NIGERIA is 56 years old today, having gained independence from Britain on October 1, 1960. It has been 56 years of a chequered existence, which has seen the nation surviving a civil war and some military coups. At no time since the civil war ended, however, has the unity and continuing existence of the country as a single entity been threatened as now, that some separatist groups are demanding self-determination in the North-East, South- South and South-East, even as the national economy is in recession.
Nigeria, incidentally, started well under regional administration at independence. Economically, the then three regions flourished and developed at their own paces. Agriculture was the mainstay of our economy. The Northern Region was known for its groundnut pyramids, the Western Region for cocoa and the Eastern Region for oil palm. When the Mid-West region was created by parliament in 1963, it grew its economy with rubber plantaions. There was healthy competition among the regions. But, our journey to nationhood was truncated by the military intervention in politics through the January 15, 1966 coup; the countercoup of July 29, 1966 and the fratricidal Civil War of 1967-1970.
Following the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in the 1970s, agriculture was abandoned. The long period of military rule, military coups and other political upheavals disturbed Nigeria’s march to development.
The return to civil rule in 1999 has not really improved the situation in the country. In our 17 years of unbroken democracy, we have not had much to cheer. Electricity supply, which is critical to industrial development, remains epileptic. Corruption is still the bane of our national development. There is little hope for getting the economy out of recession anytime soon.
Our education system is hobbled by poor funding while the health sector is comatose. Most of our roads are dilapidated. Our transportation sector is sick. Aviation is in crisis. The non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law is hampering operations in the oil sector. Civil servants are owed months of arrears of salaries in many states, while pensions are owed many retirees across the states.
Our return to democratic rule in 1999 has witnessed so many crises. There has been an upsurge in militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta region; kidnapping and agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra are flourishing in the South-East, while the deadly Boko Haram insurgency and the Fulani herdsmen menace have become serious problems in the North-East and Middle Belt regions, respectively.
At 56, Nigeria is more divided than ever before. The country recently lost its vintage position as the number one economy in Africa and the 26th in the world. We are now almost a beggar country finding it difficult to finance our national budget.
As a nation, we have not achieved the lofty dreams of a united, egalitarian and prosperous nation envisaged by our founding fathers.
We have the human and material resources to be among the most advanced nations in the world. Unfortunately, we lost the opportunity to be great due to lousy and inept leadership. We have had more clannish leaders than messianic ones. We are yet to have leaders who are selfless, patriotic and exemplary in their private and public conducts. Nigeria’s tragedy stems from both leadership myopia and failure of followership. We have had leaders who mouth slogans of unity and patriotism but act divisively.
For so long, unity has eluded the nation. Nigerians see themselves first from ethnocentric prisms such as Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw, Nupe and others. We are yet to define our citizenship. We are still bogged down by state of origin requirement for employment, political appointment and standing for elective office. We are yet to resolve the national question. Our politics is still evolving and unduly characterised by ‘do or die’ tendencies. We hardly respect the sanctity of the ballot. Election rigging, violence, killings, ballot snatching and rewriting of election results are still part of our electoral system.
However, there are signs that improvement is on the way. The shift of power from the ruling party to the opposition as witnessed in the outcome of the 2015 presidential election is unprecedented in Nigeria. The 2015 poll where the incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, peacefully handed over to the victor, Muhammadu Buhari, remains our best political example and practice.
Luckily for us, we have elected a president that has vowed to fight the cancer of corruption. We strongly support him on the corruption war but it must not be political, selective or bogged by media frenzy. It must be waged within the principles of the rule of law.
After our co-existence for over 100 years, following the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, it is unfortunate that we are still talking about the quest for nationhood. Religion is used by politicians to divide the country for their own selfish ends. There are, indeed, so many issues on which we lack national consensus. We should now begin to solve our national problems. We cannot continue to play the ostrich.
Nevertheless, everything about Nigeria is not negative. That we are still a country is an achievement. But, we need to confront and end inequality and injustice in our national life. Let our leaders be patriotic and believe in the country. All hands should be on deck to make the country work.
At 56, we should start solving our problems. Some of the answers to our problems are in the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. Let us start from there.