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What is wrong with Nigeria


The title of this piece is not a question. It is an attempt to push the boundaries by which we have messed things up so badly, with the hope that perhaps, they might give us an inkling into better ways to start the odious task of rebuilding before total disintegration. The current state of affairs, in Nigeria, makes the most ardent optimist wonder what the future holds for a country that could have been great, not only on the continent but one that could have been standing shoulder to shoulder among leading nations of the world. Humanity is flawed in many ways and there is a dark insidiousness to human nature. But with Nigeria, we take this darkness to another level that is bewildering. On daily basis, analysts, critics, scientists and everyday citizens continually dissect and proffer opinions about what is wrong with Nigeria, in some cases proffer also intelligent ways forward. I surmise that, amidst the cacophony of mutating idealisms, we know, albeit, obscurely, our problems and some possible diagnosis for treatment.

The much-touted movement for change since the new political dispensation came to power in Nigeria, first succumbed to a “go slow” and now to “stuck in traffic.” It is always worthwhile, if one cannot move forward, to have the common sense to look for a way out by reverse. Perhaps, the entire problem does not lie in our ‘fantastically corrupt’ politicians and citizens. It is within reason to note that when the man with a k-leg carries a luggage on his head, that luggage is bound to be crooked. The problem will not be the crooked luggage balanced on his head, the problem is below; the crooked legs. I believe what we are seeing today is a product of our evolution from colonial times into Independence.

This by itself is not a new idea, but it is foundational to possible interventions for a re-addressing of our national malaise. As a nation, this ‘shema’, a country’s memory, is vital to its continuous existence and survival. Many critics argue that Nigeria and her denizens are quick to forget, therefore have grown a form of national amnesia. On this basis, it is not difficult for those who lay siege to the country’s welfare to continue to plunder without fear of consequences. But memory is not enough until it compels a people to react and stand up for what is fundamental to their collective common good.

In the beginning of the Nigeria story, an amalgam of various peoples and varied cultures were circumscribed into one territory by the British colonialists. Blame the British as much as you may, the truth remains that post-independence, these varied peoples and cultures, have had a chance to determine how to forge their own future. The seeming failure of the Nigeria experiment or the often-touted idea that the British handed over power to the docile northerners to maintain a foothold in the colony are all embedded in a dystopia fashioned by the hands of Nigeria’s political class from 1960 to date. The beginning of the debacle is embedded in the inability of the newly created nation state to evolve from a colonial entity into a true federalism.

A review of Nigeria’s political evolution from attaining independence to date shows a bark, adrift, without a sail or at any given time, a capable captain to chart its course. What is wrong with Nigeria is simply the fact that it never came to birth. Whatever semblance of possible animation inherent in that propped up structure, ideas and persons have constantly connived to keep it permanently comatose. It therefore, was only independent of colonialists, it never achieved independence of selfhood. It has remained an amalgam of various ethnic groups, broadly broken down to the North, Middle Belt, East, South and West. This neo-independent entity, a creation of high British intelligence, was nothing more than a fabrication of polyvalent cultures whose foundations were laid on quick sand and tectonic shifting plates, homogenous territorially but multi ethnic confederation of competing groups.

The inability to birth a fledgling nation makes it impossible to build an identity. Once there is no personal- national identity, what is left is a caricature of what others regard as nation-state. If the nation is not established or exists ideologically only, its governance and politics are a joke. I question the presumption that the best kind of governance for Africa is democracy. In too many instances, participants and actors in the politics of Africa, Nigeria always in a leading role, have shown that democracy does not work for us. From a simple definitional perspective, the continent fails woefully because she is yet to provide a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Perhaps, ab-initio, nationalists across Africa seem to want to tweak the adoption of democracy; Nkrumah and Kenyatta’s Pan Africanism, Nwalimu Nyirere’s Ujamma, Leopold Senghor’s negritude, Awolowo and his idea of social-democratic welfarism.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for a critical re-assessment of a system that serves and works for emerging African countries. Too many years have been wasted in the wastelands of unoriginality. Our forebears had their own political systems in place before anyone showed up on our shores. Perhaps, we go back and study their political and governing legacies, then creatively merge it, if necessary, to modern systems of governance; if it suits and works for us.

The prevailing endemic corruption, nepotism, wasting of lives, insurgencies, abuse of public office, trust and public funds goes directly back to an ontological problem; there was never a nation or national identity. The geographical entity created by the British and named Nigeria is a farce. The nationalists may have hoped that things will work out, so far, it has been the cohabitation of unwilling bed fellows. I dream of a united Nigeria because of our potentials to be great and be a bright light among world leaders. For this not to remain a dream, we must reset the clock. Start from the very beginning, and recreate the ideal Nigeria. It is crucial that we get to work starting from an epistemic stage into actualising the new birth of a new Nigeria.
Rev. Fr. Odeyemi, lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.

In this article:
John Segun Odeyemi
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