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NIGERIA AT 55: THE JOURNEY SO FAR?

NIGERIA AT 55: THE JOURNEY SO FAR?

By Ifeanyi Ottah

As Nigeria celebrates her fifty-five years of independence from British colonial rule, it may be important to reflect on the socio-economic and political development of the country after more than five decades of political independence. Obviously, when  on October 1,1960, as the country attained its Independence the mood of  many Nigerians was upbeat and the thinking among Nigerians was that it would enthrone new orientations and policies, which would translate into rapid growth and development of the country. Not a few Nigerians then were very optimistic about the prospects of the nation becoming a land of justice, peace and prosperity for its people.But for a country endowed with so much resources, it was believed that Nigeria would soon become a major player in Africa  and, of course, world politics and economy.

Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the sum of N70million for this year’s independence celebrations.

Addressing journalists recently, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGF, made this revelation.

According to the SGF, Buhari reluctantly approved the N70 million after complaining that he would have preferred that the money was diverted for the payment of workers’ salaries.

He said the president had argued that the money was too much to be spent on frivolities such as celebrations when Nigerians are grappling to survive the present day economic stress.

He further explained that “this year’s celebration is indeed, low key because the present administration appreciates the economic hardship that Nigerians and the nation are confronted  with today and he almost slashed it downward from N70million”

“To address the situation, government has adopted a general policy to be very prudent in the management of our financial resources, so this year’s celebration is, therefore, in consonance with the cost-saving policy direction of this administration.”

Towards a successful celebration, the SGF said “four events have been approved by the President to manage the entire celebration process.”

“The events are: Jumat prayers, international thanksgiving service, ceremonial change of guards and a children’s party”.

“Apart from these four events, the president will also address the nation on October1.”

“To ensure a successful commemoration, four sub- committees have been constituted to handle the preparations for each of the four events.”

HANDICAPS:

However, fifty-five years after, many Nigerians strongly believe that the country has made little progress in her political, economic and social development. While the rich continues to be richer, the poor has continued to wallow in poverty. Life today in Nigeria is almost unbearable for the average citizen. There is no doubt that Nigeria as a nation, is still grappling with the issues of national integration, corruption, poverty, insecurity and poor leadership. As a matter of fact, corruption continues to grow in the country and analysts have posited that if Nigerian leaders do not sit up to curb the hydra-headed monster it may bring the country to its knees. Recent reports by international agencies indicated that the country’s socio-economic index is quite unfavourable. Nigeria is currently grouped among the 20 poorest countries in the world and among the 30 least developed in sub-Saharan Africa.

POVERTY

Also, of the country’s estimated population of 160 million, reports revealed that about 100 million people are living on less than US$1 per day. This implies that over 70 percent of Nigerians are classified as poor. This is the pathetic situation that the country has found itself and of course, it is quite embarrassing, particularly, when it is considered that at the dawn of the country’s independence, it was believed that Nigeria would soon become a giant in Africa.

UNPRODUCTIVE ECONOMY

Consequently, economic experts have also maintained over the years that the engine for sustainable growth and development of any economy is the manufacturing sector. Certainly, there is no gain saying that this sector globally remains the biggest employer of labour and contributor to gross domestic product of a nation. But sadly, this very important sector of the economy has remained unproductive over the years as a result of high interest rates and poor electricity generation. Consequently, manufacturing companies have either closed down or relocated to neighbouring countries like Ghana, Benin Republic etc. Obviously, this has led to high unemployment rate. This definitely was not the situation at the beginning as it has been reported that “the manufacturing sector’s contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic  Product (GDP) rose from 4.4 percent in 1959 to 9.4percent in 1970” before falling to7.0 percent in 1973 and since then, Nigeria has remained a crawling nation.

EDUCATION

The future of any nation lies in the quality of the country’s education. During the late 1980’s, the country’s universities competed favourably with their counterparts all over the world. But today, tertiary institutions in the country are in bad shape, worsened by incessant strikes of the academic staff  union to press home their demands for improved facilities. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) last year, estimated that over 10.5 million Nigerian children did not have access to education and net primary school enrolment is 90.94 percent.

ETHNICITY / RELIGIOUS INTERESTS

But after over five decades of independence during which the country had gone through a civil war and series of military administrations, it seems that the country has not learnt from history. There seems to be threats from individuals across the country about desire to promote the interests of their ethnic groups. Ethnic and religious militias have continued to threaten the peace and unity of the country. The Boko Haram group in the North-East of the country has reportedly killed millions of innocent Nigerians recklessly.

Nigeria is also blessed with enormous natural resources, including petroleum, coal, bitumen, limestone, iron ore and so many other mineral deposits in commercial quantities.

Its agricultural resources include palm produce, cocoa, groundnuts, timber, rubber and other forms of cash and food crops.

It could be recalled that before the advent of oil boom, Nigeria’s economic and political prospects were rated so highly among the emerging Third World countries that she was categorised along with Brazil, India and South Africa. Historically, even before the coming of the white man, Nigeria boasted prestigious empires, such as the Benin, Oyo, Sokoto Caliphate, Kanem-Borno and powerful coastal kingdoms at Bonny, Calabar, Lagos and others, all of which had established treaties and diplomatic ties with world powers.

But the amalgamation of 1914, which some now describe as a “mistake,” created a model with the potentials to put a black nation among the front-runners of world political economy.

THE JOURNEY SO FAR

Nigeria was also one of the first to catch the bug of independence. Through the efforts of Nigeria’s father of independence, Dr. Herbert Macaulay and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who showed the light for other Africanists such as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Julius Nyerere and even Dr. Nelson Mandela to find their ways to remove their people from the clutches of colonial rule, Nigeria quickly moved, on gaining independence, to establish Africa as the centrepiece of her foreign policy.

She dedicated much of her efforts towards the struggle for freedom of Southern African countries still in the grips of the colonialists, such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Malawi, Botswana and South Africa.

On regional security Nigeria contributed her troops and funds to help bring peace to war-torn African countries such as the Congo, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire and Sudan, thus becoming a partner with the African Union, United Nations and the sole superpower, the USA, in the maintenance of regional security and stability. This is one of the reasons for

which she has for long, queued up for the prime spot for a permanent seat in the United Nations should the decision be made to grant Africa a slot. Nigeria is looked upon as the leader of Black

Africa; a role she has gallantly endeavoured to play. However, it is on record that since Independence, the Southern Region (the present South East, South West and South South), suffered many disadvantages including census and electoral constituency configuration that ensured that the North would always win elections.  It was with these serial clashes of values and perception of injustice vis-à-vis one another that the East, West and North went into unhealthy rivalries, each fighting to dominate the others while going into

alliances with the sole purpose of undermining one another. Besides, the minorities embedded in each of these regions also wanted self-determination and freedom from what some of them saw as “internal colonisation” by the majorities. This perhaps, contributed to the apparently unending crises, wars, mini-wars and blood-letting, which have gripped Nigeria in the throat from independence in 1960 to date.

The rivalries started in the political parties and later spread to the ranks of the military when the first coup took place in January, 1966, which was seen as an “Igbo coup” due to certain trends it took.  Another coup came up in July the same year, which was equally dubbed a revenge “Northern coup”, thus setting the pace for the civil war and an attempt at secession by

the Republic of Biafra, led by late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu .

But when the war ended with the defeat of Biafra and the Igbos side-lined from the main stream of power, the coalition that fought “to keep Nigeria One” went at each other’s throats for dominance. Some groups felt they led the war and must permanently call the shots of power. Others felt they also had the right to vie since without their effort the secession would have succeeded. The up shot was a series of coups, counter-coups and failed coups that bedevilled the nation between 1970- 1995.

The Minorities have also fought their own protest wars. The most disturbances have been the uprising in the Niger Delta against the exploitation and despoliation of their environment by oil giants with an insensitive Nigerian state seen as co-culprits.

The uprising of the Ogoni ended in murders of a section of their elite, while the state arrested the factional leaders of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni people

(MOSOP) led by Ken Saro-Wiwa and hanged them on November 10th 1995. A couple of years later the Ijaw youth gathered at Kaiama in Bayelsa State and issued a declaration for “self-determination” and thus started a militancy campaign which

nearly brought the Nigerian economy to its knees.  However, following an amnesty deal offered by the government of the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua, peace returned to the

Niger Delta.  Oil has brought Nigeria stupendous wealth valued at nearly $800 billion since 1958. But rather than become a catalyst for rapid development, it has unleashed a curse blamed for the civil war, runaway corruption, indolence of the elite and high poverty rate among the common people. It has reduced Nigeria to a net importer of every need, including goods that used to be produced in Nigeria and exported.

The misrule and its resultant poverty are blamed for the rise of religious extremists in Northern Nigeria known as Boko Haram insurgency. Boko Haram has crippled the economy of the north and thousands of innocent Nigerians to their early graves through their orchestrated suicide bombings and gun attacks, even in places of worship.

But since Buhari’s administration started, the Nigerian security forces have swooped on them and the signs are beginning to emerge that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Nigeria has gone through the blacks mith’s forge. It would be recalled that way back in 2009, predictions emerged from a report submitted to the US Congress committee on Foreign Affairs by diplomat and expert that Nigeria could disintegrate by 2015. Some said the activities of Boko Haram might bring this prediction to pass while others were of the view that since Nigeria could not break up between 1966 and1970 and after all that she had gone through, the country has become unbreakable .Nigeria has indeed changed a lot in the past 16years since the return of democracy in 1999.

DEMOCRACY

For the first time in Nigeria’s history, four presidents have been elected without military intervention.

The era of power belonging to one section is now over. With Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a minority from the South South elected president in 2011 in a mandate given by the electorate from across the country, hope is rekindled that Nigeria is outgrowing her post-colonial teething problems. If President Buhari should give the South East geo-political zone one additional state to make the zone six states and stop the lopsided appointments experienced in his early appointments and desist from undue marginalisation of any geopolitical zone, Nigeria would have crossed a major hurdle that will assure that anything else can be solved through constitutional means rather than violence, wars and threats of disintegration.

Some clerics across the country have called on government to entrench the culture of good governance and pursue policies that would rekindle the spirit of patriotism among the citizenry. While barring their minds on the state of the nation vis-a avis the upcoming independence celebration, in separate interview with Channels Television, the clerics said that it was time for the country to frontally interrogate the meaning of leadership and followership from a value position, and identify where she is found wanting  and address the challenges decisively. They also called for citizens to shun vices such as tribalism and intolerance and to work and pray so that God grants the country ‘real freedom that follows independence.

Others called on government to create opportunities to diversify the economy and the right atmosphere for citizens to fully develop their potentials.

National and international coordinator, Obedience To God Assembly, Lagos, Pastor Chris Ekejekwu, said  as we look forward to celebrating the 55th Independence anniversary of this country, there is not much to gladden one’s heart. “After 55 years, Nigerians are crying over poverty, unemployment, injustice, lack of enabling environment to do any prosperous business, insecurity, dearth of infrastructure and religious bigotry.

At a time like this and with so much complaint over the state of the nation, we should cry to God, because we are still far from celebrating true freedom. But God will show mercy, if the leaders and people seek him Joel 2:12-17, Jonah3:4-9. At this juncture, the president should do the following three things for divine help and healing of the land:

He should call for town hall meetings in the six geo-political zones and dialogue with the people. This will enable people bare their minds and needs. He should speak more and directly to the people, bare his minds on what he is doing rather than making his spokesperson to almost always do the talking for him. He should increase his direct communication potency to his people. This will make the people to trust and believe in him. The president should declare the first day of every month a fasting and prayer day.”

In his own view-, Dr Saheed Alamad Rufia, of the Faculty of Education, Sokoto State University, said my own characterisation of our country’s state in the incessant imbroglio, continued quagmire and pervasive pitfalls that seem a source of drawback in all fronts, is that unpalatable national experience offers a rationale for the deployment of resources towards the facilitation of a change in the mindset of both the leadership and the citizenry. I recommend the use of two tools pursuit of the much-desired change, namely valued- lend education and scripture- based religious orientation. And my proposal is grounded in the injunction contained in Holy Quran, chapter 13 verse 11 that, “Allah will not change the state of the people until they change their own mindset.”

So, as a Muslim scholar, I favour the   interplay of these two perspectives, namely: education and religion for a mindset  changing blueprint for Nigeria.

WHAT NIGERIANS THINK:

Speaking, Mr Fred Agbaje, legal practitioner and Human Rights activist, said corruption has become state policy in Nigeria

According to him, it has been the good, the bad and the ugly for Nigeria in the past 55 years, most especially in terms of poverty of leadership, and that has bred so much corruption in the system, such that everything now revolves around it.

“It’s enough to say corruption has become a signpost and a state policy. However, it reminds us that democracy has come to stay if the present political leaders do not endanger it with their lack luster performance, visionless policy, particularly with the high level of insecurity in the country, unemployment and, by extension, corruption, which has been the bane. In all, we can shake ourselves that Nigeria is still united after 55 years, else, there is nothing to cheer about. Our government still needs to do more in terms of delivering the dividends of democracy. We are talking about good governance that revolves around the rule of law, not the one in which a governor or governor-elect will be sponsoring hoodlums or launching an attack on the judiciary for any reason. It shows that our political class has learnt nothing, and it’s not their fault, because they didn’t contribute anything towards the installation of democracy. Where were most of them when people were fighting for the enthronement of democracy? Unfortunately, these people who never contributed anything to the installation of democracy are the ones enjoying it. That is the problem. And the present government is not even making it easy to vote out the bad leaders in the system,” he said.

Victor Olaotan, film maker, said we are yet to know our purpose for existence.

”Our country is still trying to find its feet after 55 years to be exact and it is unfortunate because we know of younger republics that have moved on and become great in Asian countries like Indonesia and Singapore. Even the United Arab Emirates is a younger republic and it is doing something great. Probably, because of our diverse culture and significant geo-political zone, it has not allowed us to agree on anything. I believe better things are still coming to this nation but it would take a lot of hard work which may be drastic, but something has to make the country a better place. Politically, we are right now a confused state.  We do not know if we are practising democracy or otherwise, so we are praying to God that our leaders would make our nation a better place. Politicians use the youth and other avenues to get themselves into power but what they do in power is what we do not know. Socially, many entertainers are aiming for political posts because they have come to the conclusion that the only way to make money in the country is to join politics and this is so sad. That is not what politics is about. In England, you see the Member of Parliament taking a bus to work but in Nigeria, a local government chairman has escorts and sirens blaring whenever he passes. People are seeing the political arena as a way to enrich themselves and it is a sad situation. Hopefully the youth would change things in the country,” he stated.

Pastor Peter Ameh, clergyman, said: “When I was born over 60 years ago, Nigeria was a indeed, a great country. It was truly a “Giant in Africa” because of its high economic activities, not because of its population only. We used to export commodities like cocoa, rubber and groundnut in large quantities to many of the Western countries of the world. There was no acute hunger. Before I graduated from the university then, I had got offers from about four good companies with good salary packages. Graduates struggle to get jobs these days. Our country was not known for corruption in those days. May the Lord restore us back to our glory. The truth is that we have achieved some progress in terms of infrastructural development. But apart from that, qualitatively, we have retrogressed as a nation. For example, the education we had in the early 1980s and 90s was much better than what we have today. The same goes for the health sector and governance as a whole. Though we have modern equipment in our

hospitals today, the doctors and nurses lack the character and dedication their counterparts in the past exhibited. If you compare the indices today, you will realise we have mediocrities in power which is not what we had in the past. So, generally and honestly speaking, Nigeria has failed to fulfill its massive potentials 54 years after independence from British colonial rule.

It’s mixed feelings. My feeling is that in the first 20 years or so, we seemed to have done better. Then, in another 20 years, we didn’t do well. But in the last 10 years, it’s been very good to have communication. On the other hand, our infrastructure has decayed and not matched our population growth. That is one area where we have not done well. If it had been taken care of, we would have done much better. We have made some progress in the last one year with the unbundling of the power sector. We now have the distribution companies, but what is left now is the transmission. I hope they do something to complete the chain. Power is key to the industrial development of the country.  So we can do better in the areas of infrastructure, energy and roads. For instance, if we improve on infrastructure and power, it will empower the youths and energise small and medium scale enterprises. We could have also done better in the area of power. Our security should also be revamped and there should be accountability. The National Assembly, who has oversight functions, should see to how money is being spent,” he said.

Henry Abba, veteran journalist who spoke to AMEN Super News has this to say.

“Nigeria has actually made progress in 55 years but as a country, we have only moved like a millipede. Those who said we are the largest economy in Africa merely gave us that tag to make us happy, but in reality we are nowhere near being the giant of Africa. If you take a look at the country, key sectors are lying fallow without the appropriate authorities doing anything tangible about it. Corruption has become fully entrenched in our society, swelling by the minute in fact. The government of the day treats us all as morons, but we are not fools because we know better. So, in my humble opinion, I think Nigeria has moved from where it used to be at independence, but that movement is nothing short of a millipede’s movement: slow and aimless”.

Also speaking, Chief  Mike Ugwu, an Enugu based Lawyer posited that 55 Nigeria has gone so far in the last 55 years, but not so well. “At 55, we don’t have any business at all with all the indices we have in this country like strife, insurgency, unemployment, ethno-religious rivalry, corruption, and so on. These are the indices of a failing state. But in spite of these, as a people of faith, we are hopeful that we will come out of this. The first step is for Nigerians to decide to take their destinies into their hands and be proactive.

Also at 55, we should not be talking about infrastructural decay. Going back 30 years, social services and our maintenance culture were better. Also, our education was much better and well respected at that time. What we experience now is evidence of bad governance. We should hold our leaders accountable for their actions. After two years in office, some of them suddenly become multi-billionaires.  So, Nigerians should follow the money. Figures are announced in our budgets, but don’t impact on Nigeria. If I were to assess the nation as an examination paper, I would not give her a pass mark. Given the potentials of the country, where we are after 55 years, in truth, cannot be adjudged as progress. A cataclysmic serial leadership failure has kept the nation crawling for 55 years. All segments of the society have performed within the failure range: education, defence, health, security, unity, infrastructure, youth employment, etc. it is easy to share the sentiments of certain discernible figures in society that Nigeria is more or less a failed state. Yet, the enormous potentials that can turn the nation’s fortunes around still abound. We need to muster the collective will, driven by a focused and selfless leadership, to maximise the depths of possibilities at our finger tips.

To Chief Ike Okonkwo, an All Progressives Congress (APC) Stalwart, we have improved in some areas.

Hear him,“There is no doubt, that we have improved in a number of areas.  For instance, in Information Technology and Communication. We are talking on the telephone, which was impossible 55 years ago. So we have made giant strides in those areas. We now have a lot more industries especially foods and beverages. It’s true that some companies have closed down, but a lot more have come on stream. The only area we have to improve is security and employment generation which is an international problem. The anti- corruption agenda of President Buhari is on course in the country and I don’t see any reason why the government will not follow it through. A lot is being done in the area of power”.

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