Before I pass on to deal with matters of purely domestic character, I would like to make one or two observations.
The emergence of Nigeria as an independent nation was hailed as an event of exceedingly favorable portent for Africa. In size, population, and natural resources, Nigeria is indisputably a giant in Africa. Those African nationalists who, since our independence, have come to Nigeria for succor and added inspiration, have gone back to their homes disillusioned and frustrated. The high hopes which were cherished in Nigeria as an unassailable bastion in the last phase of Africa’s struggle against colonialism and neo-colonialism of whatever nature and guise, are fast receding. Among true African nationalists, Nigeria, as at present led by our Government, is thoroughly suspect, and does not enjoy the respect and confidence to which she is entitled by virtue of her natural potentialities.
At home, our pressing problems not only remain unsolved, but are also not even being tackled with vision and vigor, nor with the correct ideological orientation. Education is still in its inchoate stages. The masses hunger after education but are not being satisfied. In regard to primary education, the position in the South is good. All children of school-going age are now in school in the South. But it is very far from being so in the North. A little over 250,000 children are now receiving primary education in the North, as against 1.3 million in the East and 1.2 million in the West. Secondary education ought to be free, but only the well-to-do can afford to send their children to any post-primary schools. The award of scholarships tenable in Institutions of Higher Learning, and for technical and vocational studies, now lags very much behind the present needs of the country, with the result that many a lustrous talent is wasting and rotting away either in a soul-depressing job or in an asylum.
The finances of the Federation are being very badly managed. We are now right on the brink of a balance of payments crisis. Yet, according to the latest pronouncement by the Federal Minister of Finance, our imports of consumer goods have increased appreciably; but as far as is known no visible effort is being made for a big export drive. I have told the Federal Government, on a number of occasions, that unless the present adverse trends which. have continued for four years are checked, Nigeria will, figuratively speaking, one day find herself in a debtor’s prison!
Bribery and corruption, especially in high places, are alarmingly on the increase. A large percentage of monies which are voted for expenditure on public projects find their way into the pockets of certain individuals. There is unemployment everywhere. The standard of living in the country as a whole is very low, and in most parts of the country the peasantry and the working class wallow in abject poverty and misery. The cost of living is more or less the same throughout the country. The fact reflects itself in identical salaries, in different parts of the Federation, for Ministries and Parliamentarians; for Government, Mercantile and other employees in the so called upper brackets and the established grades. But this is unfortunately not the case with the daily-paid workers and the peasantry who are in the vast majority. The territorial disparity in their income is extremely and senselessly wide, constitutes a social injustice of the worst kind, and is an eloquent evidence of a complete absence of national approach to the country’s problems.
Nigerianisation of the different sectors of our public service moves at an unpatriotically slow pace. But as if this is not damning enough, the situation is aggravated by the Federal Government when, as it often does, it applies criteria which have no regard at all for merit, in the advancement of some Nigerians. The present dispensation is that, provided your Region of origin is in the privileged category, and your connections in Government circles are strong, mediocrity and want of requisite qualifications are no bar to any high post, even though a number of other Nigerians who are infinitely better qualified in all respects may be unjustly superseded.
Our federal structure remains unbalanced. The Northern Region bestrides the rest of the country like a Colossus. As long as this Region remains a unit, the party in power there, even in a free and fair election, will always have an electoral advantage over other political parties. But elections in the North are neither free nor fair. Various iniquitous devices were used at the 1959 Federal Elections as well as in this year’s Northern Region Elections to ensure victory for the N.P.C.
To this end, murders, arsons and other forms of violence to the person and damage to property were committed, and ballot papers were illegally distributed to N.P.C. party faithfuls. I have three books of such ballot papers here with me as exhibits. On the eve of any elections, opposition parties are precluded from holding public meetings; mass arrests and imprisonment, with or without trial, of their members are made; and leaders of such parties are harassed and sometimes dragged to court on trumped-up charges. I believe you have all heard of what happened to Messrs Tarka and Olawoyin, and that you are aware that the Action Group Leader of the Opposition in the Northern House of Assembly has not, because of open threat of violence to his person, and the utter destruction of his house and property, been to his home in Maiduguri since August last year.
Today the N.P.C. rules both the North and the Federation; and yet its leaders refuse to change the name of the organization to permit the admission of Southerners into its membership. But of course the Sardauna has declared, in his characteristically pompous manner, that `N.P.C. is Nigeria and Nigeria is N.P.C.’ Besides, he has never made any bones about the fact that the Federation is being run by his loyal lieutenants who must look to him, from time to time, for direction on major issues. In actual fact, therefore, the center of gravity of the Federation is Kaduna not Lagos; and this degrading state of affairs will continue so long as the present unbalanced and unusual structure of our Federation persists.
Many irresistible conclusions flow from what I have so far said. Only some of them need be mentioned. In the first place, de jure Nigeria is now free from alien rule, yet through the activities of our Government she is de facto utterly subservient to British control, direction and undue influence. Secondly, though fundamental human rights are enshrined in our Constitution, yet the rights of the commonality count for nought in the Northern Region. Thirdly, democratic practices and processes are being rapidly discredited in the Northern Region of Nigeria, simply because the leaders of the N.P.C. who also rule Nigeria have never believed in a democratic form of Government. Fourthly, because of the error of omission of our Government, Nigeria is already beginning to slide in Africa.
African nationalists now look upon our Government as a tool and a stooge of Western Imperialism. Fourthly, the actions of our Government do not measure up to some of its pronouncements, and its conduct is far from being guided or influenced by the ideals which today animate and rule the hearts of the people of Nigeria. Sixthly, our Government appears to find itself helplessly and hopelessly on an uncharted sea, in the face of the country’s problems.
These questions are now relevant. What do we do to accelerate our progress on the road to modern development, to arrest the deteriorating situation with which we are beset, and to retrieve the integrity, honor and self-respect which true national sovereignty ought to confer on our country? And, knowing what and what to do, how do we go about accomplishing them? There must be many and varied answers to these questions.(to be continued)