Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Raising A Toast to Nigeria on Her 50th

Patricia, grandmother of two, is “dead proud” of her mug. It is almost as old as she is. She was one of five children in her family when they each got one, and hers has survived intact, with the inscription as clear and proud as it ever was: “NIGERIA. INDEPENDENCE. 1ST OCTOBER 1960."

The Black Tie affair was held at the Federation Club, a building purchased and run collectively by Liverpool’s Africans; an establishment so respectable that one had to dress formally to go there. They welcomed whites too, despite the fact that the courtesy was hardly ever reciprocated elsewhere in the city. That evening, Black and White rose together to toast the future of Africa’s newest and most promising nation.

Well, the nation born that day has grown up into quite a dysfunctional 50-year-old. The most widely touted and accepted reason for this is said to be the serial corruption of its leaders. Of course, there is no corruption anywhere else – certainly not in Britain: not in the House of Lords, not in the House of Commons, in Local Government, anywhere. Ministerial office (and certainly that of Prime Minister) has never been, and never will be used as a vehicle for personal enrichment, during office or afterwards. No corruption in America either – not in the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the White House. The Presidency is always attained by transparently free and fair elections, and nobody ever needs a well-placed relative to help swing an election, or needs to break into opponents’ offices for any reason whatsoever. And Presidential resignations will of course be seen as a high, honourable standard to which future Nigerian Presidents should aspire once in a while.

And talking of election rigging, it has never been proven that the outgoing British Administration engineered the rigging of the elections in 1956 which prevented the man regarded by many as easily the best candidate from becoming the first Prime Minister of Independent Nigeria. Many wonder what might have happened if Obafemi Awolowo had assumed office, just as they wonder what might have happened in Congo if Patrice Lumumba had not been assassinated with the compliance of Belgium and the CIA, eventually ushering in Mobutu Sese Seiko.

But of course, we must move forward, not dwell on the past, or blame others for our problems. All Nigeria’s ills are definitely Nigerians’ fault after all. All that oil and foreign aid, and the money ends up being stolen and spent abroad. The British and other European bankers gladly take all this loot for safe-keeping: better to use it to “create wealth” in Western “casino banks” than to provide health in Nigerian clinics. The European and other oil companies that make billions while leaving nothing but pollution behind them do so because it is Westerners’ God-given right to have as much oil as they want for their cars. Look closely enough in the Bible, and you might find the justification, just as justification was somehow found there for the enslavement of Africans.

This historical landmark will hopefully make us take a hard, honest look in the mirror. By “us” I don’t mean just Nigerians. When for example we see Cadbury’s - that great, previously British institution which gets much of its raw material from Nigeria - sold to an American company with the loss of hundreds of British jobs (not to America but to Poland), we are reminded of how closely connected we remain, and how it is in all our interests to solve Nigeria’s and Africa's problems together, by recognising and tackling greed and corruption everywhere, and promoting fair trade, everywhere.

So, how to mark this anniversary in Liverpool? The Federation Club is long gone, and Africans have lost all the buildings they once owned that were big enough to hold a celebration of the size held in 1960. Not that anything remotely similar could be successfully organised, for the solidarity and fraternity between Nigerians and other Africans in Liverpool has, like in the Motherland and elsewhere, dissolved somewhat. Besides, they would probably need Local Authority funding for such an event now, and that is in desperately short supply these days.

In the solitude of her living room, Patricia pours some palm wine into her fifty-year-old mug and raises a toast to Nigeria’s future. She hopes the survival of the mug is a good omen. It reminds her of something the “Yoruba aunties” would say to console a woman who had suffered a miscarriage. They said the rough translation was, “Take heart. The water may have spilt, but the calabash remains unbroken.” In other words, as long as you remain fertile, more (healthy) children will come. Nigeria’s fertility is without question. Among her children at home and spread all over the world, there is an abundance of talent, industriousness, resourcefulness and imagination. To that list we must add hope and optimism that, in the words of the National Anthem, “The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain”.