In the next few weeks, Nigeria will be 50 years old. I was born in 1956 which means that I am older than Nigeria with four years.
I got married in 1990 and have five children, and my first child will leave university next year. At 54 I am a full blown adult with some grey hair on my head.
I see myself as a leader and elder in my family and community and I take my seat where the elders are. When I look back (without sounding immodest) I cannot but beat my chest that I have recorded some modest progress that my age mates cannot use the mouth they use to eat yam and cocoyam to say I am a failure.
If a man cannot make it at 40, not to talk of 50, then he is finished. Nigeria at 50 is story of rudderless and inept leadership.
In all departments, Nigerian leaders since independence whether civilian or military have failed the nation. We have failed substantially in all the indices used by serious-minded people to measure successful nations on earth.
For 50 years Nigerian leaders have been punishing and inflicting pains on our people without caring a hoot, without thinking about the feelings of the people, and without fearing the consequences of their actions.
They imposed a 3-year civil war that claimed more than one million people. They annulled a free and fair election â€“ the best in the history of Nigeria. They imposed the worst form of soldiers on us as maximum rulers and rigged the worst form of civilians as executive leaders.
The night marauders whether civilians or military democratized corruption and corrupted our democracy in our own very eyes. At 50, our power is in ruins, all our federal roads are bad, all Teaching Hospitals are mere consulting clinics, our education is in ruins, all the values we hold dear bastardized, our society disjointed and dislocated, electoral process messed up, our youths thrown into mental darkness.
In all this catalogue of woes, one area stands out as the greatest albatross: our failure to fix our educational system. No nation makes any progress without investment in education. I left the University of Nigeria in 1985 and I returned 15 years after to discover a university led into the bottomless pit. The university I met in 1980 as the best institution in the world became not only an eyesore, but, heartsore, mindsore and headsore. The same applies to all the universities in Nigeria.
In fact, when my lecturer in Metallurgical Engineering returned from the United States in the early 80s to pick appointment with the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, he confessed to us that they in America then never believed such well-built university can be found in Africa.Â Gone are the days. All the universities in Nigeria are in ruins courtesy of Nigerian leaders.
At 50 Nigeria has gone full circle in rudderless and criminal leadership and something must give. We cannot just continue to have hope without hope. Hope is no hope when it lasts till the end of time. 90% of the present crop of Nigerian leaders at local, state and the federal level do not have a simple idea of what leadership is all about, and even if you give them all the money in the world they cannot do anything.
They have nothing and therefore cannot give anything in terms of anything. These imbeciles do not know that Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg South Africa is better than all the airports in Nigeria put together. They do not know that three universities in Ghana are better than near 100 universities in Nigeria.
These treasury looters do not know that one well-equipped hospital in South Africa is better than all our Teaching Hospitals in Nigeria. After 50 years of failure of leadership, I think time has come for us to reclaim our country from these gamblers. I am not raising an alarm, there is no need to do so.
But the alarm that the drift must stop is now loud and clear. Nigeria as a failed state has been working for those who failed it and we will be all fools to allow the brigandage to continue. Nigerians may be having fears that free and fair elections may elude us again in 2011 but I am not.Â We must have free and fair elections and leaders with strategic thinking and intelligence must emerge.
I think, dream, preach and I speak about it with great passion, and it must come to pass. If you are a great man, if you are a great woman and if you are a great youth I want you to speak positively and be optimistic that we must get it right this time around.
You do not bemoan problems, you address them frontally and headon. To change the course of history, you need to confront history with all the energy at your disposal. Listen to me readers: the present crop of Nigerian leaders think we are fools, who can do nothing. Hey folks, prove to them that they are liars from the darkest part of hell.
You can do something. Speak out, talk to people in your area, get organised, network, engage, and deliver. Do not say you are too young, Obama did it. Do not say you are too old. Webster wrote the Webster Dictionary at 80. Now the final word: The hottest part of hell will be reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in time of great moral crisis. Evil triumph when good men do nothing in any society. If you stand for nothing you die for nothing.
A time like this therefore calls for the modification of J.G. Holland to suit the plight of Nigerians after 50 years of bondage and slavery: â€œGod give us men
Nigerians need men
A time like this demands Men who cannot be bought
Whose word is their bond
Who put character above wealth
Who possess opinions and a will
Who are larger than their vocations
Who do not hesitate to take chances
Who will not lose their individuality in a crowd
Who will be honest in small things as in great things
Who will make no compromise with wrong
Whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires
Who will not say they do it because everybody else does it
Who are true to their friends through good report and evil report, in adversity as well as in prosperity
Who do not believe that shrewdness, cunning, hard-headedness are the best qualities for winning success
Who are not ashamed or afraid to stand for the truth when it is unpopular
Who can say â€˜noâ€™ with emphasis although all the rest of the world says â€˜yesâ€™
Give us such men and women. Such Nigeriansâ€
â€¢Joe Igbokwe writes from Lagos