Independence anniversary: Tales of woe, missed opportunities, unmet expectations 63 years on
Be it in the spheres of politics, economy and security, or in education, healthcare and infrastructure, Nigerians are dispirited that the so-called giant of Africa and its first-world potential has not achieved the dreams of its founding fathers. Most disheartening is the bleak future, going by the steady slide on the slippery slope of existential crises, MUYIWA ADEYEMI reports.
Since 1960, when Nigeria became politically independent from the British colonial government, there has never been this level of despondency occasioned by economic hardship, rising poverty, insecurity and other forces widening the national fault lines.
Indeed, October 1st anniversary has always come with a fanfare, but this year, the mood is that of a funeral – the opposite of a country that started with high hopes.
The eerie feeling is not unconnected with dimming hope and near hopelessness nationwide. The Federal Government must have gauged the mood of most Nigerians, when it declared that the independence celebration on Sunday would be low-key, as foreigners will not be invited to commemorate the day with Nigeria.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), George Akume, however, said: “Low-key celebration has nothing to do with whether we are not doing well. Economic times are hard; we are looking at it not just at the national level but also as a family.”
The theme of the anniversary is: ‘Nigeria @ 63: Renewed Hope for Unity & Prosperity.’ But there is nothing to celebrate now in Nigeria as the country is currently facing an existential crisis.
The dearth of leadership since the collapse of the first republic in January 15, 1966 has given rise to primordial sentiments, clan clashes that gave birth to deadly separatist and terrorist groups that have killed thousands of people and security agents in the country.
While the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)/Eastern Security Network (ESN) are holding the country by the jugular from the Southeastern part of the country, Boko Haram and bandits have made the northern part of Nigeria unsafe for social and economic activities. Southwest is also grappling with kidnappers that have taken over its forests, making farming almost impossible. So, also is the infrastructural deficit that makes investment in Nigeria less attractive.
‘First-world’ hopes at the beginning
Most countries that got their independence at almost the same year as Nigeria have passed the teething economic stages and are ranked among the developed countries in the world, while Nigeria is still crawling at 63.
For instance, Nigeria and Singapore were newly independent countries in the early 60s and shared several homogeneous economic statistics as of then. However, Singapore has outperformed Nigeria in economic development, and has earned a first world status. Singapore has a GDP per capita of $93,400 as of 2020, while Nigeria’s GDP per capita is $4,900 at the same period.
As at 2021, Nigeria ranked 126 in the Economic Complexity Index (ECI -1.56), and 52 in total exports ($57.7B) while Singapore ranked six and 19 in total exports ($351B).
The case of Malaysia was also not different. Nigeria and Malaysia shared certain features, with high hopes to lead the world. After all, both are plural societies; both experienced colonialism and both are federal and “democratic” states. However, unlike Nigeria, Malaysia has been able to tackle not only its cultural and religious differences but also economic challenges.
Within the past three decades, it has deepened its democracy and achieved a significant level of economic development via responsible political leadership, as well as consistent economic planning. Malaysia is now one of the emerging economies in the world with a prospect of joining the league of developed nations in the nearest future.
Malaysia has a GDP per capita of $26,400 as of 2020, while Nigeria’s GDP per capita is $4,900 at the same period. The Malaysian economy rebounded strongly during 2022, with economic growth momentum boosted by the easing of COVID-19 restrictive measures, and buoyant exports of electrical and electronic products, palm oil products, as well as oil and gas exports whereas Nigeria is battling with many structural issues, including inadequate infrastructure, tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, obstacles to investment, lack of confidence in currency valuation, and limited foreign exchange capacity.
Comparing Nigeria with other African countries that got independence almost at the same period, Prof Toyin Falola told The Guardian that: “It is even more difficult to accept the present reality if we look at the situation considering the state of other nations which gained an independent head start with the giant of Africa. I must admit that quantitative assessment of realities is not the preoccupation of the historian; hence, I will refrain from attempting such painstaking particularisation of woes. But the truth is that if Nigeria had been on a journey to bliss, the drivers, at some point, must have indulged in some frivolous detours at the expense of the Nigerian people.”
The renowned international scholar noted that “It becomes even sadder when we realise that other countries like Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, and South Africa, who became independent about the same time or much later, have taken flight, leaving the giant behind. The question beckons: if it took six decades to arrive at this abyss, how much determination and sacrifice do we need to get the nation back on track? It is my humble opinion that the nation is not the problem. The drivers of the nation are.”
And the fault lines are widening
However, the removal of fuel subsidy has further increased inflation and hardship in Nigeria without corresponding palliatives from both the federal and state governments. Besides, the recent hike in the price of diesel from about N750 per litre to N1,100 per/litre may force many companies out of business and increase unemployment rate.
Apart from parlous state of the economy that will prevent most Nigerians from celebrating Independence Day on Sunday, the outcome of the 2023 general election has further polarised Nigerians along ethnic lines, causing serious setbacks in efforts to build a nation-state.
A former Emir of Kano, Muhammed Sanusi, regretted that the last election has, “dangerously divided Nigeria along ethnic and religious lines.” He said: “I don’t think Nigeria has been in a place as difficult as this since the civil war. We have a challenge of nation-building. We have a country that has been divided dangerously along ethnic and religious lines. We have an economy that is in the doldrums, and unfortunately, we seem to be having a dearth of leadership.”
But a Social Entrepreneur and Public Affairs Analyst, Chukwuma Okenwa, while agreeing that the 2023 general elections have thrown more divisions in the country, blamed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for jettisoning its own rules.
He stated that for the first time in a long while, Nigerians decided to vote to make things right for themselves, stressing, however, that the confidence they reposed on the electoral body was dashed when merit was thrown to the wind in preference for the highest bidder. He said: “One interesting thing that arose out of the election, especially the presidential election was the fact that it gave each region the opportunity to present her very first. Now, you saw discussions that were tailored towards religious and ethnic lines and the desire would have been that the electoral umpire should use its rules and regulations to ensure that the candidate with the highest votes and more receptive to the people wins the process. It never happened.
“For such an election for the very first time in Nigeria, we are having across the nation litigation numbering about 500 cases. You had almost all the parties contending that a lot went wrong and didn’t go the right way. What it means is that the sacrifice that was put up for a better way of doing things had been thrown to the dust.”
Okenwa continued: “Another thing about the process is that we now see the responsibility of INEC, which includes the conduct of election, declaration of results, and winner now being shifted to the court. As we see in other democracies across the world where after an election, the winner congratulates the loser; we didn’t see that happening in the last election.
“So, the division is also not being able to manage the sensitivities that have lived with us for several years, which the Federal Character Commission has not been able to manage, but to now deepen it such that it has become glaring that certain people should not be near power and what have you.”
On the way out, he stated that Nigerians are seriously looking at the judiciary to remedy the situation by taking holistic review of the elections, adding that should they uphold, the presidential election will mean additional responsibility of the administration to manage the country’s sensibilities.
He insisted that whatever action being made by institutions of the country should be tailored towards the sustenance of unity and the constitution of the land.
Spokesperson of the Labour Party (LP) Presidential Campaign Council, Dr TankoYunusa, blamed greed, and the premium placed on the pursuit of the primordial sentiments of tribe and religion as the bane of the country’s development.
Yunusa maintained that Nigeria would remain on its knees if the ruling elite sustained the ugly trends. In a chat with The Guardian ahead of the 63 Independence anniversary of the country, he noted: “The truth is that Nigeria is a great nation. We have a lot that would have made us better as a collective and prosperous country. Our leaders started in the right direction, but unfortunately, they allowed tribal and religious sentiments to cloud their sense of collective judgment.
“And that is exactly where we started getting it wrong. And then to institutionalise it when individuals started thinking about themselves and not about the country and the people themselves exacerbated the matter more.
“Then we now have greedy politicians who are not thinking about the country as a united entity, but their interest is about power and what they can grab for themselves alone. They forget that if they make the country better and the country is united and is doing well everybody will benefit. Unfortunately, they didn’t think in that direction. Everything is now falling to pieces.”
However, an elder statesman, Malam Tanko Yakassai, insisted that the country is on course towards achieving the desired growth despite the setbacks it recorded over the years.
According to him: “The most important thing is that we have now gained independence, we are no longer a dependent country. We are on our own. It’s just like a slave you set free; once he is free he is free forever.
“Now in the course of life, you have challenges. Sometimes you overcome them, some other times you struggle hard before you overcome them. But, whatever happens, they are processes of progress.
“When you overcome problems, it’s a development. Even if you did not succeed you are gaining experience because the next time you know what to do to solve that problem. This is what we are doing presently, which is the significance of independence.
“We are now in control of our destiny. This is the process even the most advanced countries like the United Kingdom (UK) and America have all gone through. Today we are the managers of our own affairs, which was the driving force behind our agitation for independence.”
President of Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba, said to achieve national unity and cohesion: “The first thing is to guarantee justice, equity and fair play in accordance with the dreams of the founding fathers of the country, who gave us our own indigenous constitution that had respect for our unity in diversity.”
He recalled that in that same constitution, we had a country where our individual challenges were not allowed to derail, but foster development, lamenting the current situation where Nigeria has become secondary to individual and ethno-religious affiliations.
He called for restructuring of the country, especially its politics, and a return to regionalism, which enabled the different regions to develop at their own pace and foster competition, rather than rivalry, and each region, was able to control and exploit natural resources in its domain and derivation formula was 50 per cent.
Okaba stressed that with the failings of the federal system of government, as being practiced in Nigeria today, there is a need for restructuring, saying what the country needs today is a confederation, where the federating component units will have some level of autonomy, with the centre being less attractive, as was the case in the First Republic.
The university don lamented that today, individual and ethnic affiliation has taken precedence over national interest and patriotism.
The way forward
Speaking on how to build a nation-state where all ethnic nationalities will interact without mutual distrust, spokesman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Dr. Ken Robinson, stated that it will require multi-layer efforts, involving the government, opinion moulders, women leaders, traditional rulers, politicians, and stakeholders at various levels to do their bids, in terms of their actions and utterances.
“Government needs to show inclusiveness. It must show that it is concerned about inclusive governance and open to inputs from all corners and sections of the country.
“Our traditional rulers must play their role, in terms of trying to bring their people together and moderate the utterances and actions of the people in various parts of the country.
“Political and community leaders have to mind the things they say and do, so that the country can remain cohesive and united,” he said.
FOREMOST lawyer and founder Afe Babalola University (ABUAD) Ado Ekiti, Aare Afe Babalola SAN said: “It is a notorious fact that the fabrics of the Nigerian nation is currently so badly fragmented that putting it back on the right path is as complex as trying to turn fish soup back to fish.
“With unprecedented levels of poverty, insecurity, economic instability, impoverishment, energy poverty, environmental degradation and lamentable standard of living across the width and breath of the country, the founding visions of Nigeria have been badly mutilated, defaced, and chipped away. More than ever, the gaps between the different regions that make up Nigeria are real, wide-ranging, and pronounced. The ideals of Nigerian nationhood have been eroded, while the dreams of nationalism and patriotism are at the lowest ebb in the country.
He noted that the country is currently at a monumental crossroads that will require radical transformations in the conceptualisation, functionality, and organisation of the Nigerian nation to guarantee a united, peaceful, and progressive future for the country.
The Nonagenarian who has been advocating for true federalism said that, “Nigeria and its people must face the reality. We cannot continue to ignore or downplay the fierce and urgent realities of Nigeria’s dire circumstances. Most recently, a new United Nations report described Nigeria as a ‘pressure cooker of internal conflict’, warning that the country’s multiple security problems could soon lead to continental crises.
“According to the United Nations, the level of poverty, hunger, insecurity, mass killings, extremisms, police brutality, deprivation, public fear, lack of public trust and confidence in the state institutions, and wanton disregard for the rule of law currently witnessed in Nigeria has reached extreme, monumental and unprecedented proportions.”
Providing solutions to how the country can return to the path of greatness, Afe Babalola said. “All concerned Nigerians must acknowledge the flashing bright red warning lights and begin to ask tough questions on how to draw the country out of its doldrums. Without doing so, the country called Nigeria may be facing a tipping point that no one could predict its ultimate result.
“The next question then is what can be urgently done to avert the entrenched existential crises facing the Nigerian nation? In my view, Nigeria currently faces only two tough options: restructure or reconfigure. In political terms, restructuring refers to a complete overhaul of a nation’s political system to make it operate more effectively. This could be in the form of adopting a new constitution, new economic model, decentralisation of powers, as well as devolution of powers to the constituent units. To restructure is to change an existing status quo to make it more functional.
For Prof Falola, who also blamed the Nigerian leaders for the socio-economic and political crises in the country, he said: “More than anything, independence symbolises freedom from hegemony. Yet it also presents a situation where the Independent bears the burden of responsibility on its shoulders. In the case of Nigeria, just like every other African state, independence presented both the cross and the crown. Success in the ensuing eras lies solely on the ability of the beneficiaries and progenies of such bequest of power to carry the cross as graciously as they adorn the crown. It is needless to say that Nigerian leaders chose to adorn the crown while avoiding the agonies of the cross. I must admit that wearing the crown while bearing the cross is only the stuff of messiahs, not politicians.”
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.