THE title of the last book by Chinua Achebe, There was a Country aptly and sadly describe contemporary events in Nigeria, which has unfortunately become, in the words of another Nigerian icon of the Arts, Hubert Ogunde, “a kicking ball of humanity.” Yet in my native Ilaje-Yoruba tribe, it is said the knowledge of the fact that there is a caring owner is the reason even an unsung stray puppy (omo aja jigwene) would not be struck by neighbours.” Conversely, when the Nigerian child, not even a dog, is struck anyhow and each time by neighbours, it sends a clear message of the level of respect is accorded the Nigerian nation.
Even those of us, in the generation of Achebe’s children, can authoritatively assert that we were born into and saw a country which was, comparatively, difficult to toss around even by World powers. It was beyond imagination that any country in Africa would toss light seeking the red eyes of the Olumoko, as the Yoruba would say.
The memorable speech of the late Nigerian Head of State, Murtala Muhammed, at an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in1976, aptly described the place of Nigeria, once upon a time.Reacting to the letter from American President General Ford, which tended to dictate the position of African countries on the liberation struggle of Angola, Murtala declared at the meeting, inter alia: “Mr. Chairman, when I contemplate the evils of apartheid, my heart bleeds and I am sure the heart of every true blooded African bleeds. .Rather than join hands with the forces fighting for self- determination and against racism and apartheid, the United States policy makers clearly decided that it was in the best interests of their country to maintain white supremacy and minority regimes in Africa. . Africa has come of age. It’s no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power.
It should no longer take orders from any country, however powerful. The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or to mar. For too long have we been kicked around: for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests and act accordingly… The time has come when we should make it clear that we can decide for ourselves..”
Every Nigerian government, from independence, made the liberation of Southern Africa, from apartheid and white supremacists rules, not just the corner stone of our foreign policy, our internal politics, economy and socialisation processes, were also geared towards the awareness that we were never truly independent so long as any part of Africa was under colonialism or white minority rule.
Murtala’s successor, Obasanjo, went further by, among others, frontally declaring support for the Soviet inspired MPLA in the Angola struggle, which was against American interest, in the bipolar politics of the era. The nationalisation of British interest and assets in the British Petroleum and Barclays Bank, now Union Bank, were some of the drastic economic diplomatic measures, by the Obasanjo military regime, in addition to intensified support for the ANC struggle in South Africa in terms of aids and training in diplomacy and armed struggles. Nigeria championed the boycott of all sporting events in which South Africa was allowed to participate, effectively ostracizing the apartheid regime in all such international events. Far flung, territorially, from the theatre of the liberation war, the importance and contribution of Nigeria earned her the distinguished membership of the Frontline States, comprising the Southern African countries of Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Politicians, students, artistes, clergymen, statesmen and all, have never been as united as Nigerians were for freedom of South Africa. Sonny Okosuns sang Fire in Soweto burning all my people and demanded “Who owns the land”. Legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in Sorrow Tears and Blood, sarcastically taunted the Nigerian military, querying soldiers’ invasion of his house. He said: “dey just dey yab for nothing”, rather than vent their spleen on “Namibia and South Africa.”I remember, the visit to the University of Ife in 1982, by the Nigerian Representative in the UN, Alhaji Maitama Sule. His emotions laden speech, about the sufferings of the blacks in South Africa and the need to end it immediately, drew uncontrollable tears from the elder statesman and his thousands of audience at the Oduduwa Hall. Workers, youths and students were mobilised, under different organisations, contributing money and materials, out of their meagre possessions, for the liberation struggle.
Ironically and most unfortunately, hateful behaviours towards citizens of Nigeria and other African countries became evident, almost soon after South Africa’s first non-racial election in April 1994 and Nelson Mandela’s assumption of office as first black President in May of that year. The South Africans only seemed to be waiting for the exit of legendary Mandela, as President in 1997, as xenophobic violence erupted in year 2000.
The point being made is that Nigeria which, even as a toddler nation, was the toast of the world in international peace-keeping and enforcing operations, which initiated and largely funded ECOMOG as the West African strike force, which was a prominent member of the Non-Aligned Movement and championed the world Medium Power nations through Professor Bolaji Akinyemi as fabulous foreign minister, which demanded, as of right, a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, with concomitant veto powers, which contested the position of the UN Secretary General with Boutrous Ghali and made proud by Emeka Anyaoku at the head of the Commonwealth, is today being dictated to and loathed by even hapless neighbouring states. Only few of us may remember that the Nigeria Police received gold medal as it was adjudged, by the UN, as the most effective and disciplined force during the mop up operations towards Namibian Independence in 1990.
Nigeria might not be a world super power, or a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but time there was, when it truly was the giant of Africa and in the West African sub region, the de facto super power. Those truly were times when Nigerians and our green passports commanded respect and no nation anywhere, least other Africans, particularly our dependent neighbours, would dare molest Nigerians.
Disrespect for us, world over, came about when we allowed every aspect of our social existence polluted by the impunity of politics of religion, ethnicity and North/South divides. As unassuming as President Shagari appeared, he dealt decisively with Matatsine and nipped the first festering insurgency on our soil. When militancy rose in the Niger Delta, in the late 1990s, propelled by clearly defined objective of fiscal federalism, it was dealt with, albeit yet inconclusively, by Presidents Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua, respectively, by a combined strategy of stick and carrot. When the north slipped into Boko Haram, galvanised by a labyrinth of social and economic deprivations, dressed in religious garb, required military efforts, by President Jonathan, as Commander-in-Chief, were frustrated even by political leaders of the Boko Haram frontline states. Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, in 2014, took to the Cable News Network (CNN) to berated the president, Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa claimed that war on Boko Haram was meant to rubbish the demographic advantage of the North in elections, a position echoed by Muhammad Buhari as the expectant messiah.
As Boko Haram became so hydra headed, the image of Nigeria being a serious military power, was gradually being rubbished. The once giant, developed the feet of clay and being exasperated, now seeks strength from its Lilliputian envious neighbours and their France master, to defend our internal sovereignty and territorial integrity. The myth of Buhari, as an expected messianic strong leader, was shredded when, under his watch, senseless killings, by Boko Haram, continued unabated with added audacity of attacking military formations and now coupled with mindless genocidal wars, unleashed on Nigerians by common herdsmen, who have virtually made nonsense of our security forces. The interpretations and effects of these killings are that lives of Nigerians mean little to the government and some marauding, indulgent and illegally armed criminals, citizens and aliens alike. Consequent disrespect and abuse by foreigners are a forgone conclusion.
Truth be told, most Nigerians in the Diaspora are, same with their compatriots at home, leaving lives of slaves, stripped of all honour. While in Europe and America we are tolerated as our descent to compulsive menial jobs oils the machinery of their economy, in the African states, any form of gainful employment, including such menial jobs and trading activities, are luxuries which petulant Nigerians have seized with characteristic braggadocio. Starved and deprived, the oppressed natives and immigrant distraught Nigerians, vent their mutual anger on one another, incapable of critical thinking that they are both of an economic kind. This will explain why some Nigerian youths would visit Shoprite facilities looting and destroying wares and merchandise of Nigerians, claiming retaliation against South Africa.
Nigerians outside will re-earn respect when our home is in order through a governance model that works for our polyglot territorial space. Honor and respect will return to us in foreign land, when we come to the inevitable reality that a nation of over 350 tribes or tongues cannot be ruled by the wisdom of a human Leviathan, in a unitary state veiled in federalism. Our people will find less attraction for lesser endowed foreign nations when we adopt the political formula that made our God-given resources work for our prosperity and posterity in the mutually beneficial competitive governments of our finding fathers.
Time is not our friend as the long ignored strident voice for true federalism, through restructuring, is evidently giving way for agitation for ethnic sovereignties. So long as banditry and killings ravage our land and our youths leave in droves, not minding slavery in the Middle East and death in the Mediterranean, so shall the rest of the world not give our people the honour due even to __omoajajigwene_ , the proverbial unsung stray little dog.
Omosebi is a former Commissioner in Ondo State and delegate to the 2014 National conference.