Nigeria… yesterday, today and tomorrow
At independence in 1960, Nigeria held a promise of a great nation and Nigerians walked the streets with their shoulders high. The entire world literally stood on tiptoes in anticipation of the emerging giant of Africa. It was reported that the Late President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America, remarked at Nigeria’s independence: “A great child had been born in Africa that would be like America in twelve years.” What an irony that sixty years after independence, we are still to make a clear decision on whether we want to stay together as a nation or otherwise. What went wrong? What short-changed the lofty aspirations for a great Nigeria? Why did Nigeria end up, more or less, a parody of greatness that it was meant to be?
The popular narrative believed that the military incursion into politics in 1966 short-circuited Nigeria’s match to greatness. Young men, driven by mere political idealism, with no training on fundamentals of governance, invaded our political space and took the entire nation hostage for three decades. This unfortunate incidence resulted in value somersault, cultural disorientation, economic bastardisation, and political rascality. It introduced executive impunity that shows no regard for the pronouncement of legitimate courts of law or the court of public opinion. The military institutionalised corruption, entrenched tribalism and religious bigotry, destroyed our school system, disorganised our economy, destroyed our federation and imposed on us a unitary system of government that is patterned along their command and control system, with a constitution that has bequeathed us with a tottering federation. They militarised the polity and set Nigeria on a downward spiral that has plunged us into the dark abyss of anomie, in which we now wallow.
Since 1999, we have been treated with different scenes of political melodrama by some self-seeking political actors, who seem to be only interested in usurping our commonwealth instead of developing our country. Today, the ill-wind of disintegration is swirling in our firmament. We all know, except for the few ultra-optimists among us, that Nigeria is not working well in its present construct; not because it is unworkable, but because of the jaundiced politics of oil revenue sharing. There has hardly been an intentional effort at nation building that paid serious attention to our common citizenship, human capital development, creative stewardship of our natural resources, development of technological knowhow, building strong institutions, and developing adequate structural framework for accelerated economic growth and entrenchment of the rule of law.
Nigeria does not seem to fit into the classical definition of a nation as “a group or race of people with shared history, traditions, and culture, sometimes religion, and usually language.” We are rather a mosaic of hundreds of ethnic nationalities with different histories, traditions, cultures, languages and religions. Our vast diversity makes the idea of common citizenship imperative for our survival as a nation. Our leaders over the years have done very little, if any, to weld the different ethnic groups into a nation state where our Nigerianness is the defining identity of all Nigerians and not our ethnicity and religion; not even our state or region. There are today cries for self-determination from different quarters and the question on the mind of so many is whether Nigeria should continue to struggle to stay together or disintegrate. Zik’s famous advice at the height of 1964 crisis comes to mind: “If Nigeria must disintegrate, then in the name of God, let the operation be short and painless. It is better that we disintegrate in peace and not in pieces.”
Poverty and insecurity are other hallmarks of today’s Nigeria. A situation today where a very large segment of the population cannot eat three square meals a day and the roads are littered with millions of child-hawkers who are eking out a living under sun or rain and lack access to basic education is simply not acceptable. There seems to be a hidden conspiracy among our ruling elite to ensure that the poor must be made poorer and that the poors’ unborn must be confined to slums and penury; while our political leaders luxuriate in mind-blowing opulence. The poverty of the nation is not because of lack of resources but due to poor choices made by our leaders. I identify with the view expressed by Muhammad Yunus that development should be viewed as a human right issue and not merely as a question of simply increasing the gross national product (GNP) and that the ultimate goal of development should be the elimination of poverty. The widening gap between the rich and the poor creates an environment in which violence and insecurity will thrive. We have it in our constitution that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” One wonders why the government looks the other way while the marauding armed herdsmen are slaughtering and maiming people at will, are raping women to death and forcefully occupying people’s land across the country. This is not the Nigeria of our dream.
The Nigeria of our dream requires more than a dream to become a reality. There are difficult choices we must make if we are serious about actualising our dream.
We must choose Nigeria over any other sub-national identity.
We must choose service to the nation over self-interest.
We must choose inclusion over exclusion in relation to ethnicity and religion.
We must choose peace over war.
We must choose merit over mediocrity.
We must choose to invest in the next generation over profligacy.
We must choose accountability in governance over benevolent patronages.
We must choose to die for our values than to live for nothing.
We must choose righteousness that exalts a nation over corruption (which is sin) that destroys it.
We must choose active engagement in the affairs of our nation by the populace, including demanding accountability from our leaders, over self-defeating docility.
The Nigeria of our dream is certainly realisable if we can honestly commit ourselves to sincere efforts at nation building.