To answer the first question, we could say that as recently as in the 1990s there were countries in Africa which respected Nigeria as a big brother. My friend, Dr. Abdulazeez Shittu, who did his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Uganda, told me that families were proud of their daughters who had Nigerian boyfriends. “That is why,” Dr. Shittu said, “the Ugandans were rather surprised when the government of President Obasanjo introduced GSM to Nigeria in 2001. They asked us, ‘so you didn’t have GSM before?’ By that time, even shoe shiners were already using GSM phones in Uganda.”
From this, we know that other nationals liked and respected Nigerians in the past, probably due to our extroversion and confidence. But did any independent country want to be Nigeria? Lee Kuan Yew’s impression of Nigeria when he visited in the 1960s may partly answer that question. To give context, Lee desperately searched for a model to adopt for the independent Singapore. In search of survival, he rigged a referendum so that his country could join Malaysia. And when that union failed in 1965, he literally (and openly) cried. But when he came to Nigeria, his impression of Nigeria (after interactions with government functionaries) was that of unserious people. Therefore, he had nothing to borrow from Nigeria.
Of course you could argue that we helped other African countries such as Rhodesia, South Africa and accommodated people like Thabo Mbeki in Ibadan, but these were desperate countries in search of protection and money. They would gravitate toward any country which would offer such warmth. Some actually laughed at our illogical and foolhardy ways; such as when we tried to install democracy in places like Sierra Leone when we had none in Nigeria.
As for the second question, the question of patriotism, I’ll show here that the leaders were rather selfish. Of course one would concede that many of our leaders gave their lives for the country: Akintola, the premier of Western Nigeria, Sardauna, premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Tafawa Balewa and a few others.
However, a letter from Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was in London during the first military coup of 1966, to Aguiyi Ironsi, the first military head of state, left an impression in a young Nigerian like me that even at the top, there were individuals who didn’t care much for the country. “Since this is a Herculean task which must be undertaken by all of us who are interested in the peace and stability of our Federal Republic,” Azikiwe wrote in the letter to Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi, “I now inform you of my desire to return home immediately in order to be in position to discharge any duty, constitutional or otherwise, in which my services may be required.”
Constitutional or otherwise! You may note that while Zik scribbled his letter in England, two premiers were already killed. His prime minister was still missing, yet there was nowhere in the letter where he mentioned them. But he wanted a role for himself – constitutional or otherwise! Now take a deep breath and ponder that. It’s my opinion that this puts a question mark on Zik’s patriotic credentials.
Even Herbert Macaulay, the father of Nigerian nationalism was a forger, a perjurer and ex-convict, according to British secret files published by Daily Trust on October 16 2016. His son, Oged, was a swindler, long before 419 started trending. “Herbert Macaulay was working in the Ministry of Land and Surveys when he was caught twice for diverting public lands for personal benefits,” the files say. “In 1914 he was convicted for forgery and in the second instance, he was convicted of perjury.”
Our second president of the senate (1962-1966), Senator Nwafor Abyssinia Orizu, a PhD, was an ex-convict. His brother, Joseph Onyekusi Orizu was also convicted of fraud.
“Truth was: Dr Abyssinia Akweke Nwafor Orizu being a crook should never have held any political office had Nigeria been a proper country,” the British secret files on the first military coup states. Educated in the United States, the man collected money from the villagers – his own people – who purposed to sponsor their children to study in American universities and “diverted them partly or totally to other personal and business schemes.”
When he was being tried, his lawyer informed the court that Dr. Orizu was an honourable man and Zik’s nominee for Minister of Local Government. “Magistrate Dickson retorted: ‘This court is not a department under the Government and it is not subject to any political party,’” the files say.
There you have it. Nigeria is not great. Not even close. Of course in rare cases, we encounter a man whose greatness exceeds his faults. But that’s not the case with Nigeria. I concede that we’ve had flashes of brilliance – even genius – in sports and other vocations. But every country has those. You’re not great on account of a flash.
Instead, right from the beginning, we allow crooks to be our leaders, refuse to accept responsibilities and instead, found fault with the colonial rulers. These are not attributes of greatness. Consequently, nobody wants to be like us, nobody wanted to be like us. So, we are not great. We were never great. However, there’s still opportunity for greatness if we take responsibility and stop allowing crooks to prey upon us and then invite God to clean up their mess.