Let’s take back Nigeria at 60
Today, Nigeria is 60. For us, it is not a time for popping champagne. In the last couple of years, the country has curiously become a killing field.
In the words of the contract theorists, life has become nasty, brutish, and short. This is certainly not the country of our dream. Some feel otherwise and have argued that it is not too good to give the impression that the country has achieved nothing. We concede the right to do so but greatly differ.
Our problems are numerous, and to wit: failure of governance, malfunctioning state system, and a rentier substructure that has fed the greed of the state elite. We have been running away from them. Truth be told, there is nothing that has never been saying about the problems. We have lamented over and over again about the problems of the country that are turning out to be intractable and insoluble. The reason is that the governing elite failed to deviate from the paved road to perdition. They live a lie, persuading themselves that all is well, even though the country has become the butt of jokes by other countries. There was this joke by an East African government functionary who narrated a story of how a Nigerian government functionary spent ill-gotten wealth from resources meant for the commonwealth to satisfy his immoral cravings at the expense of infrastructural development and quality of life of the average citizens.
We have become a pitiable country. Nigeria has so much potential, which has always been the central point of reference instead of its actualisation. James Robertson, the last colonial Governor-General of Nigeria envisioned a great nation that would play a great role in the international arena. This has not been so, and due to abuse of power, the peoples of Nigeria have been forced into servitude amid unharnessed resources. To be sure, the post-colonial rulers met cleavages. They were further entrenched by successive leadership in ways that they now constitute an obstacle to freedom of development. Instead of building common citizenship, they promoted religion and ethnic identity; instead of building a nation from the tapestry of diversity that the country is, some of the country’s rulers prioritised sectarianism and irredentism, thereby squandering the commons. This is why corruption and poor leadership are part of the problems of Nigeria. Leadership is inexorably linked to the transformation of the substructure even while it is dialectically informed by it.
We note that we took the wrong decision at every decisive moment in our annals. It is obvious to all that we have a foundational problem, namely, the resolution of the rightfulness of the polity concerning power distribution and wealth creation. The structure of the economy is profoundly dependent and the country has not been able to transform its economy from its consumerist orientation and neo-colonial character to one that is self-sufficient instead of rent-seeking, which is the defining character of the elite. We lack critical infrastructures such as electricity, robustly funded education, and the health sector. And above all, we lack an important element of nation-building that is national consciousness and culture. We are disparate people in the same boat with no consensual creed on the way forward for our country. These pathologies of our country’s ills are so many that a retired Nigerian diplomat characterised the country as an airplane headed for London, a mere six-hour journey. Instead of landing in London, it is stuck in the middle of the Sahara Desert, hovering. So much metaphor for the Nigerian condition; and it is tragic.
And the pertinent question, therefore, is: what is governance all about? Governance ought to be about people and social responsibility. And the organic law of the land states this succinctly in a provision that, ‘‘welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’’ Sadly, this is not the case. Incumbent state actors do not inspire hope about this value of governance. They are mired in sectarian governance output that amounts to one step forward, many steps backward. This is the Nigerian albatross.
A few suggestions are imperative at this juncture. The government must take a step to restructure the country; governance must become a social responsibility. The cost of governance must be cut and the elite recruitment process must be attuned towards producing what some scholars have recognised as nation-building elite. Above all, we must work with all the strength to free ourselves from the self-imposed debt peonage and diversify our economy for self-sufficiency. As the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo once opined, “Economic freedom exists when a political sovereign country, independently of outside control or direction, organises the exploitation and deployment of its total resources for the benefit of its entire people…” Unfortunately, the Breton Woods institutions are currently dictating the direction of the country’s economy in ways that are counterproductive to economic freedom. This is curious and unconscionable.
A famous American poet, Robert Frost, wrote in his 1916 poem, ‘‘The Road Not Taken’’ thus: ‘‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’’ Nigeria has taken the beaten track of failed states, not the one that made the first world. The prospect of course correction to the less travelled that leads to greatness is not on the horizon. Certainly not with the current misguided incumbent elite. Therefore, the citizens must rise to take control of their country before it is irretrievably lost. That should be the point of reflection as we mark the 60th independence anniversary today.
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