THE anniversary of a nation’s independence goes beyond pomp and celebrations. It’s often a moment of sober reflection, a time to look back and forward, of ambitions, of hope and aspirations fulfilled and missed, of thoughts of the vision of the founding fathers, whether that vision had been realised or derailed. The same thoughts, same reflections often happen to individuals at a crucial time such as this . No surprise, in the last few days, these thoughts, these reflections, combined with prayers, have been going on across the country, in churches, mosques and other fora, to mark 60 years of nationhood. All will climax on Thursday across the country. At 60, we should be wise, not foolish. Wisdom demands that we count not the years, but the life we live and the experiences we have had. That’s a life of a diamond.
Indeed, 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. At 60, Nigeria could be likened to a nation celebrating a rich past and a lamentation of a fading future. To be sure, at Independence 60 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 abundant human and natural resources made our country to be regarded as the ‘Giant of Africa ‘. Today, many will argue we are no longer respected in the comity of nations. Which explains why our citizens have been shabbily treated in other countries.
It was not for nothing that we were so respected in the past. 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 Nigerian. 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 civil war, and fallen in and out of the iron-fists of military adventurists, stumbled back on the path of democracy, this time, the presidential system. It took the collective resolve of most Nigerians, irrespective of of religion, ethnic group or geopolitical zone, and the blood and tears of some patriots before the ship of state was wrested out of the stranglehold of military rule. 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. As Bishop Matthew Kukah and others said last weekend, the problem of where Nigeria is today is that we have had the misfortune of too many “accidental leaders”. For Kukah, Nigerians have never been as sad, divided, despondent, disillusioned and frustrated as we are now. Pre-civil war indices are here again, Kukah lamented. As the vice president Prof Yemi Osinbajo admitted at the interdenominational church service on Sunday, represented by Boss Mustapha, SGF, ‘our walls’ may not have broken, but the cracks are so visible that they can break the country. That’s what you have when you have accidental leaders, leaders who never prepared for the office. That’s what I call “waka just pass” leaders. Waka just pass are leaders who leave no lasting impressions, no worthy legacies. They just come and inflict unforgettable pains on the people. They leave the country worse than they met it. That’s where we are now. We need thoughtful, intelligent and imaginative leadership. But we are not getting none of it. Politics demands that those who seek high public offices should, of necessity define themselves in such a coherent manner that the people should know where they stand on critical issues that matter to the citizens. Sadly, we have not had any of that, especially since 1979. It perhaps got worse since 1999.
The gritty truth is that Nigeria ought to have grown beyond the primordial considerations, which we are celebrating today. A deep reflection of where we are now comes with broken hearts, a sad realization that is underdevelopment, extreme poverty, hunger, unemployment, unprecedented inequality and disease, all of which have squeezed millions of people into a corner. 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 N31trn. Of this amount, N18.89trn was accumulated by the present administration is just five years. Domestic debt exposure accounts 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 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 . That is where our economy stands today. Nigeria is living in borrowed time. A second recession in four years is looming. It calls for concern.
To be concluded next week