By Timawus Mathias
First, I must say it: the whole ceremony that culminated in the lighting of the Centenary Torch was well-orchestrated.
It was novel to watch President Goodluck Jonathan walk hand in hand with Presidential Aspirant (I did not say arch-rival) General Mumammadu Buhari to light up the torch. We did not get right the introduction of the centurion witness to the amalgamation in 1914 because not even his name was given, but you can’t win them all!
I think the idea of General Abdulsalami introducing the centenary theme song was also great - the humorous General chuckled that he was not going to sing, and I wish he had sang - but he captured the mood of the theme song in the solemn manner he presented the stanzas; and it truly captured the imminent danger of a fractured Nigeria.
Then the video of the Stallion Onyeka Onwenu leading a host of Nigerian artistes in the rendition of the theme song followed, with the words ringing loud and clear - no matter the odds, we as Nigerians are one. It pierced my heart that something as beautiful as Nigeria could be thrown to the dogs.
Buhari and Jonathan walking hand in hand was not the only odd spectacle - for a spectacle it was. With the vitriol coming from the aspirant to the incumbent, how could they walk the aisle hand in hand? This underscored the national predicament - a matter as grave as our oneness is only being paid lip service to.
Onyeka’s song is sweet in the ear, the melody soothing, but it does not strike our heartfelt emotions, especially when we look at the faces of the people who have piloted this country from 1966 to date! We can accord to them our achievements to date or the lack of it.
One of the reasons the cohesion and oneness of the country is being threatened is captured by the perfect picture of Buhari and Jonathan walking hand in hand - a camaraderie that is only for the occasion and running cameras deep in their hearts, Nigerians know how much the duo thought of one anther - the leader thinks the opponent more than a critic is a spoiler of all sorts, the elder, former Head of State wishes the incumbent Head of State could lead more rightly
By his puritanical stand, I should assume that General Buhari dipped his hand in disinfectant after leaving the villa, for not only does he consider President Jonathan’s victory as undeserved and a theft of what rightly belongs to him, by perception, the current administration is the limit if failure and worst case of resource mismanagement. Yet hand in hand, they walked down the aisle, real strange couple!
The glaringly strange spectacle was the one cut by the stoic face of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the personification of the most serious threat to the unity of Nigeria - the idea that President Obasanjo could sit in his farm in Otta and by deft manoeuvres, nudge an individual into place. Of late, President Obasanjo has been uncharitable to President Goodluck Jonathan whom he criticized publicly. In fact I put it to President Obasanjo that he it was that put Ezekwesili up to those caustic fundamental perceptions of economic "mismanagement" under President Jonathan. It can be imagined, that President Obasanjo while presenting the centenary theme enjoined Nigerians to love their country and speak positively about their leaders! What example has President Obasanjo set in this regard?
Such is the Nigerian irony. The country’s leaders who should help set examples live a life that is not worthy of emulation and they do so brazenly. Setting the stage for this comment, President Obasanjo turned up last Sunday at Aso Rock Presidential Villa, according to reports, with oil mogul Otedola, who I suppose has metamorphosed from an accused in oil subsidy scam, to a walking free witness in Farouk Lawan’s fall. Fancy Otedola at table with President Jonathan at the villa, while Lawan swipes at mosquitoes and gnats in Kuje prison in an ironic role reversal! Our psyche is daily assaulted and forced to put up with exhibition of narcissistic acts inimical to patriotism that certainly do not promote any cohesion and oneness.
As the theme song wound down, I could not but look at the gathering of our nation’s leaders. From General Gowon to President Obasanjo, counting Shehu Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Shonekan, Abdulsalami, and Goodluck Jonathan, I suddenly saw fine men by any standards - men endowed with abilities any human being could ever lay claim to. In that hall were men who had each tried to advance the cause of Nigeria’s national destiny, and thus begs the question - what did we do wrong? How come none of our leaders received international acclaim for exemplary leadership, with the prestigious Mo Ibrahim prize for leadership often eluding our leaders?
It was settled right there and then. In that dinner hall were all the men who got Nigeria to where it is - a nation endowed with high resource and potential, yet teething even at a hundred years old. Indeed, of course Nigeria can make it to greater heights, only if its leaders improve on the quality of leadership that they offer.
Will Nigeria continue as one country after one hundred years? My mind has dwelt on Oluchi. She was a cheerful shop girl in Yola where she minded a spare parts shop. Today, she has married the shop owner, but they have relocated to Umuahia, afraid to see any more of the bloodletting that they narrowly escaped during last Christmas. My clothier Anyafulu in Jos, now lives in Port Harcourt. They are all small fries. For them, the dream of one Nigeria is up in smoke - a promise that is empty. Not for them anymore, a united Nigeria.
A united Nigeria is for these hand-holding dramatists, and preachers of what they do not practice.