Sometime in 1970, General Yakubu Gowon, in his true element of frankness, returned from a trip to Equatorial Guinea and told journalists at the airport of his wish of a Nigeria that would be a pride of Africa in all respects.
He always avoided the use of the word, “giant of Africa.” That young general really meant a nation that could hold its own in all areas of human endeavours. This reporter was at that press conference that day at Ikeja Airport.
But Gowon then could not afford to take wrong steps in economic, political and social matters because the nation was watched by men and women of knowledge and vision who were bold enough to risk their necks to save Nigeria.
Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Mallam Aminu Kano, Mazi Sam G. Ikoku, Chief Anthony Enahoro and other political giants were very much active on the scene.
They allowed the young man his inevitable slips, but not those that endangered the rapid march of Nigeria to real independence. That was why Awo put his thoughts often in books and Azikiwe also often waking up a nation that was going to sleep with new political inventions, like the one he called, “Diarchy”. There was a very expansive middle class in Nigeria that was the necessary tool for social, political and economic development.
Let me quote from an introduction to the late Uche Chukumerije’s unpublished book written by Professor Bolaji Akinyemi here: “With the end of the war, all the pent-up constructive energies erupted to produce a renaissance that was not to be extinguished until the late 1980s when the middle class, including the intellectual elite, perished in the orgy called Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).” That was the beginning of Nigeria’s slide down the graph of progress in all material development.
One should think President Muhammadu Buhari realises that we are still under the mesmerism of that diabolical contraption that has rendered man and material impotent in development in Nigeria.
True, SAP destroyed the middle class and so enervated local contribution to thoughts and actions. The middle class is the engine of any nation, not the private sector as it has been hawked by the predators and prowlers who have ruled Nigeria in the last 16 years.
Nigeria used to bubble with persons of ideas; and in their many groups there were think tanks voluntarily watching all steps taken by those in leadership. The middle class opposed SAP. Remember Pius Okigbo, Allison Ayida, Mohammed Ayagi and Sam Aluko. No half-baked World Bank, IMF or foreign leader ventured to tell us how to run this nation in the past because we had their betters here; those who beat them at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Sorbonne and wherever at school among our intellectuals and civil servants.
So we designed then our economy, constitution, music, recreation and what have you to suit our peculiar circumstances. That was harmed by SAP and was killed by President Olusegun Obasanjo, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and their capitalist brethren; few, but exploitative effectively to reduce Nigerians to serfs…