Nigeria at 57

Sunday Trust - - PAGE 3 COMMENT -

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

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