PROF. Jean Heskovits, the long-term watcher of Nigeria, last week came calling in these shores, to present a speech. It was at an event dedicated to the memory of a Nigerian patriot, the much-lamented General Joseph Nanven Garba: soldier, diplomat, sportsman, gentleman and patriot.
I think everyone should endeavour to read the truly remarkable speech Prof. Heskovits gave at the occasion. In truth, the intrepid academic knows our country and in the breadth of analysis and the sweep of description of the various aspects of the often controversial and clogged Nigerian persona and the country’s multi-layered history, she was able to remind us, as a friend of Nigeria, the importance of our country.
It is very refreshing to read through a speech which was damning in its description of our foibles and failures, but was filled nevertheless with an optimism about the Nigerian condition, if we get the basic things right.
Those who have made a habit of promoting the breakup of our country were reminded that it can never be done in a way that will meet their romanticised ‘post-Nigeria’ hankerings! In truth, as this reporter has always known and consistently argued, Nigeria is not the simplistic “mere geographical expression” of Chief Awolowo; the dynamics are far more complex.
In any case, there are no nations that came into being, as “acts of God” forget the racist pretenses of Zionism!); they are products of human social evolutions.
We can therefore work to build a country with the tremendous potentials of Nigeria, if the ruling class becomes responsible, driven by a nation-building ethos, while the citizens also imbibe the sense of responsibility which nation-building calls for. It is clear, that the combination of implementation of policies advocated by imperialist institutions and the irresponsibility of the ruling class, have lead to the gradual decline in the ability of the Nigerian state to provide basic decencies for the Nigerian people.
So social institutions that we took for granted a few decades ago, like the world-class university system; functional national railways system; the hospitals ran by qualified medical personnel, to mention a few, have become unavailable to the majority of Nigerians who have become overwhelmingly young.
A situation like that breeds anti-patriotic feelings; and then add the fact that we do not teach history in our schools anymore and you get the slide into the mindset of breaking up the country as the answer to all the problems in the land.
Nigeria’s problems are enormous but they are not insurmountable and Nigeria matters. Those who have taken the time to study Nigeria for decades like Prof. Jean Heskovits, know that for a fact. Unfortunately, there are many of our compatriots driven by anger, frustration and in a lot of cases, deep-seated ignorance of the values of history, to make conclusions that de-legitimise the country.
They undervalue the manner we have become so intertwined as a people; others parrot statements that we are not yet a nation, as if that is an occasion, not a process.
This does not underrate the frustrations that citizens feel in the hands of an irresponsible and uncaring state. But Nigeria is worth fighting for and it is the duty of its patriots to reclaim it for the sake of the present and the future.