Nigeria has celebrated its 60th independence anniversary and the general mood in the country is that of despair. It has been 60 years of relatively little or no progress. What has changed between the time the country attained political independence and now?
The failure to move the country forward politically, economically, socially, and technologically has become the impetus on which the future of Nigeria is now being contested and mapped vigorously by people from diverse ethnic, religious, regional, and cultural backgrounds.
Public opinion on the future of Nigeria is mixed, ranging from the mild to the outright extreme or fanatical. There are those who call for restructuring of the country. There are agitations for total breakup of the country so that everyone would go their separate ways. This is akin to a divorce. And there are people with extreme views, such as those who suggest that Nigeria should be recolonised by a European power in order to end fantasies and misleading impressions about the high level of unity in the country, including pretensions that Nigeria is a multi-cultural and multi-religious country in which diverse groups co-exist harmoniously.
What is evident in these representations of a future Nigeria is that something tragic has happened and is still unfolding in the country. The rope that held the structure of our society together has snapped. People from different parts of the country are now campaigning for autonomy of some kind that will guarantee them self-rule. That is the first sign that something is wrong with the country. Different interest groups are pulling Nigeria in different directions. That is a recipe for an impending disaster.
One reason why Nigeria has failed to make significant progress since independence must be poor leadership, which is manifested in poor governance. Poor political leadership has always been a major hindrance to the country’s rapid socioeconomic development. Consider this: Since independence, the quality of leaders at national and state levels has been appalling, regardless of whether reference is made to democratic system of government or despotic military rule. Lack of altruistic leaders who are committed to national development has had deleterious consequences for the country and citizens.
The problems of Nigeria post-independence are not limited to failure of national leaders. We must examine weak and timorous citizens who have consistently failed to hold national and state leaders to account. Just recently, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), an organisation that is expected to uphold the interests of workers, as well as the welfare and wellbeing of ordinary citizens, messed up an opportunity to send a strong message to national leaders with regard to unjustified increases in petrol prices and electricity tariffs.
There is something inexplicably unique in all Nigerians, leaders and followers, that makes it incredibly difficult for the country to overcome challenges that other African countries have since overpowered.
We cannot chart the future direction of Nigeria until we have identified and plugged the sources of agitations and restiveness among the people. Silence is not a good way to approach the problem. Doing nothing will aggravate, rather than soothe, feelings of marginalisation that are embedded in everyone’s mind. This is not a situation that politicians can dismiss with empty promises or offer inducements to buy time.
Never in the history of Nigeria have people been so dejected by the state of the country, the high level of poverty, the enormity of corruption by public officers and citizens, the insensitivity to major problems that threaten the political health of the country, and the collapse of just about every infrastructure. Unlike previous decades, people are now more emboldened and perceptive than they used to be.
Those who call for restructuring do not want a total breakdown of the country. What they want, they argue, is an arrangement that would bring all the ethnic groups together to renegotiate the conditions under which Nigeria would operate effectively as a country that recognises the equality of all citizens, the fundamental rights of members of every ethnic group, the indivisibility of the country, and an end to policies and actions of previous and present government that tend to disregard some sections of the country. Every citizen believes they have inalienable rights that should govern even-handed sharing of natural resources.
Driving the move toward restructuring is the powerful argument that the amalgamation of 1914 took place under the direction of foreign interests, and without the participation of representatives of different ethnic groups. This implies that the discussion and outcomes of that scheme did not include the voices of the genuine citizens of the country.
Those calling for the recolonization of Nigeria believe they have had enough of blunders by national and state leaders. They argue the only solution to national problems would be to surrender our sovereignty and resources to control by a foreign power. I am not persuaded that this is the logical way to go. It is an outrageous proposition. It is ill-considered. It is short-term in its intent and orientation.
Surely, Nigeria, under a neo-colonial administration, will be an unproductive project. In the 21st century, the call for recolonisation of Nigeria represents a wacky and backward step rather than an advancement in programmes and policies that will drive economic growth, industrialisation, agricultural production, manufacturing, and high-quality university education.
The current environment lends itself to calls for restructuring or breakup. Here is why. Across the country, there is widespread injustice. Poverty has incapacitated many people and turned their lives upside down. Cries of marginalisation by ethnic groups started ringing out days after independence. Corruption is now more endemic, despite every government identifying it as the major obstacle to economic growth. Corruption encourages backhanded ways of doing business. It stalls political, social, and economic progress.
When people talk about growing insecurity and rapid collapse of law and order, they imply prevalent impunity and refusal by law enforcement officials to enforce the law.
Unemployment has remained the wild elephant in the house. University and polytechnic graduates cannot get a job more than five years after completing their studies. Is that how to empower the youth? Is that how to carve a future for young ones? Is that the pathway to misery or the corridor that leads to happiness?
The picture that emerges from all these is that life is getting more problematic than anyone imagined in 1960. For decades, people expressed their hope that conditions would improve. Unfortunately, the situation became unbearable. Everyone turned to prayers. But prayers without hard work is like boiling an empty pot and expecting soup.
Restlessness across the country suggests that things may not remain this way for too long. For things to change, however, there has to be an active, focused, and responsible civil society. A weak civil society will not advance social or political change in Nigeria.
A message that should be conveyed to national leaders, political godfathers, and other senior public officials who are currently opposed to change of any kind is that nothing lasts forever. That includes human life, poverty, property acquisition, wealth, and political office.