Nigeria @ 62: Where Are We Really Going?

Nigeria @ 62: Where Are We Really Going?

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

Today, the 1st of October, 2022, is another commemoration of Nigeria's independence from colonialism. Our country is now 62 years as an independent country. Let me use this auspicious occasion to celebrate with fellow Nigerians, home and abroad. Understandably, there are so many things to complain and be concerned about. However, in any dark cloud, there is always the silver lining. It is the presence of such silver lining that still gives people hope.

As a people and as a country, we cannot afford to give up on ourselves and our country. We cannot lose hope. Otherwise, what alternatives do we have? It is simplistic to assume, on individual basis, that we can "japa" (escape from the country by emigrating to another country), a popular trend in the country that has taken frightening dimensions now. It is so serious that many Nigerians will give an arm to leave this country.

Worse still, such emigration could be to countries which are even worse than Nigeria, and many do take the dangerous routes to accomplish that. To many citizens, Nigeria is the worst place to be on earth. But, is this so? I will disagree actually. Many cannot appreciate the situation they have in Nigeria until they found themselves in other climes.

In 62 years, when different indices that are used to measure developments in countries are reeled out every now and then, it is often disheartening to find out how Nigeria usually scored poorly on each scale. Be it, HDI, FDI, GDP performance, Poverty Index, Out of school children, girl-child education, maternal and infant mortality, Wellness index, economic performance, security indices, corruption and so on. In majority of these, we have done really badly. It is demoralising. This is the reason one cannot blame those who want to "japa", at the slightest opportunity, by crook or hook.

For a country so blessed like Nigeria, why should this be so? What went wrong with us and what have we not done right? Where did we miss the train? Nigeria, a "giant in comatose", because this situation has transcended "sleeping", the state for which our "giant" was usually said to be in, all along. Now, the country is not dead. Not yet. Just in coma. By any chance at all, it needs to first be revived, and then woken up, before sitting up and later standing up. We hope it can ever still run, to talk of flying, contrary to the national symbol of the country which the eagle represents.

Nigeria is a blessed country, endowed with abundant human and natural resources. There is hardly anything you want that cannot be found in Nigeria, whether in the air, on ground, underground, or inside water. There is no profession or vocation anywhere in the world that you cannot find a Nigerian involved. Be it academics, medicine, engineering, sciences, literature, legal, administration, business, commerce, military, sports, entertainment, and just about any. And they do greatly. How then could such people come from a comatose country? This has remained a mystery to a lot of people around the globe.

Nigeria has been existing like a "colonised independent" nation. We got independence but we have not been behaving like one. A country that relies on others for nearly all it requires to exist, despite having them in raw, within its geographical space. Can such country be said to be truly independent? The actual period that Nigeria witnessed revolutionary developments was about a decade pre-independence and some years after. At every other time, what then have been happening, in spite of the many years of civilian and military administrations, as well as the humongous resources that we have got in the same period? What have been amiss?

Ironically, that era was a time of less, in funds. The traditional source of national revenue was agriculture. Across the country, agriculture was the mainstay of the economy. As the Yorubas will say: "ti a ko ba mo bi a n lo, sebi a o mo ibi ti a ti n bo" (if someone misses their road and does not know where they are going again, they should know where they are coming from). Seriously, it looks like Nigeria does not know where it is going. It has been moving in circle. It seems we have no national vision, mission and plans to actualised them.

Where were we coming from? In that golden era I referred to, what did we do right? One, there were "more" sincere, selfless and patriotic leaders for the country. I said "more" because, it was not as if there were no bad leaders but such were in the minority, such that they could not impact the overall governance negatively more than the positive developments.

The reverse is the case at the later time. The majority of our latter leaders do not possess the same character, value and virtue, patriotism and selflessness of the past ones. Such qualities have been on downward trend. It could be understood that given that the past leaders were the founding fathers of the country. Many of them fought for the independence. They went through tough times and experienced the punishment of being ruled by the white colonialists. This could have shaped their thinking and boosted their determination to make the country work, unlike those who followed later. "Ajogun ewu etu, ko mo iyi agbada nla".

Another factor is the system of government we run. At the pre- and immediate post- independent Nigeria, the country operated regional governments. The country was divided into North, West and East, and later, Midwest was added. Each of these regions ran autonomous government with powers to explore and manage the resources within their territories, generate funds internally and manage how the funds are utilised, with a certain percentage sent to the centre at the federal level. That centre was saddled with few responsibilities like defence. Even at that time, each region had their representatives abroad like ambassadors.

This was the system we ran till 1966, before the military coup truncated that republic. With such arrangements, each region set its priorities as their regional leaders deemed it fit. Those in the Western region prioritised quality and compulsory education, healthcare and revolutionary infrastructural transformation. That was what birthed many firsts in Nigeria, West Africa and even Africa. Things like WNBS, WNTV, Liberty Stadium, Cocoa House, and many more. The region became a model in the country and Africa. All these were made possible by the leadership of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Ironically, all the resources used to actualised these dreams were from agriculture; Cocoa, coffee, cashew, timber and the likes. No "oyel" (crude oil) money to share.

The groundnut pyramid of the northern Nigeria was something of pride to not only northerners, but all Nigerians. Revenues generated from there and other agricultural activities like cotton farming, hide and skin for leathers, etc, were used to develop the region to the extent of the leadership' interests and capacities. It was led by Sir Ahmadu Bello. The Eastern region was led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe. Palm oil was the real "oyel" then. It was grown, harvested, processed and exported after meeting local demands. Revenues generated from it were used to train many in schools and provide infrastructures.

With all these, why did we not revert to this when the unitary system that the military imposed on the country continued to stunt our growth as a country? These regions were collapsed into one single entity, which became unwieldy over the years. It was from the militarily imposed system that Nigeria transited to federal system. The Federal government, led by one person, become overburdened with responsibilities it has discharged so badly that the country has become a mess.

As federating units, states were created, and also local governments, with the aim of cascading down the developments to the bottom. Sadly, the subsequent leaders turned it to a circus. From original 12 states created from the four regions in 1967, it became 19 in 1976, then 21 in 1987, to 30 in 1991 and eventually 36 states in 1996, plus the federal capital territory (FCT). Local government areas were also created all along and it is currently 774. These have become a heavy, unbearable burden, with what irresponsible and financially reckless leadership has turned them to. The once efficient government system created bureaucracy that became the financial drainpipe on our resources.

The inherited parliamentary system practised by the founding fathers up to 1966, modelled after our colonial country, Britain, which stimulated the said developments earlier mentioned, was replaced with a presidential system of government, modelled after the United States of America (USA) democracy. This was the beginning of bogus government and wastefulness. There are executive, legislative and judiciary arms of government. The legislature became bicameral, containing the senate and the house of representatives, which replaced the monocameral parliamentary system. Each state produces three senators plus one from FCT, making 109. We have 360 members of the house of representatives.

Separate ministers were appointed by the president as he deems fit. Rather than for service, it is largely done for political patronage to "settle the boys". Every state must be represented. That makes it a minimum of 36 ministers plus one from FCT. All these elected officials are paid heavily. They have retinue of aides, Advisers, Special Advisers and Senior Special Advisers. Assistants, Special Assistants and Senior Special Assistants. What could be more stupid than this? There are 36 states governors and 36 state assemblies occupied by over a thousand elected officials. Same jamboree of assistants and advisers are replicated by the governors and their state lawmakers.

Just imagine such criminally outrageous wastages. How can there be enough to serve the rest of the population through infrastructures when the few elected and appointed officials have "swallowed" all resources? And I am talking of that which are legal. I am not talking about the ones they steal. This was how the hitherto brilliant, effective and efficient civil service was destroyed by corruption, nepotism and lack of meritocracy. It became a dumping ground for the second-rated among our graduates, with due apologies to many brilliant and productive ones among them who are still doing their jobs well. How can any country make progress in this kind of situation, carrying this amount of burden? It is impossible. All these are enabled by the flawed 1999 constitution (as amended) that we operate. That is why we are where we are. It is heartbreaking.

It is for this reason that the clamour for restructuring has remained unabated. Nothing is working with the current system we operate but sadly, the "powers-that-be" are holding the country down. When we knew where we came from and what worked for us, why was it difficult to go back there and revisit our journey so far? Is the country going to remain or continue like this? God forbids. It is time to look back and make needed corrections and adjustment. Nigeria needs complete overhauling. It should be restructured.

By next year, Nigerians will have another opportunity to elect new set of leaders to govern them. In the first place, what are the kinds that are available from which to choose? Same of the same. Most of them have been part of the rot and the people who ruined the country to this point. How can we then expect them to fix the mess they helped created? To solve any problem, one must rise above the level at which they were when creating such problem. Otherwise, it is an effort in futility. This seems to the the dillema we face every four years. We are always democratically forced to choose the best among the worst. How can any progress be made like that?

Whatever the case may be, we still have to choose. Nigerians must choose wisely. They must shun tribal and religious sentiments in making their choices. No one should be influenced by financial inducements, thereby selling their souls to the devil. Competence, Capacity, vision, experience and track records of performance, among others, should be our guiding principles. If we cannot get the best, let us not get the worst as it was often the case.

Once again, Happy 62nd Independence Anniversary to all Nigerians.

Arise, O Compatriots, Nigeria's Call Obey!

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

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October 1, 2022.

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