1960-born Nigerians hang on to hope amidst shattered dreams

Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, from the British set the tone for the country after her forebears fought for an independent nation. However, despite independence, keen observers have noted that many of the country’s expectations have yet to be met 62 years after. Some of those born either on October 1, 1960, or in 1960 reflect on the independence era and expectations for the country.

Born on October 1, 1960, a photographer, Deborah Afelogun, stated that her father was of the view that they won battles the day she was born because apart from being delivered of her mother, Nigeria also got independence on that day.

She said, “When we were growing up, Nigeria was a good country compared to what we have today. Yes, Nigeria had challenges but despite that, it was better compared to what we currently have. Since independence, what can the country boast of as special things it has achieved? We keep enduring because we believe that the country will be great.”

Afelogun said she doesn’t want people to call her an October 1 born Nigerian because there was nothing to celebrate.

She noted, “If we should comment on the current situation in Nigeria, one may not be able to name any achievement because we have been going back and forth. To me, there is no tangible achievement. The governments that have in power have not been able to do much.

“The value of Nigeria has been poor and many things are not working. The country is in a deplorable state and it’s becoming worse by the day.”

Afelogun noted that she rejected her family’s plan to celebrate her 62nd birthday because of the state the country was in.

She noted, “What is then the essence of independence when the people are suffering? Nigeria is facing different problems and governments in many years cannot solve the problems?  In the past, the value of the naira was high. If we were given a token to take to school, we ate to our satisfaction. If a pupil’s parents were rich and gave the pupil one kobo, the pupil would live large in the school! I can say that the value of one kobo then is now N1,000. I always took one kobo to school then because my father was rich. He was a big supplier of palm kernels and kolanuts in Abeokuta, Ogun State. My father used to supply kolanuts to a village and he always returned home with a giant size turkey. Nigeria was good back then but this is where we are now.”

She stated that there should be forums for government to discuss with the citizens about the country, stating that she was certain that if things were done properly the country would be better.

“I think Nigeria should be celebrating memorable days in its history. There are many opportunities lost which discourage people from being patriotic. As pupils, during independence celebrations, we lined roads and stadiums to have handshakes with government officials with us waving the Nigerian flags merrily. We got gifts such as exercise books, biros etc. Pupils in public schools especially do not enjoy most of what we had. It’s sad that this is the situation now. I think the government should go back to old times and continue some of the things done at the time. That may solve some of the problems.”

A nation’s sad reality

The economic realities in the country are depressing and affecting the manufacturing sector including the non-formal sector. The country’s population has outpaced infrastructure with the massive population growth assessed at 45.14 million by the US Census Bureau in 1960, to the United Nations data of estimated 218 in 2022. In 2018, Nigeria claimed the revolting title of the world’s poverty capital from India. The country has the world’s highest number of out-of-school children and the 14th highest infant mortality rate.

A data compiled by UNESCO in partnership with the Global Education and Monitoring Report recently noted that the country’s out-of-school children and youth population has jumped to 20.2 million. UNESCO notes that there are 244 million children and youths between the ages of six and 18 worldwide who are still out of school. With its 20.2 million victims, Nigeria has the second highest unschooled children after India; Pakistan has the third highest. This figure nearly doubles the country’s oft-quoted decade-old figures of between 10 million and 13.5 million.

Its unemployment rate at 33.3 per cent is abysmally frightening. Nigeria is ranked the second most terrorised country battling three groups, Boko Haram/ISWAP, herdsmen and bandits/terrorists, rated among the world’s five most deadly terror groups. Everywhere is unsafe.

Other 1960-born Nigerians

An electrical engineer and cleric, Emma Ola, born on May 7, 1960, stated that while growing up in the sixties, there was confidence in the government and nation because security was guaranteed.

He said, “The hospitals were functional and security was tight. People kept their belongings outside till the next day and still met them there. In fact, in the village where I grew up, farmers went peacefully to their farms. If a farmer met anyone on his or her farm, the person probably wanted to beg for some crops and not to steal. Also, things were cheap at the time. When we were going to school, half a penny would be given to us and we ate to our satisfaction. At the time, the school I attended was not free but there was no tuition. We only bought books.’’

The cleric stated that the corruption in Nigeria today was not obvious at the time. He said, “Politicians might be corrupt then but they were not as greedy as what we have today. If a leader then stole N20, he would have probably spent N100 on his community and he wouldn’t be accused of corruption because he had done something for his people.”

Ola further stated that the ethnic crisis in Nigeria today was rare in the past.

He noted, “The tribes were one. There was no division; Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa were one. What we have today is an effect of the bad leadership Nigeria has suffered.”

“There were three major things that had changed; we spent pounds at the time and our currency was strong. In 1973 or thereabout, we changed from pounds to naira which was even stronger than a dollar at the time. At the time, Nigeria used a British-styled right-hand drive and it was changed to left-hand drive in 1972.”

Ola stated that then Nigeria had true patriots such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Ladoke Akintola, Lateef Jakande and others. He added that nowadays it had leaders without love for Nigeria but their pockets.

The clergyman added, “That is why you will see a politician siphoning billions of naira that they cannot finish in their lifetime. These current leaders are not passionate about the people and country.”

He also lamented the insecurity level in the country, stating that it was no longer safe and things were difficult. He said, “The state of the nation is deplorable and I will say that we do not have leaders. Yoruba say, ‘ojelu ti won n pe ara won ni oselu (Looters who parade themselves as leaders).’’ That is where we have found ourselves.”

Ola also said that ethics allowed traders to give potential buyers whatever they wanted to pay later, wondering if such was possible these days.

He explained that lack of opportunities created anomalies, adding that if opportunities were created for people to survive, they would not lead the terrible lives they were currently leading.

He, however, said that hope was not lost for Nigeria if the leader could retrace their steps and identify the country’s weaknesses and values.

He said, “The leaders should return to the roundtable and begin to teach those lost values for the country and her citizens to smile again.”

In his comment, a professor of Forest Economics and Sustainable Development, Labode Popoola, born on September 28, 1960, said that nothing was special sharing the same year with the country’s Independence Day.

The ex-Vice Chancellor, Osun State University, told Saturday PUNCH what the country’s independence celebrations used to be during the early stage of his life.

Popoola also stated that the celebrations were characterised by different activities such as rehearsals for parade, drama competitions, quizzes and debates among others.

He said, “Nothing special, really. It was not by my choice to be born on 28 September. It could have been a few days earlier or later. And of course, when daddy and mummy were busy in the other room to prepare for me, they could not have had Independence Day in mind. Yes, severally, particularly in the secondary school in Ibadan during march-past and other festivities during the period.

“Nothing spectacular. We were always sure there would be a public holiday on that day, and we would go to the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, Oyo State. Before the day, there would be rehearsals for the match pass and other competitions in drama, quiz, debates and music among others.”

He stated that while growing up, the hope he had for Nigeria was for a country that would be a place of opportunities and promise where individual patriotism, diligence and honesty would in turn have positive effects on the country.

He noted that the level of insecurity eating up the country in recent times posed greater difficulties and challenges.

Popoola said, “One never thought human beings would degenerate to this level of hate for fellow human beings and motherland, to the extent that life now means little or nothing to some people for as long as there would be financial and material benefits to them even if a fellow human is killed.

“I also never envisaged that Nigerians will be this spiteful of their own country. Perhaps, unfettered access to communication has made it possible for people to see good things in developed countries. What they do not care to know is that Rome was not built in a day. Those great countries also paid their dues. You cannot be spiteful of your country and expect her to prosper.’’

Popoola noted that he preferred Nigeria to other places around the world, stating that the citizens were the major factor retarding growth in the country.

He added, “Human quality had changed compared to when we were growing up. There are many positive things and developments that have taken place in the last six decades. Nigeria is also not the worst country in the world. We have our challenges, like many other countries and societies do. In fact, we are better than many other countries, but we probably complain loudest. God expects us to show more gratitude and be godly. Lamentations and hate will not take us anywhere.

“I think what has changed is the human quality in terms of values, ethics, patriotism and kindness to fellow human beings. So, for me, Nigeria is not the problem but Nigerians. I will be unfair to say that Nigeria has not met my expectations, at least within the limits of available resources.”

On her part, General Overseer, Truth Visionary Mission, Ngozi Okafor, stated that it was always a thing of joy for her to be born at the time the country got independence from colonial rule.

Okafor said, “It is a pleasure to be one of those born on October 1, 1960. Children born on this day are blessed, focused, great and wonderful. I thank God that I was born on this day.

“After I was born, my mother told me that the government announced that every child born on October 1, 1960, would get free education. But my parents couldn’t get to meet with the government representatives despite several efforts. My mother then told me that she took me to the altar and prayed that God should replace the lost opportunity.’’

Okafor added that she enjoyed God’s favour and earned scholarships.

She added that while she was growing up, she had great hope for the country, stating that the civil war caused irreparable damage to some parts of the country.

The cleric born on October 1, 1960, stated, “The aftermath of the 1967 civil war caused setbacks to the development of the country as many infrastructures were destroyed.

“In Onitsha market, everywhere was damaged and people ran away leaving all their property. Some recovered, while others were not.  Many things happened even those that died didn’t know they would die. If I was a victim of those shot dead, Nigeria wouldn’t have known that they lost something. I think Nigeria came back to her feet after 1970 when the war ended.”

She added that there was a need for individuals to take up responsibilities and embark on social engagements for rapid growth of the country rather than criticising the government for its failures.

“That is why they say it is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Government is trying but individuals are the problem. We are generating more problems for Nigeria. If you give a Nigerian a contract to build in his country, he will divert the money. They will connive, eat the money and abandon the work. We should leave the government out of the issues. Every one of us is the country’s problem,” she noted.

Also, a retiree and businesswoman, Olubunmi Badiru, born on May 28, 1960, stated that in the past Nigeria was a good country and no one wanted to run away from the country.

She said, “In 1983, one could walk easily into Leventis, Apapa, Lagos or UTC with N10 to purchase many things. What can N10 buy today? The greediness of our leaders led us to where we are today.’’

She stated that the North-East that had become a death zone was a place where they travel to especially at night for trading activities.

She stated, “When returning to Lagos then, we preferred a night journey because it was smooth. There were no kidnappers, terrorists or robbers who would pose threats to one’s journey. Corps members had jobs readily available at ministries at the time and many rejected them because they believed the money was little. They preferred working in banks and other private institutions. Things were easy then.’’

She stated that she was thankful to God for retiring after 35 years in service to her fatherland without nurturing any sickness even in retirement.

Badiru said, “In times past, after 35 years of service, the country would issue a sort of certificate of service to applaud one for a job well done. But now, have pensioners been able to collect their pensions? Corruption has weakened the values that laid the country’s foundation.’’

She noted that the level of insecurity continued to worsen and citizens no longer trusted the government.

Badiru said, “In those days, there were no kidnapping or terrorism.  Christians, traditionalists and Muslims in the same family live in harmony. But today, we are faced with ethno-religious crises. We have lived in the North before and these issues were not there.  My son lives in Bauchi State currently.

“Nigeria will be better but for that to happen, it may attract bloodshed. Who will sacrifice their lives for Nigeria? I’m not sure there’s any.’’

Badiru further said that she believed Nigeria could be only delivered through a miracle.

She said, “Let’s continue to pray. I believe God is the only one to come to Nigeria’s rescue.’’

In her comment, an artisan and businesswoman, Bimbo Adefila, noted that Nigeria had prospered over the years despite the shortcomings of her leader.

Adefila, born on October 4, 1960, said, “This is a country flowing with milk and honey. If one looks at where the country is now and where she’s coming from, one has to accept that it’s advancing as a nation and that is worth an appraisal. I would understand if others tell us that we have been unsuccessful, but on my part, we are on the right path.

“When we were growing up, there was no technology. I can easily speak to my son in the United Kingdom now, not by voice call alone but even with video calls. That is how far we have progressed over the years. That is technology. Look at farming, the government has been working in ensuring that farmers cultivate their lands easily while reaping more than they reaped on their farms in the past.”

Adefila noted that Nigerians were irritated at leaders hell-bent on destroying the legacies of the forebears, urging Nigerians to vote for credible and passionate leaders in 2023.

She stated, “Let us forget the state we are in now and look into how we can correct what has gone wrong. No lamentation can right the wrongs, rather, we should look into making the most of what we have and elect the right leaders who would execute the Nigerian project and take the country to greater heights.

“For me, this country still has a lot to achieve and we have a bright future. We can only be better from now on and I am sure we will get it right. My only prayer is to live long enough to see the Nigeria of my dreams.”

  • Additional reports by Janet Ogundepo and Ayoola Olasupo

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