By DOTUN ADEKANMBI
There is this apocryphal anecdote of the 40-year old who consulted a palmist. “In the first 40 years of your life I see extreme poverty,” the chirologist started out tentatively as he studied the lines on the man’s palm. His tone of voice made the fellow a bit optimistic since he had already had a rough 40 years. To answer the middle-aged man’s question regarding what would happen thereafter, the palmist told him without batting an eyelid: “after that, you’ll get used to it.”
Nigeria’s narrative is not much different from the story on the middle-aged man. In 60 years, the countrythat started out with a lot of promisehas slipped off her lofty pedestal of being the ‘giant of Africa’ and the continent’s ‘Big Brother.’ Today, she isseen as a sleeping giant, one that is kicked around by countries that, in the past, would not have dared to look Africa’s most populous nation in the eye. Having endured so much disrespect and hardship everywhere at home and abroad, Nigerians were expected to get used to our distorted reality. But is this expectation misplaced?
To borrow from the title of a book by South African comedian, Trevor Noah, Nigeria, literally, was ‘born a crime.’ She is an amalgam of a people naturally divided into the North, East and West by the Rivers Niger and Benue. She was named by the consort of a foreign Governor-General who represented an empire that has now expired. And she won her Independence 60 years ago on the back of a legacy of ‘divide and rule’ bequeathed to her by the British colonialists. Would it then be wrong to expect modern Nigeria’s apple to fall too far from its tree?
The seed of distrust planted by the colonialists is at the root of every battle that we fight today against ethnicity, corruption, religious intolerance and socio-political dissonance. The inherited policy of ‘divide and rule’ is very much at the heart of the fear of political dominance nursed by each of the three major political divides in Nigeria. That fear fuelled the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war, 1967 – 1970. Every attempt to paper over the crack has met with limited success. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme that was purposed-designed in 1973 to help re-engineer national unity through socio-cultural immersion of young Nigerians is in intensive care, no thanks to worsening ethnic positioning and insecurity. It is doubtful if the NYSC scheme will survive in the years ahead. But does that mean that unity has failed? By no means, no. Regardless of the hubris of ethnic jingoists, Nigerians are still very much inclined to remain united because our diversity is still one of our greatest strength as a nation.
But what about growing insecurity that has caused over 36,000 deaths in the last 10 years, caused over 2.5 million people to become internally displaced and caused unheard of serial attempts on the life of a sitting Governor in North East Nigeria?The insecurity of life and property has never been this pronounced in the life of our nation. It reasonably could be said that the absence of a political will to end insurgency by succeeding administrations at the federal level is a key reason the menace has literally become an industry. Two things stand out clearly in this regard. The first is the lack of honesty to admit that the nation’s security architecture is weak; that it leaks and that its leadership has run out of ideas and are long due for change. More embarrassing is government’s policy of treating insurgents with kid gloves by way of amnesty programmes and the re-integration of proven insurgents into society at a high cost and at the expense of victims of insurgency who, to put it mildly, are shabbily treated.
What about the high cost of governance that is at variance with the labelling of Nigeria as the ‘poverty capital of the world’ by the Brookings Institute?This is not in dispute granting that our democracy is probably the most expensive in the world, with the political class being the highest paid and the people they were elected to serve wallowing in grinding poverty. It is, indeed, a measure of the socio-economic distortions in the polity that a Senator, for example, would reportedly earn over N13m per month at a time the national minimum wage is N30,000 and 20 out of the country’s 36 States are in default in the payment of salaries and entitlements to workers and pensioners, some for as long as 36 months.
The trauma of Nigeria at 60 is, perhaps, still best summarised by the late Major ChukwumaNzeogwu, who in his January 15, 1966 coup day speech described the enemies of Nigeria as: “the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPS at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.” These words need no further clarification, as they easily resonate with everyone, young or old, male or female. Every word rings true today in Nigeria as they did in 1966. But need things continue this way?
The panacea to the ‘trouble with Nigeria’ is no rocket science. But it requires a lot of introspection with an eye on the future. If everything that ails Nigeria today can be situated within the context of Nzeogwu’s words that cannot be wished away, then the solution can be found in each citizen taking Nigeria as a personal project. As of the present time, most people have adopted a ‘siddon look,’ ‘what-is-my-concern?’ approach to issues of governance. They often hold the view that ‘politics is a dirty game,’ for which reason they believe it is better to stay off it. They seldom register to vote; when they do, they seldom interrogate the manifestoes of political parties and their candidates and if ever they do, they seldom query the quality of the vision that drive candidates to seek elective public offices because they are more concerned with whether or not the candidates are their ‘own personal persons,’ the euphemism for ethnicity.
Worse, on election days, they sit at home, which accounts for the huge disparity between the number of registered voters and actual votes cast at elections. In 2019, for example, these figures were 84.04 million and 30 million respectively in the elections that cost Nigeria N69 billion, which was reportedly the most expensive ever in the history of electioneering in Nigeria.
For as long as we choose to ‘siddon look,’ Nigeria in another 60 years will be no different from today’s Nigeria. We shall continue to experience brain drain. Insecurity will remain, if not worse. Poverty and unemployment will not go away. More children will be out of school. Healthcare will remain poor. Corruption will be more endemic. Ethnicity will defeat excellence. Nigeria will still not be globally competitive. And in 2080 citizens will yearn to experience the ‘good old days’ they read about or were told by survivors of the present time who never genuinely enjoyed any good day. These will be the huge price to pay for poor visioning by leaders and the led. But, in truth, things can be better if ‘Together,’ as is the theme of the 60th Independence anniversary celebration, citizens choose to act and place Nigeria first in everything. Doing this will take away past political and socio-economic hurts.
Look at it this way, if, as an individual, you want only the best for yourself, why then is it difficult to extend this same parameter to your fatherland? We need to keep our eyes on the ball of governance so that, together, we can work to choose the best amongst us to pilot the ship of the Nigerian state to safe harbours. Does this not sound better than recounting tales of missed opportunities? As we celebrate 60 years, let us remember that we still have opportunities ahead to lay a solid foundation for Nigeria in the next 60 years.
Dotun Adekambi is a former Editor of Business Times.
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