Independence Day: 62 challenging years
Exactly 62 years ago tomorrow, Nigeria gained independence from the British colonial interlopers to birth a sovereign country with great expectations. Besides flashes of exceptional brilliance of its citizens, the single largest Black Country is endowed with natural resources to become one of the richest economies in the world. But, six dismal decades after, the country is afflicted and without erstwhile hope or optimism. Its habit of hapless leadership has become entrenched that disastrous administrations keep turning the hopeful country into a dreadful one. But beyond the niceties of hypocritical speeches that usually rend October 1 atmosphere, this year’s anniversary calls for a deeper reflection of all, especially as days ahead will be most decisive.
Globally, there are certain parameters to measure the strength of a nation and decide if it has come of age or failing. The strength of its economy, attendant social progress, well-being of its citizenry, its justice system, political stability and hope are all fundamental smell tests. Arguably, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has held the global economy by the scruff of the neck. The price of energy and surging cost-of-living hit a new record high as dark shadows of inflation and biting economic recession squeeze most countries. The exceptions, however, are oil-rich economies that are now receiving fresh royalties of fossil-fuel. Oil, like Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), has found new customers from the West, with six Gulf states estimated to earn extra $3.5 trillion over the next five years. Clearly in the middle of crisis and demand outstripping supply, oil-rich countries are in for a bumper harvest!
Nigeria naturally belongs to the league of oil-rich countries with promising socio-economic trajectory. Following the discovery of oil in 1958 and its profitability from the 70s, Nigeria did set out on the path of development with some of the Gulf states, coupled with the likes of Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore drawing inspiration from Nigeria. Notably, today’s splendor and powers of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Brazil and so on have emerged from fortunes of petrodollars in the last decades.
But one of the few odd exceptions is Nigeria. For a fact, Nigeria is an energy powerhouse – the largest oil producer in Africa, the sixth-largest global exporter, the tenth-largest proven oil reserve in the world – sitting on a rich residue of pricey sweet crude that accounts for as much as 35 per cent of its revenue. The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) estimated that Nigeria earned at least $418.54 billion in oil and gas revenue from 2010 to 2019 alone. But simultaneously, Nigeria of 200 million became the infamous poverty capital of the world in 2018, dethroning India – a country of 1.41 billion people.
That paradox of plenty still sums up the place of Nigeria 62 years after independence. Since 1963 that the train of sustainable development started derailing, Nigeria has been in and out atrocious leadership and mismanagement malaise. There is no forgiving the military for 29 years of meddling with the sociopolitical processes, but the current 23 years of democratic dispensations is not better, if not worse. Between the military and civilian rules is the loot of over $20 trillion of oil revenue, most of which petered into unresolved windfall scandals. Over $250 billion are still traceable to private coffers in a country where more than half of the population are barely above the breadline and millions live in squalor.
To straighten the calendar, Nigeria has rarely been starved of socioeconomic and national development policies, strategic frameworks and programmes. In the last 62 years of independence for instance, there have been over seven of such national development plans that worked in other countries; not in Nigeria. Besides, there was Operation Feed the Nation in 1976 to be replaced by the Green Revolution. Like others, Vision20 by 2020 came and rolled by without impact. All of them failed due to bureaucracy, insincerity, sabotaging and inefficient civil service with the connivance of the selfish elite. At the turn of this century, Nigeria queued into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the United Nations to reduce extreme poverty, hunger, while aiming to achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, among other targets by 2015. At the finish-line, and contrary to official claims, Nigeria lagged behind on all targets, clearly showing off those ills at higher percentile. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has replaced MDGs, and the 2022 dashboard scores Nigeria 54.2 per cent, ranking 139 out of 163 participating countries.
Apparently to turn the corner, Nigerians in early 2015 rallied behind the All Progressives Congress (APC) to elect President Muhammadu Buhari, given his Mr. Integrity posture and experience in the military. It was the first time a party in power and a sitting president had been so rebuked for maladministration at the polls. Buhari’s camp had blamed Jonathan’s administration for being clueless, but the boot is now on the other leg. Seven years down the line, even Buhari’s loyalists are scandalised by the enormity of ineptitude on parade, especially made worse by unparalleled nepotism and sectarianism that Buhari fiendishly etched in the country’s political anal.
In the landmark record of gross incompetence that Buhari religiously holds without apologies – the basis of which this newspaper has supported calls by some members of the National Assembly for his impeachment – the country slides deeper the slippery slope. Under his watch, Nigeria is vastly divided along its fault lines with the drumbeat of secession rolling faster among ethnic groups. Though security continues to earn the biggest votes year-on-year, a mishmash of complicity and negligence of the security forces has armed rag tag terrorists, kidnappers and other criminals to shoehorn Nigeria into the most unsecured territories in the world. With swathes of territories under the control of armed criminals, farms, interior industries are no longer accessible. Saboteurs are also having a field day with more than 80 per cent of crude oil stolen in 21st Century Nigeria!
Today, the country is literally borrowing to feed. At least one-third of the N17.13 trillion budget for 2022 is from loans. At its twilight, this administration will also borrow N11 trillion to augment the 2023 budget – part of which will go into the controversial fuel subsidy that gulped N8 trillion in the last 17 month. Economic woes have forced industries to shutdown or relocate to neighbouring countries, just as high inflation continues to compete with soaring unemployment rate. It is for that reason it was estimated that 87 million people in Nigeria, that is about 44 per cent of the country’s population, now live below the extreme poverty line. Not only are over 10.5 million children out of schools, the higher institutions of learning have been shut down for seven months on the bounce and cumulatively two years in the horrendous life of this administration. The future looks bleak. Without security, welfare or hope, the urge is for most professionals – healthcare workers, teachers, bankers and so on – to migrate in droves.
Clearly, the country has its back against the wall and the post-Buhari era will not come cheap. Yet, the forthcoming election will be the most decisive. What are the options? First, it is incumbent on Nigerians to insist on having elections on schedule and ensure all inklings of tenure extension and other permutations perish at incubation. It is the sole responsibility of the sitting government to guarantee security and an enabling environment for elections to be held. No more, no less.
Second, it is the turn of Nigerians to exercise the people power of a democratic system; to take back their country from the jaws of the old political elite and decide their fate at the polls. It is the turn of beleaguered Nigerians to carefully elect credible candidates – not those that had connived to bring the country to this sorry pass. The next administration already has its work cut out. To it, belong critical decisions on federalism, state police and even fuel subsidy among others. Hence, across the board, including local councils and states, only people of proven character, capacity and unblemished records of competence should be entrusted with such opportunities.
Third, the people must persist and support the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deliver a credible, free and fair transition phase that represents general will – not backdoor winners of judicial pronouncements. Because, in times of crisis, the first people to leave are those that can. Most Nigerians cannot. Therefore, the onus is theirs to insist on a crisis-free electioneering process and credible polls to give Nigeria a chance of a new beginning.
Nigeria once worked and it is not out of place to anticipate a truly glorious Nigeria that lives to its potential and works for all. It begins with choices at the next elections. A truly independent Nigeria is still possible, if Nigerians are willing. Happy Independence Day, Nigerians.