BusinessDay

Nigeria: Still a toddler at 62

Nigerians across the world remembered yesterday as the 62 years of independence of their country from Britain. For many, there is nothing to cheer as Nigeria has remained a toddler, unable to meet her basic needs at her age.

Within this period of self-rule, the country has gone through different stages, surviving a bloody civil war in which over one million Nigerians’ lives were lost and several decades of military rule.

Since independence, Nigeria has also witnessed different types of leaders who have moved the country from one stage to the other- positively and negatively. Opinions are divided on their performance while in office.

There is the general assumption among observers that with so much promise and opportunity, leadership at state and local government levels has not delivered on its constitutional responsibilities.

This could be seen in the failure of basic service delivery on education, health, water and sanitation have not reached millions of Nigerians, especially women and girls.

Having ruled the country for two terms of eight years, Nigeria’s 62nd independence celebration was the last for incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari.

This year’s independence celebration came amidst the poor state of the economy, rising inflation, unemployment and rising spate of insecurity.

Across the country, there is a general feeling among the majority of Nigerians that at 62, the country has failed to attain its potential.

A recent report has established that about 78 percent of Nigerians were unhappy and in a state of despondency due to poor living conditions and general state of affairs in the country.

With widespread insecurity top on the list of issues giving grave concern to citizens, inability to meet basic needs and unemployment completed the three biggest challenges unsettling Nigerians, according to the report from the Africa Polling Institute (API) released for the month of July 2022.

Meanwhile, as the nation gets drawn into the frenzy of politicking ahead of the 2023 general election, expectations are high among the citizenry that a new wave of leaders that would be elected may change the narrative and offer the much anticipated good governance.

Thus, there is the feeling among the citizenry that it is extremely important for the nation’s tiers of government to work in the direction of infrastructure and economic development to stimulate growth and quality of life.

The country needs to work on basic amenities and services such as water, roads, electricity, housing, health facilities, drains, street lights, playgrounds, and transport among others are still insufficient.

In a country of 200 million people, the federal government, states and local councils face the herculean task of ensuring that citizens enjoy democracy.

Experts believe that with the change in Nigeria’s population age structure, the authorities must pay more attention to the dividends of democracy.

It’s believed that no country can progress if it fails to adequately cater for the youths. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment in the last quarter has risen astronomically.

Although the country is trying to consolidate and deepen democracy since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999 when the military handed over power back to civilians after 26 years, the general feeling among Nigerians is that there is little to cheer.

Several experts have pointed out ways and what the country can do to overcome its woes, but despite efforts little progress has been achieved by successive administrations in recent decades.

Ayo Olutokun, professor of political science, said one of the major problems facing Nigeria is the style of government, stressing that the country seems to be practising a unitary system of democracy, while there are residues of the long years of military rule in today’s civilian democracy.

“Well, in terms of evolution, the nation appears to be shedding the toga of unitarism and jackboot politics at least for now,” Olutokun said.

Olutokun advised that the country return back to federalism or what some people call true federalism, noting that power should be devolved to the federating units, federal, state and local governments.

“Many have called for this over time because Britain, which is a unitary nation, embraced power devolution. If unitary states are reaping the benefits of devolution, why not Nigeria?

“The council flats that you hear about in the UK are built by local governments and that system works far better than our own councils. Also, their police are decentralised and they are effective. The same is true in several parts of Europe,” he added.

Similarly, Omobolaji Oshinowo, a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) said at 62 years, the country is sliding back on a reverse gear rather than going forward.

Oshinowo noted that there was the need for leaders to find a lasting solution to the nation’s woes to save the country from imminent collapse.

According to him, “I was born in the sixties and grew up in the system. My generation has seen the good, bad and ugly side of Nigeria after independence.

“The only hope is that the people get it right this time around in the coming elections. Since 1999 to date we have been experiencing democracy and still waiting for the dividends of democracy to be shown in our lives and nation.

“Our shine has been taken from us by disastrous leaders we have been unfortunate to have in the past and present. Corruption, nepotism, religious extremism and acts of unpatriotic citizens have dragged our country back.

“We have conducted experiments with the democratic freedom we have enjoyed and hopefully with the way things are going now in Nigeria I want to believe we have gotten a solution for our problems otherwise we will keep on running in circles until the decline of the entity called Nigeria.”

At the height of the global clampdown on colonialism in the 40s, 50s and 60s, Nigeria was among the many countries across the world that gained independence from the European colonial masters.

Then, the country was anticipated by Great Britain, its former colonial ruler, to be among the leading lights of Commonwealth countries, especially in Africa.

Of course, the great expectations were based on Nigeria’s vast natural resources, intellectual capacity of the pioneer fathers and regional economic potential.

At a point, Nigeria was rated among India and Brazil, as countries that will lead post colonial economies.

Today, at 62 years, the reality stares on everyone’s face as almost every country that was in the class of Nigeria post-colonial has overtaken her in almost all developmental indices.

However, the country had huge developmental feats it achieved while running regional governments, which it used in developing the region’s then.

From groundnut, cocoa, palm oil, to other cash crops, the country ran an agro-based economy, managed the resources efficiently and drew the attention of the world as a leading exporter of cash crop in Africa then.

That era was a boom for the country until military takeover and discovery of crude oil, which shifted the focus of the economy from a producing to a consuming one.

For Pa Modemi Oshinkoya, an octogenarian and Federal Service retiree, the country has a lot to celebrate, especially surviving the Biafran War in the early 70s.

“If there is nothing to celebrate, I think being together since independence is worth celebrating, all we need to do is to be individually and collectively sincere with the country because it is the people that make or ruin the country. Nigeria at 62 needs sincere citizens to move forward”, he admonished.

He also thinks that if the efforts made in fighting the civil war are also made in fighting the unscrupulous elements across the country, insecurity would be a thing of the past.

In the same vein, Bode Onitiri, an Isolo, Lagos-based maritime lawyer, noted that the fact that Nigeria is still one country is an achievement for the 62 years existence of the country. The Ushi Ekiti State born lawyer argued that many advanced countries of the world had their teething problems, survived them and are today examples of modern democracy and development, and that Nigeria will get there someday.

Read also: Do not lose hope in Nigeria – Reps member, Akande Sadipe

“No doubt, at 62 years old, we are not where we are supposed to be as a country, but we will get there. The main issue has been lack of quality leadership and I think with the new electoral law, there will be change. Let’s work to see Nigeria live another 62 years in unity, breed focused leaders, more sincere citizens and sustainable development. We can, and need to start from the 2023 elections”, he said.

Differing, Emele Onuh, former senior lecturer in the department of Environmental Science, Federal Polytechnic Oko, Anambra State, who was born in 1960, thinks that he has achieved more in his 62 years than Nigeria as a country.

Onuh, who is now a traditional ruler in Bende, Abia State, regrets that Nigeria’s growth has remained stunted for the sad reasons.

“I think the only feat Nigeria has achieved since independence is the huge population and giving priority to the welfare of other African countries, while neglecting us. That is why it claims to be the giant of Africa, but you know we are not”, he noted.

The traditional ruler is worried that at 62 years Nigeria still struggles with issues that should have been dealt with in the first 10 years of independence.

“We should not be talking about tribalism, minority, nepotism, religious bigotry, corruption, and even terrorism if the country had made sustained efforts at giving every Nigerian a sense of belonging, safety and equity as enshrined in the constitution and observed to the letter”, he said.

Considering the many recurring issues and challenges the country has been facing, especially in recent times, Hassan Onaji, a Kogi State businessman, said the country has not done well in her 62 years of existence.

“If you are the father of Nigeria, will you beat your chest to say my son has done well at 62 years? He cannot give you food, no power supply, he cannot pay your medical bills, send his children to school and keeps buying kerosene for his stove from a neighbor when he should be selling kerosene to those neighbors. We have not done well at 62 please”, he lamented.

Onaji, an entrepreneur, decried that those shouting praise of the government are those benefiting from the current looting of the country in the names of foreign loans, crude oil theft, padded budgets and the likes of the former accountant general, who will walk free with stolen billions in his pocket. Habba!” he exclaimed.

For Belema Ibiwari, a millennial, there is nothing to celebrate. The university undergraduate, who is rotting away due to the over six months ASUU strike, argued that Nigeria should have passed this level at 62 years, querying further what is the essence of growth when one does not live life worth his/her age.

“Our parents used to talk about the good old days, which will never come again considering the crop of politicians and level of corruption we have in the country now. For me, at 62 years, Nigeria does not regard education”, the angry undergraduate decried.

Ibiwari admonished the government to forget Independence Day speech because there is nothing to tell Nigerians than settling ASUU, and students to go back to school, ensuring that votes count in the 2023 election, stop borrowing and helping businesses.

As well, Chukwudi Udenze, a lecturer at University of Nigeria Nsukka, said it would be insensitive and callous of the present government to throw a party for Nigeria’s Independence Day when universities are still shut down and youths are wasting every day.

“In a sane world, and where politicians win elections by feats achieved in office, the political parties, especially the ruling party would have ensured that universities are open before their campaign kickoff and before the Independence Day celebrations. It is sad that nobody cares, the governors, and even those claiming to be representing us at the National Assembly, local government and counselors who we elected. We can stop all these selfish guys for once in 2023,” he insisted.

David Ugolor, Executive Director of Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) said irrespective of the notable feats in infrastructure, among other sectors, corruption has continuously put a spanner in the works of governing Nigeria.

Ugolor harped on corruption and its attendant effects, noting that if the menace is not immediately and properly addressed, it will destroy the country and undermine the whole purpose of Nigeria’s independence.

“We have achieved a lot but you know as human beings, expectations are high, particularly when you look at other countries and make comparisons with our present status. If you talk about human development and infrastructure, we have improved.

“Sixty years ago, there was nothing like Abuja but, today, the city has sprung up and a lot of things have happened. However, at the same time, a lot of things have also gone wrong because of corruption.

“Unfortunately, the governance system has deteriorated as a result of corruption. If you speak to any five Nigerians, I am sure four will tell you corruption is our major problem. If corruption is not properly handled, it will destroy the country and undermine the whole purpose of our independent,” Ugolor said.

For the crucial poll slated for 2023, the executive director of the non-governmental organisation was hopeful that the election would herald the transformation of Nigeria.

“All the presidential candidates have heard clearly from Nigerians that they are not happy or satisfied with the current situation. Even though we are blessed with oil, we can see how politicians have abused the blessings, so there is so much expectation from the people.

“I am very excited about the Peter Obi’s candidacy because it has showed that Nigerians are tired of the two major political parties. So, we hope the election is free, fair and the voices of the people prevail,” he added.

Moses Onodua, a public affairs analyst, told BusinessDay Sunday that, at this stage of Africa’s most populous country, Nigerians have given up and no longer interested in the nation’s activities because of the numerous challenges facing the masses.

“At 62, we are at a crossroad; corruption is at its highest level and our economy is in total mess and completely collapsed. At 62, we cannot generate electricity for the needs of the people, the nation seems to be in war as disunity has risen to the highest heights. Tribalism and nepotism is now the new normal. At 62, insecurity, banditry, kidnapping, extortion, robbery and all manner of vices have risen beyond proportion.

“At 62, our educational system has completely collapsed to the extent that our universities are closed for the past eight months and the government does not bother. At 62, we cannot boast of any meaningful infrastructural development. Our roads are a complete write off. In fact, they are now death traps. Our airports are being deserted because of the astronomical hike in air fares.

“At 62, Nigerians don’t know when their next meal will come, and our waterways are even more dangerous than the roads as they have been completely taken over by sea pirates, illegal oil bunkerers and local militia groups agitating for better life for their people,” Onodua said.

He, however, expressed confidence that the 2023 general election will birth a new Nigeria only if eligible voters do not elect leaders that are selfish, wicked and irresponsible.

“All hope is not lost; God is giving us a second chance to get it right. The 2023 election should be seen as a vote to restructure Nigeria. There is room for improvement in Nigeria. Let’s return to the foundation our forefathers and that is regional government. Nigeria cannot grow in the present structure. We need restructuring for us to attain our goal,” he said.

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