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The Nigeria of my dream at 60:  It is up to us, now

By Francis Onaiyekan
23 March 2020   |   1:44 am
Nigeria will be 60, its diamond anniversary, in a matter of months – precisely October 1, 2020. There is a reason that sixty is regarded as the age of diamond, the most precious and the hardest naturally-formed mineral yet known.

Nigeria will be 60, its diamond anniversary, in a matter of months – precisely October 1, 2020.  There is a reason that sixty is regarded as the age of diamond, the most precious and the hardest naturally-formed mineral yet known. These are two distinguishing qualities of diamond that do not come easy.  Diamond is ordinarily carbon. Research reveals that it acquires these exceptional properties subjected to extreme conditions: temperature of more than 1,200 degrees C (2200 degrees F) and pressure of about 330,000 kg (725,000lb) per square inch. These happen at more than 90 miles under the ground and over a period of a billion years.

There can be no stronger evidence that nothing good comes easy. If such temperature and pressure over aeons brought the best (and not the worst) out of carbon, it is not unreasonable to expect that tough conditions are the challenges that can bring out greatness in men and nations. Before I stretch the comparison too far, there is a determinant difference between inanimate carbon and thinking man. Whereas carbon has no choice in the process that transforms it, men and nations have the freedom (freewill), to by their thought action, further, or hinder, the process that will take them to the height of greatness. Were Nigeria a citizen of Nigeria, it will, at 60 years of age, have survived several years beyond the average Nigerian ‘life expectancy’ of 50-something years, as calculated by global institutions.

That is an achievement of physical, spiritual, and emotional endurance worth celebrating. People celebrate their 60th birthday, some their 50th. It is for successfully navigating the vicissitudes of life, more so in a global environment full of threats from different directions. A country is continually under internally and externally – induced stresses of political, economic, social, and other kinds. But many things being equal – including that it does not take its continued existence for granted – a federation of nations such as Nigeria can live much longer and attain greatness by drawing multiple and diverse strengths from its plurality.

This country suffered and survived many man – inflicted stresses and pressures in the last 50 years. It experienced coups d’état, a civil war, intermittent communal, religious, and ethnic clashes. Nigeria has lived through the wastefulness and later, austerity of the Shagari years, the rapacity of the military regimes, and the political chicanery of the Babangida years of which Joe Igbokwe wrote, correctly, that ‘his tenure represents an error of history’, the Abacha’s oppressive and kleptomaniac regime, and the failed Third term plot of a certain opinionate president. Our country continues to endure a generally parasitic elite composed of a crooked business class, an unconscionable, self-seeking political class, egoistic religious leaders, and arrogant and selfish traditional rulers.  

It is quite an achievement that this country remains intact.  But to merely survive is never good enough; that is the self –limiting thinking of a mediocre. For, sixty years of self-rule, Nigerians, and Nigeria, are not yet the best that they can be. But indeed we can. It is up to us.  If time, temperature and pressure make diamond, the character and achievements of Nigeria at 60 should by now have much to be proud of. Regrettably, this country of so much is, to be charitable, merely a diamond in the making. So, even though there is cause to rejoice that we remain one at all, if we consider what and where this country should be by its diamond anniversary – only months away – there are not enough reasons to mark this event the way a diamond anniversary is usually celebrated.

To think otherwise is to live in denial of the facts.  Nonetheless, I dare not give up on, or lose hope for my country; I have no other.  Besides, two great minds give me reasons to hope. Dr. Martin King Jr. advises that we must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope, and Dostoevsky warns that ‘to live without hope is to cease to live’. I don’t want to die yet. So, I dream of and hope for a great Nigeria that is ready, willing, and able to fulfill its destiny among the Black race. It is do-able, it is possible, it will happen in due season. How soon or delayed is up to us. But first some reflection. As Maya Angelou says, if you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you are going.  How did we come to this pretty pass?  Where did we get it wrong?  In the words of a Nigerian saying, ‘where did the rain begin to beat us?’

The first and overall point to make is that Nigeria’s problems originate from, are created, by Nigerians. Briefly stated, Nigeria has a ‘human quality problem’. The second point – and it derives directly from the first – is that, as Achebe (1983) puts it, the trouble with Nigeria is the failure of its leadership (composed of Nigerians). I submit that, even more fundamental than leadership failure, the problem of Nigeria is Nigerians! Countries are built on the character of their people, wrote one religious writer. Character deficiency is the heart of the problem with Nigeria. The third point is that, whereas most Nigerians are unhappy with the sorry state of their country, it is by now, repeatedly proven that salvation may never come from the top, from small dominant class that perpetrates, perpetuates, and bountifully benefits from the status quo.

It is popular, but lazy, thinking to expect that Nigeria’s power elite will ‘do something’ about the many things wrong with our country. If it can, it apparently will not at the cost of its own convenience. Otherwise, it would have under its military wing when, as a stratocracy, drastic, positive and enduring steps could be taken to set the country on the right path. But such expectation is akin to asking a man to destroy the source of his present comfort and future benefits. That great an expectation will require him to re-define and re-invent himself – values, thinking and purpose. An extreme demand indeed! In any case, no one gives what he does not have. There is another reason that the drastic measures to clean up and elevate this country may never come from the present leaders. The recruitment process into leadership ensures that the crooked attracts only its type.

Which explains the capacity for corruption of even younger members of the ruling elite. Considering the amount that are reportedly stolen, as well as the unabashed display of wealth, the younger ones are more brazen than their mentors.  No wonder little has changed, year in year out, under administrations. The French would say ‘plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’ meaning that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Surely, there is need for a new way to address the problems that keep us and our country down. Instead of a top-down approach that may never effect the change we desire for our country, I suggest a people centered, self-engendered, bottom-up change of attitude and commitment.
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