By OKEY ONYENWEAKU, ADEBAYO OBAJEMU and OBINNA EZUGWU
For a country that has endured so much in its story this far as attested to once again by Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, the Nigeria at 60 celebrations should ordinarily be a grand celebration.
But it is not so. Not many citizens are happy.
And the reason is not farfetched. This natural leader of the African continent is under-performing. It is punching far below its weight.
A star is born
There was a lot of celebration as October 1, 1960 approached. It was a time of great national excitement. The British were leaving. The peoples of Nigeria would be free to govern themselves once again. You could feel the joy. It was palpable.
And to set the stage for the greater things that the people expected would follow the exit of the British, the experiment of the self-government era that proceeded the Independence era had produced some manifestly grand results. From education to industry, the regions had been engaged in a frantic competition with regional leaders trying to outpace themselves in terms of who provided greater dividends to their people: Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpara, Ahmadu Bello; it was a season of generally impressive performance overall.
The beginning of the problem
But there were massive gaps that were not fully addressed. The exit of the British was going to leave a large opening at the centre. How would it be filled? The all-Nigerian federal arrangement still had to be comprehensively tested. How would it hold out in the absence of the British? Oil was just being discovered. Would it become a blessing or a curse? There were ethnic minorities. Had their interests being fully factored in? And then very critically, the political consciousness of the people overall was still quite low. And very little was being done in the arena of sustainable and visionary political education. Had all the safeguards been introduced?
In his biography, A Time and a Time, Augustine Asishana Amune, a veteran teacher, principal, administrator and politician who was then a headmaster in Igarra in the then Western Region (now Edo State) outlined the broader dilemma that the nation was faced with a bit more succinctly:
‘We were just given the new instruments of nationhood and instructed to ensure that our students were familiar with them. That was all! There was no talk about what they meant; and that we should teach about them and their significance and ensure that our pupils gain an understanding of the philosophical and ideological dimensions being communicated by the new anthem and flag. Ordinarily, some ‘training the trainers activity’ also ought to have preceded our being asked as teachers to pass on what we were being given to the children; for how really can you teach what you yourself had not been taught?’
These and other unsettled issues were to soon constitute a cog in the wheel of progress of the then new nation. And arguably, some of those initial challenges have persisted, 60 years hence.
Simply and squarely a failure of leadership
It was clear at Independence that leadership was important. Obafemi Awolowo had led the South West and pitched to lead Nigeria unsuccessfully. However, the best he got in the course of his trying was to become an unelected Finance Minister in the Yakubu Gowon years. Clearly a man of immense leadership attributes, he was later to be described as the best president Nigeria never had. But that was after his death, and his looking ahead and seeing that the problem was yet unresolved. At this point, he was famously reported to have said that ‘this generation will not see democracy in a lifetime.’ Well, even today, many still say that what we have today is a form of civilian rule, but not necessarily democracy.
Awo was not alone in throwing his hat into the ring on account of the Nigerian leadership challenge. Another great Nigerian icon, the novelist, Chinua Achebe wrote books dissecting the Nigerian leadership challenge. After literally calling the 1966 coups, he went on to attempt to join in fixing the problem, first through Biafra and later through the Peoples Republican Party, PRP, that the talakawa exponent, Mallam Aminu Kano had founded as an upgrade and replacement for his erstwhile Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU of the First Republic era. In a damning 1983 book, he wrote: ‘the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. And this was not to change as going forward to the time of the close of his own sojourn on this side of life, an equally dispirited Achebe, who had publicly scorned national honours from leaders he termed undeserving, also gave up almost completely on the Nigerian leadership conundrum: There was a country, he penned; a final testament of what had happened to the scabbard as his bosom friend and fellow writer who was indeed literally felled by Nigeria, Christopher Okigbo, would have put it.
The African Hope
But Nigeria’s natural endowments remain generally attractive and this much continues to be broadly appreciated by many in the continent.
At the close of September for example, the South Africa-born Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, Wamkele Mene was in Abuja to hold talks with the Nigerian authorities on the need for the country to ratify the agreement and latch on fully onto the landmark continental trade buoy process. With Nigeria having the single biggest GDP number in the continent yet, AfCFTA would in a sense be somewhat handicapped without its involvement, even if temporarily.
A number of interesting perspectives were put on the table by different leaders and commentators that BH reached out to volunteer ideas on the subject of Nigeria at 60, gains recorded, failures entertained and the way forward.
On his part, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic party, and former Deputy National chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George says that the only way forward for Nigeria is to restructure the country.
Chief Bode George who spoke with Business Hallmark in a telephone interview while commenting on the 60th Independent Anniversary of Nigeria pointed out that there should be a very solid process of devolution of power.
“I think the best way forward for Nigeria is to change the military system of government we are presently using where the president would literally be giving out orders and to replace that with a proper democracy.
What should happen is for things to move from bottom upwards and not from top to the bottom.
President Buhari, with the avalanche of agitations here and there should therefore not waste any more time in implementing the documents that came out of the 2014 National Conference.
That document, if implemented, would help the country and douse the already tensed atmosphere with lots of tension all over the place.”
On the substantive subject of what the nation may have achieved at 60, he argued that as far as he was concerned, Nigeria has not achieved much in 60 years rather “we are just moving in circles and this is why I will call on the government not to go about the celebration with the usual march past and other ceremonies but to call for national prayers on that day, for God to visit the country.”
In his own reaction, Professor Tunde Adeniran, a former Minister of Education also took the same stand as Chief Bode George that the way forward for Nigeria is for the country to be restructured.
According to him, “the restructuring should take care of insecurity, youth unemployment, and that we should get things right.”
He further argued: “there must henceforth be a system that would give hope to Nigerians and not a system that is based on personalities.
There should be hope and confidence in the system which would strengthen, the foundation built on a solid rock, in the general interest of the people.
“It is regrettable that the systems in Nigeria have collapsed and the only way out is to restructure and ensure that Nigerians live a better life.’
Another don, Professor Hassan Saliu, a former Dean at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ilorin opined that “our greatest pain is that 60 years after independence the country is a toddler in the comity of nations, as we have refused to grow, we betrayed the promise of Independence, our infrastructure is in tatters, and all this boils down to the question of leadership.”
On the positive side, he however conceded that “we have one of the best human capital in the whole world. Nigerians are doing well in different endeavors across the globe in sciences, humanities, medicine, name it.”
On his part, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, lawyer and president emeritus of Aka Ikenga, affirmed:
“Nigeria is a 60 year old toddler! It is also better described as a pediatric adult! To be described as such means that at 60, Nigeria is still crawling when its age mates are already grandparents!
“The biggest weakness of Nigeria is poverty of thought! Nigeria, through its leaders, still reasons like a toddler! This is why myopia is its regular thinking mechanism. A toddler has peculiar needs. .food, sleep, cuddling and playing! Anything beyond these is a burden. Kids hate burdens.”
Uwazurike also noted that the country got it wrong right from 1914 when the British colonial government led by Lord Fredrick Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates to give birth to Nigeria.
“Nigeria got it wrong from 1914, during the amalgamation. The only reason Lord Lugard had for the amalgamation was for the economic wealth of the South to sustain the North. The succeeding British administrators sustained this imbalance and imposed a horrendous political system that is hemorrhaging us. The quality of the leadership in this country is so hollow that the good people are considered stupid. So, most good people have learnt to join the bad people since they cannot beat them,” he said.
“All aspirations of the people should be for a level playing field. It is only a level playing field that will enable good people to triumph over bad people during elections. But, first, a far sighted leader must emerge. It is only a leader with a statesmanship quality who will think of making the country workable for generations yet unborn, including his grandchildren!
“Vision is a sine qua non for Nigeria to understand the importance of the new normal. Yesterday, the Nigerian government approved a humongous contract of $1.9B to build a railway line in the desert and into Niger Republic. Now compare this to any contract that will uplift the economy of Nigeria! Enugu-Onitsha Expressway? Enugu-PH. Expressway, Lagos-Badagry expressway, East-West Rd, Ibadan to Ilorin, Lokoja-Abuja Road, Owerri-Umuahia Road, Aba to Uyo, Calabar to Zaki Biam. In the new normal, we are spending heavily on non-economic areas!
“Nigeria in the next 10 to 30 years will be stumbling on the downward slope of a big cliff! Why? Because we are executing a white elephant project known as AKK. Here we are spending billions laying gas pipelines from the oil producing areas to the far north and unto the desert countries and finally to the Mediterranean countries. How do you fund the project? How do you guarantee the security of the pipelines? The answer is that the myopia of the leadership will definitely derail this country!”
As for Ambassador Joe Keshi, career diplomat and vice chairman of the UBA, it is a case of win some, lose some:
“There are so many ways you can look at our journey. If you look at where we were in 1960, and the various changes that have taken place over the last 60 years, there are reasons to say, well, we have tried. We have expanded education, never mind the quality. We have expanded the road network, never mind the quality of the roads. We have tried to solve a number of political problems. But the truth remains that we have not succeeded as much as we want to.’
He proceeds to break it down some more:
“We fought a civil war for the unification of the country, but the fault lines have become even more obvious today than it was before, more because we have neglected to do certain things that we ought to have done. Our economy is where it is, again, more because we’ve been reasonably foolish in the way we have managed our resources. So, at 60, to answer your question directly, we are not where we should be.
The fundamentals for greatness are there, I do know that we have the capacity to overcome our challenges. We are not where we should be, but we can reflect, do an introspection today as we clock 60. We can say to ourselves that we need to do better than we are doing, and we have that capacity to do better than we are doing today. And one of the areas we need to address is leadership. All the problems we have in this country boil down to the character and the nature of leadership we have had over the years. Some of them tried, but they all suffered from consumable limited exposure. They suffer from what Kingsley Moghalu called lack of worldview. They don’t have knowledge of what leadership is all about.
“There is no vision. No leader, particularly this current leadership, has given us a vision for the country. All they do is read speeches by their speech writers. But we need to hear them speak off-the-cuff. They should tell us what they really believe in.
“Leadership is about solving problems, it’s all about providing guidance, it is about creating a vision for tomorrow; where a nation should be and what that nation should look like. Yes, we have this 50 years plan, but it’s not all about economy. It has to be a broad-based plan. There has to be an underlining philosophy behind a 50-year plan, but it’s not there.
“When you have the right leadership across the board in this country, all these issues about restructuring or secession will disappear, because the leadership with a vision; the leadership with an idea of what Nigeria should look like, will almost automatically know that something is wrong with the federation as it is today, and that leadership will be the one to provide the answers to the issues that have been raised.
“Those who are calling for restructuring; those who are calling for separation, deep down in their hearts, they love this country, but the agitation they are making is to draw attention to the need for us to rethink the structure of this country. We need to return to the kind of the system we had in 60s where each region controlled its resources and contributed to the centre…’
According to Mr. Austin Chukwu, a senior lecturer at Adeyemi College of Education, the challenges of the country are indeed quite enervating that there has to be concerted action to address them:
I just returned to Lagos from a burial at Aboh Mbaise with my wife. Our roads are so bad and some in parts of Orlu and Mbaise are simply impassable.
With the benefit of hindsight, the worst mistake Nigerians may have made in recent time was the ‘s(election) of Buhari , an unrepentant Fulani extremist to rule over the largest country in Africa. Counting the challenges and the woes confronting the nation will be like counting the legs of a giant millipede.
I am yet to yet to fully recover from the terrible gallops and stress I suffered for three days plying Nigeria’s crooked roads.
On the flip side, he notes that it is not all a tale of woes even as it can also get better:
‘Of course, we have gained so much from independence and if not for corruption, nepotism and selfish interests, we would have soared higher. Specifically, the nation has made tremendous progress in national development and the basic sustenance of democracy especially since 1999 to date, establishment of tertiary institutions and now the first University of Medical Science in Africa which is located in Ondo State.
To move forward though, there is need for restructuring and proper harnessing of our natural resources and the diversification of the economy.”
For Mr. Victor Ochiegbu, a Nigeria-born economist and former banker, now based in South Africa, the biggest pains of Nigeria range from corruption and bad governance to poor and weak institutions.
‘Funds that are supposed to be used for so many developmental projects end up in individual pockets. The private sector is not immune to corruption either. It cuts across all the facets of the Nigerian system.
You equally have a weak judiciary, weak police, weak special crime fighting organizations that are consumed by corruption and sharp practices.
Other problems he outlined are ethnicity, a high rate of poverty that leads citizens to crime and to make bad choices during elections, an uninformed electorate and poor international diplomacy.
‘To address these ills, the Nigerian citizens have to rethink how they decide the choice of who leads them. It’s time to vote beyond party or ethnic lines. Choosing the right people will go a long way to change the fortunes of the country. Choosing the right persons into leadership positions goes a long way in helping to shape a nation.’
Coming to issues of perspectives and worldview, he opined that choosing a Moghalu-type over a Tinubu-type could be key for the nation going forward.
‘Secondly, the Nigerian people should learn how to criticize government officials and anyone in authority and hold them accountable at all times. We can go on to blame people in government but they somehow get re-elected after their first tenures. So, we must choose right from the beginning.
Thirdly, our judiciary has to be sanitized. They should be trusted in giving sound judgement and on time too. Whoever that are, no matter how highly placed, must be held accountable.
Lastly for now, there must be a discussion to determine if Nigeria must remain one entity or it’s time to listen to those that want to break away. Otherwise a proper restructuring is needed.’
Another Diaspora respondent, Rev. Fr Matthew Anyanwu, a Nigerian Catholic priest based in Italy, opined that Nigeria was still an indeterminate work in progress.
‘Talking of our biggest pain yet, I am afraid we may not have had the biggest pain yet because it has continued to be a situation of persistent and worrying increase in pains as long as the nation called Nigeria is concerned; a mirage of some sort, when you think you’re at the threshold of something beautiful and great but lo and behold you will be left with an annoying scenario of illusion.
We have been treated and fed with all manner of pains and delusions you can well imagine. As the days go by, it appears there’s no end in sight to the blood-freezing situations we find ourselves in.
For now, I am praying it doesn’t keep taking alarming dimensions, but our greatest pain in my own thinking has been the heartlessness and deceit of unimaginable proportions of leaders who have all it takes to put our nation among all the elite nations.
Imagine the pains of placing your trust and staking your confidence in someone only to be rewarded by a psychological and mental trauma you never bargained for.’
Asked to comment on the gain side, the man of the cloth thinks that even that is also hazy:
‘What could have been our gain if not that a few citizens who see themselves as privileged have kept amassing the wealth of the nation to themselves and unfortunately with impunity to the detriment of the nation and her impoverished citizens. Harsh situations and unbelievable conditions have actually erased and overshadowed the gains of independence 60 years ago. What developments can we think about? Is it in the arena of employment? Is it in the reduction of hunger and illiteracy? Can we boast of affordable and good healthcare systems and facilities? Is it in the area of infrastructure, road network, steady electricity, freedom of the press? Can we actually place our hands or pinpoint any area of human, socio-political or ethno-religious interests and advancements we can be proud of in Nigeria? I can’t think of any and I wouldn’t want to keep going on, if not I risk having a bad day and a disastrous weekend with thoughts of a nation on the verge of collapse whose leaders are anything but shameless and without conscience.’
On what is to be done, he counsels that very simply, the biggest adjustment would be a review of the constitution, restructuring and as the case may be, answering the demand for a referendum of the people, affirming that the country today has all but collapsed.
Mr. Chimaobi Ibekwe, a PhD student at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and public affairs commentator speaks in the same mould:
‘I think our biggest pain as a nation since after independence has been poor governance. We haven’t gotten it right hence there is an infrastructural deficit, alarming unemployment, hunger, poverty, secessionist struggle, etc. Regarding our greatest gain, I would ascribe it to the presence of a semblance of democracy. Although we haven’t gotten it right yet, but I am certain that it is better than military dictatorship
With regard to the biggest adjustments that need to be done, first, it would be constitutional re-drafting. This is because the present 1999 Constitution which the nation is structured with is ridden with loopholes and imbalances. Second, would be cutting down the cost of governance. The juicy and attractive packages around our political offices have made the nation to witness influx of desperate and unsound minds in the corridors of power that stop at nothing in taking and clinging to their desired positions.
As for Ishaya Ibrahim, a journalist and public affairs analyst, the points do not require belabouring as the facts speak for itself:
‘Nigeria at 60 has been a consistent tale of disappointments. There is almost nothing to show that we have been making progress. On the economic front, we have the largest number of the poorest people on the globe. In terms of insecurity, we are the third most terrorized nation on earth, just behind Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Global Terrorism Index. So, we have very little to celebrate. Our 60th anniversary is a sad reminder of our failings. We need to restructure immediately to avoid a collision with our failures as that will be a disaster.’
A tale of many misses indeed. But will the incumbent system managers take heed? Time will tell.