• Saturday, December 09, 2023
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Nigeria: 63 years of a ‘potentially’ great nation

Nigeria@63: Should I continue dreaming?

For 63 years, it has been the same fictive narrative that Nigeria has all the potential to lead the world. For so long, this potential has remained latent, quite unclear when, as a hen, it will come to roost.

Close observers have noted that the country’s economic potential, for instance, is constrained by many structural and systemic issues, including inadequate infrastructure, tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade and investment, lack of confidence in local currency valuation and limited capacity to attract foreign exchange.

But at the head of all these is a political leadership deficient in direction and purpose. As the country turns 63 today, rather than rolling out the drums in celebration, Nigerians are wearing mournful looks with disquieting present and uncertain future as companions.

Nigeria lags peers across developmental indices

Ordinarily, there should have been much enthusiasm, colour and feting to mark the seemingly milestone. Out there on the streets, the gloomy faces, less hoisting of the country’s flag on cars and nonchalant attitude of the majority of the citizens towards the celebration tell the true state of the country.

“What is there to celebrate on October 1, when the dollar hit the N1000 mark on September 28, 2023. What a bad gift for Nigerians for independence anniversary,” an angry middle-aged civil servant blurted.

Apart from the masses, who are being weighed down by the growing burden of economic hardship, “low-key” celebration is even experienced at the state and federal levels.

A chief press secretary to a South-South governor disclosed that his principal is considering a low-key celebration as the body language of the masses in the state is not supportive.

“I am usually happy to celebrate across the years, be it birthday, Christmas or New Year, but I can’t remember celebrating Nigeria’s independence in my 45 years existence and not this year that we are experiencing the worst in the country.

“There is actually little to celebrate about Nigeria at 63 years, probably the fragile unity. It is sad that at 63 years, Nigeria is still struggling with teething problems,” Damien Ataji, a Kogi State-born lawyer lamented.

Read also: 63 years after Independence, it is still hope deferred

The Abuja-based commercial lawyer noted that Nigeria lags among its peers across developmental indices.

“Nigeria, Brazil and India were among the countries the world projected to do well in the late 60s. Today, Brazil and India, which are both BRICS countries, are measuring up with global expectations, while Nigeria is nowhere near that level. Those who say we are a young country, should visit Rwanda or Namibia to see what purposeful leadership means,” Ataji said.

For Chijioke Umelahi, a former Abia State lawmaker, Nigeria has huge potential for greatness, but has been held down from truly being the giant of Africa because of poor leadership over the years.

“A 63-year-old man should be a grandfather by now. But Nigeria seems to retard at teenage level since 1960. We have tried so many things, policies and laws, yet no headway because of poor leadership.

“If we shun ethnicity and religion in our politics, make political positions free of salary and elevate the constitution above every Nigerian, we will attract good leaders,” Umelahi said.

He also tasksed the political class on sincerity and little love for the masses because they have always been at the receiving end.

“We see political position as opportunities to enrich our pockets at the expense of the masses. The process of getting there is also corrupt, that is why leadership has been poor and the country’s growth stunted even at 63 years and even more if we fail to get it right,” Umelahi said.

Meanwhile, some others think otherwise. They consider the over 20-years of democracy as achievement and the unity of Nigeria despite many challenges in the 63 years of her existence as things to celebrate.

A country at war with itself – Tietie

Presently, Nigerians are disenchanted with the socio-economic situation in the country to celebrate about a nation that is rapidly degenerating into a failed state.

Over six decades after independence, the country appears to be retrogressing in every sector, lagging in basic services of a government to the people, and losing control or sharing some of its territories with non-state actors, who have almost succeeded in bringing government to its knees, using banditry, kidnapping and all forms of insurgency.

Meanwhile, unemployment, political uncertainty as well as the insecurity of lives and property have been identified as some of the compelling factors for a mass exodus of educated and skillful youths from the country in recent years.

The current unfavourably economic situation has been exacerbated by reforms and unpopular policies of the Bola Tinubu administration, which has largely led to increase in prices of essential commodities, goods and services, leading to high cost of living and higher inflation.

Some Nigerians are of the view that few privileged individuals, especially political leaders are enjoying the wealth of the nation, while the vast majority are homeless, hungry and defenseless.

As Nigeria clocks 63, there are many citizens who fear that the benefits of independence have eluded the country and that things may never change for a long time if urgent steps are not taken.

There are those who canvass that the country needed a holistic restructuring away from the present state to be able to deliver to Nigerians.

Read also: Nigeria @ 63: Let’s dream, work for better, stronger Nigeria – Makinde

Some have, however, blamed part of the nation’s problem on faulty electoral process which has affected the conduct of credible elections to recruit leaders who can be responsive and deliver good governance.

A Public Affairs Analyst, Oladapo Afolabi said that the problem with the country was leadership, noting that no country can rise without conscious efforts of its leaders.

“Chinua Achebe diagnosed leadership as being the bane of all that is wrong with Nigeria; he set the focus on the challenge of the elite and elite nationalism. All across the world, from the United States to Singapore, and from China to Rwanda, the elite has always played a leading role in transforming the trajectory of nation-building.

“The rise or fall of any state has a lot to do with the decision-making capacities, competences and commitment of its elite. It has to do with whether the elite believes in such a state and works strenuously and self-sacrificially to uphold it; or it is a set of greedy undertakers who do not mind bringing a great state low by the logic of self-aggrandisement,” Afolabi said.

A Human Rights Lawyer and Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Frank Tietie described Nigeria as a country that is at war with itself and blamed its downward journey towards a failed state on a systemic problem, which he said, was the total lack of service culture to the citizens and lack of accountability.

“You find the various ethno-religious groups battling to outwit one another in competition for resources, thereby adopting methods and policies that do not consider anything like national interest; that do not consider anything like preservation of national interest. So, nobody cares about what is the ethos behind the Nigerian state,” Tietie said.

Tietie described Nigeria’s kind of politics as “buccaneering” that only believes in grabbing power for selfish reasons.

“Let us capture the power and use it to get profits anyhow we can to serve our personal interest. So, nation-building has been completely lost since the Second Republic. That is the reason the nation keeps going down. As the years go by, we have records of going downward in services and in the national interest. We just keep failing in national cohesion. The people are pulled apart.

“We claim to be a Federal Government, yet we have central government that operates as if Nigeria is a unitary state. The central government has 68 items on the Exclusive List to which it is completely failing to deliver. Yet, it is still holding onto them because it wants to stay in control of the sharing of resources,” he further said.

For Tope Musowo, a public affairs analyst, the problem with Nigeria was the political structure and nation’s electoral process.

He called for urgent overhaul of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for it to deliver on its mandate.

“Nigeria’s problems are multifaceted but part of it is the structure of the country which, to me, is not aiding development and good governance.

“We need to go back to the First Republic and see what we have there which was working. The present structure of government is too expensive and unsustainable.

“Let us reform INEC, I am not sure if the Commission can conduct a free and fair poll, to bring credible people into leadership positions. Look at the 2023 polls,” Musowo said.

There are those who, however, said that even though the country was not where it should be, it had nonetheless, made some giant strides in all sectors, when comparing to where it was before independence.

Bunmi Bewaji, a senior lawyer and former minority leader of the House of Representatives, said: “Yes, Nigeria is not where it is supposed to be, but we have done very well as a nation; this is 25 years of uninterrupted democracy; I never thought we would live to see this. Anybody who saw the tyranny of military rulers would understand. Today, Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, biggest democracy and largest market in Africa.

“When you put these three things together, we have every cause to celebrate ourselves. There is hope the journey is not smooth, but Nigeria is on the right track. We should give thanks to God.”

Bewaji further expressed the optimism that there were signs of hope and a clear departure from the old order with the Tinubu administration, insisting that the country has achieved great success in different areas since independence despite obvious challenges.

“It has not been all gloom and doom. Today, Nigeria has the highest number of public and private universities in Africa. We have done so well in many areas that we should thank God for,” he added.

…Still in search of directional, purposeful leadership

Some residents of Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State, said that the country was already a great nation, but lacked purposeful leadership.

Charles Chinekezi, chairman, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), observed that Nigeria was carved by God to be a great nation, but regretted that the country is held down by visionless people around the seat and corridors of power.

Read also: Nigeria braces for fuel scarcity as NUPENG joins nationwide strike

According to him, no other nation has the level of talented human resource that is available in Nigeria, from over 300 tribes and potentiality in talent and gift, resourcefulness and skill is rare to be seen anywhere in the world

“Go to Europe, some of the people, who are doing the most challenging jobs are Nigerians. About 70 percent of doctors and engineers in North America are from Nigeria. These are people, who migrated from this same country (Nigeria) that we call junk,” he said.

He emphasized that Nigeria is naturally blessed, but looking for directional leadership.

“That is why we are complaining that the group of less than 1000 people that masquerade as politicians are holding the greatest territory in the world hostage. And the entire world is now asking, what is the intent of this kind of behaviour or setback?

“Nigeria is a great nation, but Nigeria is in total darkness, due to the unavailability of visionary leadership, responsible leadership and a kind of person, who understands where the new world is headed,” he explained.

Uche Odinkemere, a banker, urged Nigerians to patronise locally-made goods to support local manufacturers and create jobs and increase the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Odinkemere, who spoke with BusinessDay, Thursday in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State, at the sidelines of a workshop titled, “Accessing International Market through Export Trade Houses”, organised by the Abia Coordinating Office of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), said that Nigerians should first believe in themselves to harness the potential in the country.

“If we believe in ourselves, it will show in what we do, as a nation.

For instance, we have been talking about non-oil export, Nigeria so far has been import-oriented and that is not good enough for us. We need to believe in ourselves, believe in our entrepreneurial abilities and begin to showcase our skills and products to the outside world. And I believe that when we begin to export our products and services, we can begin to be great again,” he said.

But for Nigerian products to compete favourably in the international market, he advised that infrastructure, especially power, must be provided to reduce cost of production and increase output.

According to him, “Our power has been epileptic and we have been having policy summersault on power. I believe that by the time we liberalise the power sector in the real essence of the word, when we give the right people with the technical know-how and finances and also support them with good legislation, our power generation will improve.

“Time is gone when we should be depending on Government alone to produce power; let us liberalise the power sector to improve power, and once power improves, the things we create will also improve.”

Chibueze Onwuka, also a banker, observed that although Nigeria’s economy has not been stable, he still has the faith that the country will get better someday.

“Though everybody is crying, due to hardship, looking at the way things are unfolding and the opportunities in the country, we can get out of the present challenges and the country will be great,” Onwuka said.

He further said that if Nigerians can tap into the natural resources available in the country, like agro-based products and add value to them for export that the country will earn foreign exchange and create jobs at home.

Nigeria still on the throes of election disputes

The signing into law of the Electoral Act 2022 by former President Muhammadu Buhari was greeted with celebrations, as many saw it as a way of building trust, ensuring credibility, accountability and transparency in the nation’s electoral process.

On Friday, 25th February 2022, President Buhari assented to the Electoral Bill 2022, repealing the 2010 Act and enacting a new Electoral Act, that contained deep-rooted provisions for sustainable election reforms.

The Act provided the necessary legal framework to empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to determine the mode of voting and transmission of results as well as to review declaration of election results made under duress.

The Act legalised the use of technology in elections, while funds due to INEC for elections were to be released not later than one year to the next general election.

INEC was mandated by the Act to maintain a National Electronic Register of Election Results – an electronic database of polling unit results and collated election results of every election it conducts, which should be made available to any member of the public upon request.

Section 62(1) and (2) also introduced the Smart Card Reader (SCR) or other technological device by INEC for accreditation, verification and authentication of voters.

Section 47(2) of the Act established the Electronic Voting Device: INEC, by the provision was allowed to provide ballot boxes or “electronic voting machine or other voting device” for elections. This makes room for e-voting. Section 41(1).

The Act also empowered INEC to determine mode of voting and transmission of results. Section 50(2) INEC also given discretion to prescribe method of transferring results including total number

of accredited voters and results, according to Section 60(5).

In section 64(4-5), Collating Officers and Returning Officers were empowered to use the number of accredited voters and votes recorded and transmitted directly from Polling Units (PUs) to collate and announce results.

In case of over-voting: INEC was empowered to use number of accredited voters to determine over-voting.

Thus, the Act provided that elections conducted without prior recording of the quantity, serial numbers and other particulars of results sheets, ballot papers and other sensitive election materials in the Forms prescribed by INEC shall be invalid.

A Presiding Officer who violates this will face prosecution and will be liable on conviction to a fine of N10 million or imprisonment for a term of at least one year or both, according to Section 73(2) and (3).

The law, coming 63 years after Independence, many thought would mark the beginning of an enduring systemic, check weaknesses and therefore, signal a new era of credibility, fairness, transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability.

To the chagrin of many Nigerians, however, the 2023 general election conducted under the very Act fell short of their expectations.

The European Union Election Observation Mission in their assessment said the election did not ensure a well-run transparent, and inclusive democratic process.

The EU mission had noted that public confidence and trust in INEC were severely damaged during the presidential poll and was not restored in state level elections, leading the civil society group to call for an “independent audit of the entire process.”

Elections in Nigeria had over the years, suffered from violence, religious and ethnic intolerance, manipulation from INEC officials who are supposed to serve as umpires, vote buying, thuggery and in several instances, outright disenfranchisement.

The 2023 general election, the seventh since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999, contained certain innovations that were aimed at curtailing the ills of the previous elections.

The federal polls were held for presidency and two chambers of the National Assembly composed of 109 Senate and 360 House of Representatives seats. State polls were held for 28 of the 36 governors in Nigeria and 36 State Houses of Assembly comprising 993 seats across Nigeria. Nigeria is composed of 36 states in six geo-political zones and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Prior to the elections, major concerns were raised regarding the security situation in the country, such as the insurgencies in the North-East zone, banditry and terrorism in the North-West, ongoing farmer-herder conflicts in the Middle Belt, secession agitations in the South-East, and increased cases of political abductions and killings in the southern parts of the country.

In addition, the elections took place against the backdrop of deepening economic crises, with rising unemployment and poverty rates, high inflation, and prevailing fuel scarcity across the country.

Debo Ologunagba, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) National Publicity Secretary, believes that the INEC holds the key to enthronement of credible elections in Nigeria.

“The solution lies in getting the political parties and other stakeholders involved in the appointment of INEC officials. For elections to be credible, INEC should be transparent. INEC has been the biggest challenge, even to the independence of the judiciary.

“We also need to ensure that there is less interference from the Executive arm of government, before the people can believe in the system. People will not be interested, if they don’t believe in the process that it will be free, fair and transparent,” he said.

According to him, “All the parties should be interested in determining who are appointed and there must be a benchmark of performance. There must also be a process in place to ensure that the INEC Chairman can be removed if he or she fails to perform. These, when properly implemented, will help to address the issues of electoral crises the nation is facing.”

The PDP spokesman noted that the 2022 Electoral Act has provided sufficient support for the conduct of credible elections in Nigeria, adding that the country was not deficient in legal framework.

“The challenge we have is not the absence of good laws, but the lack of political will to implement the laws already enacted,” Ologunagba said.

Labour Party Spokesman, Obiora Ifoh, while corroborating, said that the problem was not with the law, but with the personnel that manage the process.

“People come out cast their votes, yet, the election umpire, denies the people their right,” he said.

He berated the INEC for truncating the process through manipulation, saying, “if the INEC Chairman was given life imprisonment, every one working in

INEC will sit up.”

A chieftain of the Rivers State All Progressive Congress (APC), Chukwuemeka Eze, while ruminating over the nation’s electoral progress, said that the nation’s institutions have been weakened by greed.

“Institutional corruption perpetrated by powerful individuals in the pursuit of their selfish, private vendettas has brought us this low. The only honest reason for this celebration would be that the country is still hanging together as one entity; the celebration would definitely not be because the country has taken the necessary strides befitting her endowment after 63 years of hard trying,” he said.

Eze, while lamenting the nation’s leadership deficiency, said: “Leadership, the only ingredient so vital for the progressive navigation of statecraft has failed the country in a manner so grieving and multi-dimensional that average citizens now prefer to conscientiously submit to a life of slavery in foreign lands than die of hunger and deprivation on their own soil.”

He declared that the nation was suffering “diseases of infancy – bribery, endemic corruption, nepotism, poverty and more, all of which are the very pernicious effects of poor leadership. Democracy in Nigeria has remained a mountain of illusion, palpitating in the web of debacle. Do we call it democracy where the will of majority is made subject to the whims of the powerful few with very inordinate and self-serving ambitions? Do we call it democracy where meritocracy has been sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity? Is it democracy where law promulgators are law breakers?

“More worrisome is the corruption that has permeated our judicial system. Instead of operating to give hope to the common man, Nigeria’s judiciary has turned itself into a bastion of hope for the criminally-corrupt sitting on the neck of the country; yes the judiciary seems to be the confidence of election thieves; validating the smelliest of electoral irregularities and illegalities.

“Not only is Nigeria entangled in the throes of disputed elections, the country is currently enmeshed in a global infamy of a stolen identity and certificate forgery. Had our judiciary been committed to manifestly doing justice, they would have saved the country from the mess. But our judges are much more committed to the wealth they would accumulate and the fame they would get if they do the bidding of the men in power.

Read also: Nigeria at 63

“Our problems as a country are multi-faceted but the Judiciary can help, especially in correcting the errors of manipulated elections. And when that happens, we should focus on building powerful institutions that can withstand the whims and influence of powerful men, if not, the country and her people must target a revolution in whatever manner to restart and align the country on the path of development. It is good in so far as it is in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.”

According to Eze, the judiciary is hamstrung, “We all know that in Nigeria since 1960 at independence and since we became a Republic in 1963, no court has upturned even the most brazen election before now.

“But even all those elections pale in comparison to what befell Nigerians in 2023,” he said.

Pedro Obaseki, a legal practitioner and PDP campaign Director of Research, Documentation and Strategy, also lamented that although the Electoral 2022 provided adequate legal framework for the conduct of democratic elections, with key regional and international standards being reflected, the gaps in national law enabled its circumvention.

Obaseki berated the roles played by the INEC Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu in stalling the progress brought by the Electoral Act.

“It is an accepted fact that this election was indeed brazenly rigged beyond all known ethics and ramifications. However, what is a little bit disturbing in the media space, particularly in the social media space, is that the election was stolen.

“But the INEC Chairman will go down in history as the worst since Nigeria’s Independence. If he doubts what I am saying, let him take a walk on the road leading to his office in Maitama and see the people’s reactions,” he said.

Nigeria needs a paradigm shift in leadership

Aliyu Musa, a public analyst, said: “As a nation with blessed resources, both natural and human, we are supposed to be a touch bearer for other countries. But unfortunately, we are yet to get it right in all areas. We still depend on other countries for basic support of life like food, drugs, etc. There is a need to have a paradigm shift in our approach to leadership system in Nigeria if we want things to change for good.”

Oluwabukola Ahmad, a civil servant, said: “Comparing years back with what obtains now, one can say things are very bad. All sectors of human life are in a deplorable state because of poor management of our nation’s resources and poor governance. The depressed economy at the moment has made most Nigerians to be struggling to survive. A few households can afford three square meals.

“It is sad that at sixty-three years, major roads in Nigeria are in deplorable state, yet we have had leaders all of these years and petro-dollar rolling in. There is lack of adequate infrastructure and epileptic power supply. Health, education and other sectors have all broken down. Nothing is working.

“I think our leaders need to put in place strategic measures and people-friendly policies to grow the economy and make our country better. Looking at President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s line of actions so far; one can say there is hope for Nigeria.

We believe he has what it takes to restructure our country and reclaim the lost glory. If our leaders are committed and dedicated, and Nigerians generally can change our attitude in all dealings; definitely, things will change for better and it will favour us all.

Read also: Patients at risk as nurses and midwives join nationwide strike

Tunde Salman, said, “Nation building and statecraft are continuous, whatever challenges and hiccups should be tackled by addressing those national questions and developmental issues. I urge the President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu to triple his efforts to stabilise the economy.

“Things are very tight for people and it is government that is responsible to solve the national problems. Nation building is a continuous effect and our leaders have to wear their thinking cap so as to find lasting solution to myriads of challenges- developmental challenges, security challenges, economic challenges, and political challenges- confronting Nigeria as we march towards 100 years anniversary as a country.”