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2021: Meeting the challenges ahead

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Nigerians have entered this New Year, Two Thousand and Twenty One (Anno Domini), amidst a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened insecurity and political tension, as well as deteriorating economic fortunes across the land.

A catalogue of events defined the mismanagement, misdirection, and consequent stagnation of the Nigerian nation in the year 2020. They include an economy in recession, a thoroughly overwhelmed and ineffective security infrastructure, a highly polarised and mutually acrimonious polity, and a largely incompetent but self-conceited political class whose leadership is characterised by broken promises, dashed hopes, and missed opportunities. Compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, these forces came together in 2020 to make nonsense of whatever modest expectations and aspirations many Nigerians had for a better society at the start of the year.

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At year’s end, terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers held sway in swathes of the country. Scores of the Chibok girls kidnapped in 2014 remain unaccounted for. Neither is anything heard of Leah Sharibu, the lone Christian schoolgirl (who allegedly refused to change her religion), out of the 110 abducted from Dapchi in 2018 by the Boko Haram terrorist gang. At year’s end, Nigerians remain shocked and perplexed at the horrific execution of scores of farmers at Zabarmari in Borno State and the daring abduction of over 300 students from their school dormitories at Kankara in Katsina State. Kidnapping for ransom by terrorists and bandits has become so rampant and brazen, that state authorities have now and again been involved in negotiating with (and perhaps paying the ransom to) the criminal gangs, in order to secure the release of abducted citizens. In the face of this siege on the nation, our security agencies appear overwhelmed or overpowered. But when it came to the genuinely peaceful protests of youths in the month of October against police brutality and bad governance (which was tagged #EndSARS Protests), the same security agents were mobilised to brutally crush the peaceful protests - a sad development that caused a global outrage against the authorities.

The aftermath or rather the unintended consequence of this brutal crushing by the authorities of the EndSARS peaceful protests was the widespread senseless destruction of lives and property across the country by destitute youths often referred to as hoodlums, many of whom were raised as political thugs and used to facilitate the ascendancy to power of political heavyweights across the country. Meanwhile, the patriotic Nigerian youths who organised and executed the peaceful protests with unprecedented efficiency, sophistication and coordination, and who nursed very high expectations of a wholesome change while engaging in the peaceful protest, were left scandalised and demoralised, with many giving up on Nigeria and working on relocating elsewhere for the realisation of their dreams and aspirations in life.

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Year 2020 was one of many woes for Nigerians. Once again the hope of many for wholesome existence and their dream of peace and prosperity were dashed. Perhaps as a people, Nigerians have never been as divided as they are today along ethnic, religious and geo-political lines. The level of anger, distrust, resentment and disenchantment among citizens everywhere is very high indeed. But as 2021 dawns, the Nigerian people and their leaders must engage in some soul searching. We must begin to do some critical examination of the values that define our common existence as well as the socio-political and economic structures that bind us together.

2021 may prove to be a very decisive year for Nigeria as we know it - to be or not to be. Those in leadership positions have many challenges they must confront squarely. Beginning from today, they must change track to meet the modest expectations of a long-suffering population that are now running out of patience. The post-EndSARS senseless destruction of lives and property by the army of unemployed youths across the country who seem to have nothing to lose, and the increasingly audacious exploits of terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers, who are now said to control swathes of territories across the country, should be taken as very dangerous signals about a frightful anarchic situation that the country could descend into if urgent steps are not taken to address the many fault lines that make Nigeria such a fragile enterprise.

Knowing what to do to deliver good governance is not a puzzle and knowing what the people’s critical needs are is not rocket science. The basic social services begging for attention include a responsive security apparatus to ensure the security of lives and property in every part of the country, a vibrant agricultural sector for food security, modern health facilities, functional educational infrastructure, stable power supply, decent and reliable public transportation, a diversified and dynamic economic infrastructure that responds quickly to changing global trends, and a sincere commitment to reducing corruption.

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Having been richly endowed by the Creator with abundant natural and human resources, Nigeria’s ranking among the least developed and the poorest countries of the world today is a product of mismanagement by a succession of political adventurists who in saner climes should have no business in leadership, but who have captured the reins of power and would rather sink the ship of state, than give way to more qualified persons that abound in the country.

The dawning of 2021 is an opportune time for new beginnings. The teeming youth population should not give in to despair or give up on Nigeria, but use this occasion to dream new dreams and nurse new hopes of a more wholesome homeland, where their aspirations for wholesome and dignified existence could be met. Those who hold in their hands the future and fortunes of the Nigerian people should begin to see leadership as problem-solving, not an exercise in self-aggrandisement and vainglory. They must begin to see leadership as a sacrificial service of the common good and not an avenue for primitive acquisition. The generality of Nigerians is challenged to take responsibility for the shaping of their country, through constructive civic, political, economic, and moral engagement.

A major change is called for in our value orientations, in our social habits, in our political behaviours, and in the structures that support our corporate existence, for as Albert Einstein says, we cannot solve our problems with the same consciousness that created them in the first place. True, for Nigeria to survive 2021 and beyond; and to be placed on the path of peace and prosperity, we cannot continue business as usual, for unless we change our course, we would end up where we are headed.

Therefore, beyond the pretentions and shenanigans of professional politicians who often exploit ethnic and religious sentiments for selfish gain, fundamental changes in the dynamics and structures of our nation-state have become an existential imperative. This is the challenge the leadership class and the generality of Nigerians must confront squarely and courageously in this year 2021 or face the dire consequences of a failed state.

On this note, The Guardian wishes all our readers a very Happy New Year!

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