By Obi Asika
When I was approached to write this piece, I was and perhaps still am ambivalent about what approach to take to explain my love affair with my country. I am not one of those Nigerians who seem to spend all their time waiting for something to complain about their country or looking for the next issue or personality to be negative about. However even as there is much to celebrate about Nigeria after 50 years of independence, a combination of a lack of planning, a lack of thinking and just simply a lack of quality ideas, has reduced me to being totally underwhelmed about these celebrations and whatever plan my government and country have in mind.
One had dreamt that perhaps three years back, the Federal Government would have constituted a group (not another committee) of the great and the good, from our topmost creative minds – playwrights, poets, novelists, historians, architects,filmmakers, event producers, sportsmen, musicians, actors and so many other groups – to ask them to theme, plan, create and deliver a national celebration worthy of this nation and all that we have done.
Who will tell the stories of our founding fathers? Who will celebrate the many moments when Nigeria stood up in modern history for Africa, for the Blackman, for the greater good? Who will remind our children and our people that Good People, Great Nation is way more than a tagline but comes from the essence of who we are and what we are? However our present actions only serve to propagate the idea that we do not know who we are, where we are coming from or where we are going. I weep for the likes of my late father and Fela Kuti, for Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tafawa Balewa, for Awolowo and Sardauna – for so many great men and women who make up the fabric of this country past, present and future but who, through no fault of theirs, have been let down by a somnambulant and kleptocratic elite. I have often argued that not everything needs to be a contract, that we do not need to spend money to celebrate who we are, but we do need to spend money on important legacy projects.
It is amazing to think that there have been over 20 biopics of Nelson Mandela but here we have nothing on any of our founding fathers.
If you do not tell your story, who will tell it for you? Nigerians always complain about being given a bad ride by the Western Press, well here was the big opportunity, and the question is: what have we done with it? To my mind, we have already failed. You cannot find any Nigerian who can tell you what the federal government is doing to mark the 50th anniversary; you cannot find anything to celebrate, when we should have spent the last few months reinforcing our common beliefs and history as a people. The government always talks about the image (specifically about laundering our image, a phrase I hate, as it brings to mind dirty money); well let me be one of those to tell them that “you just failed big time.”
The 50th anniversary of Nigeria should be celebrated by all black people everywhere. But only if they know our story; if they know the role we play and have played in the Diaspora; if they know how many African nations we led to independence; if they know how much we have invested in Africa in materials, men, money and time.
However, they do not know and we have not told them. The South Africans do not remember that we invested for years in their struggle, that we chaired the Anti Apartheid Movement from inception until our President, Obasanjo negotiated the release of Mandela. They do not know that the Nigerian taxpayer for years paid a percentage of his income tax to the ANC, that over 250 thousand South Africans including President Mbeki went to Secondary School and University here through scholarships provided by Nigeria. This is just one small example of what I am talking about.
Big Brother Nigeria
A few years back I was privileged to be one of the executive producers of Big Brother Nigeria. Our editorial philosophy was ‘Celebrate Nigeria’, driven by our music, fashion, culture, Nollywood, cuisine. As we were able to re-awaken all of those elements,
Nigerians began to fall in love with Nigeria all over again. However, when you Google Big Brother Nigeria, you do not get the TV show. What you get is page after page of African Heads of State thanking Nigeria, their big brother, for various interventions over the past 50 years.
A crying shame
This is Independence Week and as I write this, I have no clue what my government is planning and that is a crying shame. There seems to be more creativity and more substance coming from the private sector; and this is one time when government needed to show leadership and the absolute lack of it is stunning. This is a collective disgrace and an embarrassment to all of us: we knew we would be 50, in fact we have had 50 years to prepare and we managed to deliver nothing. Nish. Nada.
Living in hope
I am still hoping to wake up and find it was all a bad dream. That we were able to step up, create projects and themes that all Nigerians could embrace and be part of. That we were able to tell our story and share it through all forms of media. I pray that when we celebrate our 100 years, this [email protected] will have passed like a bad dream and all Nigerians can sit back and laugh at the generations who were not able to tell their story.
I love my country but sometimes she deserves a dirty slap and right now this is how I feel. How did we get to this point? How did our expectations of ourselves and each other get so low? How is it that nobody wants to talk about the common wealth and common good? Since when was it wrong to celebrate this nation, since when was it not important to build our legacy projects. I live in hope as an eternal optimist that this will change; that people will realise that Nigeria is 50 for a year and not for a day. That there is so much more to be done, that we all deserve more, that Nigeria deserves better. And even if we don’t want to, we owe it to the world to introduce them to Nigeria.
For all of those who might have forgotten or never known what it is to be Nigerian, I submit a wonderful piece written by my sister in 2006. It is called ‘I Am Nigerian’. If you are Nigerian too, then maybe it will make you feel a little better about yourself and your country because, to go into vernacular, we are much more than this.
Obi Asika is Chief Executive Officer of Storm 360, an entertainment consortium.