Nigeria will be 100 years on January 1, 2014. The Federal Government is proposing a centenary celebration. However, opinion is divided on the relevance of the celebration in a country that has failed to resolve the fundamental issues germane to nation-building and peaceful co-existence. AUGUSTINE AVWODE and JEREMIAH OKE report, The Nations
ON January 1, next year, the Federal Government will roll out the drums to celebrate Nigeria’s 100 years of existence. It is a milestone. Thus, President Goodluck Jonathan has set up a 19-man Planning Committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim to fashion out a programme commemorating the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates by the colonial governor, Lord Frederick Lugard.
In his letter to the Senate, President Jonathan said the committee had articulated a framework for the celebrations, which had already been presented to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and governors at the National Economic Council for their input.
The letter reads in part: “You may wish to recall that on the 1st of January 1914, the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria were formally amalgamated into one country. This implies that the 1st of January, 2014 marks one hundred years of our union as a nation. Notwithstanding our challenges, it is considered that this is a significant anniversary deserving of celebration by the citizens and government of Nigeria.
“It is against this background that I constituted a 19-member planning committee for the centenary celebrations, under the chairmanship of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
“The purpose of this letter is to request a convenient date for the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to receive a full briefing on the proposed programme for the centenary celebrations, so that your input will also be accommodated in the framework.”
The Committee had actually moved a step ahead before Anyim appeared before the senators. On January 14, Anyim had unveiled the programme at a private sector stakeholders’ engagement forum, where he outlined major aspects of the celebration. These include the centenary torch lighting, unveiling of the centenary logo, launching of the centenary official portal, and the presentation of the centenary documentary by President Jonathan. Also, the Abuja Centenary City is being proposed for the Federal Capital Territory.
Anyim said the president will also flag off the 100 centenary projects and introduce the company that wins the exclusive right to the centenary project.
However, it appears many Nigerians are not enthusiastic about the celebration. In the Senate, the lawmakers made it clear that government could go ahead, provided it would not commit public funds into it. Senate President David Mark emphasized that his understanding of Anyim’s presentation was that the federal government would not finance the programmes.
“Government is not committing a dime to the centenary celebration; that is my understanding, so far. Government has no commitment at all, except for the land in exchange for the swoop, whatever the arrangement is. Truly then, we have no reason for this briefing. Where do we participate and how do we come in?
“It is entirely a private sector commercial exercise or business. If the idea is just to keep us abreast of what government is doing then, there is no need for question and answer or further discussion.
Mark was quick to point out that he was still not comfortable because of the possibility the government coming back to be involved one way or another in the financing. He pointed to the plan to mobilise youths across the country for the purpose and wondered who would pay them.
“But my worry is let it not appear that somewhere along the line we have been committed and then there is financial involvement”, he said.
Mark’s concern was more with who picks the bill, but Nigerians are evaluating the convoluted trajectory the country has gone through in the last 99 years, than painting the town red. While acknowledging the fact that 100 years in the life of a man, or any institution is a major landmark, they argue that the challenges confronting the country have limited the enthusiasm.
Former President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Dozie Ikedife, who dissected the country, wondered whether people were being prepared to celebrate success or failure of nationhood.
“No doubt, 100 years is a landmark in the life of any nation. But have we really earned our economic independence? Or are we just shouting independence? Are we really a country, united in purpose and vision , or we are a gathering of people who are managing to tolerate one another just for the sake of living together? What we should do, really, is to sit down and evaluate our journey so far with the aim of making up for our failures as a country and as a nation. It is certainly not a time for the celebration of the mere existence of a country,” he said.
Former President-General of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof Kimse Okoko, agreed with this submission. He queried the proposed celebration, stressing that the 1914 amalgamation is the bedrock of Nigeria’s problems, including ethnic antagonism, insecurity, infrastructural decay, and lopsided federalism.
“The 1914 amalgamation has been detrimental to some of the ethnic nationalities. It was a forced amalgamation that is largely responsible for the problems confronting Nigeria now. The antagonism that we frequently experience among the various ethnic nationalities is as a result of the forced amalgamation. Our priority today is how we can evolve a united country. We are at a crossroads; the security situation is in a mess and it has been difficult to forge a truly unified country.
“We should concentrate our efforts in forging a united country where all segments are truly respected and where their aspirations can be met. And the only way to do this is to restructure the country along the lines of true federalism. That is the only route to realizing our potential as a country. True federalism, and, that is what we should pursue than celebrating what has been the cause of our problems”, Okoko insisted.
Veteran unionist Chief Frank Kokori threw his weight behind the Senate. He cautioned against extravagant spending of public funds on such a project, adding that there are many things that the federal government should consider, rather than celebrating centenary of the amalgamation in elaborate way.
“Though the Senate did not totally condemn the proposal, because a hundred years is worth celebrating, but it has to be checked to avoid the frivolous spending of our money. But we are all happy to hear that the project will be sponsored by the private sector or individuals. However, there is no way government will not spend a little; it should spend judiciously and wisely”, he added.
A member of House of Representatives, Mr. Abiodun Awoleye (Ibadan North Constituency) said he supported the project, if public fund is not committed to it.
“They can go ahead, if it will not involve spending the people’s money because it is a good development. I agree with them that it is worth celebrating but, personally, my fear is that there is no way such a project will be done without the government being part of those to fund it.
“Though we have challenges of insecurity across the country, celebrating it could also bring back the primary objective of the amalgamation, which was to forge one, big united and strong country out of the regions. But it will be disastrous, if they use public money ”, Awoleye said.
Eminent politician Alhaji Balarabe Musa disagreed with the concept. He said Nigerians are not happy with the situation in the country, adding that another jamboree will multiply their woes. The former governor of Kaduna State said the celebration may promote corruption in government.
“Normally, I would have supported the celebration, but not in elaborate way, in spite of the situation in the country, because a hundred years is not a joke in the history of the nation. But this government is corrupt and they are looking for every means to squander our resources.
“Obviously, there are problems, but we are still one nation and no country of the world is crisis-free. So, it worths celebration.But in this context, I don’t think it is advisable to celebrate it because this government is corrupt and I am sure they will abuse it. That abuse should not be supported by a rightful thinking person.
“When they say they will not use government money to sponsor it, government’s money will be committed to the project. The private sector they are talking about, how was it created? They were created for corruption and they use them for corruption. They plan to celebrate it for their own ego and pocket, nothing else. So, let us condemn it because we can use public money for better things”, he added. The Nations