One metaphor that fittingly describes present-day Nigeria is the one that depicts the country as a badly behaved, accident-prone child. The moment you wheel the child out of the operating theatre, you discover there are more serious injuries requiring urgent medical surgery.
Every day, Nigeria’s problems multiply and become inoperable. Where do you start to find treatment for an untreatable ailment? For the past 59 years, the country has been overwhelmed by numerous challenges that overwhelmed military and political leaders who presented themselves as long-sought-after messiahs. Look how we deceive ourselves.
The economy is stumbling. Reliable public health system does not exist. The education sector is fighting to recover from years of federal neglect and infrastructure decay. Problems in the agricultural sector are now discussed in terms of ideas and but no practical solutions. The government finds it easier to import food and leisure items rather than encourage local production. But, realistically, a country that depends on imported goods and services must be financially strong to pay the high cost of imports.
Today, Nigeria is cited as one of the countries in which hungry people far surpass the rest of the population. When you combine a large number of hungry people with a larger number of unemployed youth, what you get is a huge population of angry people. That is clearly a recipe for disaster. It is like we are sowing the seeds of a future rebellion. A hungry man or woman is not only an angry person but also an engineer of revolutionary ideas. Communication scholar Wilbur Schramm once said that any country in which people’s growing expectations remain unfulfilled for a long time can expect rising frustrations to boil over. In that scenario, anything is possible. Nigeria typifies that country.
As Nigeria is one of the top 10 oil-producing and exporting countries, you would expect basic services such as stable electricity, quality healthcare, good network of roads, clean and uncontaminated drinking water, and public housing long regarded as the undeniable rights of citizens to be available in the country. Unfortunately, they are not. They are luxuries, available only to those who can afford them. They are symbols associated with the privileged class.
Our society is fragmented. Oil prospecting licences are given out haphazardly as patronage or favours to mates, friends, families, clansmen, and business partners. The treasury is repeatedly pillaged. We used to think that military rule was an aberration or a sign of backwardness and the inability of civil society to decide its own destiny. However, the ongoing political experiment we now call democracy has overturned the gains of previous years.
The current political system, in concert with flawed electoral arrangements, continues to serve the political and ethnic agendas of yesterday’s men who have appropriated political power as their birthright. In that environment, the old breed consistently holds on to power at a time when other countries empower much younger men and women to take over the gearstick of leadership. They know there is value in leadership by youth. We see value in leadership by geriatric politicians. The things we do are at odds with the realities of the 21st Century.
For a country so blessed with vast human and natural resources, Nigeria, I would argue, has been so unfortunate, so ruined, so ill-fated, and so despondent. For the past 59 years, the country has had to deal with comedians who found political or military power bequeathed to them either through sheer luck or through collusion with ethnic champions or through a flawed electoral process. Nevertheless, beyond poverty of ideas by military and political leaders, the problems the nation faced over the years and is still facing today have persisted because of a weak civil society, spineless labour and student union leadership, and a corrupt environment in which previously outspoken men and women compromised their moral strength through acceptance of monetary and non-financial incentives.
To reinvent a new Nigeria, we must ask some uncomfortable questions and answer them forthrightly. Why has Nigeria turned into a country where nothing works? Why do citizens accept poor leadership standards today on the basis that present leaders are fractionally better than previous leaders? Why do many people commit heinous crimes as a way to survive current economic hardships? Why do people frequently bang the drums of war rather than advocate dialogue in a fractured country? Why are political leaders so absorbed with enhancing their own welfare rather than find ways to improve the wellbeing of citizens?
The rapid disintegration of Nigeria can be halted if there is political will by leaders, a sense of national unity by all citizens and, above all, a discontinuation of the current culture of entitlement that has seen people from one part of the country lay audacious and unfounded claims to land and property that belong to people in other parts of the country. Those kinds of assertions are provocative, unhelpful, and must be resisted vigorously. You cannot manufacture a new Nigeria in the prevailing environment of injustice in which some people possess a troubling mindset that seeks to deprive people of their historical lands.
There is something worrying about Nigeria, its political leaders, the spineless citizens, and the way people do things in general. You see people drive on bad roads and all they do is grumble, yell at themselves, blame their fate for making them Nigerian citizens, and swear on political leaders who do not hear a word of their complaints. In the end, despite the frustrations, the complainants remain in their condition. We live in a weird society in which everyone observes silently as money allocated for major federal projects is hijacked or misused or redirected into the private bank accounts of politicians. No one says anything but everyone continues to suffer in silence.
We must learn to hold the government and public officials accountable. Nothing gets done in a country of cowards. It is illusory for citizens to live on hope and expect their wishes to turn into reality or to expect a mystical messiah to drop from heaven to solve the country’s problems. None of them will ever happen.
A reader’s reaction
Re: Is Nigeria a democracy?
Levi, my dear, we shall get there sometime and, perhaps, overtake these cited democracies, by the grace of God. Hold it. If you look at South Africa, India and Australia, as you rightly pointed out, there were times they experimented like we are doing now.
If you talk of ethnic domination, it is because of the leadership we have. That observation will equally go with time. At least, we can congratulate ourselves that we have successfully had an unbroken democratic dispensation from 1999 till 2019. This is hope, assuring that we shall all get there.
– Livy Onyenegecha, Ibeku Okwuatu, Aboh Mbaise, Imo State