Nigeria at 57
Today, October 1, 2017 is being marked all over the country as the fifty seventh anniversary since Nigeria gained independence from British colonial rule. Some parts of the country were under British rule for many decades prior to the formal formation of Nigeria in 1900, and while we had numerous empires, kingdoms, autonomous villages and a Caliphate prior to 1900, we did not have one country called Nigeria until the Brits cobbled one together. This anniversary is being marked in a low key manner by all three tiers of government partly because of the poor economy, partly because of insecurity in all parts of the country and also partly because 57 is not a significant landmark such as 10, 25, 50 or 100 years. One hundred and seventeen years since that creation of Nigeria and 57 years since independence, many Nigerians are not satisfied with the state of affairs in the country. Some Nigerians are crying out that their areas have been marginalised in the scheme of things. Others are agitating for a poorly-defined “restructuring” of the country. Still others are blaming the political leadership and a corrupt public service for the country’s failure to make rapid economic and social strides. Still others want to opt out of Nigeria and recreate a secessionist state while yet another group, Boko Haram, resorted to war to overthrow the Nigerian state. Outside politics, criminals have also helped to dampen the national mood with almost daily cases of kidnapping and armed robbery. All these on top of a wobbly economy that is just emerging from five straight quarters of recession.
While it is understandable that the atmosphere in the country right now does not call for celebration, we also do not believe that the situation calls for despair, resignation or gloom. The problems of the present may look bad, but we should remember that this country has survived far bigger crises than the current ones including six violent changes of government, major social upheavals, a violent insurgency and a civil war that cost one million lives. The tragedy is that some people are carrying on as if we have not learnt any lessons from those traumatic events. Some elite figures and their ill-educated followers are willing to plunge the country into chaos once again based on false narratives of marginalisation and selfcreated paranoia. Many of the allegations of marginalisation fall flat when properly examined because the regions that claim they are being marginalised are much better off in most socio-economic indices than the areas that are accused of marginalising others.
Going forward, it is incumbent on all Nigerians to proceed with optimism in the nation-building project and to recognise that peace is the essential pre-condition for national progress. Without peace, no progress is possible as we have all painfully observed in South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Societies have been thrown several decades back due to imperialist meddling as in Libya; due to rivalries between regional powers as in Yemen, or due to the impatience of its opposition elements that resorted to war, as in Syria.
In Nigeria too, some agitators give us the impression that they are ready to resort to desperate extra-constitutional methods in the pursuit of their selfish agitations. If indeed we believe in the democratic political order to deliver good governance and peaceful changes, then all aggrieved persons in Nigeria should work hard to obtain a mandate at the polls in order to push their preferences through democratic channels. The personal example of President Muhammadu Buhari, who won an election after three consecutive losses, shows that this is possible with patience, persistence and perseverance.
We also wish to advise our countrymen and women to discard the belief that the solution to all development problems lie in the hands of the Federal Government. Sure the central government here looks overwhelming and there is a good case for whittling away some of its powers. Yet, nearly half of all national revenue goes to the states and local governments. If only they are to deploy those resources well, this country will make more progress despite all other imperfections. Yet, the elite in many parts of the country overlook the waste and inefficiency that characterise their state and local governments and instead direct all their energies at accusing the centre of marginalisation. It is time to change this attitude if indeed we are after progress, not just agitation for the sake of it.
That said, we are happy to note that fighting corruption, which almost every expert has identified as the lead factor in stymieing Nigeria’s socioeconomic development, is the top priority of the Buhari administration. The current anti-corruption crusade however falls short of expectation due to a combination of reasons. These include weak investigation and prosecution, ponderous judicial system and the government’s less than total commitment to the fight where its friends are involved. These lapses should be corrected so that more progress will be made in slaying the monster that has held back our national development efforts. Technology offers much help for this country in the war against vices, in improving the economy and infrastructure, in improving the credibility of elections and generally in improving service delivery. Going forward we urge our fellow citizens and governments to embrace technological solutions for some problems. In the end however, even technology cannot save us from ourselves. Unless leaders and citizens together cultivate the right attitude to problem solving and learn from the bitter experiences of our country and those of others, so long will simple solutions elude us. We wish Nigerians a happy independence anniversary.
President Muhammadu Buhari