Nigeria at 61

Today, Nigeria, the bellwether of the African continent rolls out the drums to celebrate 61 years of formal independence from British colonial rule. But the joyful occasion is being marked amidst a host of problems. These include: a weakening economy, huge unemployment, youth restiveness, rising insecurity, ethno-religious conflicts and social disequilibrium all of which threaten progress made in the country’s post-independence development.

Amid deepening distrust in government and institutions, Nigeria has significant work to do in improving national, state and local security, unity, governance and cohesiveness. Since independence, the country has made some efforts at nation-building. Some of these efforts came after the civil war which understandably was an ample time to enhance proper integration of the warring elements. Among the efforts were: the institution of the policy of ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’ with its attendant 3Rs mechanism, the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, the convocation of political reform conferences and the return to democratic rule.

The ‘no victor’, no vanquished’ policy which gave rise to the 3Rs of Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation was initiated to demobilize the people of Biafra (south east) and reintegrate them into the national life. While the objectives of this policy were laudable, actual implementation did not live up to expectations However, the policy remained a nation-building effort whether or not it yielded meaningful result was another thing.

Similar effort was made through the establishment of the NYSC scheme. Whilst this scheme has recorded a lot of achievements, recent developments in the polity where corps members become easy preys in times of crisis and where the well-connected graduates are posted to their choice and juicy places irrespective of their geographical contiguities (always blamed on corruption) are some of the challenges confronting the scheme and undermining this national integration effort.

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More importantly, the convocation of national political reform conferences over the years in Nigeria has remained an attempt at nation- building. These conferences were often mandated to draw the way forward for Nigeria but each time, failures have continued to be recorded; either as a result of the character of the delegates or the convocation and selection processes of members. And where the delegates succeeded at reaching a genuine and feasible conclusion, their recommendations are often not binding and are therefore confined to the dustbin of history. For want of better words, political reform conferences in Nigeria have become mere avenues for political settlements.

Unfortunately, the only huge success of nation-building recorded in Nigeria is adorning our public institutions with the national symbols like flag, coat-of-arms, and pictures of the Nigeria President, Governors (within their respective states) as well as the recitation of the National Anthem in official gatherings which in effect, does not guarantee oneness but at least, is a sign of togetherness. However, while this effort is not bad because it reminds us of our national identity, it is not sufficient to guarantee nation-building which should stem from personal conviction and patriotic stand.

In 61 years, while Nigeria has made some progress in political, economic and social development, its human capital development remains weak due to under-investment

In 61 years, while Nigeria has made some progress in political, economic and social development, its human capital development remains weak due to under-investment. It ranked 152 of 157 countries in the World Bank’s 2018 Human Capital Index. The country continues to face massive developmental challenges, including the need to reduce the dependency on oil and diversify the economy, address insufficient infrastructure, build strong and effective institutions, as well as address governance issues and public financial management systems. These pre-existing structural challenges left the Nigerian economy vulnerable to the COVID-19 outbreak and its consequences.

In the current situation, Nigeria has fewer buffers and policy instruments to cushion adverse economic effects. The Excess Crude Account is depleted, external reserves are highly reliant on short-term flows, and policy uncertainty affects investor confidence. Inequality, in terms of income and opportunities, remains high and has adversely affected poverty reduction.

It is a truism that Nigeria is today more divided than ever before. The country is currently drawn along ethnic and religious lines. The lack of job opportunities is at the core of the high poverty levels, regional inequality, and social and political unrest. According to the World Bank, about 5 million Nigerians were pushed into poverty in 2020 as population growth outpaced economic growth.

Despite abundant human and materials resources, Nigeria’s economy has not moved at the pace expected of such a great nation. Many of her citizens are blessed with entrepreneurial skills; they are very creative and innovative. But the unpredictable and unconducive, extractive political institutions and unfriendly business environment have stunted their zeal. In particular, poor leadership combined with corruption has created a weak economy that have not allowed the society to tackle its systemic problems. Starting a small business from scratch is challenging. It takes a lot of passion and determination to keep your business running and to market your products or services under the poor business environment in Nigeria. Thus, the situation does not allow for creativity and innovation.

All over the world, the economy lays the foundation for successful nation-building. Unfortunately, the political elite that controls the machineries of the state have failed to launch a self-sustaining economic development process that de-emphasizes greater reliance on external help for economic recovery. Current external borrowing stands at about N36trillion. While we agree that there is no uniform pattern of nation-building, what remains incontestable is the conviction that these factors must be properly harnessed before nation-building becomes feasible.

If we may ask: Are the mind-sets of Nigeria’s leaders carved in stone? Why is Nigeria difficult to change? Why has Nigeria after 61 years of independence failed to develop with abundant human and material resources at its disposal? Why has prosperity eluded the nation? Why are many Nigerians swimming in the deep ocean of poverty? Put differently, why does Nigeria have 40% of unemployment rate,61 years after independence?

It is unfortunate that despite the above issues, the country’s political leaders have failed to take responsibility as everyone is blaming everyone else. The leaders, it appears, hate to be held accountable for anything. It is also proper to note that the root cause of the present social, political, and economic predicament is not the making of the leaders alone, but our collective selfishness. In other words, the followership has a lot to answer for.

Everybody in Nigeria, it seems, wants to be in a leadership position whether or not he/she has the skills and knowledge to stimulate a healthy competition, increase the wealth of the nation, and create economic opportunity for everyone. Leadership is not about revenue sharing but about moving people to action to create wealth. These actions are possible with leaders who are committed to improving the living conditions of the people. To build a healthy economy, political leaders must shift their mind-sets and invest in infrastructure and institutions that drive the economy and enhance individual and national productivity. Also, the society must empower the youths with the skills and knowledge to take initiatives, conduct independent inquiry, compete effectively in the global economy, and produce results the society wants.

Building a nation requires that the actors otherwise called the builders must perfectly have an idea of the type of a nation they desire and work towards having it actualized. Just like the services of many actors are involved in building a house; so also it is, in nation-building However, the critical task remains; how do we achieve a united Nigeria given the type of society we have where crude stereotypic mentality has been built around our leaders as braggarts that are not worthy of administrative mandate?

To move this country forward therefore, leaders of all spheres must shift their mental models, create inclusive institutions, and develop the courage, political will, and commitment to enthrone positive change in the society. Although the process seems daunting because of the disordered Nigerian environment, it is not by any means impossible to accomplish with collective mindfulness as every Nigerian is a stakeholder in the affairs of the nation. Still and despite the daunting prospects, here is wishing the Country happy anniversary as it marches towards the 62 years of its existence.

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