Column Opinion

Nigeria, Oh Our Nigeria

By Hassan Gimba

I must confess that the above title was inspired by Eric Donaldson’s song, ‘Land of My Birth’, from his hit reggae album, Kent Village, released in 1978. Some years ago, the song was voted the winner of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission’s “All-Time Best.”

Eric Donaldson, 75, was born after Jamaica’s Great Depression of 1930, which took a heavy toll on the country. Strikes and riots, most times messy and bloody, were commonplace. Inequality and injustice were the order of the day. These two were like the fertile soil and water that made crime fester. It was a hot socio-political environment, not helped by a stricken economy. That shaped the young Eric’s ideology and patriotism.

Thus, it was after his first song, ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ since he went solo, won the Festival Song Competition in 1971, taking the top spot at the competition, and became a local hit, that he wrote and sang ‘Land of My Birth’ in 1974, released it in 1978, at the age of only 27 years.

Part of the song goes, “This is the land of my birth; I say this is the land of my birth…I say this is Jamaica, my Jamaica, the land of my birth…I will never leave her shores, I will never run away…I will always believe in the black, the green, the gold (flag) I say.

“All nations greater of all the trials, we must face the test of time, that our people they are strong and we going to get along…For some people say we poor, but the progress you make, my friend, is not always how rich you are.

“Let us stop for a minute, count our blessings one by one…We should never be disloyal, but stand up and keep strong…My Jamaica is a beautiful island, she is the crown of the Caribbean Sea and our people they are free, no oppression here to see…With the prettiest women there be…and the hills, and the plains and the rivers and the valleys always make on the beach…”

A patriot of the first order, he never cursed his country through songs. He never saw tattered Jamaica as ‘Jaga Jaga’ (like some Nigerian musician did that irked President Obasanjo into an outburst) with unserious citizens crooning after him and dancing to the lyrics. And this is why Jamaicans are not crying today.

He never animalised corrupt, unjust, crime-infested, riotous, bloody Jamaica by defining it as an animal gathering of any sort. No. he told the world of his land of birth: “My Jamaica is a beautiful island, she is the crown of the Caribbean Sea and our people they are free, no oppression here to see.”

And God in heaven smiled down on him and answered his prayer, his wish.

His patriotism was luminous and searing. It permeated down to galvanise generations of Jamaicans, unleashing them on the world to take centre stage in many endeavours, etching the name of their land of birth in gold wherever they go.

We are now at a defining moment. 2023 and its outcome will shape many things for us. The tendency is they may make us more patriotic. Hopefully.

Take note of those who call themselves Obidients. Predominantly Igbo, they are now seriously working to be part of Project Nigeria. A welcome development because with no one they believe in on the ballot, like Peter Obi, holding elections in the South East next year may be problematic.

A greater number of them are congregating to bring their politics to the centre. Hitherto, some of them would refer to Nigeria as a Zoo, echoing Nnamdi Kanu, and prancing all over cyberspace, calling for their own country. Is their current infectious enthusiasm borne out of love for genuine democracy or out of a must-win psyche? Assuming the outcome of next year’s election does not favour their dreams, what next? Will they return to the trenches or continue on the path of national integration? Next year will tell.

If like the prodigal son, they are returning home, some of them are still carrying the baggage of exuberance: threats, blackmails, insults and abuses done on behalf of Kanu – and the killings, too.

However, because our Nigeria is degenerating into a country with no law and order, you see youths who do not even bother to hide their faces posting their videos on social media, holding guns and threatening to kill whoever voted differently from what they want.

This was one of the reasons there was a low turnout of voters in the election that produced Charles Soludo as governor of Anambra State early this year. Coupled with politics of identity, threats were made and people knew they could be killed if they voted for any other party other than the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) anointed by the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB). Fear was palpable and the best option was to boycott the elections if you had a different candidate out of fear for your life.

Unfortunately, this forceful, do-or-die attitude is akin to shooting oneself in the foot. It is a Catch-22 situation because there is always the risk that it can backfire. You can’t force other people in your area to vote the way you want, denying them the freedom of democratic choice, and then expect that you would be allowed to vote freely in their areas. Political leaders must urgently begin the process of enlightening followers on democracy, freedom of choice and, most importantly, bridge building.

Femi Falana, a conscience of the nation in the mould of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, recently said that “the federal government has made available N100 billion for revamping the textile industry; N850 billion for rice production; N250 billion for autogas vehicle conversion and N228 billion for the school feeding programme. Apart from its annual budget of N40 billion, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has received N100 billion as the first tranche of the 2022 budget to conduct the 2023 general elections.”

He went on, according to the report, to lament, “A government that can afford to spend trillions of naira on the aforesaid projects cannot afford to ignore the funding of higher education.”

I am not worried that those school children being fed with billions have no universities to go to because the lecturers are at home. I am more concerned with the sad reality that our educational system does not teach our students self-reliance.

Our school graduates – from primary through to tertiary – are unemployable because the jobs are no longer there. The public service is over-staffed while the private sector is struggling to survive. But these may not be issues if our educational system teaches students how to be on their feet. Yet the number of these youths keeps increasing yearly.

Nigeria, with an estimated population of about 210 million, making it the seventh most populous country in the world, is projected to have 263 million in 2030 and 401 million in 2050, which will place it as the third most populous country in the world. With a large population of strong, able-bodied, unskilled, unemployable, definitely hungry youth with poor education who must find a way to survive, tell me how crime will be reduced. The drive to survive is not only an animalistic desire; it is spiritual as well.

Some people think when people stop paying ransoms, kidnappings would abate. Are we serious? But is there a person who will refuse to pay ransom to secure a loved one when he is not certain that those saddled with the responsibility to secure them are willing to even try?

The best way to stop kidnappings and other crimes is for our security agencies to be more proactive. They must be vigilant in early crime detection and prevention. As a result of the Kuje jailbreak, Ghana quickly tightened its borders. No undesirable element will cross the country’s borders, not to talk of forming cells and networks to unleash havoc on its citizens and their socio-politico-economic ways of life. That is being responsive and proactive – taking care of a problem even before it happens, as opposed to here where we are always reactive. 

Then the governments must provide the means of survival for citizens. The environments must be such that small and medium-scale businesses would flourish so that they can suck in a lot of people into employment. Our education system must also be overhauled to focus more on skills acquisition so that graduates can be self-employed. That will cut the recruitment base of the crime industry. The more idle people are taken off the streets, the more the death knell sounds on crime, organised and unorganised.

There is a school of thought that believes infrastructural development should come after stomach infrastructure has been taken care of. What do you gain when the railway lines or electricity cables in the bushes are vandalised to service the stomach, or having the rail lines but no trains to ply on them? Those billions spent on rail lines or roads that people are afraid to follow will have more impact if channelled towards developing hundreds of cottage industries. When a greater majority of citizens are engaged and economically empowered, crime would fly away and roads and all would have meaning.

The governments at the three tiers must, as a matter of urgency, deploy all they have towards cutting down on the pool of ever-growing potential criminals.

Contact the writer: agimbah01@gmail.com

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