At 60, Nigeria has come of age. Reaching the milestone, especially in a democratic dispensation and despite our chequered history, is a feat worth celebrating. As the nation celebrates the independence anniversary today, certain questions beg for answers: Is the country better off today than 60 years ago when the British Union Jack was lowered? Can we say that we are truly independent? Is Nigeria where we ought to be? And what does the future hold for Nigeria? Although there are no straightforward answers to these questions, we believe that having weathered so many storms, Nigerians should roll out the drums and celebrate the nation’s Diamond Jubilee. The modest infrastructural development across different sectors and zones in the country, which include the development of some roads, bridges and rail lines, must be celebrated.
It is also gratifying that Nigeria has witnessed 20 years of uninterrupted democracy. We have also survived military coups, a civil war and other crises in our journey to nationhood. At the end of the war in 1970, different policies were enunciated to rehabilitate and reintegrate the people of defunct Biafra. However, some of the issues that led to the war have remained unresolved till today. That can explain the rising tensions in the country.
We recall that the United States fought a civil war between 1861 and 1865. The major cause of that conflict was inequality, particularly the disagreement over the institution of slavery. The battle was between the northern part of America and the Confederate States, a collection of 11 southern states. After the war, America amended its constitution to abolish slavery, guarantee citizens’ equal protection under the law and grant black men the right to vote.
Unlike the United States, we are yet to learn some lessons from Nigerian civil war. It is sad that 50 years after the war, the cry of marginalisation and agitation for self-determination in some quarters have heightened. And our fault lines are widening. Some groups in the South-West have joined the agitation for self-determination for the Yoruba nation. In the North-Central zone, some leaders recently pulled out of the Arewa Consultative Forum and formed a new group known as the North-Central Peoples Forum.
It is tempting to dismiss these agitations as mere ranting. Good enough, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on Sunday stated that Nigeria stood the risk of breakup if the cracks in the nation were not properly addressed. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, have also warned that the divisions posed serious danger to the survival of the country.
Besides, the Boko Haram insurgency has claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions of people. Kidnappings and banditry have held the nation hostage to the extent that Nigeria now occupies the unviable third position in Global Terrorism Index.
Regrettably, the political leaders have apparently not done enough to address the plight of Nigerians, who are frustrated by the rising cost of living, unemployment and poverty. No fewer than 80 per cent of Nigerians live below the United Nations poverty threshold of $2 per day. About 87 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty. That Nigeria is currently the poverty capital of the world is an indictment on our leaders. Oil wealth has not been adequately deployed to the welfare of the masses.
We have witnessed exponential growth in the education sector but what we have in quantity, we seem to lack in quality. Most of our universities lack the basic facilities for teaching, learning and research. The perennial strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has affected the standards in the nation’s universities.
The health sector has not fared any better. Part of the reasons for military interventions in our politics in the 80s was that our hospitals were mere consulting clinics. Today, many of the general hospitals in Nigeria are in a state of total decay. Doctors frequently go on strike because of welfare issues.
Eternal vigilance is what Nigeria requires at these trying times. At some point, every country will stumble along the line, but getting up is what matters. Government needs a retooling of its policies. It should galvanise the entire populace into fighting for a common cause. Nigeria must eradicate inequality and nepotism that appear to have deepened in the polity.
At 60, time is ticking for Nigeria. We started this journey with countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. Today, they are far ahead of us. What Nigeria needs now to catch up with them is patriotic, imaginative and visionary leaders. They can emulate Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
Peace and unity take a flight where there is injustice. In a diverse nation like Nigeria, every section must have a sense of belonging and ample commitment to the national cause. Once this is lacking, that nation stands on a precipice.
Many voices have risen in favour of restructuring the country to make it work. The regional arrangement of the 60s produced healthy competition that yielded good fruits and each region was buoyant and could stand on its own. The present arrangement encourages laziness, as almost all the states depend on federal allocations for survival. Without oil, Nigeria may suffer economic and political haemorrhage. At 60, the government cannot run away from the issue of tinkering with the structure of the country so that it can tackle the rising tensions. In all, there is urgent need to renegotiate our terms of existence as a nation. We wish all Nigerians a Happy independence celebration.