Nigeria turns 63 today and for most citizens, it has been the hope of a better future deferred again and again. For some, it is a lost cause.
For many born before independence, their early post-independence optimism of a great and prosperous nation growing out of the ashes of colonialism has been dashed.
In a blistering critique in December 2020 of Nigeria’s governance and political economy, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah wailed in a Christmas message titled ‘A Nation In Search Of Vindication,’ “Against the backdrop of our endless woes, ours has become a nation wrapped in desolation. The prospects of a failed state stare us in the face: endless bloodletting, a collapsing economy, social anomie, domestic and community violence, kidnappings, armed robberies etc. Ours has become a house of horror with fear stalking our homes, highways, cities, hamlets and entire communities. The middle grounds of optimism have continued to shift and many genuinely ask, what have we done to the gods? Does Nigeria have a future? Where can we find hope? Like the Psalmist, we ask; from where shall come our help?”
Peggy Osagie, was born three years before independence in Benin City. She said the Nigeria of today is a far cry from the country she grew up in immediately after independence.
“It was a more secure country and corruption was not as rife as it is today. Poverty wasn’t as rampant as it is today either. There was tribalism but it was not in your face and the economy was relatively good”.
Statistically speaking, Nigeria has consistently ranked low in the World Governance Index in areas such as government effectiveness, political stability and the presence of violence and terrorism, rule of law, and control of corruption. Nigeria is perceived in the 2022 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2022 as a highly corrupt country.
The country has long teetered on the precipice of failure and is now unable to keep its citizens safe and secure. It has become an epicentre of terrorism and a failed state.
The trajectory of the dismal outing of Nigeria leading to a 63-year national disappointment isn’t hard to trace. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria gained its independence from British colonial rule, marking a historic moment of freedom and self-determination.
“It was celebrations all over the place,” said Tanko Yakasai, who was 35 years and attended a party that afternoon hosted by the soon-to-be-former governor-general, James Wilson Robertson.
“There were high expectations and Nigeria’s political class really believed that they would be able to change the fortune of the country for the better”.
Less than six years later, a military coup kicked out the politicians who received the flag of independence from the British. In January 1966 a group of five army majors planned and executed Nigeria’s first attempted coup d’état, seizing upon the lingering post-election crisis, corruption, and other alleged government failings as their justification.
“Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds,” Major Chukwuemeka Kaduna Nzeogwu, who led the coup announced.
Nigeria’s ‘centre’ has never held since then. A civil war was to follow that lasted three years and claimed over a million lives.
Nigeria’s dominant post-independence leitmotifs have been corruption and tribalism; factors that have held the country from achieving its manifest destiny.
With corruption and tribalism sweeping into every corner of the country’s social and political economy, Nigeria has made less progress in economic and human development than hoped in the post-independence hey days.
Most Nigerians say little has been achieved over the past 63 years; for them it has been a season of sorrow, tears and pains especially over the last eight years.
“I think that the problems in Nigeria have very little to do with the things that we ascribe, but have everything to do with our inability, sheer incapacity to manage diversity. Managing diversity is a science,” Bishop Kukah, further noted.
“Indeed, the colonialists claimed that they were bringing light to a dark continent. In a way, despite the cost, we could see ingredients of their light; good education, running water, relatively good roads, security, among others. We finally accepted Democracy as the platform for actualizing these. However, today, there is evidence that we have literally returned to the cave, those times when life was brutish, nasty and short. Each and every one of us has contributed to the darkness of our nation.,” the Bishop added.
“When you look at the current situation in Nigeria and citizens expectations, the hope of things getting better seems like a mirage however Nigerians strength is their resilience,” Esrom Ajanya, programme manager of the Kukah Centre posited.
Nigeria, he added, “is awash with resources and the capacity to flourish however the nation is lacking in good leadership, vision and commitment which is what the nation needs to forge ahead”.
As the country fails its citizens, the peoples’ trust in the country and for its institutions is waning exponentially.
A recent survey by polling services firm, NOI polls, show that a huge proportion of Nigerians polled (31 percent) believe that Nigeria has no great achievement in 63 years of independence.
“Nigeria has no positives, refineries aren’t working, healthcare system is poor alongside poor infrastructures (roads) and insecurity amongst a lot of other things not working,” Prince, a guest on The Podium podcast posited.
Majority of citizens (56 percent) have no trust at all for the judiciary while (28 percent) express trust for the judiciary.
Since attaining independence in 1960, the country has at many junctures staggered close to dangerous precipices. Nigerians loss of trust in the state has seen them become what Andrew Nevin and others, call a self-organising people.
“Nigerians’ self-organising impulse is what has been preventing Nigeria from becoming a failed state and is indeed behind whatever successes (and there are many) individual Nigerians and Nigeria are achieving.
“Despite the chaos and disorder in the nation’s public sector, the volatile nature of the economy, and societal stressors of various dimensions, Nigerians find impetus to organise life by themselves and for themselves. And this, they do, in every sphere of existence, at individual and group scale.
“Millions of Nigerians display self-organising impulses as they go about their daily business (not in easy circumstances to be sure) trying to earn a living, get an education, create a career path, find a spouse, raise children, and just generally, make meaning of life.
“Of course, all societies possess this self-organizing impulse. However, what distinguishes Nigerians in this dimension, is the sheer scale of self-organization. Faced with undeniably harsh living conditions, failed by a public sector that does not deliver what it should, Nigerians have developed an outsized capability in self-organising”.
Since 2010, series of overlapping security, political and economic crises has left the country facing its worst instability since the end of the civil war in 1970.
Robert Rotberg and John Campbell, two prominent US academics – the latter a former ambassador to Nigeria – in an essay for Foreign Policy in May 2021 noted of contemporary Nigeria, “Nigeria has long teetered on the precipice of failure,” they argued. “Unable to keep its citizens safe and secure, Nigeria has become a fully failed state of critical geopolitical concern. Its failure matters because the peace and prosperity of Africa and preventing the spread of disorder and militancy around the globe depend on a stronger Nigeria”.
At the core of Nigeria’s systemic failure is the crisis of governance, which manifests in the declining capacity of the state to cope with a range of internal political and social upheavals.
Nigeria, notes Georgetown University political philosopher Jason Brennan, lacks a system of governance in which leadership is based on capability. Rather, the political system in Nigeria is dominated by individuals who gain power through nepotism rather than competence, influence voters with food rather than vision, and consolidate power through intimidation or by incentivizing constituents with material gifts which they frame as “empowerment” to keep them subservient and loyal political followers.
By implication, the failure of governance in Nigeria is arguably the result of incompetent leadership.
63 years after independence, Nigerians continue to rue the debilitating lost years of freedom; 63 years of independence overshadowed by the depredations of a series of corrupt, abusive, and unaccountable governments.