• Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Despair on Nigerians’ faces, 60 years after Independence

Statement by Patriotic Nigerians, Nigerians of the Diaspora and Friends of Nigeria

Nigeria had a population of 45.1 million in 1960 and GDP of $4.2 billion. The population rose to 56 million in 1970 with GDP also rising to $12.6 billion with economic growth at over 11%. This was a robust period.

Within this period, there was discipline in governance, according to Philip Asiodu now 86 who joined the Civil Service in 1964 when he was 30 years old and later became the Federal Permanent Secretary, and first served under General Yakubu Gowon before and during the Nigeria-Biafra war.

The government then followed the development plan religiously as the public service that was an outgrowth of colonial masters was still strong and intelligent without partisanship. The three main regions were relatively competing in agricultural produce, so there was much to eat which reduced insecurity.

Asiodu recollects that under the first and second development plans, pre-independence, and immediately after independence, the country’s economy was growing on the average at about 6% per annum and inflation was around 2%. “One could see the visible improvement in the standard of living. Even though the population growth rate was 3%, the economy was growing faster than that. There was improvement pre-independence and immediately after”

Between 1970 and 1975, the Nigerian economy was growing at average of 11.75% per annum and Nigeria’s per capita income at $1,000 was higher than that of India, Korea, North and South and Nigeria was at par with so called Asian Tigers. At this period, Nigerians were proud of their country and getting visa to anywhere in the world was easy.

From mid 70s, as Chinua Achebe would say, things started falling apart. Why? The military coup that brought Murtala Mohammed and Obasanjo saw the destruction of the public service especially the civil service.

Over 10,000 public servants, according to Asiodu were cashiered, sent away, with all the institutional memories, international contacts forgetting that people in the world deal with people they know.

“They did not only send them away, but the other terrible thing that happened was that the 1975-1980 development plan which was meant to lay the basis of a self-sustaining economic development through industrialisation, adding value in the critical sector of agriculture among others was abandoned”. This was the beginning of the economic crisis for Nigeria.

Chief Asiodu described the 1975 coup as a ‘tragic disruption’ that had very negative impact on the economic growth leading to negative growth rate at -1% by 1980-1981 period. Asiodu who later became Special Adviser to former President Shehu Shagari on economic affairs believed that if Nigeria had sustained its growth rate just for another 7-10 years, the country would have, like Asian Tigers, escaped from poverty.

Since then, Nigeria has been struggling to get the economy back on track with several developmental plans from Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP of late 1980s to Vision 2010, Vision 2020 and other plans which had really not made the necessary impact as expected. This is compounded by population growth, low GDP and inability of successive governments to follow through with development plans and achievements of preceding administrations.

As said by Felix Ohiwerei, a shrewd industrialist and former chairman of Nigerian Breweries, “The need for a vision 2010 was as a result of abandonment of a development plan to work with in Nigeria”.

Lack of vision, dearth of planning, abandonment of achievements of preceding administrations, destruction of civil service, low GDP growth at 1.87% as at Q1 2020 % in the face of growing population at 3.5% , corruption, enthronement of ineptitude, ineffective institutions, weak education sector, poor infrastructure, high unemployment and abandonment of agriculture have all combined to crown poverty in the land.

As at 2019, ironically Nigeria’s GDP was $448.2 billion and the population is about 200m but Nigerians are hungrier and unhappy.

NBS last year said 40 per cent of Nigerians live below poverty line of N137,430 ($381.75) per year. This represents 82.9 million people out of a population of about 200 million.

Poverty has heightened insecurity, kidnapping, corruption, drug peddling which have also combined to tarnish Nigeria’s image from internal and external views.

Way out

When leaders do not manage Nigeria’s diversity appropriately, appoint people to positions based on sentiment; allow corruption to thrive, unemployment to increase, killing and kidnapping to rise and infrastructure to decay, Nigerians will not be happy for their land.

Therefore, Nigeria needs to fund its education sector through PPP to equip graduates on self-reliance, refocus on agriculture through states and regional active participation as it was in pre-independence era, enthrone credible candidates in civil service, make its institutions effective and reduce corruption to create a new brand image for the country.