• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Once upon a giant

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In 1960, when Nigeria attained her independence from British colonial rule, hopes were high that the country would, by the turn of the 20th Century, become one of the leading nations of the world. All odds were stacked in the nation’s favour- rich, arable land and vast mineral deposits. Crude oil had been discovered at Oloibiri and there were prospects of further discoveries, even as the country was blessed with a patriotic workforce that fought British colonial masters to a standstill.

Fast-track to the 1970s when Nigeria became awash with petrodollars and every nation of the world yearned to be her friend. Nigeria was super rich and even paid salaries of civil servants in some Caribbean nations. Those were the heady days when our ex-military ruler, General Yakubu Gowon, boasted that the nation’s problem was not money but how to spend it. Despite the purposeless and thieving leadership which followed, the period between the late 1970s and early 1980s was one when our dear native land became the new bride of global diplomacy.
Every nation on earth wanted barrel loads of Nigeria’s juicy milk, popularly known as crude oil; hence, none dared antagonise her when she ascribed to herself the title of ‘Giant of Africa’. Moreover, at the time, we had so much money we comfortably bankrolled liberation movements across the continent and stood eyeball to eyeball with Britain over Angola.
Between the 1970s and early 80s, the world listened when Nigeria spoke. Leaders of leading nations of the world jostled to outdo themselves on Nigeria’s guest list. Even royalty joined the bandwagon of state visitors to Nigeria.

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Then came the vault-wrecking, comatose government of Shehu Shagari and the much more destructive military dictatorships of Ibrahim Babangida and late Sanni Abacha, and our dear giant was brought to her knees. Her financial coffers were so badly looted she joined the list of pariah nations. Bereft of patriotic leadership and despite an extremely talented and patriotic workforce that toiled to make her great, Nigeria became immersed in billion-dollar debts when she had no reason to be poor. By the end of the 1980s, the country had effectively declined from her self-ascribed giant status, joining the league of the most corrupt nations of the world.
With virtually no development to show for the trillions of dollars earned from the sale of crude oil, environmental degradation in the Niger-Delta region, regime-sponsored murders, mass impoverishment of workers and peasants, unending structural adjustment programmes (SAP), total lack of infrastructure and innovation, etc, it was no surprise that we became the laughing stock of global diplomacy, a giant with clay feet.
By the 1990s and the onset of the 21st century, very few nations contested the title of ‘Dwarf of Africa’ with us. Unlike other less endowed nations of the world, we have no electricity, no potable water, no roads, no functional hospitals. We have schools that are closed by strikes for most parts of the academic calendar, and a workforce so complacent political leaders could afford to take them for a ride. After all, workers deserve the kind of leaders they get.
As history has proven several times over, a determined workforce can consign oppressive leadership to the dustbin of history. In the face of workers’ complacency, it is no surprise that corruption thrives at the highest levels and corrupt politicians occupy positions of authority across our nation, through which they loot the treasury.
Yet we expected US President Barack Obama to make Nigeria his first port of call, and when he decided to visit Ghana instead, our misguided politicians cried foul. A senator even went public with the now outdated claim about Nigeria remaining the giant of Africa. It is about time our politicians wake up from their day dreaming and realise that the era of self-ascribed greatness is gone. Ours is now a case of once upon a giant.
A content analysis of Obama’s speech delivered in Accra, Ghana reveals the qualities world leaders expect to find in any nation that aspires to the title of giant of Africa. First, that nation must have the potential to shape global events in the 21st century. As Obama rightly pointed out, “The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well.” But the fact is, nothing is happening in Abuja!!!

Secondly, for any African nation to achieve giant status, her prosperity must have the potential of expanding global prosperity. Moreover, her health and security must have the potential to contribute to the world’s health and security. Above all, the strength of her democracy should be such that can help advance human rights for people everywhere.
Rather sadly, Nigeria has to date performed woefully on all scores. Our country’s prosperity has failed to advance the prosperity of workers who create her wealth, and has made no significant contribution to global prosperity. Presently, it lacks the capacity to make any such contribution given the scale of corruption pervading our land.
Moreover, ours is an unhealthy, pariah nation whose ‘democracy’ is an aberration within the comity of nations. Here, the best rigger wins the poll and human rights are confined to the pages of the constitution, while slogans about ‘rule of law’ are bandied around to fool the world. Unfortunately, our rule of law is an ass. The fact is, no serious world leader is fooled by this giant with clay feet.