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Nigeria at 59: Path to nationhood and economic freedom

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An aerial shows the historic centre of Lagos, economic capital of Nigeria. (Photo by Florian PLAUCHEUR / AFP)

The woeful state of affairs in Nigeria is a logical consequence of truncated national aspirations and lost opportunities to build a strong vibrant nation from independence. The country derailed six years after independence in 1966. Consequently, the country has ever since been groping in the wilderness of despair. Every action of government is merely a survival instinct rather than a conscious effort to build a nation.

But you can’t build a nation wandering without ideology. The only way out is for the country to come back to where it derailed. That point is critical for whatever we want to do as a nation. Except that is done, any dream or vision under the present horrible circumstances amounts to futility. That is why government programmes are disjointed not forming a coherent whole.

Historically, wandering people spend time and energy fighting for survival in a hostile environment. Today, majority of Nigerians are fighting for survival. The nation has been raped and left forlorn. The masses of the people are in despair and merely concerned with daily survival. There is nothing anybody could tell a hungry and dejected citizenry about economic development that would make sense. The agenda of the people is different from that of the government. The people are not interested in whatever government is doing that doesn’t benefit them.

For example, while government is planning to put electricity and ensure uninterrupted power supply, the hungry unemployed people on the street are waiting to vandalise the cables as soon as they are installed, to sell at give-away price, just to eat food. Hungry unemployed persons regularly vandalize the aluminum rails on our bridges. The same fate befalls everything government sets out to do. The masses see themselves as removed from government because they don’t benefit from the policies and programmes.

The turmoil in Nigeria today is natural for any nation trying to get its lost bearing. It is not that successive governments have been bereft of ideas or didn’t want the country to develop. Both the military and civilian governments that have presided over the affairs of Nigeria had good ideas that were never implemented faithfully.

For example, I don’t believe that former president Olusegun Obasanjo set out to deceive Nigerians when he promised to give uninterrupted electricity within eighteen months of his administration. I believe that he was sincere. After being overwhelmed by the magnitude of corruption in the country, he wanted to confront it headlong.

I also believe that Nuhu Ribadu, the anti corruption chief used to carry out that anti-corruption crusade under Obasanjo’s administration did it with patriotism and open mind. Even, President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption stance is genuine but corruption has not been killed. Our being in the wilderness won’t allow anything good to happen. You can’t realise lofty national ideals for a people in despair; people struggling for survival. The biblical Israel didn’t realise their dreams in the wilderness, not until they reached and settled in the Promised Land.

A look at the history of the forty years long journey of ancient Israel from the house of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land illustrates what happens when a nation derails from the path of nationhood to wallow aimlessly in the wilderness. The journey from Israel’s point of departure in Egypt (Rameses) to the Promised Land is about 240 miles. If the people had taken the straight course and moved steadily at the rate of 100 miles per year, that is about 8 miles per month, it would have taken them 2 years and four months to reach the Promised Land.

But this was never the case. It took Israel 40 years to reach the Promised Land because they veered off track shortly after departing Egypt. The 40 years was more of a death sentence than an ordinary journey. The people suffered untold hardship in a hostile wilderness for four decades. They fought several battles, suffered hunger, thirst and deprivation.

Who wouldn’t like a country where there are good roads, potable water, good healthcare facilities and good educational system? If all the programmes that successive administrations put together were successful, by now Nigeria would have been in the league of the developed world. But see where we are, a laughing stock.

What is happening to Nigeria could happen to an individual. When an individual loses bearing and could no longer fathom what life is all about, the person would, for long, wallow in despair. The only way out, like the prodigal son, is to return to where he missed the road and start all over again. That may be a daunting task but it is better than continuing on the path that leads to ignominy.

Every organic entity has a natural pathway to maturity. In the animal kingdom, it is called life cycle. Nations call it stages of economic development. Thus, be it an animal, man or a nation, there is a pathway that must be followed to attain full maturity. Any interruption truncates the process and leads to a dead end except a U-turn is made. That, unfortunately, is the predicament Nigeria is facing.

The human and material endowments of Nigeria that could make her a great nation have been flaunted since independence without being utilised. What looked like a serious nation with aspirations manifested within the first six years of independence. The political economy in operation from October 1, 1960 to May 26, 1967 remains the only viable framework that would make Nigeria attain fulfillment. The regional structure that engendered healthy competition remains the ideal blueprint. Anything outside that is a deviation and deceit from reality.

Nigeria was ahead of countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and most emergent countries making up the Asian Tigers. Whereas Malaysia came to Nigeria to collect oil palm seedlings in the 60s, today, some Nigerian state governments are inviting Malaysian government authorities to come and teach us how to produce palm oil! What a shame!

The truth is that Nigeria lost bearing and derailed in 1966. That historic plunge led to a three-year civil war with its far-reaching ugly consequences. Before that point of antithesis, the young nation moved on the right path. Social infrastructure services were functional.

But since the nation derailed and went into the wilderness, nothing is working anymore. The once united strong nation has been fragmented into thirty-six semi-autonomous antagonistic states. There is no competition anymore. Only a handful of the states could stand on their own economically. Social infrastructure services have collapsed. There can be no progress in this wilderness of despair except the country makes a U-turn. The country must return to the pre-1966 national development framework if it sincerely wants to stand as a nation.


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