If Nigeria were a ninety eight and a half year old man who is looking forward to his 100th birthday in 15 months' time, will you complain that he is frail, stooped, ponderous and absent-minded when he should be vigorous, strong, matured and well-ordered?
Since, somehow, the expectations of a human being's progression with age are inverted when it comes to a nation state, people expect a 100 year old country to be robust, steady, powerful, well-fed and well-led, hence the general disappointment with the state of Nigeria as it rapidly approaches its Centenary.
On January 1, 2014 we will be celebrating 100 years since Lord Lugard, a man who was many things in Britain, picked up his quilt pen and applied an eraser across a map of Nigeria. He erased the boundaries of kingdoms, caliphates, chieftaincies and autonomous communities, amalgamated all of them into one entity and launched them into a new life as one country. His wife Flora Shaw helpfully supplied the name "Nigeria" to aid his effort.
Did the experiment succeed? It depends on what the intention was. To be founded by a man who at one point in his eventful career was a British mercenary in Nyasaland may not look like good omen for a country. Old man Lugard probably was not thinking of a strong, united, harmonious political entity with an evolved national identity, a strong economy and an on-going political concern when he sat down to do his Amalgamation work. Uppermost in his mind was the desire to institute an outpost for the supply of cheap raw materials to the British Empire. He also saw the natives in the amalgamated land as potential consumers of British textiles, cutlery, earthenware, Raleigh bicycles, Rothmans cigarettes, Austin, Morris, Comer and Land Rover jeeps and trucks. That intention paid off handsomely and is still paying off, though some bigger imperial powers have supplanted the Brits over the years in reaping from Nigerian sweat.
Yet, as human enterprises so often turn out, Lord Lugard's creation made much progress in an unintended direction. That Nigeria became such a prominent demographic power in Africa and the dominant economic power in West Africa was probably not intended by Lugard. That Nigeria sometimes refused to dance when the imperial powers pulled some puppet strings must have annoyed Oga Lugard.
That millions of Nigerians relocated out of their tribal areas and resettled in other areas, leading to a thorough mixture of ethnic groups, the spread of languages and the evolution of some common national passions [football being the chief one] was hardly outlined by the Colonial Office.
Pretending to love it, in recent decades, the British and other Westerners have insisted that Nigeria must democratise, hold free and fair elections, respect human rights, eliminate corruption and generally institute 'good governance.' There are reasons to doubt their sincerity in this matter because in the 60 years in which the Secretary of State for the Colonies used to appoint rulers for Nigeria and its regions, they were not elected by any Nigerian. The Governor General, Regional Governors, Residents, District Officers and Assistant District Officers were not democratically elected, though they believed they were good and effective rulers.
Today, even though many people think poorly of us, Nigerians certainly have a very high rating of themselves and most Nigerians believe we should have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, casting a veto as regularly as the Russians say "nyet." Old man Lugard will not believe this.
The surprise there is, even as so many Nigerians overrate our standing in the international arena, they are full on complaints about our own worth and efficacy right here at home. Nigerians bitterly complain about what they call today's state of insecurity, even though life is more secure in the country today than it was 100 years ago, when slave raiders still lurked outside city gates. Most Nigerians will tell you that today's infrastructure is dilapidated, when in 1914 there was hardly an asphalt road anywhere in this country. So, on the day that Nigeria clocks 100 years, expect to see screaming newspaper headlines with vox pops saying "Nigerians lament state of the nation."
Who created the imaginary lamentable situation? Everyone thinks "they" did, not him. Nigeria's youth, who are demographically dominant today, are approaching the centennial with a collective feeling of betrayal.
They feel that they have not been given enough educational, recreational, inspirational and job opportunities.
The elders too feel betrayed, that their years of hard work as civil servants, rail labourers, postmen, police sergeants and Army corporals who fought in the Civil War were not rewarded. They accuse the youth of throwing away the good values inculcated in them in favour of foreign cultural values, including a passion for foreign football and foreign films, 419, wild parties, cultism and beige drinking.
Almost any Nigerian you ask will blame the leaders for problems, saying they are corrupt, inept, nepotistic etc. Listening to Nigerians talk, you often get the feeling that the leaders are aliens who fell from the sky.
The leaders themselves, if you manage to find them, would say the problem is that the followers are not following. Traditional rulers often say that their subjects are now off into many bad things and are not doing what they are told to do, as was the case in the olden days. Clerics, for their part, feel that today's flocks are no longer listening to preaching. Some upstart young priests often come up and upstage the Old Guard clergymen, rewriting the Divine message in the process. The Muslim clerical establishment, for example, is having serious trouble having its message of "Islam means peace" to be heard above the click, clank and boom of Boko Haram rifles and IEDs.
So, when it comes time on January 1, 2014 to mark 100 years since the Amalgamation of Nigeria, don't expect Nigerians to sit down in quiet contemplation and chart a course forward for the next 100 years. Expect to see instead a pan-Nigerian congress meeting marked by endless finger-pointing, multi-directional name calling, mutual recriminations, equal opportunity blame-apportioning, and collective self pity.