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Nigeria@60: A 4-engine jumbo jet flying on 2 engines

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Bolaji Akinyemi


A narrative on Nigeria@60 is an exercise in controversy. If the narrative applies to human beings or animals, there are parameters that are non-controversial if applied rationally. A three-year-old person is supposed to walk and not crawl; is supposed to have teeth and not bare gums, is supposed to be able to say more words than papa and mama; is supposed to have hair on the head and not bald gorimapa. Animals have similar yardsticks. Within minutes, a baby lion starts to walk; within a known time frame, the baby lion graduates from milk to meat and the lion species itself recognises when grownup lions leave the family in a unilateral declaration of independence. When any of these timeframes is missed, people don’t comfort themselves by shrugging that at least the person without teeth at 4 years old is still alive, or the six month old lion cub can crawl. No dispute over the conclusion. A doctor is sent for or a vet’s surgery is the next port of call.

Why then is there controversy when we need to file a progress report on a nation? That controversy in Nigeria has led to the new addition to our vocabulary “hailers and wailers”. To hailers it is celebrations galore. To wailers, it is lamentations galore.

Hailers point to the achievements in the number of new roads built, new airports built, new educational institutions built, new teaching hospitals built, etc. The wailers concede the fact of these achievements but raise several questions. Where is the fleet of the national airline inherited? Where is the inherited shipping line? Have the standards of the educational institutions inherited at independence being maintained?

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At independence, we were christened “The Giant of Africa” and we accepted the appellation. Now according to the United Nations Human Development Reports, Nigeria is 158 out of 189 countries, 189 being the worst and 1 being the best.

I belong to the generation who studied abroad in the 1960s,who were offered foreign citizenship on a platter of gold, who rejected the offer because we believed that our country, Nigeria was going to hit the sky in development. We were sure of it. What has happened to the expectation? The United Arab Emirate has launched a rocket aiming to land it on Mars. Nigerian Raw Materials Research and Development Council listed Kilishi production as its major success in 33 years. Nigeria and Brazil were at par in 1960, Brazil is 79 on the Human Development list while Nigeria is 158. While Brazil has produced tanks, ships, airplanes, both military and civilian, Nigeria has just produced rifles. Nigeria at 158 is put to shame by such countries like Brazil at 79, United Arab Emirate (UAE) at 34, Malaysia at 57, Turkey at 64 and Singapore at no. 9.

If Nigeria were to be judged by the performance of Nigerians in the Diaspora, there is no doubt that there will be sufficient cause for acclamation, and Nigeria would be ranked up with the best of the best.

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So, what went wrong and what is still going wrong with Nigeria.? If Lee Kwan You could take Singapore from the Third World to the First World, what drove Nigeria from the Second World to the Fourth World? This is not hyperbole. Western Nigeria had Television services before France. The King of Saudi Arabia and Royal Princes used to come to the University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital for treatment. More and more examples can given but I think the point has been made. Even General Sani Abacha in one of his coup speeches referred disparagingly to our teaching hospitals as nothing more than dispensaries.

So, where did we go wrong? I love that first and now discarded national anthem:
Nigeria, we hail thee. How many hail Nigeria now?
Our own dear native land: Which land? Bokoharam land, Biafraland, Oduduwaland?
Though tribe and tongue may differ: You can say that again
In brotherhood we stand: Really, Really, Really.

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When the demon (Ebora) of Owu swept the old anthem under the rug, we should have woken up. But the significance was lost on us. Now the chicken has come home to roost. General Olusegun Obasanjo, Professor Wole Soyinka, General Alani Akinrinade and Professor Attahiru Jega could not have been more robust in sounding the alarm bells. The cleavages have become volcanic gulfs tearing the nation apart.

The causes are governance by exclusiveness, policies that challenge the essence of nationhood and corruption that denies resources for development. The magnitude of the latter is brought to light by the fact that since independence in 1960, Nigeria alone is responsible for $750billion in illicit financial outflows.

The parameters of the way forward are embedded in decentralisation in a truly Federal Constitution, a reorganisation of the revenue allocation formula for more resources to be allocated to the states and local governments to accompany the transfer of subjects from the exclusive list to the state list and local government list. More importantly, the body language and world view of The President must change from Maradi to Maiduguri, Markudi, Zuru, Lokoja, Uyo, Ilesha, Benin , Yenagoa etc.

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BOLAJI AKINYEMINigeria@60
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