Today marks 59 years of independence in Nigeria.
The internet is awash with congratulatory messages as we celebrate this great milestone.
Times of celebration have always provided great opportunity for introspection and sober reflection.
So, let us take a moment to review and evaluate our performance as a nation over the last 59 years.
What did we set out to achieve? And are we succeeding…or not?
What have we done with the hopes, dreams and grand plans of our forebears from October 1, 1960 up until today?
Are we satisfied with the progress made OR are we “suffering and smiling” as Fela would say?
We know from our history lessons that Nigeria has had a long and checkered history. Spotted and marred by coups, military takeovers, a 3 year-long civil war and the re-emergence and constant recycling of less than stellar leaders into the most important offices of the land.
We are also well aware that Nigeria is not living up to her full potential as the giant of Africa.
Her citizens are often regarded with suspicion and mistrust within the continent and abroad
But why is this so?
What seems to be the trouble with Nigeria such that with all our “resources” we have yet to fulfil our highest potential as a nation?
In his book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, Chinua Achebe poses this very same question and offers his opinions on “The Trouble with Nigeria”.
He starts with a very key opening statement
“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character, there is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else”.
The opening sentence provides both relief and angst in equal parts.
Relief, because looking at the current Nigerian reality, one might be tempted to think that there was something fundamentally wrong with us.
Angst because, If the problem lies not within our character as Nigerians but rather stems from a failure of leadership; does this not place the solution out of our realm of influence?
How can we solve a leadership problem that we are unable to influence or control? Especially when we have leaders who are as militant in their ignorance of responsibility as they are in their bid to cling to power until death and beyond?
Achebe provides a response to this puzzle and I will share it with you shortly.
But first, let us take a closer look at a picture of Nigeria, 59 years post independence.
A country blessed with abundant natural and human resources yet encumbered with a steady succession of less than stellar leaders.
At 59, Nigeria looks a lot like dashed hopes and unrealized potential.
We epitomize the *cargo cult mentality” filled to the brim with false illusions of our grandeur. We are quick to declare words like:
Giant of Africa, One Nigeria, Highest GDP in Africa, Most intelligent of the black race…and the list goes on…
Yet how much of this is really true? Are we really the Giant of Africa? What do our failing infrastructure and lack of constant electricity in the 21st century say about us? Are we truly one Nigeria with all the internal conflict going on?
If you held a mirror up to Nigeria at 59, we would see the reflection of the following societal ills:
- Lack of basic human rights & absence of freedom of speech:
A clear and ongoing example is the case of Human rights activist- Omoleye Sowore who was arrested on August 3, 2019, for organizing a peaceful protest tagged #RevolutionNow. He continues to be held in police custody despite having fulfilled all the terms of his bail conditions set by the Federal High Court, Abuja.
- Failing health care systems:
Citizens cannot access good health care without paying an arm and a leg and even then this still out of reach of many resulting in cases of unnecessary loss of life. Let’s not forget medical tourism by the elite and the mass exodus of qualified doctors to foreign lands.
- Free-fall of the educational system:
As we continue to enforce an outdated and precolonial educational curriculum, supported by frequent strikes, Nigeria churns out graduates that are not ready for the job market and cannot compete with their counterparts globally. Our elite and government officials of course manage to send their children abroad for education to ensure that they can continue the cycle of ignorance and oppression of the helpless poor.
- Declining public infrastructure:
Lack of steady supply of electricity, no running water, bad roads, non existent transport road network. All these put the burden on citizens to provide their own water, electricity, security, roads and other basics of a functioning organised society. When the citizens are burdened with the job of the government how can they focus on their own priorities- career, family, education, entrepreneurship, innovation and change?
- Rising of state insecurity and civil Unrest:
Ethnic violence and unrest, kidnapping, attacks from ethnic groups that inflict terror on innocent citizens. Boko Haram uprisings and their emboldened use of more sophisticated weapons than even the Nigerian army.
- Inability to achieve autonomy from external economies:
This one really gets my goat. As a country, we still do not have the capacity to refine the oil that our land produces, leaving us with the shameful option of exporting crude oil and importing fuel at exorbitant rates. A very disgraceful, suboptimal and expensive venture.
- Social injustice:
The ever-widening and unbelievable divide between the tiny percentage of the upper class and the vast multitude of the rest of Nigeria. We no longer have a middle class. Our current system is structured and designed to benefit a few at the expense of the many. The sad thing is that Instead of trying to change this anomaly, the “many” are trying very hard to join the ranks of the few by any means necessary. This has led to a desperation for wealth by less than honourable means.
- The feeling of hopelessness and helplessness:
There is a deep feeling of hopelessness against a system that seems unchangeable. We are seeing this reflected in the resignation and apathy within the youth. This feeling is assuaged only by distraction from entertainment, travel and new toys as a means of escape.
- Mediocrity :
Lack of excellence in anything and almost everything.Even in the sports arena, where we used to shine we seems to have let our penchant for mediocrity and last minute preparation relegate us to the bottom of the pole. Compromise and “management” have led to failure in most respects and lost opportunities. The Phrase “manage it” has become a catch all phrase for national manifestations of incompetence.
- Wanton Waste :
I read somewhere that the budget for food in Aso Rock was 1.7 billion Naira. It is incomprehensible the over padded salaries, perks and “hardship” allowances paid to government officials while the salaries of teachers and other public servants are owed for months at at time.
With the burden of all these societal ills, I feel less than positive that at 59, Nigeria has achieved her full potential.
Achebe offers hope with the words:
“Nigeria is not beyond change….
Nigeria can change today if she discovers leaders who have a will, the ability and the vision”
He then goes further to moderate this hope with a caveat
“If this conscious effort is not made, “then” good leaders like good money, will be driven out by bad”
Going forward, Nigerians must find creative and innovative to discover and support leaders who have the will, ability and vision for progress.
We cannot do all the things BUT we can do something and we must start somewhere. Leadership is the key ingredient behind any successful societal transformation and Nigeria today is a perfect reflection of her leaders.
In order for our natural and human resources to truly benefit Nigerians, good leaders are needed at the helm of affairs. A look at what Paul Kagame has achieved in Rwanda is a case study that I wish can be replicated in Nigeria!
As enlightened Nigerians, we are all responsible for our future, we must recognize and lend our support to true leaders that have the will, the ability and vision to bring about positive change. They may be few but i assure you they are there in plain sight.
I know we can do this. I know we can rally the much needed support for the kind of leaders we need.
How do I know this?
I recently read about the disqualification of a Big Brother Nigeria contestant from the house due to bad behavior. I saw on social media how millions of Nigerians rallied round to support this BBN contestant.
Messages of love, support and solidarity poured from all quarters almost breaking the internet in the process.
One influencer promised her 1 million Naira, another promised 60 Million Naira.
The masses were not about to be left out. In the thick of their lack and poverty, someone made a call for 2 Million Nigerians to make a donation of 100 Naira each to support this BBN contestant.
Last I heard, a go fund me account was being set up on her behalf.
I found it quite shocking to be honest, but it indicates to me that Nigerians have the passion, follow through and enablement to support a cause that matters to them.
WE have it in us, all we need now is the wisdom to channel it in a more productive way and amass the same passionate support for viable leaders that can take us to the promised land. We cannot afford to focus on unprofitable distractions while we ignore the painful realities of the Nigerian situation as it stands today.
The painful truth is that as a nation we are grossly underdeveloped due to years and years of bad leadership. We must commit to doing our part to recognize and support qualified leaders with a vision and a heart for change. If we channel 50% of the support we provide to Big Brother Naija to national issues that affect us as a people, positive change will come.
So on this anniversary of Nigeria’s 59 year of independence, i call on fellow Nigerians to educate themselves and be informed enough to reject sycophancy and embrace the possibility of change. We can no longer sacrifice our future for a loaf of bread. We must no longer praise and magnify our oppressors and those that steal from us and our children; because in so doing, We become enablers and complicit in our own oppression.
Finally, we must be involved in the electoral process of choosing our leaders. WE can begin to prepare now for the 2023 process by educating ourselves and others, by presenting ourselves as candidates for leadership, by supporting good candidates who have a vision and are qualified, by fundraising, by procuring voters card at the right time and going out to vote sensibly.
There are so many ways and possibilities for involvement. Where there’s a will there is a way.
Achebe brings his book to a close by stating:
“I also believe that hopeless as she may seem today, Nigeria is not absolutely beyond redemption. Critical, yes but not entirely hopeless. But every single day of continued neglect brings her ever closer to the brink of the abyss”
So, how close are we to the brink of the Abyss?
I can’t say for sure but what I know to be true is that with our penchant as a nation for recycling power every 4 years amongst the usual suspects, we may be much closer than we think.
Tell me: how will you play your part to prevent a total slide down the abyss?
1 China Achebe- The Trouble with Nigeria
** a caveat: Please note that there are many great things to celebrate about Nigeria, but in celebratory times like this, the media will be awash with stories of our “Great nation”. Permit me to skew a bit to the other side as I strive to provide some balance and shine the light on some areas of much needed change and improvement.**
***Wikipedia defines cargo cult mentality as “a belief system among members of a relatively undeveloped society in which adherents practice superstitious rituals hoping to bring modern goods supplied by a more technologically advanced society” `It is simply suspending mental rigour and action in anticipation of some blessings coming from outside without any exertion or effort towards the achievement of that largesse.
Author: Tamkara Adun