Date Published: 10/05/09
A Requiem to Nigeria @ 49 By Uche Ohia
On October 1, 2009, the 49th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence was marked across the federation. The mood was, at best, one of ambivalence.. For some, it was an occasion to celebrate the “great achievements” the country has made. For the rest of the population for whom the ends no longer meet, it was just a distraction from the daily grind, agony and uncertainty that life has become in a country so richly blessed but so poorly managed - a potential Eldorado transformed into a massive prison. For me, it was a time for sad reminiscences.
Nigeria has become a global model of all that is wrong with a nation and it’s people. Despite the efforts of Information Minister, Dora Akunyili, to burnish Nigeria’s stinking image, for all the world cares, we could as well have been celebrating our 419 Anniversary rather than our 49 th anniversary. Nigeria is absurdity writ large: a country that spends money to improve it’s image without making efforts to change it’s character; a country that imports what it has and exports what it does not have; a country whose professionals run highly rated foreign medical facilities but has no reputable hospital on it’s shores; a country that operates a cash economy but it’s citizens are kingpins in international credit card scams; a country that spends almost a trillion naira annually on the import, fuelling and maintenance of generators but cannot confront it’s energy generation challenges; a country with unimaginable expanses of arable land but depends on food and dairy imports for sustenance; a country with a rich football playing heritage but whose youths are ardent fans and followers of foreign clubs.
Nigerian leaders take delight in referring to the country as “the Giant of Africa” but it is only a giant with feet of clay. Nigerian children attend Ghanaian schools because Ghana has better facilities. Nigerian industrialists are relocating to Ghana because Ghana has better infrastructure. Ghana is being held up as a model of democracy while Nigeria pales in significance. While other “giants” were at the 64 th UN General Assembly meeting in New York, President Yar’Adua was in Saudi Arabia. Why should the world take Nigeria seriously?
At 49, the wheel of justice in Nigeria turns backwards. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakoa (SAN) who is supposed to be the chief prosecutor of citizens suspected of dipping hands into the public till has turned out to be their chief defender. Nigeria’s stock market has suffered a summersault on account of corporate 419. Some of the banks in Nigeria have been exposed for playing bingo with depositor’s funds for which some bank CEOs have been removed and put on trial by EFCC but that may be the end of the story just like their political counterparts. Most of the political and corporate playgrounds have been taken over by soldiers of fortune for many of whom, “honour” sounds like a strange word from an indecipherable language.
At 49, the legislature has failed to play it’s role of checking and balancing the executive, preferring instead to engage in self-serving collaboration: legislators see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. In return, the executive panders to their every whim. Insecurity is rife. Unemployment has driven the youths to the edge and prostitution and criminality have become the fastest growing industries. Security agents are poorly paid, poorly equipped, poorly trained and poorly motivated. To make ends meet, they solicit gratification, engage in extortion and, sometimes, collude with criminals. From Port Harcort to Kaduna, kidnappers and criminals ride roughshod over the citizenry while the government that is supposed to guarantee public safety as part of the social contract seems bamboozled. Rather than use legislation to compel improved welfare or the use of technology in crime detection, lawmakers waste time passing laws that prescribe stiff punishment for offenders that are never caught. Nigeria seems to be on a downward spiral – a free fall to doom. Desperation is palpable and death is cheap. There is despondence and fear in the land.
How can the world not see Nigeria as one bumbling country? A country of 150m people endowed with enormous human and natural resources! Yet, at 49 Nigeria generates less than 3,000 mw of electricity when South Africa with 43m people generates almost 50,000 mw! President Yar’Adua’s target is to generate 6,000 mw of electricity by the end of the year and 10,000 mw in the medium term. But Nigeria actually requires a minimum average of 30,000 mw (80,000 - 100,000 mw if it truly wishes to join the 20 most developed countries by 2020).
Poor Dora Akunyili! Nigeria is an image maker’s nightmare. While Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) is marketing Nigeria as an investment haven, and proactive envoys are organizing trade missions to introduce foreign investors to the myriad investment opportunities in Nigeria, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) branches take months to process a name availability search! At 49, Nigerians are traumatized. A few members of the elite have practically kidnapped the economy. National symbols and national colours mean nothing – the flag, the national anthem, the pledge. If there is anything to mark, it is 49 years of dashed hopes. Democracy in Nigeria has been turned into a sham. Political parties have no ideologies, no internal democracy, no mechanisms for democracy education, and no commitment to ensuring that the wishes of the people are respected.Independence connotes freedom from political domination. But are Nigerians free from political domination when the political processes and outcomes are neither free nor fair? Nigerians are disappointed in Nigeria.
Comparing Nigeria to the four Asian Tigers (Hongkong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) or the four little tigers (Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines) is enough to induce depression. How did the Asian Tigers take themselves from poverty in the 1960s to prosperity? How did the Celtic Tiger, Ireland, transform itself from one of Europe's poorest countries into one of its wealthiest between 1995 and 2007. They singled out education as a means of improving productivity and focused on improving the education system at all levels through heavy investment in infrastructure and manpower development. But Nigeria can afford a strike that paralyses tertiary education for months.
At 49, Nigeria does not evoke the image of a nation. For a country in which the civil war ended in 1970, the state of the roads in the South East zone in 2009 suggests a country at war rather than one at peace. Nigeria pretends to be a federation but the federation is a farce. In a true federation, the devolution of power is from below. In Nigeria the reverse is the case: power devolves from the top. Every month the federating units (states) in Nigeria go with their bowls to the master’s table at Abuja to collect their monthly ration. And Nigeria is a federation! Nigeria at 49 cannot be the Nigeria envisioned by the nationalists who risked their lives and sacrificed their freedom to drive away British colonialists.
Looking at Nigeria at 49, I am reminded, sadly, of the solemn declaration made by Theodore Roosevelt, who at 42 years of age became the 26 th president of the United States: “ Our country – this great republic – means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy, the triumph of popular government and, in the long run, of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him”.. ( email@example.com; 0805 1090 050)