The Nigerian Project, whose 50th anniversary would be elaborately celebrated soon, never ceases to puzzle. Unfortunately, for so long, Nigerians have not been able to come off this jigsaw, of sorts. A Swedish scholar, Hanne Fjelde, of the University of Uppsala, who was on a research visit to the country recently, was so intrigued by this fact that she persistently badgered me about how Nigeria could be so endowed with “vibrant and brilliant human resources”, who, as she put it, “are doing so well everywhere” be so tolerant of irresponsible governance!
In one very particularly interesting encounter, when she returned from a guided tour of some communities in the South Western part of the country, she could not hold back her astonishment: “How could a country so blessed with resources”, she queried, “be so brimming with very poor people?” As if I did not know, I explained to her that she could do better by ensuring she met with some more privileged individuals holed up in the cosy “corridors of power” across the country! Perhaps, they, especially those in Aso Rock, Abuja, could explain ‘how come the huge wealth of the nation’ has not ‘trickled down to the people’ they purportedly lead.
If anyone is in doubt about how bad Nigeria has been mismanaged by its successive rulers at all tiers of government, particularly in the last four decades, that would change the moment the next “report” or “study” on anything is churned out by any international agency or think-tank of note. As a senior colleague once retorted, the credibility of any international research report or study is in doubt without a mention of Nigeria among the worst of anything examined! The most recent was the mention of the country among the E-9 Countries that constitute 65 per cent of illiterates in the world!
Curiously, Nigeria’s political leaders have carried on, and still do, with such offensive swagger as if nothing is amiss that can be remedied, and, in many cases, in such provocative manner that belie the realities on ground. For this long, we have lived under the illusion that population size, enormous resources, large land mass only, and perhaps, a gullible, unharnessed and docile mass followership, in the absence of a purposeful and sincere leadership, will deliver greatness. Same way, as Alain Minc claimed in his book, The Great European Illusion, it was hoped that “the forging of a single market of 1992 will somehow lead to an easy shift to a unified Europe with greater economic and political coherence.”
It is no longer news that irrespective of the country’s enormous wealth, majority of its citizens live in abject poverty, while many others are constrained daily to contend with decayed infrastructure, weak or failed state institutions and a buccaneering, selfish and uncaring political elite. In fact, a UNDP report claimed that about 70 per cent of Nigerians live below $1 per day. For a country that reportedly generated over $200 billion from crude oil sales from 1999 to 2009, this is simply outrageous and unacceptable.
Similar human development indicators are no less grim: Life expectancy stands at 47 years; high infant mortality rate of 95.52 deaths per 1, 000 live births; maternal mortality rate of 800 deaths per 1000 while 12 million Nigerian children are out of schools with one million others, according to UNICEF, dying of preventable diseases annually.
In the midst of all this, it beggars belief that Nigeria’s political and public office holders delude themselves that ours is a great country! Can there ever be such a thing like a great nation of beggars or illiterates?
It is this delusion that, perhaps, informed the choice of the logo of the controversial 50th anniversary celebration as “Celebrating Greatness”, obviously a cousin of the Rebranding Nigeria’s “Good People, Great Nation” theme. Whatever the motivation of the promoters of this theme, it is obvious that Nigeria has not yet attained any discernible great heights to deserve the popping of champagne by the political class, the type planned in Abuja, after 50 years of political independence. Sadly, its rulers have respectively amassed stupendous personal wealth, fortune and influence at the expense of the country.
But more than anything else, it also expresses the distinctive disconnect between the political class and the people in the country. While the people agonise over a non-working democracy, bereft of the so-called dividends, the over-indulged political class and their cronies are literally dancing in the sun, thanking their creators for small mercies.
The pervasive delusion of greatness in the country can sometimes be amusing, though. For instance, Nigeria’s ruling but discordant party, the Peoples Democratic Party, prefers the moniker, and refers to itself as, the largest party in Africa. Whether the “largeness” of the party is a product of the robustness of its ideology and organisation and/ or programme is wide of the mark, but its leadership deludes itself with the assumption that Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa, its ruling party must necessarily be the “largest”, whatever that means.
One other evidence can be seen in the name borne by Nigeria’s senior football team, the “Super Eagles”, which former military Vice-President, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, gave to it in 1988 after winning silver in the African Nations Cup held that year in Morocco. If superiority, as expected, is measured by performance, how can a country that has won just two continental trophies, and series of heart-rending silver and bronze in 50 years of continental football, be dubbed “super”? And, to prove how super, or “great”, the team has been in recent years, for the second consecutive time, it crashed out in the first round of the ongoing FIFA World Cup in South Africa, scoring three goals, conceding five and garnering a solitary point. What a super team of a great nation!
When one listens to Nigeria’s political leaders at all levels describe the country as “this great nation”, one never ceases to wonder what exactly greatness means to them. Is it their great looting of public funds, or their crass primitive accumulation of wealth or the systematic misallocation of public funds by public office holders? Or, can it also be the “great” dysfunctionality of public institutions such that none can be relied upon to dispassionately and resolutely perform statutory functions?
Or, is it in the chambers of the National Assembly where speaker after speaker mouth the “greatness” of the country when life therein has become too insecure and harsh, literally turning brutish, nasty and cruel, with members of the “great” House of Representatives, in particular, enmeshed in corruption scandals and regularly throwing more punches than passing bills?
Everywhere and anywhere, there are manifestations of this delusion of greatness in the country. It can also be seen in the sprawling mansions and estates, owned by some few individuals with questionable means of livelihood, springing up everywhere at a time half of the population are homeless or living in less than human conditions. It could also be glanced from the heavy convoy of state-of-the-art vehicles of a few individuals in public positions on our failed roads and highways.
A Nigerian academic in the Diaspora returned home recently, and after a study tour of some states, to assess the economic impact of democracy on the people after 10 years, recounted to me, in dismay, that, “While a few individuals’ lives have witnessed tremendous improvement, in terms of mansions built and vehicles purchased, such common services like roads, electricity and railway are in deplorable state or non-existent.” This bes
t sums up the sad reality by which Nigeria’s political leaders, which constitute just less than 3 per cent of the population, have appropriated more than 70 per cent of the resources for themselves.
It is, therefore, understandable when Nigeria is described as a great nation by our rulers: It has made them real great while they have compounded the misery of the people! A reality check will very easily show that, unfortunately, we are not as great as we claim to be, in all measurable terms. Nothing looks great at all, given our touted potentials for greatness. That, however, is the sad, bitter truth.