By Lawrence Njoku, GuardianNG
Federal Government’s plan to mark Nigeria Independence anniversary for a whole year — beginning on October 1, 2020 and ending September 30, 2021 — became subject of controversy yesterday, with ethnic nationalities and socio-cultural organisations taking a swipe at the official decision.
The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), the Middle Belt Forum, Arewa leaders and stakeholders within the Aka Ikenga, an Igbo socio-cultural organisation condemned the plan as “a joke.” Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, described President Muhammadu Buhari and his cabinet members as complete jokers who lack focus on what Nigeria actually needed to progress and unite.
Buhari had, yesterday, unveiled a logo and theme for the 60th independence anniversary celebration in a brief ceremony conducted just before the weekly virtual Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. In what appeared a contradiction, the President said the anniversary celebration would be held low-key this year for reasons of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The President, who spoke after the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, gave insight into how the logo was adopted and the modalities guiding the anniversary celebration, added that his administration would henceforth ensure inclusiveness.
The President disclosed the theme of this year’s anniversary celebration as “Together Shall We Be,” saying it was chosen to forge a more united and cohesive Nigeria.
“Today we stand on the threshold of history as we formally begin a series of activities commemorating Nigeria’s Diamond Anniversary,” he said. “The task history has saddled me with today is to proclaim a theme that will keep us united, help us forge ahead and unveil a logo that will form the critical pillars, which (our) 11 months modest commemoration activities will rest on.”
BUHARI explained that, although celebrating 60 years of independence called for pomp and pageantry, the global COVID-19 pandemic, which had forced all nations to think and act differently, had also forced on Nigeria the need for a low-key celebration. According to him, operating within the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government had created an Internet challenge for Nigerians to make a choice from a set of four pre-selected logos that would appropriately define the theme.
“Of these four options, Nigerians from all walks of life participated in making a choice and I’m happy to let you know that the logo I will be unveiling is a product of choice for the Nigerian people.
“I’m informed that the selected option depicts our togetherness, a country of over 200 million people, whose natural talents, grits and passion glitter like the precious diamond we are. This, to me, is a sufficient appreciation to our most precious assets, our people. Everywhere you go, Nigerians are sparkling like diamonds in the pack, whether in academia, business, innovation, music, movie, entertainment and culture.”
He explained that the neatly encrusted diamond on the Nigerian map symbolised “our age of treasure, the worth of the Nigerian people, who sparkle to the admiration of the world.
“In the same vein, the fair green and the dark green colours should respectively remind us of our warmth, welcoming spirit and love, as well as abundant wealth inherent in our human capital and the richness of our land.
“All these properties made us, unarguably, the most prosperous black nation in the world and Africa’s largest economy. It is, therefore, with deep feeling of national pride that I announce to you that “Together shall we be” is the theme of our nation’s 60th anniversary celebration.”
He thanked members of the inter-ministerial committee on Nigeria’s 60th anniversary celebration for the work they did and urged participation of all Nigerians.
WHILE the president assured of “greater inclusiveness” going forward, SGF Mustapha, who is also Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Nigeria’s 60th Anniversary Celebration, explained the choice of logo and the reason for a year-long celebration. Mustapha said the aim was to make the country heal.
According to him, “one major agreement also was the need to deviate from the norm of celebrating our landmark events with a conclusion of the day of such event. Thus, it was agreed that to make the diamond anniversary very inclusive and create opportunities for internalisation and buy-in by the Nigerian people, a year-long celebration would be pursued, starting from the date of launching a web portal, to September 30th, 2021.”
But Chief Ayo Adebanjo, an Afenifere chieftain, said President Buhari and his party were “joking and unfortunately toying with the destiny of the country. How can someone tell us he wants to spend a whole year to mark the anniversary of a nation that is in a crisis? Before we are talking of restructuring but today each of the ethnic nationalities is clamouring for secession and to stand on their own.”
He said Nigerians no longer trust the Buhari government, saying, as we speak, there is killing in Katsina, the home state of Mr. President, there is killing in Kaduna, Ekiti and the rest and some group of people want to mark Independence anniversary for a year; it is another avenue for corruption.”
A former Commissioner in Kaduna State, Isuwa Dogo said: “If Buhari truly meant to unite Nigeria what he should do is to simply adopt the report of the 2014 National Conference and implement it. “Instead of spending 365 days to mark Independence, he can as well spend three months to study the contents of the 2014 National Conference report and use it to restructure the country. The unity that has escaped would return immediately.”
Dogo, who is currently the spokesman of the Middle Belt Leaders Forum also urged the president to remove the face of ethnicity and religion from his various appointments just as he said he should change the incumbent security chiefs, who were bereft of ideas regarding how to save the country.
Dogo said the exercise would not only amount to a waste of resources and time but also would achieve nothing. In another reaction, the Secretary general of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCS), Dr. Kunle Olajide said it was good that Nigeria still remained united but that all the indices of progress and development were no longer intact. “I don’t see what the one year sensitization will achieve if the needful is not done. We need to go back to all the conference reports and government should immediately set up a committee to look at them and think of how to implement them in collaboration with the National Assembly.”
BOTH the leader of the Arewa Youths for Development and Progress (AYDP), Danjuma Sarki and immediate past Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Elder Anthony Sani said the present administration should ensure that wisdom prevailed in the midst of severe economic pains the citizens were going through.
Sarki said Federal Government’s plan to set up inter-ministerial committee for a year-long celebration of the 60th anniversary, even if “low-keyed,” was a confirmation that the Buhari government did not have the interest of Nigerians and the nation at heart.”
“How can this government even contemplate such plans after imposing hike in pump price and electricity tariff on Nigerians. Now that we are just coming out of COVID-19, the government is contemplating such plans. And it is the same government that is complaining of dwindling resources of the nation; yet they are going ahead to hold year-long celebration. This is unfortunate.”
ACF Chieftain, Elder Sani said he was not privy to the Federal Government’s decision to heal the nation with celebration of the 60th Independence. “As a result, I am not in a position to explain to you how government intends to heal the nation with mere celebration, if ever the government has said so.”
BUT the President Emeritus of Aka Ikenga Socio-Cultural Organization, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, stated that such programme could only emanate from a government that was totally removed from its citizens. He stressed that the average Nigerian was anxious to know how to get his daily food, take care of his health and safety as well as the educational needs of his family.
Former National Chairman of the defunct United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie stated that he did not think that the intendment of the committee was “to roll out the drums for merry making as there would not be justification for much of expenditure to celebrate but to package the challenges and prospects for Nigerians and the world at large to see.”
On whether such committee and celebration of October 1 was needed to heal the country, he said that, it was no longer a pretence that Nigeria was deeply divided, stressing that the anniversary, no matter how it was handled, would not provide the needed healing.
Chief Uwazurike said: “60 years in the life of a nation is a diamond event but not at the expense of Abraham Marlow’s hierarchy of needs. It is painful that the Federal Government sat down and expressed a desire to spend our money and time on a year-long celebration. What are we celebrating? – Acute food scarcity, insecurity, corruption and lack of business opportunities?”