Editor's note: On Saturday October 1, 2016, Nigerians, at home and in the Diaspora, will roll out the drums to celebrate 56 years of independence from the colonial rule. Nigeria was born in 1914 when the Southern and the Northern Protectorates were amalgamated by the then Governor General of Nigeria, Lord Fredrick Lugard. Legit.ng's Austin Oyibode looks at the historical and political development of Nigeria.
The beginning of colonial rule in Nigeria
That was the beginning of friendship ties that bonded the North, a Muslim dominated region and the South, a predominantly Christian zone. Nigeria was then governed by series of British officials who decided what obtained in the country while Nigerians were only left to do the bidding of the whites.
They exported their policies and principles of life into the country. They altered the lifestyle of the people of Nigeria.
They conquered the nation through various means and subjugated the traditional institutions under their whims and caprices. They made decisions for Nigeria and determined the living conditions of the Nigerian people.
But while the British rule lasted, Nigerians felt deprived and relegated to the background and hence fought through media and with nationalists as Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Anthony Enahoro and a host of others who hazarded their lives for the liberation of the nation from the British imperialists.
In the days when the British ruled, they siphoned the wealth of the nation to develop the British Empire while Nigerians felt shortchanged in their home country.
There was evident marginalization as the British took the great jobs and offices while treating Nigeria nationals as second class citizens and inferior beings. They plundered the nation, placing their nationals into juicy offices even as they never mixed with Nigerians following their perceived superiority to the black race of Africa.
Hence, the Nigerian media rose, fought and demanded for self-government and sovereignty. The demand was eventually granted on October 1, 1960 when the British flag was lowered and the Nigerian flag hoisted signaling the beginning of self-rule, self-government and self-determination.
The independence of Nigeria
At the independence in 1960, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa became the first Prime Minister of Nigeria. He was the first indigenous leader of the Nigerian nation. He ruled through to 1963 when the nation became a republic when the national constitution was adopted where Nnamdi Azikiwe became president while he remained as Prime Minister.
The days when the duo ruled, Nigeria was good. Even in the succeeding administrations, Nigeria fared well and the economy boomed. Nigerians worked with a united mind, putting aside religious, tribal and political affiliations to develop the young but promising nation.
They were all interested in building the young independent nation to grow and become a great and successful nation in the world. There was neither segregation, disunity nor agitation for personal or regional aggrandizement.
All sectors of the economy experienced boom and national life was better for all Nigerians. Agriculture and education were specially given attention since these were observed to be the plank upon which the development of the nation rested.
Educational institutions were far better and products from them were given due recognition unlike what obtains now. Facilities in the institutions were standard and students then were well trained. The agricultural sector was given due attention so as to provide food for the teeming Nigerian populace.
Jobs were available for Nigerians. The competition between the whites and black Africans had given way to a completely black world where friction was no more. Peace reigned and there was food for all. That was the good old days, the post independent years in Nigeria.
The advent of oil boom
But as the oil boom came, the agricultural sector began to suffer loss and abandonment. The masses and the government diverted attention to the oil economy and that was the beginning of the fall of agriculture in Nigeria.
The discovery of oil brought so much money to Nigeria until a particular government told Nigerians that the national problem was not money but what to do with the money.
Nigeria became an import-dependent nation. Items from industrial machines to toothpaste, toothpick and orange juice were some of the items being imported to the country.
The few industries inherited soon became moribund, and the residual multinational companies inherited after Independence and the ones that came to partake in the “oil boom” started closing shop one after the other because they had been abandoned for foreign products.
Instead of long term investments in productive sectors of the economy, Nigerians opted for the easiest and quickest way of making wealth through contracts, commissions, foreign exchange deals, drug trafficking, and oil bunkering, among others.
This is the beginning of the “get- rich- quick- syndrome” that is still affecting the psyche of Nigerians till date.
And as the successive governments moved from one to the other, massive corruption and looting followed. The military came into the national politics, given excuse of corruption among politicians and overthrew the political settings.
With the continuous overthrow of civil administrations, the military governments held Nigerians hostage with their draconian rules.
From General Yakubu Gowon to Olusegun Obasanjo through to Muhammadu Buhari and ending in Sani Abacha, Nigeria became the stronghold of military dictatorship and authoritarianism.
But again with the activities of the media which criticized the military rule, the military administration gave way to a democratic government on May 29, 1999.
This ushered in a new era for the Nigerian political space. Beginning from Olusegun Obasanjo through Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and the President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria is now enjoying a true democracy.
The gains of independence
But what are the gains from the independence of Nigeria. Undermining the oil crisis which is causing ripples in the country, Nigeria has remained a united nation.
This is an indisputable fact. Despite calls from various sections for the disintegration of Nigeria, successive leaders have kept the country united with a singular voice.
The nation has made significant progress in the development of Africa. It is the most populous nation in Africa and the leading voice in the continent.
It has Africa as its centre piece and plays great roles in the unity of Africa. Its self-government has led to establishment of various institutions that wouldn’t have been possible under the colonial rule. Since independence, great leaders had risen from the country.
In all fields of study of study, banking, law, medicine, engineering and a lot of others, Nigeria has made significant contribution to the international community.
The military government established most of the federal airports, built roads and highways and established institutions for the overall good of the nation.
The post independent leaders established academic institutions but which standards were eroded by the succeeding governments due to neglect.
The democratic government has, to a great extent, brought about political stability in Nigeria, although very shaky. This is because of the volatility of the system and the daredevil craze for power among the politicians.
The raw nature of electoral violence and the long litigations that follow the elections have made political success in the country to pale into insignificance.
Many overnight billions have been made while the poor get poorer in Nigeria. This is the irony of the democracy in the country. While the few wallow in uninterrupted wealth, the masses groan in want and penury.
Although Nigerians have been fully involved and participating in the decision for national development, the decisions are partly geared towards personal gains among those who wield state powers.
However, Nigeria at 56 has made progress. But the progress is being punctuated regularly by violence from insurgents in the North East and the Niger Delta regions.
But with the doggedness of stakeholders and the willingness of all Nigerians to make national development and interest a priority, there is a future for Nigeria. All hail Nigeria at 56.