As Nigeria celebrates its diamond jubilee of independence, Tam Fiofori, 78, a renowned Nigerian documentary photographer and filmmaker, reflects on the hopes and aspirations of the Nigerian people prior to independence.
The widely-travelled writer and critic, who was Sun Ra's (an American pianist) manager in the sixties, is renowned for popularizing what came to be known as Afrofuturism, which entails the fusion between the culture of Africans in diaspora and technology.
In this interview, "Uncle Tam", as he is called by admirers, bears his mind on what pre-independence days were like, as a teenager at the time. He also draws a comparison between Nigeria of the colonial era and post-independence era, while also touching on how the country can move forward.
PT: How was the quest for independence like then? Better put, when it was certain Nigeria was heading towards being independent, what was the pulse of the country like?
Fiofori: There was a general feeling of great national expectations in the air leading up to independence. This was based on the progressive strides made by the three Regions (Northern, Western, and Eastern Regions) in the areas of education and manpower development, infrastructure development and the spirit of oneness in the belief in Nigeria.
Everybody, particularly young people, envisaged a great united Nigeria that would hold its own compared to newly independent countries like India, Ghana, and most importantly would emerge as the leading Black nation in the world with the potential to become a first-world country soon.
PT: What does Nigeria mean to you?
Fiofori: Nigeria to me is a very important experiment and work-in-progress. It is a big challenge; in that, can a country with over 300 ethnic nationalities blessed with great manpower, human and natural resources and a hard-working ambitious and dogged population work as a united and prosperous nation? Will it be a success story to prove to the world and be remembered as a proven permanent reality that Black people like European and Asian people can establish and run great developed countries?
PT: The question about the 1914 amalgamation has not ceased to be raised. Are we better off for it?
Fiofori: The so called 1914 amalgamation was for the convenience of the British colonial government. It benefited the North unfairly and some argue that the North is still benefitting more so as it's the wealth generated from the Niger Delta that has kept Nigeria going for five decades now. I think the oil-producing areas should get much more than 13 per cent from oil and gas revenues. I also think that oil blocks should be allocated to states rather than few favoured individuals.
PT: Being one who experienced Nigeria's pre- and post-independence era, how would you contrast these two periods?
Fiofori: Unfortunately, as against the pre-independence days when there was a united goal to make Nigeria one great country, it now appears that there are now strong forces and even reasons that are creating division and threatening the fabric and the very idea of one Nigeria.
PT: Some have attributed the nation's weakened civil service to the series of coups the country saw over the years, do you agree?
Fiofori: For whatever reasons the federal and state civil services are fast becoming failed institutions with weak quality manpower, poor work ethics and very noticeable lack of dedication. There used to be a civil service examination that ensured that only the best brains were employed in the federal civil service.
Now, because of the quota system as against merit, nepotism and corruption, the civil service has become a dumping ground for inferior manpower and the nation is seriously suffering and handicapped by this current state of affairs.
PT: Is Nigeria best as one, and how can we foster oneness?
Fiofori: In today's very competitive world, Nigeria is definitely better as one strong united country. Opportunistic selfish narrow-minded lazy politicians and ethnic so-called leaders must realise it requires hard work, compromise, inclusiveness and the sense and zeal of a bigger picture to gradually build and sustain a nation.
PT: Would you say the democratic system we run has worked for us?
Fiofori: I personally think like the late great Anthony Enahoro that Nigeria is better off with a parliamentary system of democracy. It is cheaper, requires more accountability and allows for better debate before important decisions are arrived at.
The presidential system is too ego and power-driven, unduly expensive and our present class of politicians are under-developed in statecraft and are shamelessly exploiting it at the expense of the people.
PT: Does this suggest we return to the regional government we ran during the first republic?
Fiofori: I believe a decentralised system of administration is better for Nigeria. We already have too many states. Going back to four regions is not the answer. Rather we might try geopolitical zones of six or maximum eight. But this restructuring will take time, patience and expertise. Look at Brexit.
We talk a lot and most times very flippantly. Do we have the so-called legal and economic experts who will diligently unravel this present system to create a more efficient and equitable structure? This is our biggest challenge. Talk is cheap and we seem to mess up important structural changes such as the privatisation exercise.
PT: National apathy and political unawareness is rife among youths, any way back for them?
Fiofori: The youth are supposed to be tireless watchdogs fighting for Nigeria's future which rightly and naturally belongs to them. It would seem that unlike the youth of the sixties through to the nineties they have become complacent and chosen the wrong role models in today's Nigeria.
Money has become their God and easy quick wealth by any means their sole goal. Running abroad is not the answer. They have the numerical strength to strive for a better inclusive and just Nigeria which will be theirs. Their salvation is in their own hands but they have to think and collectively work hard to achieve a better future Nigeria.