by Solomon Osadolo
(This piece was written on October 1st, 2014)
I can’t tell what makes me more excited about today – the fact that it is the anniversary of Nigeria’s independence or that it is a day off from work. In the drive to and from the office yesterday, and the few other times anyone made reference to today in the past week, it was in the light of it being a public holiday – a day whose significance was shrouded in the allure of the one-day freedom from the system it represented. There’s not much talk about the independence issue itself, the essence is viewed with overwhelming apathy. Some people are even oblivious about it all. It’s just another day in the system.
The president gave a televised address this morning, as presidents are wont to do on days like this. A sufficiently prepped speech in which he managed to regale us with the various achievements of his government (just in case the opposition had forgotten or were still in doubt), and made passive aggressive calls to awaken our collective sense of patriotism for our nation so as to overcome the many challenges we’re fraught with, but an ultimately underwhelming affair it was. Perfunctory stuff. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people wouldn’t have power in their homes this morning to watch the address; and how many more wouldn’t tune in regardless.
Far too many young Nigerians in their 20s and 30s have the concept of independence lost on them. The British left these shores 54 years ago and yet, people in this age group have never lived in a Nigerian system that properly worked as it should. They hear tales of a once robust agricultural sector, a standard educational system, and a thriving middle class economy – stories of a nation that once worked; tales of dreams that never materialised due to internal rifts that propped up and never went away. There’s a huge disconnect between the Nigerian story they’re now a part of and the one they heard of growing up. The president spoke about how his administration had conquered hunger as one of the achievements of the MDGs and how the economy is looking up again. And, even though there’s sufficient data to buttress the points, it all feels too surreal, if not contrived, to the regular citizen walking the streets. Some find it difficult to put on the patriotic garb on days like this – the struggle to survive in the system hardly allows for sanctimonious affections for the greater good.
As I write this, power has since gone out (You’d think exceptions would be made for Independence Day). But the story is not altogether bad.
I got home from work two days ago and, on turning on the telly, stumbled on a program called Young Inventors showing on NTA. A kid was exhibiting his invention – a prototype for a collapsible bridge designed to ease up and manage traffic for ferries and road transportation. The boy couldn’t have been more than 14 years old but his presentation was excellent.
It was another reason to not lose faith in Nigeria. In the midst of the chaos, our resilience in adversity keeps burning brightly. There are many relatively young Nigerians who have started companies/businesses and are beating the odds everyday in corporate Nigeria. In a society largely bereft of heroes, many are inspiring themselves and others to push the boundaries on what makes us all great.
It is easy to get caught up in the cynicism or apathy (which is basically passive aggressive cynicism really) brewing in the polity today. And justifying that stance isn’t going to be difficult giving the everyday realities. We want more from our country obviously. We want our schools to work; we want the government to work better in creating a better nation for us all. I look at many people who say they’ve given up on the Nigerian project and their eyes betray them. I look in my heart, even on days I don’t feel particularly patriotic, and the numbing truth rings through. It’s there in all of us. We love this country. It is imperfect and fraught with problems and anyhowness but it is the only home we know. Our angst against the system may come in rip roaring bouts sometimes, but beneath that veneer of cynicism and, against our better judgement, we still believe. Our hope burns through.
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