Sometimes, a combination of history and fate, leaders and qualities of leadership meet at an intersection to shape a turning point in a nation’s unending search for freedom for its citizens and the development of the country. Nothing creates more bitterness than promises made and not kept. Nigeria at 59 is like celebrating a rich past and a lamentation of a fading future.
To be sure, at Independence exactly fifty-nine years ago, Nigeria apart from Ghana, was regarded(and fittingly so) as the beacon of hope to other African countries. It was no surprise that our past and abundant human and natural resources made our country to be regarded as the ‘Giant of Africa ‘. It was not for nothing. Nigeria’s Independence ushered in a new era that evidently showed good promises.
Perhaps the most significant indicator of this early vision of a bright future could be found in the progress recorded in some key sectors, especially in economic development. For instance, in 1962, Nigeria introduced the First National Development Plan. This was projected to last till 1968. The focus of the plan was on investment, industrialization and education. It had anticipated an annual growth rate of 4 percent and savings and investment both rising steadily at 15 percent per annum. Undoubtedly, this was an ambitious plan for any country, for any government that sincerely wanted to achieve economic self-sufficiency. During this period, every region had a great comparative advantage of certain commodities it had chosen to make its own. Manufacturing, food processing, mining, crude oil production also increased significantly.
And the results showed. There are enough indices which supported this steady economic growth. One of these indices was the crude oil production which grew from a modest 46,000 barrels per day in 1961, to 600,000 barrels per day in 1967. Others were the manufacturing sector which grew from 3.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product(GDP) in 1960 to 6.2 percent in 1966, mining from 0.9 percent of GDP in 1960 to 4.8 percent by 1966, and the distribution sector from 9.1 percent to 14 percent in the same period. The diversification of the economy also led to the decline of the agricultural sector from 63.4 percent to 55.6 percent.
Overall, the economy improved steadily at an average rate of 5 percent between 1963 and 1966. Real per capita income also rose from N48.1 in 1960 to N53.8 in 1965. In today’s economy and currency value , this is huge in terms of standard of living of an average Nigeria. Also, post colonial economic growth was accompanied by efforts to build a unified national culture and a distinct Nigerian identity. It must be said that these efforts found profound expression in government’s legislation, speeches and writings of our political leaders.
Looking back, without a doubt, Nigeria has come through thick and thin to where she is today. The country has gone through the colonial experience, experimented with parliamentary democracy, survived a fratricidal war, fallen in and out of the iron-fists of military adventurists, stumbled back on the path of democracy, this time, the presidential system. But the questions to ask are: why is the glass still half-full and half-empty? In other words, why has Nigeria remained in this troubling state in spite of the early signs of a bright future post Independence?
Is it in our stars or on our leaders? Or is Nigeria proving too hard for the present crop of political leaders to govern? There are no quick answers to these questions. Never since after the civil war has Nigeria been as polarized as it is today. That’s one of the outcomes of bad leadership. A closer look at how empires decline, how nations that had a bright future suddenly began to fall in their economies, politics and power, shows it begins with telltale signs, and warnings unheeded. It’s not inconceivable that this is the trouble with Nigeria today in all fronts.
Maybe, we start with the economy. Anyone who has read “The Ascent of Money” by Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard, will not be in doubt why Nigeria’s economy is in steep decline. “This is how empires decline”, Ferguson says. It begins with debt explosion, slow growth and high spending that is not in proportion to revenue generation.
Look at the statistics: Nigeria’s debt stock as at August this year was N25.47trn, with domestic debt exposure accounting for about 70 percent of the total debt. Debt servicing is taking a sizeable portion of government budget, 1.8trn in 2017, N2.1trn and N2.2trn in 2018 and 2019. Government has also said it will spend N2.4 trn of the proposed N9.12trn 2020 budget on debt servicing.
And there is no end in sight to the borrowing binge. With the economy growing at less than 2 percent of GDP, it shows government policies are not working. Also, statistics from the Nigeria Export-Import Bank (NEXIM) show that the country lost N3.6trn to non-oil exports over the past five decades. CBN figures also show that production and employment levels and raw materials inventories grew at a slower rate last month while new orders and supplier delivery time grew at a faster rate in September. That is where our economy stands today. Nigeria is living in borrowed time. It calls for concern.
That brings us to the vital question: What’s wrong with our present political leaders? Founding fathers of modern Nigeria long gone will be wetting their graves with tears of lamentation if it were possible for them to see how their fatherland has been disappointed by the performance of the current leadership at all levels of governance. Presidential performance, historians tell us, has always been a major concern for citizens in a country practising parliamentary democracy.
It’s so because the President is not just the symbol of democracy, he’s also the spirit of leadership that inspires the people to meet their aspirations. A leader’s authority, it must be said, comes from the public belief of the leaders’ right and ability to govern. The verdict on the present leadership of the country is that of woeful performance. Why is this dismal record of performance? The answer is not farfetched. Many of them literally were ‘forced’ into the office. They were not prepared for the tasks that leadership at the highest level demands. They had no vision that can carry the country beyond tomorrow.
In politics, there’s no point in embracing a vision if that vision is not in sync with the needs of the people and the country. Ideally, every president can only infuse democracy with a new intensity of participation if he shows competence in the issues that call for his attention. Competence is perhaps the most important virtue that fill a leader with a genuine self-confidence. Leadership is always about people.
We are yet to have that kind of political leaders. “Anti-corruption and hypocrisy”, Mahatma Gandhi once said “ought not to be inevitable products of democracy as they undoubtedly are today”. That, it seems, is what we have in Nigeria today. Taken together, the pain of how we came this far, 59 years of statehood does indeed trouble the mind. It’s a curious state of affairs in our politics that must be changed. We should not wait until Nigerians start fighting themselves on the streets.