Opinion

Opinion: Nigeria @ 58: What’s the Way Forward?

By Henry Ukazu

Fellow Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, this is an interesting time in our history, and each and every one of us should sit back and ask a serious questions on how far we have come as a country. On October 1, Nigeria will be celebrating her 58th Independence ceremony. A pertinent question of interest that comes to mind is, have well have we managed the independence that was given to us by the United Kingdom on October 1, 1960? Have we lived up to expectation or below expectation? Can we categorically say in all honesty we have justified our independence? In answering these questions, we shall be looking at the colonial period and post colonial period taking into consideration the leaders that governed Nigeria and current state of the country. We shall also be looking at various factors/institutions that constitute good governance: Leadership, judiciary, democratic dividends; electoral systems, health, corruption, heath, infrastructural development, unemployment, and security. Depending on who you are asking this questions, the answer can be positive, negative or indecisive as the case maybe.

 

In the first instance, it’s necessary to give a brief history about Nigerian Independence. Nigeria was colonized by Great Britain and the British used indirect system of Government to govern the entity. The system seem to have worked relatively well for the British because it helped the British to communicate to the citizens through their leaders in addition to being cheap. After much agitation for self-governance, the British government finally allowed Nigerians to have her independence on October 1, 1960. It’s worthy of note that the last British Governor-General of Nigeria, was Sir James Robertson. The independence ceremony ushered in many celebrations and Nigeria was able to take her rightful position in the comity of Nations.

As the popular Nigeria singer, Harry Song sang in one of his songs “after the reggae  play the blues”. It soon dawned on Nigeria that the time has come for her to practice in addition to continuing all the legacies her colonial leaders established for her. It is worthy to mention some of the notable personalities that facilitated Nigeria independence: Chief Anthony Enahoro who moved the motion for Nigeria independence; Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in charge of the Eastern region; late Sir Ahmadu Bello, who was in charge of the Northern region and late Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was in charge of the Western region. These great men were also part of the independence struggle. The post-independence era can be adjudged to be progressive because the crop of the leaders we had at the said time had nationalist mindsets as opposed to the contemporary leaders we have today, who think mostly about themselves and their close families and friends.

The post independence victory became pyrrhic after the leaders that fought for our independence left the scene. One of the main reasons that lead to this was failed leadership which resulted to coups and counter coups until Nigeria finally retuned to democracy on May 29, 1999.

Back to the topic and question of the day – Has Nigeria been able to live up to the expectations of their colonial leaders, and are her citizens satisfied with their leadership? Put a nutshell, are we better off now compared to pre I960 and post 1960 when the Nationalist leaders where at the helm of affairs?  Personally, I will say Nigeria hasn’t done too well in terms of leadership, economy, security and infrastructural and development. Let’s examine this yardsticks:

Leadership: The hallmark of an effective leadership is to have followers who will carry on your vision. A true leader is a person who leaves a position of authority better than he/or she met it. With the crop of leaders we have now, one wonders if Nigeria is actually moving in the right direction in comparison to civilized countries which are moving in geometrical progression. Nigeria seems to be moving like a snail. In some circle, people believe we are moving two steps forward and one step backwards while others believe we have failed leadership. Regardless of your line of thought, one fact remains that we haven’t lived up to expectations of Nigerians. In civilized climes, where we can see evidence of contemporary leadership and development, most of the leaders in those countries are young men and woman who are doing amazing work for their countries. For example, in France, Emmanuel Macron was 39 years when he became the (youngest) President of France, Barak Obama was 47 years when he was elected President of USA, Sebastian Kurz, (31years), became the world‘s youngest national leader when he was elected prime minister of Austria in October 2017 just to mention a few. When compared to Nigeria, the average age of our civilian president is 62years. The current president of Nigeria is 75years and wants to seek re-election next year. If he succeeds, he will be 80 years when he’s through. Again, what hope lies for the future of Nigerian youths?

If successive government had performed above board, Nigeria would have had cause to be celebrating her independence every year. As far as I am concerned, the celebration is just a jamboree and an avenue to siphon money from the national treasury. Isn’t it true that once the foundation is broken, it will be hard to fix it back because everything will gradually begin to fall apart?  The failure of our leaders to perform above board has led to the collapse of many institutions in Nigeria. When there’s leadership failure, there’s bound to be institutional failure.

Let’s take cursory look at the some of the institutions and how far they have fared:

Judiciary: The judiciary is seen as the hallmark mark of democracy and the last hope of the common man in civilized climes. According to legal minds, justice should not only be seen, but it should be manifestly seen to be done. Even though there has been some development in the Judiciary, especially as it relates to some major landmark decisions, there has been some lapses. For example, in 2016, the houses of some of judges were raided by the State Security Service – an act which was widely criticized by Nigerians as an abuse of the institutions.

Power Supply: The power supply in Nigeria is abysmally low. Many Nigerian businesses have comatose due to the high cost of sourcing power supply necessary to sustain their business. According to the reports provided by the Electricity Generating Companies, the average power supply in Nigeria is 3, 851 MW. Nigeria produces only five percent of its electricity. Corruption is one of the factors militating the efficient operation and distribution of power in Nigeria and little or nothing is done to checkmate the institutions. Chapter II Section 15 subsection 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states thus: The State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power. The question is: is this State really adhering with the instruction given?

 

If our leaders can work on stabilizing the power supply in Nigeria, the economy and infrastructural development of the country will take a new shape in the right direction.

Electoral Process and Democratic Dividends:  One of the beauties of democracy is the freedom of speech and expression and also the freedom of the electorate to choose leaders of their choice. The electoral system in Nigeria has not lived up to the expectation of Nigerians judging from 1999 general election, each successive government has either used the instruments of the State to rig the elections to their favor or make it hard for the Independent National Electoral Commission to do its job independently and effectively. Apart from the 1993 general election which was conducted by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, there has been many cases of assault, death, violence, manipulation of results, and rigging just to mention a few during elections in Nigeria. Even after the elections, the citizens don’t get their desired dividends such as good roads, electricity, schools, hospitals, educational empowerment programs, jobs, and security just to mention a few. With the recent concluded Governorship election is Osun State, many voters were allegedly disenfranchised by the government of the day. It was said that there were widespread electoral irregularities which makes one wonder what hope do we have for the future?

Umemployment: Umemployment has been a huge challenge for Nigeria especially youth employment. Nigeria Universities churn out hundreds of thousands of graduates every year, but there’s little or no job for them. Each year, about 200,000 students graduate from Nigeria universities, but many it hard to find a job, and some will seek out less-than-honorable means of supporting themselves

This wasn’t the case during the oil boom era where jobs were readily available for most graduates even before they graduate from college. Because of this unemployment, many progressive minded youths  have ventured into skills acquisition training programs and entrepreneurship, while others have gone into  armed robbery, internet scamming and other dangerous activities to make a living – Kidnapping.

According to the statistical bulletin on formal employment and earnings for the first quarter of 2018, the average formal employment increased from 48,192 in the last quarter of 2017 to 48,708 in the first quarter of 2018, while the average earnings also increased by four per cent. The only way Nigeria can solve its many problems is by giving the youth more opportunities to participate in government, economy, and society. Young people are the prime beneficiaries of school improvement, and the percentage of youth in higher learning institutions is currently very high.

Health Industry: The health industry is one of the institutions that has received low attention in recent times. We lack modern health and infrastructural facilities to care for the citizens. It’s a shame that 58 years after independence, majority of our leaders go to foreign countries to receive medical treatment despite allocating huge sums of money to the Health industry. The infant mortality rate in Nigeria is alarming. The health system in Nigeria does not adequately serve the population. The average Nigerian life expectancy is 38.3, according to the World Health Report, one of the lowest life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Security: Nigeria has suffered a major setback in security in recent times. Each successive government has faced one form of security challenge depending on who is in government. For example during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Boko Haram was alleged to have been used to cause instability in the country; during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, Niger Delta militants were on rampage. The sad note is that this insecurity has deteriorated to an uncontrollable level. In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to defeat the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. Much as the group was said to have been “technically defeated,” their attacks have continued.

Since his election in March 2015, Buhari has been able to curb the influence of the Islamist extremists. Also, we have the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA); Niger Delta Militants, amongst others. According to sources, the insurgents are being used to attack the government of the day in order to weaken the administration, and attract public sympathy to win election. This is not a healthy development for our beloved country Nigeria neither does it relate to what our founding fathers envisaged.

Economy: The widespread corruption in Nigeria is also crippling the development of the country. According to Transparency International, “Nigeria is ranked 148th position out of 180 countries measured.  A strong factor in assessing how viable a progressive economy is by looking at the citizens’ standard of living. The economy of Nigeria has not really grown as expected. Nigeria is tagged the giant of Africa due to her population and abundant human natural resources, but she has not been able to fully maximize her potentials and resources, and this has led to her underdevelopment even as the most populous black nation in the world. According to Washington Post, “India is no longer home to the largest number of poor people in the world, Nigeria is”. According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, “Nigeria overtook India in May to become the country with the world’s highest number of people living in extreme poverty, which is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day. The threshold captures those who struggle to obtain even basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing, and takes into account differences in purchasing power between countries”. This fact was corroborated by the Prime Minister of Britain Theresa May. According to the UK Prime Minister, 87 million Nigerians were living below the poverty line of $1 and 90 cents per day. “Much of Nigeria is thriving, with many individuals enjoying the fruits of a resurgent economy, yet 87 million Nigerians live below $1 and 90 cents a day, making it home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world,”

If you take go around the streets of Lagos, Abuja, Calabar, Aba etc and ask average Nigerians how they feel about the economy of Nigeria and the development, you will  be surprised to hear a lot of interesting responses. Every development stems from an effective leadership. Prior to Nigeria gaining independence in 1960 and even after her independence when we had Nationalist leaders, the poverty index ratio was much lower. In fact, the naira has more value that the dollar as of 1982. During the oil boom and the nationalist administration, the average Nigeria eats three square meal a day with relative ease compared to the status quo now when many Nigerians find it hard to eat three square meals a day. If we are honest to ourselves, this is not how progressive nations live.  As an immigrant to USA, who have worked both in the private and public sectors, I have seen come to the sublime submission that food is one of the commonest commodity in America. In fact, my most recent experience is working in the Department of Correction as a Legal Coordinator in the City of New York, I discovered that the amount of food that the State of New York throws into garbage everyday is alarming. I imagine that the food will be enough to feed at least 5 States in Nigeria comfortably. Nigeria is blessed with abundant mineral and natural resources such as oil, natural gas, petroleum, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc and arable land but the corruption in the system has messed us the polity. For example, although Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producer, it has to import petrol because Nigerian refineries are dilapidated. This is totally unacceptable.  If we want to develop our economy, we must either renovate or build a new set of refineries in the regions in order to reduce the overhead cost in the production and processing of oil.

 

In summary, it should be noted that, a major reason for the increase in poverty rate is due to poor economic policies, corruption and ineffective leadership. What’s the way forward? We need to put the interest of the masses first, we need to build infrastructures, we need to empower the youths, we need to tap our into human and natural resources by diversifying our economies, we need to make our institutions work, we need probity and accountability; we need to tap into our best brains and eschew nepotism, tribalism, ethnicity, vested interest, sentiments in addition to ensuring that every Nigeria gets a fair share of the National cake.

As we celebrate our 58th independence anniversary, I can only pray and hope our leaders do the needful by providing a conducive atmosphere for our teeming savvy youths to thrive in addition to providing a conducive atmosphere for cerebral minds with great business to thrive.

I will like to end by asking my readers this question: Where did we get it wrong and how can we remedy the situation for the betterment of our country?

 

Henry Ukazu writes from New York. He works with the New York City Department of Correction as the Legal Coordinator. He can be reached via henrous@gmail.com.

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