Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Nigeria, a crippled giant at 53

That Nigeria celebrated her 53rd independence anniversary on Tuesday is no longer news. That preparations are in top gear to commemorate, with pomp and ceremony, our centennial anniversary of amalgamation in January 2014 is a fact. Many opinions have been expressed about our level of achievements in our socio-economic and political life as a nation. While those in government would want the masses to believe that we have made giant strides in many areas, the people, think and know otherwise. Both sides of the divide – government and masses – wait for the verdict of history.
I will never claim ignorant of the baby step successes this country has achieved in her over five decades of nationhood. Far from it. However, one question that begs for answer is, are we where our contemporaries are? Has the labour of our heroes past paid off? Given the enormity of human capital and natural endowment the country has, can Nigeria be said to have lived up to her full potential?
Among the success stories Nigerian leaders parrot are our sustained unity in diversity; observance of rule of law namely supremacy of the law, equality before the law and fundamental human rights particularly since the 1999 return to civil rule; improvement in the conduct of elections, particularly the widely acclaimed 2011 elections and subsequent state-level polls; expansion of social infrastructure such as schools (primary to tertiary institutions), hospitals, roads, stadia, etc. These are irrefragable facts.
There is no gainsaying those assertions because the most critical censor of government will admit that things have not been stagnant whether from the 1914 amalgamation or 1960 independence. The world is dynamic and things are bound to change. We started off with a parliamentary system of government at Independence but that experiment was short-lived, barely six years, before the military coup of January 15, 1966.   By the commencement of the Second Republic on October 1, 1979, we changed to a presidential system of government. At Independence, we had a handful of tertiary institutions – a few colleges of education, polytechnics and universities. Today, we have about 125 universities (federal, state and private).
At Independence, we had only a few theatre groups doing stage plays and television drama, perhaps about 100 musical groups and a couple of renowned visual artists and fashion designers nationwide. Today, the entertainment industry alone is a multi-billion dollar sector.  Nigeria’s cinema and movie industry which birthed in 1980 has transformed into Nollywood which is ranked the third best in the world after America’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. Our music artistes are of international brand with many of them winning national, regional, continental and global musical competitions and helping to burnish the country’s image. In a recently released Forbes 2013 top 10 wealthiest artistes in Africa, Nigerian musicians occupied eight of the 10 slots. A Nigerian, Ms. Agbani Darego, even won the Miss World Beauty Pageant some years ago.
In the field of sports, we have not been without honour as Nigeria has won three African Cup of Nations championships in 1980, 1994 and 2013. We won Olympic Gold medal both in football and long jump at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. We have also won several editions of junior football championships as well as several Olympic medals. The telecommunications revolution of 2001 which brought mobile telephony cannot be ignored as this has made life a lot easier for people. All these are facts; what is the truth?
The truth of our existence, however, is that Nigeria has grossly underachieved given her enormous resources – human and material. What we consider and celebrate as major achievements are what should be routine successes because we have enormous capacity to do better than we are currently doing. The reality today is that we have more destitute people now than we had since independence. There is simply no pro-poor policy in place. Everything appeared to have been done by successive governments both at the federal, state and local government levels, to further impoverish the majority poor. It started under the military with rights and privileges of the masses flagrantly denied them. Public schools and hospitals were left to decay to the point of non-redemption. While there might have been more academic institutions established since 1960, poor funding, policy inconsistency, corruption and bad management have conspired to rob these institutions of quality outputs. Thus, today, Nigerian public educational institutions are notorious for churning out educated illiterates who are mostly unemployable and unproductive. Unfortunately, those are the institutions affordable to the poor as the tuitions of private schools are far beyond their reach.
The truth is that approximately 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below poverty line without any form of social safety nets to cushion their misery. They lack access to basic things of life such as food, clothing and shelter. The undeniable truth is that there is high dependency ratio for the few lucky Nigerians who are gainfully employed while a majority of my compatriots experience high cost of living than high standard of living.
Another patent reality is that Nigerians are more insecure now than we were at Independence. Acts of terrorism and criminality are now very pervasive so much so that human lives have lost their sacred essence. Criminal gangs are having a field day running rings around our security operatives. Nigeria remains the world capital of kidnapping while insurgent groups of various hues are operating with impunity. Oil theft may not be limited to Nigeria but the racket has become one of the most lucrative business deals in the country. Unfortunately, our economy is monoculture, heavily dependent on oil. Every entreaty to our leaders to genuinely diversify the nation’s revenue base to agriculture and solid minerals has been met with rhetoric.  Yet, we have Ministries of Agriculture and solid minerals. We even have a Federal Ministry of Power and Steel but all these non-oil sectors have yet to receive prime attention from government.
We hear that the fertiliser syndicate has been smashed by the incumbent Minister of Agriculture. Good news, no doubt, but has a similar gesture been done at the state and local government levels? So many sloganeering in the agriculture sector.  In the 1970s, we had Operation Feed the Nation; in the 80s, we had the Green Revolution of President Shehu Shagari‘s administration; at another point, we had Back to the Farm. All this notwithstanding, Nigeria has yet to attain food security with billions of naira still spent importing staple food annually.
Virtually everything including water has been either commercialised or privatised.   Sadly, the gains of these business models have yet to be fully experienced. Even in the much touted telecommunications sector, though there is no longer accessibility issue as most people can afford to own a mobile phone, however, the quality of service still remains a nagging issue with the regulatory agencies not doing enough oversight. With the gradual conclusion of the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria with the handing over of succession power generation and distribution companies on Monday, September 30, 2013, it is hoped that sustainable improvement in power generation, transmission and distribution would be witnessed to give Nigerians a cause to cheer.
What then is my verdict on Nigeria at 53? We are a crippled giant. A perpetual underachiever with potent ability to do a lot better than we are currently doing. We need to forge a common resolve to overcome our current numerous national challenges. Each arm of government (executive, legislature and judiciary) as well as each level of government, (federal, state and local) has a role to play in the redemptive effort. Individual Nigerians who manage these institutions and tiers of government all have a part to play too. Our current disability is not a permanent ailment, our challenges not insurmountable.