J. F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, once said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Nigeria is arguably the most powerful country in Africa while USA is unarguably the most powerful country in the world and the White House is its seat of power. They have a lot in common. They were both British colonies that fought for independence from Britain and ended up being English-speaking countries. They are countries of great diversities in peoples, cultures and colours, tribes and tongues. Presently, both are democracies and practise the presidential system of government. Little wonder the present President of the United States, Donald Trump, congratulated Nigeria on the occasion of her 59th Independence Day celebration and noted that “Nigeria is among our strongest partners in Africa. We share common goals … We are allies.
A look at the two countries reveals that they actually share a lot in common. But while USA started manifesting its greatness from 1776 it attained independence from Britain and continued until it became the most powerful nation on earth, Nigeria has remained a potential great country yet to manifest 59 years after her independence. Why?
The first secret for the American success story, which Nigeria should emulate is love for country; ask what you can do for your country. America gained its independence through patriotism to country and hard work. They look out for how everyone will contribute to the general good. They are more interested in baking the national cake. Their revenue formula is based on productivity and not on consumption. Thirteen colonies came together to form USA, which was later divided into 50 states of America. Each state takes care of its resources and its infrastructure and contributes its quota to the centre. The Federal Government concentrates more on defence and foreign affairs. This system of rewarding hard work has prompted every state to work hard to generate more revenue and use it to cater for their internal needs, which helps the overall economic well being of the nation.
The citizens are so patriotic to their country that when the terrorists hijacked a plane during 9/11 and were heading to the White House to destroy it, the citizens of America in the plane voted among themselves to crash the plane rather than it crashing the White House. They did and died for the sake of America and the White House was saved the shame of being destroyed by strangers. They were willing to pay the ultimate price to defend America against external attacks. Little wonder America became the most powerful nation on earth.
Nigeria started well in 1960. The Republican Constitution of 1963 enabled each region to manage its resources, maintain its infrastructure and contribute its quota to the centre. With only agricultural produce, the three regions of East, West and North were buoyant and Nigeria was booming economically. Jobs were everywhere and citizens get employed before they finish their education. It continued until 1966 when the military interrupted our democracy and imposed a unitary system of government on the nation. Today, the Federal Government controls the economy with 68 items in the Exclusive List. All revenues from all mineral resources go to the Federal Government, which then shares to the states by a revenue formula determined by the Federal Government. Revenue is shared based on consumption not on productivity with the attendant consequences that states that are richly endowed lacks the motivation to assist the Federal Government to produce the resources. Our gold and other mineral deposits are largely stolen than harnessed because of lack of incentives to the states to harness them. Everybody is interested in sharing the national cake. To worsen the problem, there is no agreement as to the desired formula for restructuring the country.
Some ethnic and tribal bigots now erroneously teach their children to be loyal to their tribe first before the country not realizing that once the country goes down, every tribe goes down. The statement, I am first an Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba before being a Nigerian should be jettisoned. It is even factually incorrect. One (Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba) is a part of the whole (Nigeria) and as such cannot compete with each other. We should rather say, I am a Nigerian from Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba land. Nigeria first! However difficult it may seem, at 59, we shall make it.
I had the exceptional privilege and honour to be invited for an inside tour of the White House on personal recognition. This was on the 3rd of April, 2016, at about 3:15p.m, American time. President Obama’s invitation letter read; “it is my pleasure to welcome you to the West Wing of the White House… Your visit today helps to fulfil my goal of creating the most open and accessible administration in American history… Please accept my best wishes for an enjoyable tour”.
Yes, we can still make it through the “goal of creating the most open and accessible administration”. The more transparent a government is, the less corrupt the government will be. Corruption thrives most in secrecy and no corrupt country can manifest its greatness because corruption steals all the factors of production and leaves the nation stranded of resources needed for its growth. Nigeria should vow that from its 59th Independence celebration, it would continue to adopt an open, transparent and accountable government, that President Buhari has laboriously sustained since coming into power in 2015. The citizens must also insist on holding every government accountable. The most powerful office in a democracy is the office of the citizen.
By far the most awesome experience in my tour to the White House was the oval office. Taking a cursory look at all the settings in the oval office, I saw a set of inscriptions by President Obama on the oval rug which read: “No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings; the welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally on the welfare of all of us”. Translating these inscriptions to the Nigerian situation, they read: “No problem of Nigerian destiny is beyond Nigerians”; “the welfare of each Nigerian is dependent fundamentally on the welfare of all Nigerians”.
Nigeria has passed through a lot of challenges from independence till date. The civil war, numerous coups, cancellation of June 12 election, election manipulation, mindless corruption, economic recession, etc. Yet by divine providence, we have managed to scale through all these hurdles. A close look at these problems will reveal that they were all man made. How can you explain that a Nigerian leader organised the freest and fairest election in our history, but at the end of the exercise cancelled it. How can you explain that a Nigerian leader after having been given the honour and privilege by God to govern Nigeria twice both as a military leader and a civilian president, organised a political conference sinking billions of Nigerian money and allegedly bribing members of the National Assembly only for the sole purpose of seeking a third term in office. This again brought unnecessary and avoidable waste of Nigerian resources and increased mistrust among the different peoples of Nigeria. Such leadership styles have been the bane of our advancement as a nation.
However, Nigerians should not despair as no problem of our destiny is beyond us. The best way to go was succinctly put by President Buhari in his independence day speech when he said that we have to be “united in purpose as individuals and as a nation … Change does not just happen…We must change our lawless habits, our attitude to public office and public trust… simply put, to bring about change, we must change ourselves by being law-abiding citizens.”
We must recognise that what happens to a person in Maiduguri if not checked will soon spread to other parts of Nigeria. Injustice anywhere in Nigeria is a threat to justice everywhere in Nigeria. An injury to one is an injury to all. The strong should support the weak, the able should lift the disabled, the rich should help the poor and the knowledgeable should teach the ignorant. Yes, the welfare of each one of us is fundamentally dependent on the welfare of all of us. Happy 59th Independence anniversary and God bless.