Nigeria at 52: Time to discuss a new nation

Today makes it 52 years since Nigeria got her
flag independence from Britain. Even though
nations do not exactly grow, mature and wither
away within the time frame of a human life a
period of 52 years is a good time frame to
review the progress made, challenges on the
road and the projections for growth in the years
ahead. As always, today’s Independence
celebration offers us another opportunity for a
sober reflection to identify what we have done
right for the purpose of replication; what we
have done wrong so that we can avoid
repeating such wrongs and our unique
opportunities which can be harnessed to fast-
track the development and growth of the nation
in the years to come.
Instructively, it will amount to denying the
obvious if we are to insist that no progress has
been recorded over the past 52 years. While
complaining about Nigeria’s underachievement,
a senior colleague once pointed out that in the
1950’s and 60’s, there were very few schools,
hospitals, airports, highways, cars and that
most of the buildings in the countryside were
made of mud and thatch. For him, a lot of
progress has been made and all these things
have changed for the better. Indeed, things
have got better and are heading for more
drastic improvement. The white man had left
and in his place, we have our brothers and
sisters in charge of our governance and we
have hoisted our flag in the comity of nations
as a people exercising their right to self
Are the foregoing really the indicators of the progress of nations? It will amount to celebrating
underachievement if we are to roll out the drums, as we are wont to do, in the excitement of
counting the number of years we have existed as a nation. A number of issues come to the fore.
Are we developing at the pace of our peers – Singapore, Brazil, South Korea? The answer is
obvious. No. Are there concrete plans by the elite and leadership to lift Nigeria out of the pit?
Apparently, there is none. We are a people content with offering apologies for things that do not
require apology but developmental actions based on strategic thinking.
As a young man, I grew up to hear apologies that our underdevelopment could be traced to slave
trade and colonialism. Admittedly, these historical facts left indelible marks on our
developmental strides. But, we were not the only ones who were enslaved or colonised. The
military were in power then and as such, they were not officially added to the list of the
apologies. Military rule was later added to the list after the soldiers had left. Thirteen years of
civil rule have changed nothing. What is the apology this time? Yes, I know that a culture that was
institutionalised in about 28 years of military rule cannot be changed overnight. But 13 years is
enough time to begin the steps to correct the anomalies of military rule. Is it about those who
have led us since 1999 – Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan?
It is the position of this discourse that a review of the challenges facing our nation will reveal that
the fundamental challenge of development and nationhood is that the country is in denial of its
basic nature and challenges. 42 years after fighting a bitter civil war that led to the loss of over a
million lives, the fundamental questions of who we are and how we need to govern ourselves are
still unresolved. The questions that arose from the contradictions of elite contestation for power
before independence and continuing up to the civil war are still unanswered. The leadership has
not come up with a concept of development that is sold to the populace as a national vision for
resolving our myriad of problems. We are still faced with the challenge of integration and defining
the identity and benefits of citizenship. Our leadership question is not about how to bring out the
best to lead or a contest of ideas, it is about the ethnic and religious origin of a proposed leader.
Is he from the North, East, West or any of the new six geopolitical zones? This is not the path to
nationhood, neither is it the path to development.
The other day, the Petroleum Industry Bill was presented to the National Assembly. The next
thing in the media was that the Northern Governors’ Forum had set up a committee to review how
it will affect the North. May be, there are other groups who have not come out publicly to state
their own views. The International Oil Companies have a common position on the bill based on
the profit motive. Present beneficiaries of the decadent system in the oil industry will be taking
steps to frustrate the reforms proposed in the bill. But who is speaking or who is researching on
behalf of Nigeria? Is there really a Nigeria where a majority of its citizens devoid of where they
come from are committed to the vision of its progress, honour and glory? That vision of Nigeria
does not currently exist in the minds of the leadership and indeed in the minds of majority of
Nigerians. The voting pattern at major federal elections bears this out.
Sadly, we are in denial of our differences in religion, ethnicity, culture, and history. We believe we
can suppress these differences and move on with our lives without having thorough discussions
on how to manage them. Continuing this denial accounts for national policies that are not in the
overall interest of the nation but skewed to favour one group or the other, poor quality leadership
at the federal level, the indigene/settler dichotomy and the attendant loss of lives and properties
it engenders, religious extremism of all forms, among others. It may be fashionable to paper
over these cracks and pretend they do not exist. But that is the tradition of the ostrich. Even the
young who may have no cause for hard-core ethnic attachments, having been brought up in
cosmopolitan environments, are confronted with the reality of the danger of being killed by
religious fanatics based on their religious or ethnic identity as well as having to fill their state of
origin on every form while applying for employment, among others. These young men and
women are being indoctrinated with perverse values on a daily basis by the existential realities
of living in Nigeria where merit is continuously thrown overboard.
Therefore, a national dialogue has become overwhelmingly imperative. It should be the dialogue
of the people through their freely chosen representatives, convened specifically for the purpose
of agreeing on a suitable framework of government that takes cognisance of the diversities,
pluralism, rights and obligations of all. Continuing to pretend that all is well at 52 and that the
National Assembly as presently constituted can give us that framework will lead us to nowhere.
Such a framework will be based on the need to suppress the mischief in the existing system
while advancing remedies to enhance the creative abilities of all groups to harness their
resources for their development. This is a task that must be done before we head for the
explosive elections of 2015.
•Onyekpere, a lawyer, is the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Abuja. He wrote
in via; Tel. 08127235995

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