Pull Nigeria back on track
What do men do when a train derails? When a train derails, efforts are made, using suitable equipment, to pull it out of the ditch back onto the track. Except this is done, the train will remain crippled. A train derails when it leaves its track and diverts into the bush. Train derailment comes with casualties and injuries. A derailed train can’t perform anymore. The only way out is to pull it back to the track, assess why it derailed, and make necessary corrections.
Nigeria is comparable to a derailed train. The country derailed in 1966 following a military coup d’état and subsequent pogrom and three-year civil war. Ever since then, the country has never been the same again. Everything – politico-economic-social - went off track. Nigeria has remained crippled and unable to perform despite the huge human and material resources endowments.
As the country marks her 60th Independence Day Anniversary, 1st October 2020, it is appropriate to reflect on what the country set out to do at independence on October 1st 1960, based on the historic speech delivered by Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on that auspicious day.
The high points of that speech give insight into whether we are moving on the right track according to the vision of our founding fathers. How do the present circumstances of the country contrast with the lofty dreams and aspirations of our founding fathers?
At independence, Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa delivered a remarkable speech. He began by declaring, “Today is Independence Day”. He called it a day every Nigerian has been “eagerly looking forward”. He called it “our great day”, “a wonderful day”. What is in a “great day?” Every organic entity has a day that is distinguished from other days. A day to remember, probably, without which other things wouldn’t come to fruition.
Independence Day was a “great day” in the sense that it was expected to mark the beginning of wonderful things in the life of Nigeria. A country under colonial government as Nigeria was before 1st October 1960, was hamstrung and unable to exercise power to realise her dreams. Only freedom would propel her to realise her potentials. The “great day” marked the day Nigeria was expected to begin setting her own agenda and pursuing the same to attain acceptable status among the comity of nations. That the country could now act independently with a focused drive to excel was worth celebrating. That was why the Prime Minister called it a “wonderful day”.
The question to ask is has the Independence succeeded in serving as the springboard for Nigeria to be a truly free and robust economic power? If Tafawa Balewa were to be alive today, would he beat his chest and say Alleluya? I’m sure he would certainly be disappointed with the unprecedented turn of events in the country. And that is why some prominent Nigerians have even publicly expressed disappointment that the “great day” probably came at the wrong time. Some think it would have been delayed for another twenty years or more, in which case, we wouldn’t have experienced the destructive civil war and the adventurism of the hatchet military juntas that ruined the country.
Prime Minister Balewa further expressed that by the attainment of independence, Nigeria has acquired her “rightful status”. “But now we have acquired our rightful status and feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace”. The “rightful status” simply refers to the fact that Nigeria had gained independence and was now in a position to accomplish her dreams. The most interesting part of the statement is that “history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace”.
The “great day” marked a call to duty for the Nigerian leadership to build a new nation. This appears to contradict Balewa’s remark that “Nigeria now stands well built upon firm foundations”. Which foundation one may ask? As a new nation at the threshold of establishing the structures upon which to build the nation, the only foundation at that point was the land, the natural endowments that constitute the potential assets of the country. Certainly, Balewa recognised that Nigeria was endowed with huge human and natural resources of which a nation founded upon such should consider itself built upon a strong foundation.
The issue, today, is whether or not what Balewa predicted 60 years ago has come to pass? Has Nigeria moved at the wisest pace? Has history shown that the building of the nation based upon a wise utilization of the abundant natural endowments has been remarkable? Apart from crude oil, which so far has been exploited to the detriment of the country, all the other major natural resources of the country remain largely untapped. If anything, Nigeria has remained a potentially great country for 59 years without actualisation.
Every speech by Nigerian leaders at every occasion latches on acclaimed Nigeria’s abundant human and material resources. But we have seen during the past 60 years that Nigeria is far from being great merely on the basis of latent and untapped resources. The world doesn’t reckon with potentially great nations. Rather it is nations that have actualised their potentials that count. History has proved Balewa’s predictions wrong because we have neither been able to build anything on the “firm foundation” nor shown wisdom in managing the crude oil resource that, practically, is the only thing to show.
Balewa affirmed 60 years ago that Nigeria would be “fully capable of managing our own affairs both internally and as a nation”. To what extent is this true in the light of the present circumstances? Beginning with constitutional development, which Balewa rightly thought was the main instrument of self-government, is it not appalling that 60 years later, the country still has no widely accepted constitution? The existing constitution, which was a product of military adventurism, is flawed in many respects. Its provisions do not satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians. Shortly after independence in 1960, it became obvious that Nigeria isn’t even capable of managing her own internal affairs. The failure of the country to organise free, fair, and credible elections was one factor that plunged the new nation into a fratricidal civil war in 1967.
Ever since then, organising elections in the country has remained a Herculean task. There is still no established system for conducting elections in the country. All the elections conducted in Nigeria in recent history in 1959, 1979, 1983, 1993, 1998, 2003, and 2007, 2015, and 2019 have the same things in common—rancor, acrimony, rigging, and bad blood. All the elections suffered tantrum. At every election, the country starts afresh to register voters. What ought to have a database and then updated on a continuous basis still has a yawning gap. How do all these show that we are capable of managing our own affairs? Perhaps, the greatest failure is that Nigeria is still struggling to attain nationhood at 60. Balewa must have thought that by now, Nigeria would be one big united nation of people sharing common goals, ideals, and aspirations. Maybe the only thing to celebrate 59 years later is that Nigeria is still under one government.
Balewa recognised at independence what he called “the awe-inspiring task confronting us at the very start of our nationhood”. He thought that “we were destined to move with quiet dignity to our place on the world stage” But as if he knew what the future holds for Nigeria 60 years later, he said, “Recent events have changed the scene beyond recognition. So that we find ourselves today being tested to the utmost, we are called upon immediately to show that our claims to the responsible government are well-founded”. What a prophetic utterance?
At 60, Nigeria is confronted with myriad of problems. The economy is in doldrums. Basic infrastructure services are in tatters. Electricity and water are luxuries. There is nothing to write home about roads, railway, schools, and hospitals. Poverty, disease, and mortality are high. Unemployment, armed robbery, and kidnapping, rape suicides are the order of the day. Corruption is pervasive. Nigeria’s reckoning in virtually every aspect of the human development index is appalling.
The damage done to Nigeria in the past 60 years is enormous. The country must be pulled back to the track to make headway, otherwise, nothing will move. The presidential system of government is a major problem hanging on Nigeria. The country should be returned back to the parliamentary democratic order that Nigeria embraced at independence. Nigeria should follow the same way it used to derail to return to a more manageable parliamentary order for competition and development to take place. As Balewa said, Nigeria must show the world that our claim to responsible government is well-founded and sustainable.
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