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Commentary: Nigeria and the 63rd Independence anniversary

Nigeria was proclaimed independent from British colonial rule on October 1, 1960 following a wave of agitation for freedom across African territories in the late nineteen fifties.

Some of the patriots that led the struggle for self-rule were Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Abubakar Tafawa, Dr Herbert Macaulay, Dr Anthony Enahoro, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransom-Kuti, and many others.

Their struggle birthed the First Republic, headed by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as President and Prime Minister.

It was a parliamentary democracy based on a federal form of the Westminster model with three regional components of North, West, and East under the premierships of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and Chief Michael Okpara between 1959 and 1966.

A fourth component, the Mid-Western region, was later created in June 1963, led by Chief Dennis Osadebey from 1964 until the January 15, 1966, coup d’état, which dismantled that republic.

The national and regional governments not only laid a solid foundation for national takeoff, but they also built some of the most enduring legacies Nigeria has seen till today.

While the national government established the University of Lagos and the University of Nigeria Nsuka, the western region Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, established the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University.

Chief Awolowo also invested massively in agriculture, making western Nigeria the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, from which funds were generated to finance government projects and programmes.

From cocoa earnings, the first skyscraper in West Africa, the Cocoa House Ibadan, was built.

Chief Awolowo also established the Odua Investment Company Limited, a conglomerate with interests in real estate, printing and publishing, equipment leasing, food and beverages, agriculture and agribusiness, construction, manufacturing, hospitality, financial services, health care, oil and gas, energy, logistics, and telecommunications. He also financed the free and compulsory education policy.

Sir Ahmadu Bello, just like Chief Awolowo, built the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria through returns from agricultural investments.

Ahmadu Bello enabled the famous Kano groundnut pyramid and reformed the northern public service, prioritising capacity building to enable northerners to function better regionally and nationally.

Sir Ahmadu Bello constructed many roads, some of which are still being used today. Other institutions he established were the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC), the Bank of the North, and Northern Nigeria Investment Limited.

Chief Michael Okpara used agriculture to industrialise the eastern region.

He managed a large farm, which he called Umuegwu Okpuala, a model he encouraged eastern leaders to replicate and that made the region one of the world’s largest exporters of palm products.

He also enabled the coal mines, which employed people. Chief Okpara built solid infrastructure in the region.

Nigeria, however, got another chance in 1999, after 33 years of an unstable polity, with the election of a civilian administration.

Although civil rule has been restored for 24 years now, the symptoms of the military years remain indelible on many politicians and in the system as corruption remains pervasive in government, the economy is still battling to survive, infrastructure remains weak, unemployment is at an all-time high, and poverty remains pervasive.

Politicians are still involved in treasury looting and continue to breach public trust.

However, all hope is not lost as reforms are underway to improve the economy by reviving the textiles industry, railway system, and agriculture sectors; exploring the digital economy and marine resources; and developing green skills for a globally competitive economy.

These can be made manifest in the present administration’s quest for economic rejuvenation.

If these efforts are sustained, then the country can pull back from the brink.

However, these will only happen through the collective efforts of the leaders and the led.

The leaders must be seen to be sincere in their people-oriented programmes and projects.

They must be seen to tackle corruption headlong without fear or favour, while the people must be supportive of government intentions and programmes.

Writing by Tijjani Ibrahim of our Current Affairs Unit; Editing by Julian Osamoto