Minna: “I will say we have problems. Are we on the way to being becoming a failed nation?
It depends on which side you are coming from and where you are looking at. I agree a lot of things could be done better.
“If we as a people are having a feeling that we are becoming a failed nation; what are we doing that is making us a failed nation and what is it that we should do to get out of this bad perception?
“Despite our problems in the nation, I think we still command a lot of respect in the comity of nations and we could do more.
And the only way to do more is for all of us to put out hands on deck to ensure that we do the right thing.
“What I think we need to do is sit down and think how we would work as a nation, how there would be more equity and justice as we move forward.
How do we make sure that there is equal representation in all we do and also how do we disabuse the minds of Nigerians in this issue of religion and ethnic differences.”
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, also insisted that the challenges faced by Nigerians are surmountable.
He made the remark during Wednesday’s plenary session on the backdrop of Nigeria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration.
He noted: “All that is required is for leaders to be determined, sincere and honest in dealing and tackling the problems.
We should never despair; many countries, if not all, had to go through challenges at one time or the other in their lives and this is our time, so we should continue to remain committed, focused and determined to ensure that we address the issues that we face today.
“And the issues are very clear, especially the security situation.
The economic situation is something that affects the entire world but we can still come out stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee Anniversary of our country as a sovereign nation, the occasion is also auspicious for sober reflection on the progress that we have made, the challenges that we face and the future that we desire as a nation.”
He explained that “in spite of challenges such as the differences in tongue, modes of worship and other elements of diversity posed to nationhood, we have remained together.
“Our national journey may have been tortuous, our progress slow and unsteady, and primordial fears and sentiments may have occasionally cast dark clouds over our unity and threatened our resolve to stick together.
But if we look at great nations throughout history, we would realise that such experiences are common features of nation-building.”
He said that as legislators, the National Assembly would continue to provide true representation to the Nigerian people and strive to make government work.