…Nigerians have good reasons to celebrate – Buhari
…We’ve learnt our lessons from civil war – Prof. Nwachukwu
‘…We deserve to congratulate ourselves for our achievements’
…Insecurity, secessionist threats worrisome’
…There’ll be light at end of the tunnel – Osinbajo
…Citizens can build a mighty nation if…- Adeboye
Nigeria on Friday October 1 marked her 61st independence anniversary. BENJAMIN SAMSON and PAUL OKAH examine the experiences of nationhood in the past 61 years.
Amid security and economic challenges, Nigeria celebrated its 61st independence anniversary on Friday. It was a day to reflect on the achievements of the past 61 years and re-focus even as the citizens celebrate togetherness, diversity and a relatively stable democracy since 1999 after many years of military interruptions.
Cause for celebration
President Muhammadu Buhari on his Independence anniversary broadcast on Friday morning said Nigerians had every cause to celebrate. In the broadcast, he outlined several key areas in which the government has scored high points despite the various challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic. The president stated that despite the enormous challenges, Nigerians have put up a collective attitude to remain as one indivisible nation.
He said, “For 1st of October 1960 to happen, all hands were on deck. East, West, North all came together to celebrate freedom. Today should not only serve as a reminder of the day the British handed over the reins of power to Nigerians, but also unified Nigerians from all ethnic groups, religions and regions. Today, despite the challenges we face, most Nigerians still maintain the spirit of 1st October.
“That is a positive outlook and determination to make Nigeria a peaceful and prosperous nation. It is due to this collective attitude that Nigeria doggedly continues to remain a united and indivisible nation.”
According to him, his administration is working tirelessly to address legitimate grievances, but won’t allow secessionists and agitators to threaten the unity of the country. He described the past 18 months as the ‘most difficult in the history of Nigeria since the civil war.”
“Nigeria is for all of us. Its unity is not negotiable. And its ultimate success can only be achieved if we all come together with a common goal of having peace and prosperity for our nation. We shall continue to work on dialogue-based solutions to address legitimate grievances. But we remain ready to take decisive actions against secessionist agitators and their sponsors who threaten our national security.
“The recent arrests of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Adeyemo, and the on-going investigations being conducted have revealed certain high-profile financiers behind these individuals. We are vigorously pursuing these financiers including one identified as a serving member of the national assembly.
“As we begin to celebrate our sixty-one years as a Nation, we need to be conscious that Nigeria does not start and end with the federal government. This country is a great collective where the government at all arms and levels as well as the private sector, and more importantly individuals have a role to play.”
Speaking with this reporter, a professor of Political Economy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Alfred Nwachukwu, said despite its current challenges, the country has made substantial progress.
He said, “Nigeria has tried when compared with other nations in Africa. Things that triggered other nations to go into war cannot happen here as we have learnt our lessons from the civil war. We have come a long way and we believe that it is only we who can build our nation; no one else will do it for us. We deserve to congratulate ourselves for what we have been able to achieve in the last 61 years.
“Despite these problems, Nigeria has made substantial socio-economic progress, at least since 1999 when it returned to democracy after decades of military rule. “It is also a country with huge resources that have yet to be fully tapped. The biggest of these is Nigeria’s educated citizens. The country had a literate population of less than 5% at independence. Now, more than 60% of the population is literate. Also, enrolment into tertiary education keeps increasing.”
Likewise, Dr. Deinma Nanzur of the Savanah Centre, a leadership development and policy analysis institute, in an interview with Blueprint Weekend, said the Fourth Republic is the golden era in terms of growth.
He said, “A review of the past six decades shows that the Fourth Republic, which took off in 1999, has been Nigeria’s golden era in terms of economic and social indicators. This reality is, however, a difficult one to present to the millions of unemployed who are out of work and struggling to cope with inflationary pressures on food and other basic livelihood requirements.
“Since 1999, Nigeria’s economy has grown more than sevenfold. A big chunk of this is explained by the re-basing of the economy in 2014. It was found that the economy was 60% bigger than previous estimates.
“Before 2014, Nigeria had been using the 1990 prices and the composition of the economy to determine its size. Yet, a lot has changed since then. For example, telecommunications had grown substantially with the introduction of mobile telephony. Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie industry, has also expanded and morphed into a more professionally organised and run sector.
“Nigeria moved from lower income to lower-middle income status, based on national income per head of population, during the Fourth Republic. That’s based on World Bank rankings. Other countries in this category include Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Tunisia, India, Iran and Ukraine.”
Similarly, a member of the Nigerian Economic Management Team, Dr. Muhammed Abubakar, said the administration of President Buhari has invested in infrastructure development more than his predecessors.
“In a report it released in November, last year, Moody’s Investors Service said Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, will need to spend at least $3 trillion over 30 years to close its infrastructure deficit or funding gap. This researched, unsentimental projection would probably have overwhelmed most national leaders, but certainly not President Muhammadu Buhari.
“As it were, President Buhari has demonstrated within his six years in the saddle that a powerful vision pulls in ideas, people and other resources, despite the tough challenges. Powerful vision creates the energy and will to make change happen. It inspires individuals, diverse stakeholders, partnering organizations and institutions to commit, to persist and to give their best.
“It is beyond dispute that lack of infrastructure has been one of the biggest drags on Nigeria’s development trajectory. Rail, road and airport projects stretching across Nigeria are either well advanced, recently signed off or just breaking ground in the wake of an infrastructure drive by the administration of President Buhari.
“The government is not only focusing on new infrastructure but also on the rehabilitation of existing assets and the completion of longstanding projects that have failed to gain traction under previous governments. It can hardly be disputed that Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit has been one of the biggest factors holding back growth and development.
“It would be recalled that the Buhari administration established the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF), in 2018, to fast-track the completion of critical infrastructure projects. In addition, the President, in January 2019, signed Executive Order 7 (the “Companies Income Tax Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme), which is aimed at attracting PPP financing for road construction across Nigeria. It was through this laudable scheme that infrastructure funding was sourced from the Sukuk Bond.
“Other projects being funded under PIDF include the Second Niger Bridge. Main construction for this vital gateway into the South-South and South East regions started in 2018, and completion is scheduled for 2022.
Continuing, he said, “On the railway infrastructure revamp front, three major rail projects inherited from previous administrations have been completed and inaugurated: Abuja Metro Rail and the Abuja-Kaduna Rail, and the 327km Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail, started in 1987, have been completed in 2020.
“The 156km Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Railway with an extension to Lagos Port, funded by the Export-Import Bank of China has also been completed. The administration, in February, broke ground on a $2bn internationally-funded rail line connecting the country’s north to neighbouring Niger.
“Work would soon start on a $3bn railway line that would link the country’s east side, from oil-rich Port Harcourt in the south to Maiduguri in the north. The president is trying to grow all the sectors of the economy that would improve and increase production. He is focusing on power, on roads, on transportation, rail networks and maritime.”
However, despite these achievements, the country is beset by security, economic and political challenges. Boko Haram insurgents still operate in the North-east. In the North-west, bandits are still ravaging communities and in the North-central, deadly clashes between farmers and herders have continued. Separatist and irredentist agitations resonate in the South-east and the South-west of the country.
Also, Nwachuchwu said, “Perhaps, the biggest problem currently afflicting the country is pervasive insecurity. For more than a decade, the country has been locked in a brutal war with Boko Haram and terror affiliates. Attempts to contain the insurgency have gobbled up a large chunk of the national budgets. At the last count, it has claimed more than 40,000 lives and created a huge humanitarian crisis that has left millions of our nationals displaced. Despite all claims to the contrary, the Islamic radicals are getting more emboldened.
“To worsen matters, the economy has been in the doldrums for decades, occasioned by lamentably slow growth and persistent high unemployment. This has brought hardship on a scale unimaginable. The widespread economic suffering can be measured easily: the once wealthy country has become a basket case, harbouring more than 100 million people living below the poverty line, and unable to provide basic services. The impact of all this on the ordinary Nigerian has been dreadful.
“Even more worrying is the increasing threat to the union. Nigeria, at 61, is more divided than ever. After surviving a three-year civil war and many other security and political challenges, Nigeria is yet to put its house in order. The glaring failings are embedded in the ever-increasing questions on its nationhood through threats of secession from various groups aside the ethno-religious polarisation of politics. The country is yet to ‘melt’ the union into one as loyalty to primordial interest, even at the level of national leadership, still wins the day.
Also, speaking with this reporter, a public affairs analyst, Peter Adebayo, said though President Buhari has performed better than his predecessors in different aspects, more needs to be done in solving security challenges and other issues affecting the country.
He said: “The 61st independence of Nigeria has brought to the fore many issues affecting us as a nation over the years. There is no gain saying that Nigeria is facing serious security challenges in different parts of the country. Presently, no one, no matter how highly placed, can boast of being safe, even inside his home as bandits, terrorists, kidnappers, gunmen and other criminal elements are on rampage, as if unleashed from hell, with the sole instruction to kill as many Nigerians as possible.
“If highly placed Air Vice Marshal Sikiru Smith can be kidnapped in Lagos of all places, what then becomes of us? This is apart from the NDA that was attacked in August, as if to tell Nigerians that even the military cannot protect us, which is very discouraging and puts to question the capacity of our security architecture in protecting Nigerians, let alone themselves.
“However, I must commend President Muhammadu Buhari for the efforts put in place to ensure that Nigerians are reasonably safe as the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in July took delivery of the first batch of six A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from the United States to help in combating insecurity by fighting Boko Haram and other criminal elements to a standstill.
“Nevertheless, I want to implore the president and constituted authorities to ensure that the welfare of our security agencies is made a priority. It is discouraging to hear that our officers are neglected or giving poor weapons to face insurgents with sophisticated weapons. It is demoralising, so the president should look into that so that those sacrificing their lives to save the rest of us can at least feel proud defending the rest of us.”
In his view, the governor of Rivers state, NyesomWike, said there was hardly anything for Nigerians to celebrate. Wike regretted that after 61 years of independence, Nigeria was still struggling with leadership challenges.
The governor spoke during an interdenominational church service at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Port Harcourt, organised to commemorate the country’s independence anniversary.
He said because of leadership failure, Nigeria was at a point in its history where it needed God more than ever before.
“This is the time that Nigeria needs God more. The country is gone. Everyone needs to say God, we need you, because man’s leadership has failed this country,” he said.
The governor noted that, perhaps, the only thing Nigerians could celebrate was the existence of the name Nigeria.
“At 61 years, Nigeria is full of enmity, full of divisions, hatred, ethnicity; a country that cannot put themselves together. Everybody has responsibility; so, ask yourself the question, have I done my own part?”
However, the Vice President, Prof. YemiOsinbajo, expressed optimism that the nation will overcome its security and economic problems. According to him, there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Osinbajo spoke at the 61st Independence Anniversary interdenominational church service at the National Christian Centre in Abuja.
He said, “We have since become the most educated and entrepreneurial nation in Africa. 10 of our 36 states have larger economies than at least 15 major African countries. From our ranks, we have the most accomplished men and in the arts, sciences, sports, technology and commerce.
“But today, yet again our paths have been dogged by religious and ethnic conflicts, economic challenges, insurgency and banditry. So, many may ask; can the vision of a nation united, peaceful, righteous and prosperous yet abide?
“Neither hailstones or hell fire can destroy the vision because the creator of the universe is the Visioner. The Lord our God will yet make our feet like the deer, and we who have been in the valley, He will make us walk on the high hills.
“So, our current trials cannot draw the curtain on our story for the vision is for an appointed time. Because this country is greater than the sum of its mistakes and past, our nation will surmount our current travails and emerge in victory.”
Also, at the event, the General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who delivered the sermon, said he remains an optimist about a better Nigeria despite the escalating security challenges.
He, therefore, urged citizens to remain grateful to God for what he has done for the nation, saying; “Let us all relax. Tomorrow will be alright. We should thank God for what he has done in the past. There’s always a tendency for us, when we are victorious, to think that we won the victory.
“But then, God has a way of sending an enemy we cannot see. We have fought a civil war, gone through that and dealt with enemies we can see. And God sent Covid-19 which is an enemy we cannot see. Suddenly, those who have never prayed before started to pray again.
“Let us keep on thanking for what he had done in the past, because we are going to need him again. I believe a word is enough for the wise. If we are united, we can build a mighty nation. If we are united, there’s nothing we want to do, we will not be able to do.”
Nanzur urged the government at all levels to come up with policies that are focused on the people, their safety and welfare.
“The challenges of the moment should not cloud the country’s achievements in the past decades. Nigeria has come a long way. The country’s precious assets are its people who are everywhere sparkling like diamonds in the pack, whether in academia, business, innovation, music, movie, entertainment and culture. Only last week, the TIME magazine named three Nigerians among its most influential 100 people in the world.
“But there is a lot more to make the union safe and buoyant and buy commitment to its unity in diversity. One, the government must do more to provide security and insulate Nigerians from the effects of the catastrophe that has overtaken the land.
“Two, the withering economy must be reinvigorated and put Nigerians back on their feet. Three, governments, at all levels, must focus on the people, their safety and welfare, the optimal allocation of scarce resources and the effective implementation of policies for service delivery. Four, President Buhari must add value and strengthen the structural design of the country for good governance and human development,” he said.