Nigeria celebrates 57 years as a nation state. There are silver linings in what appears to be dark clouds.
He was gushing with immense pride at what the founding fathers had just achieved.
“Today is Independence Day. The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years every Nigerian has been eagerly looking forward to. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent sovereign nation”, Balewa declared with plenty of optimism at the square now named after him, in Lagos.
He added that; “now we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well- built upon firm foundations”.
Balewa received the instruments of a new nation from the last British Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson.
In and around the venue of Balewa’s address, cultural troupes, student groups and masquerades, took turns to break into a song and dance.
Above the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) in Lagos where the Prime Minister delivered his address, fireworks illuminated the skyline and chants of ‘Happy Independence Day Nigeria’ rang from Lagos to Sokoto.
The national pride across the regions was palpable and infectious. Nigerians strutted the place with a spring in their steps.
Nigeria, the founding fathers told everyone who cared to listen, had arrived.
“I remember with nostalgia and a sense of gratitude to God, how we stood for prayers led by the Anglican Bishop of Lagos, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lagos and the Chief Imam of Lagos”, recalled the late Chief Solomon Lar, a former Governor of Plateau State, to the Vanguard newspaper.
“They all prayed for this nation and when it was exactly 12 midnight, the floodlights were dimmed and the light came up again, ushering a new Green White Green banner that replaced the Union Jack on the flagpole.
“We sang the new National Anthem with great hope and sense of total commitment to our great nation, Nigeria. Later in the morning, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, represented by her cousin, Princess Alexandra of Kent, formally handed the constitutional instrument to the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.’’
After the bloody coups, counter coups and military interventions of the ‘60s through ‘90s, Nigeria appears to have settled rather nicely into its latest democratic experiment.
In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo who served briefly as military president from 1976 to 1979--following the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed--was elected president on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), heralding a new era for a nation that had literally been to hell and back.
In 2015, Obasanjo said Nigeria has made decent progress in spite of its enormous challenges.
The former president also added that Nigeria has to learn from its mistakes in order to make meaningful gains in the future.
“When you look at the life and history of those that you may call settled societies or reasonably matured countries, we are not doing too badly”, Obasanjo said during an interactive session with journalists in Abeokuta in 2015.
"Such successful nations would have had mis-steps just like we are having, they have made mistakes and most of them have learnt from their mistakes, they have been dynamic in the way they have progressed and I believe that we are doing the same thing.
"What is important is that certain cardinal principles, cardinal features of our national lives, values, should not be eroded. And then we should also be willing to learn from our mistakes.”
In March 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari assumed the reins of leadership at the center after a newly formed opposition APC defeated the PDP during a keenly contested and followed general election.
President Buhari got the nod of voters on the back of a campaign promise to tackle endemic corruption, halt the terrorist insurgency in the Northeast and revive an economy that had tanked; no thanks to wastefulness and larceny from the political elite and their cronies.
As Nigeria commemorates 57 years as a nation state, Buhari has promised to deliver on those campaign promises--midway into his first term as a democratically elected president.
“October 1st remains a special date for all Nigerians as this marks the day when we attained one of the most precious of human desires — freedom”, Buhari said during a nationwide address.
“Over the years the country has gone through trials and tribulations, but October 1st is always a day for celebrations.
“It is a day for thanksgiving, reflection and re-dedication.
“It is also a day for remembrance. We should remind ourselves of the recent journey from 1999 – 2015, when our country happily returned to democratic rule”, he added.
Nigeria has also battled separatist agitations in the Southeast and South South regions. In recent times, soldiers have clashed with secessionist agitators in Abia State.
However, Buhari has warned that Nigeria won’t break up on his watch and has promised to steer the nation to pastures new.
“In the past two years, Nigeria has recorded appreciable gains in political freedom. A political Party at the centre losing elections of State Governor, National Assembly seat and even State Assemblies to the opposition parties is new to Nigeria”, Buhari said.
“Added to these are complete freedom to associate, to hold and disseminate opinions. Such developments clearly attest to the country’s growing political development. But like all freedoms, this is open to abuse.
“As a young Army Officer, I took part from the beginning to the end in our tragic civil war costing about two million lives, resulting in fearful destruction and untold suffering. Those who are agitating for a re-run were not born by 1967 and have no idea of the horrendous consequences of the civil conflict which we went through.
“I am very disappointed that responsible leaders of these communities do not warn their hot-headed youths what the country went through. Those who were there should tell those who were not there, the consequences of such folly.
“At all events, proper dialogue and any desired constitutional changes should take place in a rational manner, at the National and State Assemblies. These are the proper and legal fora for National debate, not some lopsided, un-democratic body with pre-determined set of objectives.
“Government is keeping up the momentum of dialogue with stakeholders in the Niger Delta to keep the peace. We intend to address genuine grievances of the communities”, the president promised.
It’s a view echoed by Senate President Bukola Saraki who says being together is Nigeria’s biggest asset.
”It is apparent that the need for peace, unity and stability in our nation cannot be compromised”, Saraki said in an e-mailed statement issued on the eve of Nigeria’s 57th independence anniversary.
“Our togetherness, abundant resources and diversity are our greatest asset. Let us therefore refrain from tendencies that would pull us apart.
“It is necessary at this time in our developmental journey that we all redouble our resolve to make Nigeria take her rightful leadership position among her peers,’’Saraki added.
For Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola; "Our strength lies in our unity. We should therefore avoid anything that will destroy our unity and corporate existence.
"I urge Nigerians to cultivate the habit of hard work and high productivity in order to create wealth, stimulate national prosperity and the growth of the economy”.
Political leaders across the partisan divide still retain plenty of hope that Nigeria is on the path toward greatness, even though they’ve been most complicit in robbing Africa’s most populous nation of its rightful place in the committee of nations, through the years.
There’s plenty of patriotic fervour and infectious nationalism on the streets as well. Miniature flags have decorated cars and buildings across Nigeria’s major cities in the weeks leading up to the nation’s 57th anniversary. Restaurants and offices are being draped in flowing green/white flags from Lagos to Abuja.
And commercial bus drivers and cyclists are making the rounds with flags pinned to their windshields and caps.
“Our nation will be great. We’ll get there, surely”, said Titilayo, 26, a wide grin plastered on her face as she hung out with friends at the Ikeja City Mall last weekend. She had her face and those of her friends painted in the colours of her country as well.
For 32-year-old Henry who works as an accountant in one of Lagos’ finest auditing firms, his faith in Nigeria has never been greater.
“We have all of the human and natural resources to be one of the greatest nations on earth. That often gives me hope that we’ll turn the corner sooner than later. No one should bet against Nigeria”, he added before handing this writer a hand flag as an independence day gift.
There has been plenty of that pride in the nation’s flag on display; all week long. Vendors of miniature flags have certainly made a killing in recent weeks.
57 years ago, Balewa spoke so glowingly about the Nigeria of everyone’s dreams as the British flag was lowered for the green and white of Nigeria. There have been dashed hopes and unfulfilled promises along the way in all of these years.
The nation may have been 57 years late to the party, but there are signs that Nigeria is finally turning the corner.