Opinion: Vital lessons from the 1960 Independence Speech of the first Nigerian Prime Minister – By ADEWALE AKANDE

map of Nigeria

In 1960, Nigeria became one of the seventeen Sub-Sahara African nations that gained independence from their former European colonists. This year, Nigeria independence anniversary celebration adds to many years and decades of an independent sovereign nation with different systems of government of irresponsible representatives and without a viable consensus on which model and calibre of representatives that will best suit her political, geographical characteristics and provision of holistic strategies for sustainable economic development. Reading through the lines of the 1960 independence anniversary speech delivered by late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the then first Prime Minister of Nigeria, I came across of some succinct extracts from his speech on this occasion he described as “our great day has arrived” and “a wonderful day” after “fifteen years” they (our nationalists) began the agitation and waited for that so long to make this historical feat. By arithmetic summation, it means that the independence agitation started in 1945. Would there be any different story from our present predicament has it been our independence was granted earlier than 1960?

Meanwhile, the “great” and “wonderful” historical achievement of 1960 according to Balewa has turned to be “anni-horribilis” for the citizens of a sovereign state called Nigeria.  Are we getting better or worse in this country? As we are trying to regain our nation back from past rogues and hoodlums that called themselves politicians, the situation of the country has not been socially and economically better-off for the populace as a result of the same greedy and incompetent leaders that always “sneak” or carpet-crossing” themselves into the corridors of power to “represent” us by all means. Almost three decades ago, to be precise, in 1993, a year before his death on July 27, 1994, the one of the Nigeria`s best-known critics and educators, late Dr. Tai Solarin. He wrote in his open letter to General Ibarahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) on the issue of June 12, 1993, Solarin captures the situation of Nigeria in 1993 as thus: “Never in the history of Nigeria has the situation been bleaker. Nigerians glean food from waste dumps and outsiders wanting to see how well the drain the country has gone, health-wise…most hospital wards have been deserted for lack of medical equipment, of medicine and of drugs. All our (public) universities are caricatures of their old selves…All institutions of learning, starting from primary to university have been bled dry for lack of books and learning-aids…Economically the country is ruined. Agricultural are at their lowest ebb for practice; no industry could be referred to as being vibrant; over 95% of the wealth of the nation is derived from oil which source, should it snap tomorrow morning, would find the country totally prostate”.

Another aspect of his speech that needs to be taken seriously is the issue of regional self-government in which had been in practice even before gotten independence as explained by late Balewa. He said; “… the emphasis was largely upon self-government. We, the elected representatives of the people of Nigeria, concentrated on proving that we were fully capable of managing our own affairs both internally and as a nation”. The system of regionalism is not new in Nigeria as the best way for healthy competitions and sustainable developments among the regions.  To make it a double tragedies; our representatives are not capable and patriotic.

On the promise made for being a sovereign nation, late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said; “We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to responsible government are well-founded and having been accepted as an independent state we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilization”. Nigeria`s subsequent governments since independence have deviated from this promise. The nation in the past three decades have not been able to provide for security of lives and property of its citizens even as it being the first function of a democratic (any) government.  In Nigeria, human life has no more value. There is no more respect for the principles of rule of laws and human rights. Many lives have been lost with insurgency, military and extrajudicial killings for religious, ethnicity and communal reasons.  This is basically non-preservation of civilization.

Moreover, as the late Prime Minister was rounding up his independence speech fifty-eight years ago, he acknowledged “… the countless missionaries who have laboured unceasingly in the cause of education and to whom we owe many of our medical services. We are grateful also to those who have brought modern methods of banking and of commerce, and new industries”.  Though, despite given my applaud for our founding fathers for able to achieve in their agitation for independence but I have my personal grudge with them. Checking out the profiles of our founding national leaders in Nigeria, almost all of them studied both at home and abroad, knew what a qualitative standard education was and why there was a need for Nigerian kids to be well educated. But they were unable to unite together after independence to declare a well-cultured, qualitative, life-enhancing, international standard and compulsory basic elementary and secondary schools educational policy for all Nigerian school-age kids till the adolescent age of eighteen on Saturday, October 1st, 1960. The serious and commitment outstanding investment on basic elementary education distinguishes developed nations from developing nations. This consequently makes provisions for transforming the citizenry and the country as a whole while we let Nigerian kids to be on the streets hawking and begging when they suppose to be learning in different schools. That is why we have so many universities with thousands of graduated engineers but we have to seek for Chinese to construct our roads and we look out for imported machines for our household and industrial use. Besides, our medical system and our public primary and secondary schools are still remains as it was being described earlier by late Tai Solarin. Most of the old foreign industries have left us and we are shamelessly wooing neighbouring nations to come and control our industrial sector.

On a final note, this year independence anniversary celebration should be taken as a time for sober reflection on our political system and the coming general elections. Also, we Nigerians have come of age to unite and find practical solutions to our passive problems; leader irresponsibility, pervasive corruption and lip-service investment in our educational system which arguably the”micro” root of our problems. Let us keep away petty sentiments and biases to make this nation a great one as we cannot dodge the consequences of our irresponsibility and non-political participation as an electorate.  I will end this piece with one of my favourite quotes from late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo; “If you are emotionally attached to your tribe, religion or political leaning to the point that truth and justice become secondary considerations, your education is useless. Your exposure is useless. If you cannot reason beyond petty sentiments, you are a liability to mankind”.


Adewale T.  AKANDE,  Barcelona, Spain. Tel: +34632511469 adewale_akande@hotmail.com

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