Nigeria: A nation @ 50 its past, its future. By Chukwuemeka Obani
In the beginning was Nigeria.
And Nigeria as a nation was a land of promise,
And the nation was home for all Nigerians.
Providence placed the hope of a blissful future into our hands.
Our future was and still is founded on this hope.
The seeds of this future were entrusted to our founding fathers and have been passed to us.
Look at what we had and still have to build upon: agriculture, mining, human and intellectual resources, a united and peaceful Nigeria, where the different ethnic groups could co-exist.
This hope was not a dues ex machine:
We were and are still to shape our future with our hands.
Yes, we had and still have possibilities.
We just celebrated Nigeria’s, (the self styled ‘Giant of Africa’) golden jubilee. There are a load of opinions and debates on our achievement so far. Some school of thoughts believe that we have regressed rather than progressed since independence, some others are of the opinion that we are still developing and there is much room for growth. Some optimistic ones believe that we have far exceeded the expected benchmark in terms of positive developments.
Agreeably, we are all entitled to our individual opinions whether pessimistic, optimistic, sarcastic, cynical or coloured as the case may be. Nevertheless, facts on ground show that we are a growing nation. The above sentence was made deliberately ambiguous because opinions differ depending on one’s viewing standpoint. In precise terms though, growing is meant to imply that though growth may be slow, though we have on more than one occasion deviated from the right path, we nonetheless, have made some remarkable achievements and like they say “when there is life there is hope”. A common aphorism states ‘one who knows where he is coming from should know where he is going’. This aptly explains the rationale behind this write-up. This writer hopes to take an impassioned look at our past (which will include our successes, mistakes, weaknesses and strengths), our present and possibly highlight various ways of mapping out a better future for us all.
Nigeria: The Nation.
As an introduction, Nigeria is a geographical entity located in West Africa in the Sub Saharan region. The name ‘Nigeria’ was suggested by Flora Shaw the
wife of Sir Fredrick Lugard, a former colonial Governor of Nigeria. The country is a product of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates. Nigeria is a federal republic composed of thirty six states including the capital territory with an elected President and a Bi-cameral legislature. There are numerous ethnic groups, languages and religions making up the country called Nigeria. Nigeria got her independence from the British in 1960 after the struggle for freedom by some Notable Nigerians like Sir Herbert Macaulay, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Sir Ahmadou Bello, Chief Anthony Enahoro to mention but a few, who are collectively known as the Fathers and Founders of Nigerian Nationalism.
From 1960 till date, Nigeria has had a total of 15 people at the helm of its affairs. They are as follows:
• Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister 1960-1966
• Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, President (ceremonial) 1960-1966
• General Aguiyi Ironsi, Head of state 1966
• General Yakubu Gowon, Head of State 1966-1975
• General Murtala Mohammed, Head of State 1975-1976
• General Olusegun Obasanjo, Head of State 1976-1979
• Alhaji Shehu Shagari, President 1979-1983
• General Mohammed Buhari, Head of State 1983-1985
• General Ibrahim Babaginda, Head of State 1985-1993
• Chief Ernest Shonekan, President 1993
• General Sani Abacha, Head of State 1993-1998
• General Abubakar Abdusalami, Head of State 1998-1999
• Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, President 1999-2007
• Alhaji Umaru Yaradua, President 2007-2010
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, President 2010.
SETBACKS, PROBLEMS AND PITFALLS OF/IN THE NATION SINCE INDEPENDENCE
In our journey since independence, we have had one problem or the other in virtually every aspect of our existence. Though mistakes are fundamental to growth as it gives experience, it can only be productive if lessons are learnt from the mistakes.
The development of a country is to a large extent, dependent on the level and calibre of leaders in that country. “If the head is bad, the rest of the body is bound to be bad” is a common dictum. Being that as it may, it is an undeniable fact that the time tested and proven success assured approach to governance is the democratic form of governance. From the foregoing it is obvious that leadership and the forms it takes in Nigeria has been the bane of the country and from it, stems all the other problems.
In the fifty years of Nigeria’s independence, democratic rule has been in play for only about twenty years or thereabouts. Thus, using simple arithmetic, the country has had approximately thirty years of military rule. It will be absolutely justifiable to say those years have been wasted. The major disadvantage of being under military rule stems from the fact that the masses have no say in the choice of leaders, or in how they are governed. This as has being shown in Nigeria creates room for dictatorship, despotism, autocracy, embezzlement, extrajudicial killings, total disregard for the rule of law, improper concentration of power in the hands of a few, to mention but a few.
The above enumerated features of military rule has been exemplified in Nigeria in the following cases: the assassination of Dele Giwa and Kudirat Abiola, the execution of the ogoni nine, arrests of human right activists and unlawful closure of newspaper houses and most tragic of all, the annulment of the freest and fairest election ever to have been carried out in Nigeria. The military psyche of ‘might is right’ has also been imbibed by the average Nigerian to the extent that the importance of dialogue has been eroded. ‘The man with the gun is the man with power’ is now the maxim. It is thus not surprising to see the rationale behind the use of militancy as a tool in Nigeria, for making demands.
After all the problems of the military, we have successfully transited to the democratic form of governance all thanks to the actions of brave Nigerians and the integrity of General Abdusalami Abubakar. But alas we are not getting it right. It is taking us an inordinate amount of time to purge ourselves of the military psychology of might. It is thus not surprising to observe gross indiscipline and abuse of office by the political office holders. Everybody acts like they are or should be above the law. Thus embezzlement of public funds is the order of the day. To further worsen issues, we have also experienced economic problems.
The discovery of oil has turned our country into a one tracked economy. No longer do we hear of the famed ‘groundnut pyramids’ of the north. We rather hear of oil and nothing else. Everyone wants to work in the oil sector. This has led to a dearth of manpower necessary for the proper growth of the agricultural and industrial sector. Nigeria has become a country of importation country as virtually everything in the country is imported thus making us incapable of self reliance.
If this were to be the only economic problem we are experiencing, then we would be comfortable. Unfortunately, corruption has reared its ugly head in the economic sector. With the looting and transfer of public funds by the leaders out of the country, there has been an increase in exchange rate and the devaluation of our currency. In 2009 we had a serious crisis in the banking sector due to mismanagement of funds and sharp practices by the chief executive officers of some banks which were collectively called ‘distressed banks’. We heard reports of bank lending without collateral, lending of money to individuals to buy shares from the same banks who lent them the money in the first place. All these actions exemplify the lawlessness inherited from the military era.
Another serious ill of an oil oriented economy is problem arising from oil spill and gas flaring. This creates pollution of unimaginable magnitudes and the effects are virtually innumerable as they are immeasurable.
Our educational sector leaves little or nothing to be desired. The picture is so dismal and uncountable that space would not allow us treat it exhaustively.
First on our list of educational woes is the complete absence of concrete educational policies and framework. Educational policies are changed by every new dispensation and even within a dispensation it has been known to have been changed time after time. This has led to the policies been ineffective and unproductive thus negating any usefulness the policies may have served.
In addition to this, is the widespread malpractice carried out in every level of our educational ladder. This in turn has led to the production of ‘half baked’ graduates. There is proliferation of primary and secondary schools and majority of them fail to meet up to the minimum standards. The numbers of universities are inadequate to cater to the mass of aspiring university students. We thus encounter situations whereby students stay for close to three or four years before getting admitted if ever. The existing universities are understaffed, inadequately funded and over populated. Strikes and industrial actions are commonplace, in the tertiary institutions thus disrupting the academic calendar. It is an undeniable fact the measurement of a nation’s development is dependent on the amount of its educated masses. Thus with these problems and others, in addition to the absence of long term educational policies, we have a lot of work to do.
Socially, we have also experienced hiccups in our journey since independence. Corruption has eaten deeply into the fabrics of our national growth. Transparency international, has rated us among the top most corrupt nations in the world. Corruption and indiscipline are intertwined thus it is unsurprising to hear of policemen shooting at innocent drivers and passengers for failure of the drivers to part with twenty naira. Kickbacks are the norm of the civil service. The news everyday is incomplete without stories of politicians being declared wanted or arrested for misappropriation of public funds.
Ethnic clashes, religious violence are parts of the framework of day to day living. Erratic power supply is as acceptable as sleeping at night. Countless efforts and massive funds have been allocated for the revamping of the power sector all to no avail.
In the area of sports, it is disheartening to watch the dismal performance of our national team in world events. A case in point is the recently concluded world cup held in South Africa. In the first place, it reeks of failure that the first ever world cup to be held in Africa, passed us by. If that were not enough, the performance of our team was an eyesore to put it mildly.
Security of lives and properties are a luxury even the rich cannot afford. Kidnapping is now an occupation with very lucrative rewards. Arm robbery is the norm.
The picture as painted looks grim and the problem looks insurmountable. The thought of the average reader will be in form of a question-have we done anything right at all? The answer is yes we have as will be shown below.
SUCCESSES AND POSITIVE STRIDES IN NIGERIA SINCE INDEPENDENCE
It has not just being a story of woes and mistakes in Nigeria. We have made some significant progress in every aspect of our individual and collective existence as is often said, “There is a dark cloud in every silver lining”.
Politically, it is commendable that Nigeria now has a democratically elected government which took over from another democratically elected government. The principle of dialogue is now being developed in the psyche of the masses. The courts are now a place where most often than not, one can get justice. Leaders are now being made to realise that the vote of the common man counts. A great landmark of our political progress is the signing of the electoral act into law. The slogan “one man, one vote” is now resonating in every corner of the country and for the first time we have a member of a minority tribe, not just being the president but also the favourite for the coming election. Governance has now being demystified as the president of this great nation actually communicates with his citizens through the medium of face book. Through the ever present threatening presence of the economic and financial crimes commission, public office holders now know they cannot treat public funds with levity. Despite the hue and cry of a significant minority on that the Economic and financial crimes commission is being used to witch hunt them, it begs the question because a free conscience fears no accusation.
Educationally, we have also made some positive developments. Private tertiary institutions are now springing up creating more opportunities for admission.
Everyone is now sensitised as to the negative effects of examination malpractice and no student wants to be associated with cultism. Education has now been given a prominent place in our list of priorities. This country has produced talented people like Chinua Achebe, Phillip Emeagwali, Chimamanda Adichie, Wole Soyinka to mention but a few.
Power supply is now more stable and with the passage of the energy bill, there is a foreseeable bright future for the country. Petrol is now sixty five naira per litre and there is absence of queues at petrol stations. With the release of three hundred and fifteen million naira to the textile industry, there is hope for the industrial sector.
Telecommunications came into Nigeria in the year 2000 and since then the sector has been growing and competition between the companies is creating a customer caring atmosphere. In the area of sports, the Nigerian football federation is now being reshuffled and there is now an infusion of the spirit of accountability and hard work not just in sports but in politics.
With the amnesty program, the militants have now been given a lifeline and the disruption of economic activities is at a minimum. A new Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman with remarkable curriculum vitae has been appointed and funds have been released, to aid him in fulfilling his duties. We thus envisage an election that will be different from the past.
Nigerians are now made to value themselves as humans and with the new slogan of Nigeria; Good People, Great Nation even the international community are beginning to take our talk on progress serious. With all this achievements, there is actually a big room for improvement
LESSONS LEARNED AND WAYS TO ACHIEVE A BETTER NIGERIA
I have a dream where Nigeria will be a force to reckon with in the Committee of Nations. Where elections will be free and fair, where there will be security of lives and properties, where the common man will have a say in national policies, where our educational sector will be world class and where we will all be satisfied Nigerians. But like they say, dreams are good but one has to wake up to realise them. This means that we have to work hard, with a conscious awareness of our past mistakes and a clear idea of what our future should be in order to get a better country.
First and foremost, corruption should not be tolerated in any form. Crimes of corruption should be punished severely and ill gotten wealth should be frowned upon. Politicians should be made to compulsorily declare their assets before and after holding public offices. Any policeman caught engaged in bribery, should be discharged and tried according to the most stringent laws available. The use of violence should be totally frowned upon and discouraged. The military should retire to the barracks as they have, and remain there. No matter how many faults a civilian governance has, we should give democracy a chance. So, never again should we be made to experience military rule. Strong educational policies should be adopted and made permanent. In line with this, the forthcoming elections should be made as free and fair as possible as a good start. Political position should not be based on ethnicity but on merit as is done in America.
The importance of good health in a nation should not be undermined because this writer believes a healthy nation is a productive nation. The health sector should thus be revitalised and health workers adequately paid. As much as possible, free healthcare services should be provided. Infrastructural and industrial growth policies should be made to work by proper supervision.
In addition, security agencies should be better trained and equipped to adequately combat crime and the death penalty should be adopted for crimes involving kidnapping. Security of lives and property should not be placed entirely on the shoulders of the police force alone. Nigerians should learn to be vigilant to suspicious behaviours within their vicinity. To make this effective, there should ease of access to the police and information should be confidential.
The recent changes in the area of our sports should be encouraged and there should be programs to encourage youth participation in sports. Funding of sports should not be the prerogative of the government alone. Private funding should also be encouraged and unproductive policies should be discarded. Commensurate rewards should be given for excellent performance.
Ministries, government agencies, non-governmental organizations should organize seminars and workshops that will inculcate the principles of tolerance and dialogue. Religious leaders irrespective of belief or creed should preach tolerance and respect for other religions to their followers. The amnesty program should be made productive and self employment should be encouraged through granting of loans and government grants to promising businesses.
The National awards should not be exclusive to the rich or famous but should be used to recognize excellence in whatever level of society. Laxity and deviant behavior should be frowned upon and excellence in all areas of our lives should be the watchword.
In summary, like the Americans, we should all come to the understanding that, we all have a stake in the country called Nigeria and that whether good or bad, the country is ours. Thus we shall truly be Nigerians; Good People, Great Nation.
Long live Nigeria! Long live the greatest black nation!! Long live our Great Motherland!!!
Nigeria: A nation @ 50 its past, its future. By Chukwuemeka Obani