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Nigeria at 60: Not yet the desired dream

Nigeria needs focused reforms, especially resource, electoral and anti-corruption reforms

On Thursday 1st October, 2020, Nigeria marked 60 years of independence from Britain with parades and festivities. But the celebration came with mixed feelings for the citizens. Despite the fanfare, including a colourful military parade and a dramatic air show, many people did not appreciate such display at a time when Nigerians are overstretched by several challenges which call to question the essence of independence.

Contrary to the aspiration of our founding fathers, Nigeria, the world’s largest black population, with massive wealth to spend as the largest oil producer in Africa, is far from where it ought to be. At 60, the country remains a work-in -progress

A country with over 250 different ethnic groups has gone through brutal civil war and over three decades of military dictatorship to become a democratic nation. Its return to civilian rule in 1999 was widely seen as an opportunity for the country to restructure governance and ensure equity in its distribution of resources. But growing corruption and a brutal insurgency in the northeast region of the country that has lasted for a decade have contributed to its failure to effectively tackle some of its most critical problems.

It is paradoxical that a country with abundant human and material resources, a country whose nationals are breaking barriers across the world, a country that has produced Nobel laureates and other celebrities, a country with the largest economy in Africa would same time be the world capital of poverty. The development effectively makes it unlikely that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end extreme poverty by 2030 will be met.

There’s almost nothing to celebrate in a country where almost everywhere is so insecure. Four years before the country gained independence, large oil reserves were discovered along the coastal Niger Delta region, bringing hopes of prosperity for so many. But, as Nigeria emerged as one of the world’s largest oil exporters, the ruling class mismanaged the resources from oil sales mostly to its own benefit.

Today, the outlook is bad. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2019, Nigeria occupied the 146th spot out of 180 countries listed, falling to its lowest ranking ever. The amount of money stolen by the political class is enough to fix the most important infrastructures in the country. It is so annoying to see millions of Nigerians languishing in poverty while a group of persons squander the country’s resources.

In sixty years of independence, our key achievements as a nation are that we survived the Nigerian civil war of 1967 -1970 and that we are still a country. Beyond these, every index in terms of physical and social parameters shows that we have declined. Up to the early 1980’s Nigerians most likely contemplated going abroad to study only if he/she did not find a place in a Nigerian university. Our universities compared with the best in the world as did our primary and secondary schools.

Our medical facilities, largely public or owned by religious missions were first rate. It is said that up to 1965 the King of Saudi Arabia went to University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan for his medicals. Today, our social and physical infrastructures are in shambles. The textile factories in Kano and Kaduna and many other industries all over the country have been shut down. We have one of the highest, if not the highest, number of out of school children in the world, the unemployment and poverty rates are scandalous.

There was a time when the safest time to travel was at night. Crime was very low especially in the North. That has changed for the worst. Nigeria’s judiciary was rated amongst the best in the world. Today, in every sector it is a tale of woes. By 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was a complete desert with no infrastructure. We were miles ahead.

Today UAE compares with the best in the world and has sent people to space while we still grapple with nineteenth century issues. In Nigeria rather than preach tolerance where we should have strength, the political elite, in agbada and military uniform, have exploited these differences to promote disunity and hate.

Nigeria prides itself as a federation. But in all honesty, we cannot say we are practicing true federalism. Apart from Lagos and Rivers States, others are completely dependent on statutory allocations. We have a centralised police and correctional (prisons) system creating an anomalous situation where for instance, a person commits a state offence; he is arrested by a federal police, is tried by a state court and sentenced to a federal correctional facility. Our federalism is clearly abnormal. Its content suggests a unitary system.

The current centralised system of federalism has become a veritable source of, rather than a credible solvent for, the country’s multifaceted crises of unity, democracy, and development. A more balanced perspective would distinguish between the system’s remarkable achievements in alleviating inter-group political inequality and insecurity, and its conspicuous failures to advance good democratic and economic governance.

Ultimately, focused reforms, especially resource, electoral and anti-corruption reforms, will be required to consolidate Nigeria’s real successes in mitigating potentially disintegrative ethno-political conflicts and to assuage current agitations for the wholesale restructuring or dismantling of the federal system.

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