Nigeria at 63: Independence ceases to be reason for fanfare

This year’s Independence Day, Nigeria’s 63rd anniversary as a sovereign nation, is the 11th ‘low-key’ celebration in 13 years.

The theme for the 2023 Independence Day Anniversary is ‘Nigeria @ 63: Renewed Hope for Unity & Prosperity’ but, as announced by Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, George Akume, on September 25, the event will be “low-key in line with the present economic realities”.

World leaders will not be attending the ceremony organised by the Federal Government to mark the event, as none was invited.

Also, there will be no parade at the Eagle Square to mark the country’s 63rd Independence Anniversary. Rather, the main event is a military parade, scheduled for Monday, October 2, at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, by 9:00 am.

Low-key celebrations of Independence Day have become the norm in recent years.

In the past, Independence Day was a major national celebration that was marked with fanfare and merrymaking across the country. School children, students, workers and paramilitary and military formations engaged in colourful, choreographed parades at local government, state and federal levels. Families went on outings.

Concerts and other public performances were staged on the day

But it appears that Nigerians are fast forgetting the essence of the Independence Day, which commemorates October 1, 1960, the date Nigeria gained independence from Britain, the colonial master.

Speaking with DAILY POST, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, observed that most Nigerians aged 40 and below do not understand what the Independence Day celebration is all about.

Rafsanjani, who is also Chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, said, “There is a huge disconnect between many Nigerians and the essence of independence, especially those Nigerians who were born after independence.

“They don’t have a proper history of what happened. Many Nigerians who were born 40 or 45 years ago don’t actually understand what happened before independence.”

Rafsanjani equally blamed the situation on the state of affairs in the country.

He said, “The fathers of Nigeria struggled to liberate the country from the hands of the colonialists but now we are in the hands of local exploiters, local looters and local dishonest public officials.

“These are the reasons the Independence Day celebration is no longer attractive.”

A short history of Independence Day celebrations in Nigeria

Checks by DAILY POST show that insecurity and economic challenges are the major reasons advanced by the Federal Government when opting for ‘low-key’ Independence Day celebrations.

In 2010, the Federal Government put on a show to mark the country’s 50th Anniversary celebration. But the lavish occasion at the Eagle Square, Abuja, attended by several world leaders, turned into a tragic anti-climax after car bombs exploded near the venue.

Several persons were killed in the ‘Independence Day Bombing’, as the incident came to be known in the media. The bomb blasts were blamed on the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, a leading militant group in the Niger Delta, which had, an hour before the explosion, threatened in an email to attack the festivities and warned people to evacuate the area.

In 2011, the Independence Day celebration was a low-key affair. The event was staged at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, instead of the Eagle Square. Security considerations were given as the reason for the low-key affair.

Later that year, then President Goodluck Jonathan disclosed that Nigerians would continue to witness low-key independence anniversary celebrations till 2014 when there would be an extravagant carnival to mark 100 years of amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates, to form Nigeria, in 1914.

Government sources also explained that, besides security concerns, the low-key Independence Day celebration in 2011 was informed by a need to cut costs, after huge amounts were spent on the country’s 50th anniversary in 2010.

Just like the 2011 episode, the Independence Day celebration in 2012 was a low-key event, the highlight being a ceremonial Change of Guards by the Nigerian Army Brigade of Guards, watched by Jonathan and other top government officials at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa.

The 2013 Independence Day celebration was also low-key, mirroring the patterns of the 2011 and 2012 anniversaries.

Despite the earlier disclosure by President Goodluck Jonathan that the 2014 Independence Day would feature an “extravagant carnival”, that year’s anniversary was equally low-key.

For the fourth year in a row, the Independence Day was marked at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, rather than the Eagle Square.

In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, of the All Progressives Congress, APC, had just displaced Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

But the new government also marked that year’s Independence Day with a low-key celebration.

The events lined up for the country’s 55th independence anniversary are: Jumat prayers, interdenominational thanksgiving service, ceremonial change of guards at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa, and a children’s party.

Then SGF, Babachir Lawal, had earlier explained that the 2015 independence anniversary would be low-keyed due to the poor state of the country’s finances.

The country’s 56th independence anniversary, in 2016, was also low-key, a repeat of the 2015 episode.

Earlier that year, in August 2016, the Federal Government had announced that the country’s economy had slipped into recession following the crash of oil prices in the international market.

The Federal Government, again in 2017, marked the independence anniversary in a low-key, citing lack of funds, poor economic condition and other challenges as reasons.

However, the 2018 edition of the Independence Anniversary was marked with fanfare at the Eagle Square, the first time the event will be returning to its natural venue in eight years.

That year’s independence anniversary kicked off with displays by the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, jets and helicopters in Abuja. A total of 27 jets were assembled from various NAF units for the Air Force Jet simulations. Unfortunately, two of the jets collided in the build up, leading to the death of one of the pilots.

The Federal Government reverted to low-key celebration of the independence anniversary in 2019 and repeated same in 2020.

The safety protocols enforced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic was given as the reason for the low-key celebration of the independence anniversary in 2020.

The 2021 independence anniversary was also a low-key affair, with the Federal Government pointing to concerns over the presence of the COVID-19 Delta variant in the country.

The 2022 independence anniversary – Buhari’s last as President – was marked with fanfare. It was the second time the occasion would not be ‘low-keyed’ in 12 years.

The 2022 event featured colourful parades and cultural displays.

Nothing to celebrate

Beyond the reasons given by the government for opting for low-key independence anniversary celebrations, some Nigerians, who spoke with DAILY POST, are of the opinion that Nigeria has nothing to celebrate.

Willy Ezugwu, Secretary-General of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, said the Federal government is opting for low-key celebrations because of the need to cut costs, and also because “they don’t see what they have to celebrate”.

Ezugwu added, “There is nothing to write home about because of so many problems, including unemployment, insecurity and infrastructure decay. So what are we celebrating?”

Rafsanjani noted that Nigerians are no longer interested in marking the independence anniversary because self-rule has not come with tangible progress and achievements.

“The truth of the matter is that for a very long time, Nigerians have not seen much to celebrate given the fact that independence was meant to bring about development, peace, stability and justice in Nigeria.

“Before Independence, Nigerians were complaining about exploitation by the colonial masters, but now we are experiencing exploitation by public officials who are looting and stealing and undermining peace and stability but are also making democracy a caricature,” Rafsanjani said.

Also speaking with DAILY POST, Dr Agbo Major, factional acting National Chairman of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP, said majority of Nigerians lack the financial means to celebrate the Independence Day.

“In the first place, have you asked yourself why they (government) are saying low-key? It is because they know that the people who should celebrate – that is the ordinary people like you and I – do not even have what it takes to celebrate it.

“And they don’t want to be seen as living large on our resources whereas the people who generate the resources are not able to buy rice and pieces of meat for our children on Independence Day,” he said.

Olu Omotayo, President, Civil Right Realisation and Advancement Network, CRRAN, said low-key celebration of the Independence Day is the only viable option.

“Low-key celebration is the proper thing because the economy of the country has been down for some time, it has not been okay, and added to that, insecurity has been on the rise in the past three years. Experts have been expressing concern at the state of the economy so there is no need to waste money on Independence Day celebrations when the citizens are not getting the benefits.

“There is no need to waste money on fanfare, everybody is complaining. So I think a low-key celebration is in order because the economy cannot support any elaborate celebration,” the civil rights lawyer added.

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