I must have sounded very caustic, cynical, contemptuous and sentimental – as some would have by now concluded – in the blunt manner I randomly carpeted the razzmatazz that accompanied the marking of Nigeria’s 58th Independence Anniversary. In fact, some of my very close confidants have gone as far as calling me a “basket mouth”, “loose cannon” and “traducer”, to mention just a few of the opprobrious reactions my earlier piece elicited, for daring to compare the current state of the Nigerian State with that of a terminally “sick man”. This informed my decision to write a follow-up to the first edition. But while I respect the emotional displays of undiluted patriotism by these fellow citizens, it is not my intention to recant my candid submissions on the shameful state of this sham called the “Federal Republic of Nigeria”, until something drastic is quickly done to cure her of her debilitating ailment.
One does need to be a mage, sage, seer or guru of any sort to decipher that all is not well with Nigeria. Even a terminally blind man, can, through the use of his other faculties, see-through the rank ruse that is Nigeria. This is not an overstatement, but the fact of the matter. The debilitating symptoms of a terminally ill patient are starkly manifest. So, rather than continue living in denial, we should embrace the bitter truth that the sick man of Africa is in need of urgent surgical care if it must regain its failing health and step back on the path of growth as envisioned by the country’s founding fathers and other true patriots of blessed memory.
The way out of the visceral challenges stalling Nigeria’s development are not farfetched. We must weed out the chief factors that have conspired to ensure that, 58 years after independence, our country has remained a perennial underachiever, despite its huge potentials in human and material resources. We must locate the major reasons why we are still stuttering, when our contemporaries are flying.
Attempts by some “experts” to diagnose Nigeria’s ailment have resulted in the postulation of theories such as, “weak economic base”, “structural imbalance”, “institutional contradictions”, “systems of government”, “multi-ethnic composition” etc. These perspectives, valid as they seem, seem to, however, ignore a very crucial paradigm – the behavioural angle; in this context, the psyche of the operators of the Leviathan. Nigeria’s economy, despite its usually erratic demeanor, which has given it a negative tilt, is not the principal problem stalling her progress, but the careless and brazen manner the economy has been ruined by the larcenous deportment of the political class whose barefaced blunders over the years have stalled the country’s much anticipated economic revolution. The several stillborn National Development Plans; the poorly conceived and executed Agricultural Revolutions (Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, River Basin Development Projects etc.); industrial projects such as the National Shipping Lines, Paper Mills, Steel and Petrochemical Complexes, Dams, Oil Refineries, Vehicle Assemblies, Nigerian Airways, Nigerian Railways; Obasanjo’s National Economic Empowerment Development Strategies (NEEDS) etc. were well-intentioned programs that could have stimulated Nigeria’s much anticipated economic revolution. But the haphazard and amateurish manners they were eventually executed ensured that they died natural deaths.
The country’s structural imbalance, despite being one of the background harbingers of some of its contemporary woes, should not be singled out as the primary issue afflicting the country’s development, without considering the unchecked mismanagement of the subsisting arrangement by the chauvinistic proclivities of the country’s successive ruling classes. Nigeria is not the only country in the world that was incongruously structured by colonial powers. In fact, most countries that were once colonial entities have structural challenges of their own to contend with. Nigeria’s successive leaders have simply not been able to work out feasible solutions to its structural challenges the same way the leaders of other structurally challenged countries have successfully done. Agreed that the country needs to be restructured – a term that has become a mantra in these paths – the question is, after restructuring what next? Who operates the new structure? Is it not the same set of individuals who have mismanaged the subsisting arrangement? Won’t it be business as usual, unless there is a corresponding attitudinal restructuring on the path of the leaders, in conjunction with the proposed structural tinkering?
Again, the country’s multiethnic composition, which is usually fingered for the constant frictions among its various ethnic groups, should not be held solely culpable for the regimes of anomie that have intermittently punctuated the nation building process, without considering the mischievous manner these fault lines have been exploited by politicians for selfish ends. Cases abound, the world over, of multiethnic societies that have successfully transcended the inherent divergences’ in their compositions to transform into enviable hubs of peace, tranquility and prosperity. India, United States of America, China, Tanzania et al are classic examples of countries that are as complexly constituted as Nigeria, but have been able to work out feasible arrangements that have transformed them into considerable hubs of positive peace.
Neither should we blame it all on the systems of government (whether Parliamentary, Unitary, Federal, Presidential, Diarchy, or Military etc.) the country has operated over the years, without considering the gross misdemeanors of the harebrained brigands who have held the reins of political power since independence. That these systems of administration failed in Nigeria’s case, despite being resounding successes in other climes, can be located in the quality of leadership the country has churned out over the years. Our challenges are simply manmade: they are the evil machinations of a pack of marauding dark lords who have mischievously steered our ship of state into turbulent waters from where there seems to be no way out; a foggy, compacted cul-de-sac that continues to implode by the day, threatening to compress all within its thorny walls.
Nigeria’s preeminent challenges are lax leadership and demented followership, reinforcing disabilities that are responsible for the manifestation of the aforementioned symptoms. Apart from some of the country’s founding fathers, who made concrete efforts to jumpstart her on the path of growth, Nigeria, in her later years, has been cursed with largely self-seeking, impassive ruling – civilian and military – elite whose well documented infamies have been largely responsible for the parlous state of affairs in Nigeria today.
The first generation of Nigerian leaders, despite the disagreements and crisis that marred the politics of the late pre-independence and early post-independence years, made genuine, purposeful attempts to develop the country. These patriots developed the towering groundnut pyramids of the Northern Region, the expansive rubber plantations of the Mid-Western Region, the tin and coal mines of Jos and Enugu, the extensive palm plantations of the South-East, the cocoa plantations of the South-West, and other non-oil revenue yielding projects. They built solid economic basis that would have turned Nigeria into a true global super force had successive leaders continued with the same vigor, determination and focus that drove their laudable efforts. From January 15, 1966, when the military first struck, through the several transitions it has subsequently gone through, the country’s leadership has radically transformed from being a productive force, to one that is indolent, parasitic, impassive and directionless.
On the followership front, it has been a series of unmitigated disasters. Nigerians have watched like jaded morons while the putrid rots – lax leadership, compulsive greed, gross maladministration, cyclical corruption, ethno-religious bigotry, institutional collapse, official impunity, nepotism, cronyism, etc. – they daily moan about gradually reared their monstrous heads. Nigerians kept silent while the human contrived absurdities they daily whine about set in, thus, making them complicit in the making of the tragedy called Nigeria. Nigerians looked on while evil thrived; stared wide-eyed as a black cloud grew into a destructive squall; watched with folded arms the various convocations of the ugly ones… the several Sabbaths of the witches and warlocks in their land. Nigerians encouraged the spread of the pandemic, despite seeing the early-warning signs. Yes, whether they accept it or not, their silence constituted consent. They failed to question the brazen disregard of their rights by the callous operators of the state. They failed to check the irrational wastage of their resources by the hooded cold-blooded hijackers of their commonwealth. They looked on while the vampires sucked their blood… failed to act when it really mattered. Thus, they all qualify as casualties; all victims of their collective actions and inactions.
For the Nigerian State to realize its undoubted potentials, the twin forces of patriotic, purpose-driven leadership, in conjunction with sane followership, must evolve. I am talking about a paradigm shift in our national psyche; an attitudinal reorientation so to speak. The country’s leaders must reinvent themselves by adopting more objective, practical and sincerer approaches to governance. They should strive towards creating a modern prosperous nation-state that is founded on the interlocking marbles of justice, equity and fair play. They should no longer see governance as a business venture, but a serious national assignment. The nauseating practice whereby the political elite personalize the state for private profit must give way to a more utilitarian approach to governance. Leaders must be guided by the twin spirits of patriotism and altruism in the discharge of their fiduciary duties to the state and its citizens. They must begin to see themselves as servants and not overlords.
On the path of the led, they must begin to see themselves as joint stakeholders in the manner they are governed by the wielders of political authority, and not serfs who must genuflect to a master class. This can be achieved through objective participation in the political processes. Agreed that the political space in its current format is largely dominated by the political class, this compromised domain can be opened up by mass participation in the political process. Politicians have been having their say and way because they have been given them too much space to operate unhindered. Nigerians must shed their apolitical skins. They must also refrain from being used as the stooges and lackeys of the political class who usually abandon them after achieving their self- aggrandizing goals. “Power belongs to the people”, as the popular maxim goes. Popular sovereignty supersedes political sovereignty.
A national rebirth can be inspired in Nigeria if all stakeholders in the nation building project can come together, like the legendary Spartan phalanx, to work as a united force dedicated to the protection and promotion of the collective interests and wellbeing of EVERY Nigerian. This is not wishful thinking, but a possible utopia Nigerians should work towards achieving. It seems to be the sanest choice in the prevailing circumstances. If the citizens of other countries could do it to productive effects, why can’t Nigerians do the same? Why can’t Nigeria metamorphose into the African continent’s demographic Hercules, a major and influential actor in global affairs, just like other countries that were once colonial enclaves have successfully done?
Unlike the proverbial Ostrich, which preferred to bury its head in sand, in the face of an imminent threat to its life, we must not continue denying the fact that we have very formidable challenges to contend with, and that until we are ready to confront these challenges, by way of practically addressing, with intent to crush them, our supposed independence will remain a mere paper freedom. God save Nigeria, our dear fatherland!