Lagos — As we touched down in J'burg last week Friday, it suddenly struck me that Nigeria will celebrate 50 years of Independence on October 1, 2010.
That year has become very magical in the calendar of both Nigeria and her arch-rival, South Africa. That is when the World Cup will come to Africa for the first time, and South Africa, understandably, and unarguably, has beaten us to it. In October next year, Nigeria will expectedly, and certainly, roll out the drums of celebration, in our typical fashion, and invite the world to see the shame that we have become in 50 years.
Not that our leaders care anyway. I'm certain that their speech writers, and their accomplished spin doctors, would have enough to write, and enough to say about how tall we have become in Africa and how we are taller than Goliath, the fabled giant of biblical times. We would reason that there is nothing strange if we've allowed the Davids of South Africa and Ghana to beat us. After-all, history is replete with repeating itself.
As we left the heavenly Oliver Tambo Airport and drove into town, I began to worry seriously about our beloved country. The problem is I love Nigeria too much despite our unending miseries. No nation in Africa should be greater than ours: I began to daydream, as usual. We are blessed with the largest population of black people on earth. We are beautiful and brilliant. We are confident, agile and hardworking. We are smart and intelligent. We are bold and ambitious. We are daring and adventurous. We are fashionable and trendy. We are religious and supposed to be God-fearing. We have been entrusted with everything - gold, iron, bauxite, coal, cocoa, oil, gas, bitumen, cotton, wildlife, groundnuts, most fertile land, awesome coastlines, vegetables and fruits, arts and crafts, brains and wisdom that should make everyone of us prosperous.
But our prodigiously wasteful and insatiably greedy rulers have chosen to throw us down, from the pinnacle of the temple to the bottomless pit of hell
As we got closer to our destination in Sandton, I woke up from my slumber. I saw a nation that was determined to show that not all of Africa was useless. A nation that was rising from the ashes of her past, ready to challenge the world to a duel, and well-positioned to win. I saw a nation on the move, building a new super-structure, running against time, with the agility of a horse. I felt the gargantuan construction of surface rails, underground tubes, superlative stadia, ultramodern hotels, mass transit, information technology, ambitious road networks, power-plants, industrial estates and so on. I saw the aggressive promotion of tourism, investment, sports, entertainment, arts and culture, media power, and much more.
My driver was busy rhapsodizing on and on about the greatness of his country. Who were we to stop him? It was impossible for any visitor to ignore the spectacular preparations currently going on all over South Africa. Even at that, we were told, FIFA is still worried stiff about South Africa meeting her target. There are 25,000 extra rooms being searched for from God knows where. All manner of hotels and rented apartments are being erected at a frenetic speed. Even the South African cultural troupes are busy rehearsing tirelessly to showcase the best of their culture, as if 2010 is already here. How can we ever dream of hosting the World Cup, or the Olympics, if South Africa, with all its incredible efforts, and existing infrastructure, is still finding it difficult to meet its target? How relevant, really, are we in the comity of nations?
I sincerely don't know what we plan to do when we attain our golden age next year, but I'm already twitching, and palpitating, at the sheer thought of our usual giddiness and clumsiness whenever we hosted landmark events and celebrations. What exactly are we planning to showcase? Is it our rich culture and diverse traditions? Is it our arts and crafts, or our priceless artifacts? Where is our National Museum of Arts and Monuments? If it still exists, in what shabby state is it? Are we able to resurrect our masterpiece of a National Theatre that was once an iconic edifice? Is our National Troupe capable of reenacting the level of performance of those days of Ori-Olokun?
Where are the literary and entertainment icons, the Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, the Cyprian Ekwensis, the Gabriel Okaras, the Elechi Amadis, the John Munonyes, the Ola Rotimis, the Duro Ladipos, the Ogundes, the Mabel Seguns, the Oyin Adejobis, the Zebrudayas, the John Pepper-Clarkes, the Christopher Okigbos of our own modern times? Where are the political juggernauts of those days, the Nnamdi Azikiwes, the Ahmadu Bellos, the Obafemi Awolowos, the Tafawa Balewas, the Adesoji Aderemis, the Ladoke Akintolas, the Kingsley Mbadiwes, the Aminu Kanos, the Adegoke Adelabus, the Samuel Okparas, the Dauda Adegbenros, the Adeniran Ogunsanyas, the Odeleye Fadahunsis, the Adekunle Ajasins - those quintessential politicians who titillated us with their individual styles?
How ready are our palaces to welcome visitors from home and abroad? How are we going to celebrate the old and the new, our business titans and captains of industries? Are we going to seize this opportunity to reorientate our people and give ourselves a new hope for the future? Are we going to demonstrate our renewed determination to live together in peace and harmony, as a responsible people, though tribes and tongues may differ, or allow this opportunity to slip us by again?
How prepared are our security agencies to protect lives and properties? Where are the public utilities to serve the multitude of excited and excitable revelers that are likely to descend on our cities from all over the world. Would government allow the chunk of this project to be handled by members of the private sector, or turn it into another terrible jamboree in the hands of some hawks in government, from which emergency billionaires would emerge? We are capable of staging the biggest ceremonies in the world but we are always failure-prone because of the greed of a few of those at the top. Our obsession with awards of over-inflated contracts is usually our albatross.
The Yar'Adua government must do everything possible to rescue our country from the jinx of the past by gathering the best of Nigeria, wherever they may be on the surface of the earth to handle these elaborate events. We must seek some daredevil geniuses amongst us to package the event to a global community. Wole Soyinka was about 26 when he packaged his special play, A Dance of the Forests, for Nigeria's Independence in 1960.
It would be a shame of monumental proportions if the geriatrics amongst us should hijack this mega-celebration as they often do. We must avoid the primordial sentiments of promoting federal character above competence. President Yar'Adua must stop those who always reap where they have not sown, before they disgrace all of us again. He must discourage those who would go around dropping his name and that of his wife in order to corner all the juicy contracts which they lack the competence to execute.
Nigeria urgently requires the services of exceptional events planners from any part of the world, but under the supervision of Nigerians, just as it happens at THISDAY festivals. A group of imaginative Nigerians must be assembled to write up what the events should look like. This must be taken seriously. Awarding contracts that would run into billions of Naira should not be the primary motives of our governments, at federal and state levels. We must invite brands experts, advertising czars, media gurus, events managers, stage planners, directors and producers, paramedics, sound engineers, animators, and so on, under the supervision of a respectable Nigerian who must be from the private sector. The conduct of the members of the planning committee must be very transparent and patriotic. Nigeria must begin to apply prudence in her existence. The days of foolish spending must be over. South Africa would not be able to attain its present height if it was possible for one leader to escape with one billion dollars.
In the last ten years, nothing has been done about our terrible roads. If the question must be asked, what happened to all the huge budgets allocated to the works department? What has happened to all the money given to the power sector? Even if we were adding 1,000 megawatts per annum, by now we should have added 10,000 megawatts since President Obasanjo was forced on us to serve out what should have been Chief Moshood Abiola's tenure. What happened to our rail system? It would be nice to know how much we have spent searching for a solution.
The Federal Government of Nigeria is the most wasteful spender on earth. It would have been great if we got results. Part of the stupidity of government is the decision to have a Petroleum University in Kaduna. I disagree with those who are contesting its location. My position is if indeed we need the university, we should maintain the one in Effurun, and establish petroleum departments on a few campuses. How many graduates of petroleum studies do we want to produce in Nigeria in any case? Are we the only oil producing country on earth, or why is our own situation always different? The billions that we are about to waste in Kaduna should be pumped into upgrading Nigerian campuses which have virtually become eyesores. We cannot continue to produce stark illiterates and hope to be the giant of Africa.
We must begin the rehabilitation of Lagos in earnest. Lagos is our New York. If we get Lagos right, it would affect the rest of Nigeria positively. The visionary government of Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola should be supported by the federal government instead of the unnecessary war being waged against the state. The audacious success of Lagos should be emulated by all. Even the powerful Sultan of Sokoto has acknowledged the miracle of Lagos, while the Northern governors were bemoaning the lack of progress in their region despite producing most of Nigeria's presidents. Most of the talakawa can be taken off the streets if our leaders do the right things. We cannot celebrate our 50th anniversary in our squalid conditions. As we flew out of South Africa last Tuesday, I kept wondering what magic Yar'Adua can perform in the next one year
Between the House and Abiola
When I wrote my article of last week, titled The Spiteful Haters of Abuja, little did I expect it to generate as much response as I got. While many readers commended the information supplied to power my argument in favour of Abiola's recognition, there were a few who thought the article was too vitriolic. I agree. Like Wole Soyinka would have put it, "a mad situation requires a mad treatment." Nothing in this world could be too much to compensate for Abiola's ultimate sacrifice. As a friend described it "Abiola's body became the national fertilizer for our democracy in Nigeria."
I'm happy that the article has yielded some positive results at the House of Representatives. I just received the news from home, at the Afenmai World Congress ceremonies in New Jersey that a motion seeking to name a monument after Abiola has finally sailed through at the House. I'll love to commend and congratulate our lawmakers for doing what is right and just at last. But what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. The National Stadium Abuja is what Abiola deserves, not the derelict National Stadium Lagos.
Also, Abiola already has a stadium named after him in Abeokuta. I hope someone somewhere is not being clever by the half, and playing a cruel joke. Any attempt to insult the memory of Abiola will never work. Abiola was an international asset to Nigeria. He was never a local champion. Our lawmakers should please complete the job by elevating Abiola to his well-deserved national stage. I hope they'll find the courage to do so and put this perpetual debate behind us.