Nigeria @ 62: Thoughts and perspectives

The early independent kingdoms and states that make up present-day Nigeria are (in alphabetical order): Benin Kingdom, Borgu Kingdom, Fulani Empire, Hausa Kingdoms, Kanem Bornu Empire, Kwararafa Kingdom, Ibibio Kingdom, Nri Kingdom, Nupe Kingdom, Oyo Empire, Songhai Empire, Warri Kingdom, Ile Ife Kingdom, and Yagba East Kingdom.

On Saturday October 1, 2022, when Nigeria will mark 62 years as an independent and sovereign nation, the questions many Nigerians are asking are; is it worth celebrating? Do we have something to showcase with pride as an independent country like India and China are doing? Are we truly a nation or a mere geographical location that differentiates between the North South amalgamated in 1914?

The myriad challenges facing us are the thoughts that many of us have towards country because Nigeria has moved a step forward economically, educationally, socially and politically. No doubt, our economy has not grown to accommodate the ever increasing young population and millions of graduates, insecurity now dominate newspaper headlines. Ethnic and religious identities are becoming our identity. Politics is a business of the wicked minded.

Agitations for secession by some sections of Nigeria are now a means of expressing grievances. Conflict of interest and monetisation of elections are now the norm. And above all, corruption has continued to hamper the policies and programmes of successive governments. The incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari government’s efforts to get Nigeria rolling on the principles of prosperity left behind by Nigeria’s founding fathers have failed. The fanfare greeting Nigeria’s independence celebrations today demonstrates citizens’ hope and aspirations on the prospects of good governance, but after 62 years, the hope appears forlorn.

Nigeria’s fundamental challenges to nationhood since independence are threefold: leadership, national unity and economic development. The last two are precipitated on the huge challenge of leadership.The history of governance in post-independence Nigeria cannot be written without highlighting the adverse effect of military incursion into the country’s politics. Indeed, military interventions in the political governance of Nigeria, since the first coup d’état in January 1966, accentuated the leadership problems of the country.

Suffice to say that the economic prospects of the country at independence, and in the few years afterwards, were largely eroded by the bad regimes. Military rule was oppressive, autocratic and inherent corruption in governance led to the destruction of political institutions, preventing development of a credible democratic culture in the country.

The federal structure with over-concentration of power at the centre has retarded economic growth and development. This structural distortion of the polity has in the last three decades seen strident calls for the restructuring of the country and return to true federalism. Since the return of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the civilian administrations over the years have also displayed leadership ineptitude with repeated and endless promises including restructuring that is now a dominant tool for the 2023 general elections campaigns.

Late Chinua Achebe in his book “An Image of Africa and the Trouble with Nigeria” opined that the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership because there is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to their responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.

As the country heads towards the 2023 general elections, there are divergent views that it will test the strength of Nigeria as one, indivisible and indisolvable nation. One thing is certain and Nigerians, especially those of voting age, believe that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Peter Obi of Labour Party, LP, and Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of New Nigeria People’s Party, NNPP, are part of the current travails of Nigeria.

Leadership problem and corruption are often, and correctly, cited for making government and governance difficult to those in power as politicians continue to draw political battle lines during campaigns to win elections, making unity in diversity a tedious task.

Nigerian leaders are the most travelled tourists across the world and their cronies either on education and medicals having failed to develop their country like Dubai, UK and USA, despite abundant natural resources.They must realise that leadership plays a critical role in statecraft and nation’s development. Examples are the Asian Tigers and the emerging economies of the 21st century.

Since the beginning of Chinese Economic Revolution led by Deng Xiaoping on December 18, 1978, during the Boluan Fanzheng period, in 40 years China has contributed close to three-quarters of the global reduction of over 800m people living in extreme poverty. China’s approach to poverty reduction is based on two pillars. The first is broad-based economic transformation to open new economic opportunities and raise average incomes. The second is the recognition that targeted support was needed to alleviate persistent poverty. These supports were initially provided to areas disadvantaged by geography and the lack of opportunities and later to individual households through revolutionised agriculture.

The leaders of these countries made conscious efforts at engendering economic growth and development for their respective countries. It is important for Nigerian leaders to understand that economic growth and development require political will, commitment and consistency in driving progress. In other words, for Nigeria to experience sustainable socio-economic development, responsible and credible leaders must emerge to implant the act of good and selfless governance in the country.

All we dream about Nigeria as a great nation failed after 62 years because we shifted attention from the credibility and competency question to we want our own syndrome. If China and India with over 2bn population can be economically sufficient, why not Nigeria with just a projected population of 206m. It is realisable only with good leadership. Therefore, in 2023, there is urgent need to think twice by ensuring that leaders who are willing and have capacity to take Nigeria out of the current challenges are voted into office without playing to the gallery of tribal and religious identities.

Since independence and for half a decade, the crisis of ethnicity has been and remains a strong factor that has shaped the Nigerian state, such that beginning from the First Republic, most political parties in Nigeria were founded on ethno-regional configurations. According to Professor Achebe, “Nothing in Nigeria’s political history captures her problem of national integration more graphically than the chequered fortune of the word tribe (ethnic) in her vocabulary.”

At 62, I will say that the gravity of the Nigerian problem today is the complexity of the rivalries between ethnic, clans and cultural groupings of the country. It is becoming more difficult to rule out ethnicity and religion in determining the next president of Nigeria as we head towards national elections.

I may not be wrong to say that majority of conflicts in today’s Nigeria that have become more vicious are a consequence of ethnicity. Whether or not these conflicts are resource-based, the quest for self-determination, or the clamour for restructuring and we want our own syndrome are evident ventilation of ethnicity. Also, depending on convenience, religion has also become the twin to ethnicity in undermining the unity of Nigeria.

The Muslim-Muslim APC presidential ticket is a mere political creation to undermine capacity of both Tinubu and Kashim Shettima. Atiku Abubakar is being accused of refusing to honour agreements. Peter Obi and Kwankwaso are labelled as regional champions that do not have national appeal. This is the calamity we have thrown our country into for personal and selfish gains.

Our perspectives on Nigeria should always be anchored on love, passion and commitment towards achieving a pan-Nigeria where religion and tribal identities are not the determinants during elections. We should elect only leaders of high integrity and capacity. We will never have our way out of these stupendous and dangerous political climate that fails to give us jobs, secure our land, build functional education and health facilities as well set us on the path of growth and development.

My prayers and hope are that, our political leaders learnt a century lesson from the burial of our mother and grandmother Queen Elizabeth. We have seen how citizens queued for 10 hours to honour their late traditional leader. Despite her wealth to the tunes of billions yet all they remember are her legacies. The irony is that she gave us freedom but none of her virtues has been transmitted to Nigeria by past and present leaders. Indeed, Nigeria has lost a mother who stood with the country always.

My perspective on our independence anniversary is that we must look beyond our infused identities of tribes and religion to come together in 2023 to vote for a Nigerian president who will represent the overall interest of the over 200m Nigerians. We must see ourselves first as Nigerians before being Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa. We should stop asking ourselves on first sight, which ethnic group are you from or what’s your religion?

Part of the Nigerian dream should be a Nigeria where anyone could live and work anywhere without fear of acceptance and integration. By so doing, we can pave the way for an emerging new Nigeria where Mallam Sani will be an elected governor of Enugu state and Chimeze will be governor of Bauchi state because of trust and acceptance of our only identity – Nigeria. But as long as Nigeria is not able to curb its pandering to ethnicity, the country will remain on the brink.

Nigeria and Nigerians have many reasons to roll out the drums to celebrate her indivisibility despite many attempts by some sections to break away. Happy birthday and congratulations to us all as we clock 62 years as an indisolvable nation.

Danaudi, National President of Arewa Youths Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi via [email protected]

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