I had wanted to post this on Nigeria's independence day but somehow work got in the way and I could not.
Monday 21st September 2009 marked the centenary of the birth of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah and the government of the Republic of Ghana actually declared a year-long celebration culminating on the anniversary of the birthday of its first Prime Minister and President.
The more I read about this remarkable African, the more I appreciated why Ghanaians celebrated him thus.
I got an audio copy of Nkrumah's 'Africa Must Unite' speech at the founding of the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa 1963 and I could not but marvel at the profundity of his vision. His vision, as expounded at the summit was obviously very far ahead of his time. Also, his speech at the United Nations in 1960 was a masterpiece in all respects and must have been seen as a sort of 'bring-it-on' by the Western powers at that time.
As a Pan Africanist and leader of an independent Ghana - Africa's first independent nation - Nkrumah's major preoccupation was to encourage the other African countries to continue to demand for independence and he did this with a swagger that was infuriating to the colonial powers, particularly France which did not seem to have had any plans to leave its African colonies - even till today.
Nkrumah looked to Nigeria even at that time to become an African regional power given its sheer size and resource wealth but the Nigerian leaders at that time were very suspicious of his intentions and also of themselves.
Zik, his fellow Lincoln University alumnus and Pan-Africanist, had found himself in the position of a ceremonial President that was powerless and limiting while Awolowo appeared content just playing his politics locally.
As far as the pan-africanist agenda was concerned, Nigeria was of no use. Of all his seminal speeches however, the singular statement that Nkrumah made that was of significance to the Nigerian government of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and most Nigerians of that time was the one about Nigeria being ' ... big for nothing ..'
Domestically, Nkrumah ran a unitary government in Ghana in spite of it being composed of up to fifty different ethnic nationalities. He believed more in a federal Africa with the countries as the federating units than in a country with federating units. He practically forced Ghanaians to inter-marry and live outside their native environments.
Achievements were purely on merit. The whole of Ghana competed with itself. No 'local champions'. No 'catchment area'. No 'quota system'. His style of government is credited in part for the unity among Ghanaians till today.
Comparing all these with Nigeria, I just could not help but wonder where we got it wrong.
I could not help but think; Maybe this federalism is just over-hyped after all.
Maybe Nkrumah was right after all.
Maybe Nigeria is just big for nothing.