Arise O Compatriots! Nigeria’s call obey…” – The well-worn opening phrase of the Nigerian national anthem has echoed from school halls and stadiums.
Firm hand against chest, Nigerians, home and abroad, declare a melodic oath when the occasion permits but how many believe in this allegiance they swear by today?
As Nigeria marks its 54th anniversary, I cast my mind back to when this day simply meant another public holiday and a few headlines in the papers.
Colorful parades and rallies fill the streets of Lagos as a carnival of enthusiastic youth and government convoys paint the town green. Speech after speech, march after march, millions of countrymen sharing momentous camaraderie – one all seemed to take pride in, yet understood so little about.
Beyond the festivities – its meaning still eluded me. Yes, we gained partial independence from Britain in 1960, with an official declaration of independence signed in 1963, but what did Nigeria’s independence really mean? When I looked around, there were large infrastructural bottlenecks, a defective educational system, gross unemployment, maladministration in key structures and a catalogue of unkept promises for a brighter Nigeria. What were we really independent of?
Many years away from home and I began to appreciate the wealth of my country; its wealth of talent. I saw Nigerians in the diaspora in high-powered roles, giving back wholeheartedly to societies that have given them a greener pasture, a new home and a chance to blossom. They were contributing to its enrichment and sustainability while a severe brain drain grew at home.
Each visit home was bittersweet. I had to face the reality that situations had merely altered marginally. While I applaud the racing pulse of today’s Nigeria and celebrate the diverse talent and insatiable drive that this country embodies, the enabling environment remains elusive.
In spite of its challenges, Nigeria has taken mammoth strides. The tide turns as entrepreneurial giants emerge from the rubble and bottlenecks, positioning the country at the forefront of investment and more recently overtaking South Africa as the largest economy in Africa. This inspires new debates; is it an ornamental or functional title? While this has been met with mixed reaction, there have also been some valid causes for celebration. We should nod to how far we have come while locking hands with harsh reminders of how much further we still have to go.
Today, it is refreshing to see an army of Nigerians return to the country, propelled by a daring mind shift, fresh ideas and a hunger to contribute to its growth, just as it’s heart-rending to see toddlers tap at my window while driving through the streets of Lagos, begging for some change when they should be in the classroom.
It is worth a toast to see more indigenous companies take the reins in areas that had once only been entrusted in the hands of expatriates, just as it is undeniably evident that more multinationals are investing in Nigeria as a fertile ground for returns.
As I celebrate Nigeria’s independence, I celebrate in the hope of brighter future, investment and empowerment of its youth. A future with a bigger appetite to harness our bountiful natural resources and build infrastructure. I dream of a Nigeria that invests in its human capital, shatters the glass ceiling in the boardrooms and prides itself in unity. A country that respects and guards the fundamental human rights of the girl and boy child and frowns upon ethno-religious crisis. A Nigeria that attracts all back home and rewards their enthusiasm and skill accordingly.
I might be asking for too much but ultimately, I want a Nigeria whose national anthem I can sing believingly.