With the elections fast approaching, there is a lot of tension in the air as people wonder what the next four years will look like for Nigeria and Nigerians. Would it be a change from the current status quo? Would it be business as usual? Or would we need to dodge for cover? I hope never the latter. On my part, I am once again caught up in memories that leave a lasting bittersweet taste as they remind me of the hopes and disappointments that come with being a Nigerian.
In the 1960s, I was a young man who had just graduated college in the United Kingdom. I remember how excited I was and very much in a hurry to return home to my beloved country, Nigeria. It was a nation that was united and emerging, a country that was getting ready to compete with the rest of the emerging nations and a country that was expected to lead the rest of Africa. The prospects for Nigeria were endless. I recall telling my friends and mates in the United Kingdom before I left to return to Nigeria that, if there was any continent that was likely to become another America, it would be the continent of Africa, led by Nigeria, because Nigeria had everything: human capital, fertile land for agriculture, oil and gas, gold, diamond and more. It was easy to get caught up in my excitement as they wished me well and made plans to come visit my country soon.
Another key part of the ’60s was that it was also the era of space exploration. The continent of Europe had explored space, the Americans and the Russians had landed on the moon. It was my greatest hope, as someone who loved adventures and discovering new things, that Nigeria would follow and I would likely be part of that exploration. In my euphoria, I could not wait to get home to commence the adventure, so I decided to kick-start it by driving my old car from London across Europe, over the Mediterranean sea in a ship and back on land to navigate through North Africa and across the Sahara to get to Nigeria in a journey that lasted two months and almost took my life. I remember vividly the moment the idea to drive across the Sahara took root in my mind. It was sometime around the end of summer 1964. I had just watched a video film made by my friends who had just come back from an expedition through the Balkans in East Europe. I was supposed to have been part of the expedition but I had dropped out at the last minute because I was unable to raise the required £300 (three hundred pounds sterling) like the others to buy the equipment required for the journey. Upon their return, I watched the video clips, and I felt very bad.
Noticing my depression, one of my closest friends at the time, Len Cocker, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “C’mon man, don’t get emotional. We can do bigger things in the future.”
I was not impressed and neither did I lighten up. The reason was simple, my studies were over and I was preparing to return home to Nigeria. So, he suggested jokingly that we should drive across the Sahara. Intrigued, I asked him, “Is it really possible to drive through the Sahara?” He confessed that he had no idea but promised that we could find out. That was it for me, although my friend decided not to embark on the journey after we found out it was possible but very dangerous. I, on the other hand, was not deterred by the warnings.
So, I did it at the end of 1965 and that was not the last time I made the journey despite the challenges.
My return home was quite the experience. I was celebrated and became the Desert Warrior, known as the first man to drive solo from the UK to Nigeria. That was to be the start of something great, or so I thought, as I had barely settled in when the first military junta began following the 1966 Nigerian coup d’état, which overthrew Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and made Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi the head of the Federal Military Government of Nigeria. He too was soon overthrown and murdered in a coup in July of the same year. This followed a long list of more military coups then a civil war that lasted three years. During that time, we went from four regions, namely, the Northern, Western, Midwest and Eastern regions, to 12 states and now 36.
The military coup, the civil war, the killings, the divisions and the bitterness that followed divided our country to a point of no return, causing the nation to degenerate to one huge ball of fractured pieces that may never fit quite well together again.
Every time I talk to my children and grandchildren, biological and non-biological, across the country, they have asked questions like, will Nigeria ever get back to the good old days of my time? I have found this question very useful and most of us in the age bracket of recipients of those good old days must provide the answers before we all go back to our creator, and for us to do that we must all go back to the beginning. The good Nigeria I grew up in gave me so much: a sound education, the ability to travel the length and breadth of the country and outside its shores, it also gave me hope. It felt like one nation and I can say this after living in almost every part of the country. So, allow me to pose some questions to my generation and those who remain very much alive to provide the much-needed answers that this nation needs before we can begin a process of reconciliation and healing:
• What started the Western Nigeria crisis that was partly responsible for the military intervention in 1966?
• Why did the military overthrow themselves?
• Why the civil war – what happened to the Aburi accord?
• Why was the best election ever conducted in Nigeria annulled?
• Why is the military now wearing civilian clothes still in power?
• Why are we talking about Biafra almost 40 years after the civil war?
• How was Western Nigeria able to approach Oduduwa so diplomatically and even rule?
• Why did 11 states in northern Nigeria ask to belong to Sharia?
• What truly gave rise to Boko Haram and why are we still unable to tackle it?
• Why are people at the top very uncomfortable with the idea of resource control?
We, the people of Nigeria, must find answers to these questions, if not, the unity that we so very much desire will continue to elude us. Our inability to find answers has prevented Nigeria from emerging into its full potential 58 years after independence, leaving us still as a third world country.
This is my 49th article in this column that started a year ago, in article 32, titled “Nigeria: A Nation in Need of an Intervention,” I had stated that there was a need to for us to look back a little and review all the crises that have engulfed this country since after independence in 1960, making it look as if we are not capable of governing ourselves. I noted that it was time we prepared the platform for truth and reconciliation, if we had any desire to embrace lasting peace and unity. There are many conversations that need to be had to aid or assist us in reviewing our mistakes, our bad deeds and bad judgements. We can learn something from South Africa, even if it means asking for help from outside the country. Recall that the UK did the same to resolve the Northern Ireland crisis that lasted almost three decades, with the help an American Senator named George Mitchell. People like Senator Mitchel, Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu are difficult to find but not impossible. Barack Obama is a great choice because he displays a clear understanding of our unique problems and has shown himself capable of carrying the leadership mantle. So is Robert Mugabe, for a different reason that may be open to debate.
I conclude by reiterating that the people of this country have been injured and fractured with unnecessary killings and division. The truth, therefore, must be told so that the process of healing and forgiveness can start and, in so doing, a united Nigeria can return once more.