How Nigeria elite shattered dream of its founders

Thursday February 02 2023
Nigerian literary icon and Nobel Peace laureate Wole Soyinka

Nigerian literary icon and Nobel Peace laureate Wole Soyinka. He is one of the few Nigerians who dared to fight when the going got tough. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, goes to the polls this month. If I were to present a thesis on the state of the nation since independence in 1960, I would capture the life and times of three generations: My grandfather’s, my father’s and mine.

My grandfather’s generation was born between 1900 and 1930 and grew up under colonial rule. Their country ruled by people who had neither clue nor regard for their culture and traditions. They went through the loss of dignity in their own land and rose up to fight. They started their own newspapers and reshaped the narrative and eventually secured independence for the nation in 1960.

Pro-development nationalists

They were nationalists and pro-development with a cause. Under their leadership and with no money from crude oil, they erected the first skyscraper in West Africa, first dual carriage roads, first TV station in Africa and yes even the first stadium in Africa— Liberty Stadium (Now Obafemi Awolowo Stadium Ibadan) and first teaching hospital — The University College Hospital.

Then came my father’s generation. They were the children of the fighters and reaped big from the struggles of their parents. They were Western educated and returned to Nigeria with Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge degrees. They were the new elite. They were employed even before they graduated.

They were beneficiaries of the good times created by their strong fathers. These intellectuals and captains of industry did not fight for anything and so, they lacked the capacity to retain what they did not sweat for.


In January 1966, the first coup in Nigeria took place and changed the landscape forever.

Enemies of the state

Now what did my father’s generation do with all their intellectualism? They aided the military and those who did not would sit in clubs discussing the state of the nation. When the going got so tough, many of them simply returned to the Western nations where they had been trained. The few who dared to fight were always in and out of prison and were literally enemies of the state, including patriots like Prof Wole Soyinka, the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and the late Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Majority of the elite of that generation that got into bed with the military and built personal fortunes. The late Moshood Abiola was the poster boy for my father’s generation — one that benefited immensely from the military, which is why they were constantly at loggerheads with the patriots.

Land of milk and honey

Now enter my generation. We grew up in a land flowing with milk and honey. We grew up in a land where our head of state — Yakubu Gowon said money was not our problem but how to spend it.

We also saw the beginning of the decline but did not know what to do. We just did not have the capacity to drive change. Many were born abroad and held foreign passports and thus began the mass exodus and great Nigerian brain drain.

Today, we seem to have all the solutions on our WhatsApp groups and mumble a bit, but once the government barks, we quietly flee to a corner because we don’t know how to fight for things.

The nation is back where it was in the generation of my grandfather. The only difference is that now, the enemy is not the colonial master; the enemy is the generation of my father that ruined the nation but now comes back claiming to have the solution.

Wale Akinyemi is the founder of The Street University [email protected]