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Our Independence Day 2019: Our Life

A failed state – Nigeria?

Historically, wandering people spend time and energy fighting for survival in a hostile environment. Today, majority of Nigerians are fighting for survival. The nation has been raped and left forlorn. The masses of the people are in despair and merely concerned with daily survival. There is nothing anybody could tell a hungry and dejected citizenry about economic development that would make sense. The agenda of the people is different from that of the government. The people are not interested in whatever government is doing that doesn’t benefit them.

Nigerians from every tribe and tongue mark the anniversary of Nigeria’s independence with pomp, restful holidaying and extravagant celebrations, the queries that have been raised about the state of our national wellbeing go deeper. Beyond asking the question, what is there to celebrate about 59 years of Independence, today affords discerning citizens a momentous opportunity to ask: what is Nigeria’s place in the black world.

The turmoil in Nigeria today is natural for any nation trying to get its lost bearing. It is not that successive governments have been bereft of ideas or didn’t want the country to develop. Both the military and civilian governments that have presided over the affairs of Nigeria had good ideas that were never implemented faithfully.

Nigeria at 59: Life just begins
An aerial shows the historic centre of Lagos, economic capital of Nigeria. (Photo by Florian PLAUCHEUR / AFP)

For a long time, Nigeria has prided itself as the soul of the black world. The rich diversity of cultures of its about 200 million people is a quick glance of the whole of Africa. To have visited Africa, without stepping into Nigeria, is like knowing about Africa through a textbook. Besides, Nigeria carries a burden of being the Big Brother of the global black community. Many black people, outside the continent who harbour some spiritual and emotional attachment to Africa, look up to Nigeria as their symbolic home. As many of them in the United States experience recurrent waves of racism in a land that reminds them of the unfortunate past of their forebears, they can only wish that the state of affairs were right in this symbolic home.

A look at the history of the forty years long journey of ancient Israel from the house of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land illustrates what happens when a nation derails from the path of nationhood to wallow aimlessly in the wilderness. The journey from Israel’s point of departure in Egypt (Rameses) to the Promised Land is about 240 miles. If the people had taken the straight course and moved steadily at the rate of 100 miles per year, that is about 8 miles per month, it would have taken them 2 years and four months to reach the Promised Land.

But this is not a time to reel off any boring clichés about every one in five black persons being a Nigerian. It is not an auspicious moment to recount the exploits of the past as if such exploits amount to anything in today’s world. If the past would do anything, it is to make Nigerians have a rethink about what it means to be independent.

As a country, Nigeria, at the moment, showcases nothing to suggest progress or steady movement. For the global black community, Nigeria seems to have lost its moral compass as a rallying point. The narratives of development are mere rhetoric of naked power and opportunism. Apart from sparkles of personal development and individual breakthroughs that have emerged from resilient Nigerians who have risen above the crassness and mediocrity of state institutions, Nigeria is being dragged into the abyss of degeneracy with each passing day.

The woeful state of affairs in Nigeria is a logical consequence of truncated national aspirations and lost opportunities to build a strong vibrant nation from independence. The country derailed six years after independence in 1966. Consequently, the country has ever since been groping in the wilderness of despair. Every action of government is merely a survival instinct rather than a conscious effort to build a nation.

But you can’t build a nation wandering without ideology. The only way out is for the country to come back to where it derailed. That point is critical for whatever we want to do as a nation. Except that is done, any dream or vision under the present horrible circumstances amounts to futility. That is why government programmes are disjointed not forming a coherent whole.

For example, while government is planning to put electricity and ensure uninterrupted power supply, the hungry unemployed people on the street are waiting to vandalise the cables as soon as they are installed, to sell at give-away price, just to eat food. Hungry unemployed persons regularly vandalize the aluminum rails on our bridges. The same fate befalls everything government sets out to do. The masses see themselves as removed from government because they don’t benefit from the policies and programmes.

I also believe that Nuhu Ribadu, the anti corruption chief used to carry out that anti-corruption crusade under Obasanjo’s administration did it with patriotism and open mind. Even, President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption stance is genuine but corruption has not been killed. Our being in the wilderness won’t allow anything good to happen. You can’t realise lofty national ideals for a people in despair; people struggling for survival. The biblical Israel didn’t realise their dreams in the wilderness, not until they reached and settled in the Promised Land.

But this was never the case. It took Israel 40 years to reach the Promised Land because they veered off track shortly after departing Egypt. The 40 years was more of a death sentence than an ordinary journey. The people suffered untold hardship in a hostile wilderness for four decades. They fought several battles, suffered hunger, thirst and deprivation.

Who wouldn’t like a country where there are good roads, potable water, good healthcare facilities and good educational system? If all the programmes that successive administrations put together were successful, by now Nigeria would have been in the league of the developed world. But see where we are, a laughing stock.

What is happening to Nigeria could happen to an individual. When an individual loses bearing and could no longer fathom what life is all about, the person would, for long, wallow in despair. The only way out, like the prodigal son, is to return to where he missed the road and start all over again. That may be a daunting task but it is better than continuing on the path that leads to ignominy.

Every organic entity has a natural pathway to maturity. In the animal kingdom, it is called life cycle. Nations call it stages of economic development. Thus, be it an animal, man or a nation, there is a pathway that must be followed to attain full maturity. Any interruption truncates the process and leads to a dead end except a U-turn is made. That, unfortunately, is the predicament Nigeria is facing.

The human and material endowments of Nigeria that could make her a great nation have been flaunted since independence without being utilised. What looked like a serious nation with aspirations manifested within the first six years of independence. The political economy in operation from October 1, 1960 to May 26, 1967 remains the only viable framework that would make Nigeria attain fulfillment. The regional structure that engendered healthy competition remains the ideal blueprint. Anything outside that is a deviation and deceit from reality.

Nigeria was ahead of countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and most emergent countries making up the Asian Tigers. Whereas Malaysia came to Nigeria to collect oil palm seedlings in the 60s, today, some Nigerian state governments are inviting Malaysian government authorities to come and teach us how to produce palm oil! What a shame!

The truth is that Nigeria lost bearing and derailed in 1966. That historic plunge led to a three-year civil war with its far-reaching ugly consequences. Before that point of antithesis, the young nation moved on the right path. Social infrastructure services were functional.

But since the nation derailed and went into the wilderness, nothing is working anymore. The once united strong nation has been fragmented into thirty-six semi-autonomous antagonistic states. There is no competition anymore. Only a handful of the states could stand on their own economically. Social infrastructure services have collapsed. There can be no progress in this wilderness of despair except the country makes a U-turn. The country must return to the pre-1966 national development framework if it sincerely wants to stand as a nation.

Virtually all the structures that make a country great and developed are controlled by dictates from outside. Our nondescript political structure, laden with innumerous abuses, is a simulacrum of what the presidential system of democratic government has so far offered us. The military, despite chest-beating narratives of past exploits, has curiously become a shocking spectacle of indiscipline. The same tale of stagnation, imbalance and sell-out is unfolded in the economy and the production process, all of which is an appendage of the west, and lately, China.
This newspaper thinks this is not how a truly independent country should carry on. If we go by the definition of independence provided by common dictionaries, namely, freedom from subjection, exemption from external control – then it could be said that this country lacks independence let alone retains it. That a country or nation-state has independence is not the ability to correctly ape the rest of the world to the detriment of our country. Independence is not about opening a country to foreign aid and paternalistic relationships. Genuine independence is the decisive capacity, to identify the needs of the people, and the autonomy to develop home-grown solutions to addressing those needs. It entails charting a course for positive, progressive change.

Nigeria Independence Day 2019 and our life
Nigerian children attend independence day celebrations in Lagos in October 1. PHOTO: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP

As well-meaning Nigerians know, charting the course of a new Nigeria is a daunting one. To chart a course for progress, Nigeria needs big dreamers and, more especially, people who would not want to do things the usual way. To justify any claim of being independent, Nigerians must first of all, ascertain the basis upon which they lay claim to independence. Do the different people that make up Nigeria see themselves first of all as Nigerians? Or do they lay claim to clannish or tribal allegiance as their most fundamental identity?

If Nigerians cherish their independence they must have a sense of national pride and national spirit, through which all the values, ethos and cultures from their different ethnic groups are harnessed. In other words, there must be a genuine sense of belonging in this country we call ours. To this end, the political class and ruling elite must not place a section of the country over others, or treat others as second-class citizens. They and the populace need to understand that leadership is not about ethnic domination or selfish power imbalance. It is rather a disposition of moral strength and sacrifice to genuinely carry out a mission for the common good.

Furthermore, there is the need for mental decolonisation through cognitive restructure of the Nigerian mind. Such kind of cognitive restructuring would centre on cultural education and enlightenment. By cultural education is meant not the shallow information dissemination that goes on routinely in our institutions of learning, but rather an advocacy for deep understanding of Nigeria’s historical and multicultural space. This kind of education demands a patriotic retrieval of problem-solving instruments and indigenous models from our repertoire of cultural experience.

This is the way forward-looking nations all over the world have addressed national challenges. Like great nations of today, countries from non-western civilisations have built upon the knowledge of their past to build their nations. With this kind of education narratives that collectively traumatize the black race would have to be revisited by presenting our own narratives about our history.

Above all, the true test of a great nation, a truly independent nation lies in the quality of leadership of a country, for great nations are built on the character of the people. Rosalynn Carter says “A leader takes people where they want to be. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” The renowned politician, stateswoman, and fourth Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, was known to have made a remark about the biblical sojourn of Moses-led Israelites to explain the stuff great nations are made of. Moses led the Israelites to a wilderness for 40 years to a place where there is no oil in the Middle East.

When one considers what Israel has done with a land without oil, one could imagine what they would have done if they had oil. In essence, a true nation is one that parades a leader who can make a people resourceful even if their country does not have resources. That is what true independence means.

This is the kind of leadership a truly independent Nigeria needs: one that can foster a Nigerian consciousness and vision. It is one that can pursue a Nigerian renaissance by capturing the ingenuity of the past for the country’s development and forging a new narrative about this country.

As Nigeria marks its 59th Independence anniversary, the true demonstration of its coveted state of independence lies in its exemplary leadership on the continent. It must demonstrate an ability to find home-grown solutions to its problems, provide basic human necessities for its teeming population, eschew corruption and respect the rule of law and place high premium on its human capital. This is the meaning of being truly independent.

Meanwhile, do the authorities and the people in the country constantly reflect on our responsibility to Africa and the black race as aptly captured by the iconic Nelson Mandela who once told us: ‘‘The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence…’’?

But since the nation derailed and went into the wilderness, nothing is working anymore. The once united strong nation has been fragmented into thirty-six semi-autonomous antagonistic states. There is no competition anymore. Only a handful of the states could stand on their own economically. Social infrastructure services have collapsed. There can be no progress in this wilderness of despair except the country makes a U-turn. The country must return to the pre-1966 national development framework if it sincerely wants to stand as a nation.

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