Sunday, October 2, 2016

Nigeria at 56: The fortes and the foibles


Hearty congratulations to fellow Nigerians on this auspicious occasion of our dear motherland’s 56 independence anniversary! Nigeria, the giant of Africa gained independence from Britain, her colonial master on October 1, 1960. Prior to that, she had experienced over two hundred years of slavery and hundred years of colonial rule. Many are quick to say that those two issues contributed in no small measure to our underdevelopment. Yet, the country is arguably the giant of Africa being the most populous Black Country in the world, the country with the biggest population in Africa and indeed one of the most endowed with natural resources. I have granted three interviews prior to today to two news media – Galaxy Television and Nigerian Television Authority (a programme called Frontiers and another special report). In all the interviews I have been asked if Nigeria has anything to celebrate and my response has been in the affirmative.

Truth be said, the country has greatly underachieved her potentials but in my training as a BRIDGE (Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections) facilitator you are not expected to see issues from one perspective. There are two sides to every coin and as a sage once observed; life is a unity of opposites. (Good and bad, darkness and light, male and female, strong and weak, etcetera.) In my own opinion, we do have cause to celebrate, albeit, modestly. Some of the reasons we should be joyful are as follows: Nigeria, despite numerous challenges facing her, is still a united entity. The country fought three years of civil war between 1967 and 1970 and came out still united. Where is Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) today? Where are Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Sudan today? They have split. I am not unmindful of the calls for self-determination by some Igbo and Ijaw youths owing to some perceived injustices meted to their communities by the federal government. However, as the catchphrase of Hillary Clinton says, we are ‘stronger together’, if only the federal government will address the issue of marginalisation raised by the agitators for self-determination. 

Another reason to rejoice at 56 years of independence is the return to civil rule and enjoyment of civil liberties.  Nigerian military truncated civil rule barely five years into the country’s democratic experiment. The First Republic was short-lived likewise the Second and Third Republics. Out of our 56 years of nationhood, the military ruled for 29 years cumulatively. Out of Nigeria’s 13 presidents and Heads of States, the military provided eight. Thus, we have had more of military than civilian rule. Little wonder we still have military hangover 17 years after the birth of the Fourth Republic. Truth be told, the military had never left governance. They still remain meddlesome interlopers! Out of 17 years since the return to civil rule, two former Heads of State viz. Olusegun Obasanjo and the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari have transited from military to civilian presidents. They have merely shed military khaki for civilian robes as their administrations still have dose of military autocracy.   Even among the ranks of executive governors and members of parliament are military elites who have previously served as Military Administrators or members of Armed Forces Ruling Council. Names like Senator David Mark who is Nigeria’s longest serving Senate President, Senator Jonah Jang, late Governor Mohamed Lawal of Kwara State readily comes to mind.

One thing we cannot take for granted is that Nigeria has had uninterrupted 17 years of civil rule – 1999 to 2016 in this Fourth Republic. This is unprecedented! In this dispensation we have had five general elections held as at when due. This happened in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. The quality of our elections is also improving as votes have started to count and the wishes of the electorates respected. To an extent there is observance of rule of law (supremacy of the law, equality before the law and fundamental human rights). Though the percentage score here is still low but compared to what obtains under military rule the country now fare better. Under military the country is ruled by decrees and edicts as the constitution is suspended. But in this civilian administration, 1999 Constitution as amended is the grundnorm. No matter the objections some section of Nigerians may have about the current constitution, it is a lot better than being governed by military decrees. Equality before the law is not absolute and doubtful in Nigeria. However, to the extent that every citizen has one vote each at elections and as we see members of military and political elites being arrested and charged to court for crimes against the state, equality before the law could be said to be in practice.

By far a source of joy for me at this year’s independence is the increased respect for fundamental rights of citizens of this country.  Imagine a situation where National Human Rights Commission is now vested with powers to summon and investigate anybody or institutions including the military for human right abuse allegations. Individuals and corporate organisations now have unfettered access to the courts to seek redress when their rights are trampled upon. The judicial arm has also been up and doing adjudicating on disputes and dispensing justice. Of course, there are still some perceived miscarriages of justice but this is not the norm. Just on Friday, September 30, 2016, the National Judicial Council wielded the big still by dismissing three high ranking judges including a Chief Judge and justice of Court of Appeal over corruption and abuse of office allegations. This shows that the system is self-correcting.

Nigeria media is perhaps the most vibrant in Africa with the private and public sectors competing robustly to inform, entertain and educate Nigerians and indeed the global audience. Compared to the military era when gagging of the press and media repression  held sway, the situation is remarkably different now as the media space has been widen and media practice is less endangered. With the new media coming into the mix citizen journalism has made information dissemination more spontaneous and real time. It must be stated however that publication of falsehood and fabricated stories largely by citizen journalists on social media has heightened concerns about media practice in Nigeria.

In spite of all the positives highlighted above, Nigeria remains a crippled giant. The country is still bogged down by malaise of corruption, insecurity, nepotism, impunity, poverty and unemployment to mention but a few. Executive recklessness, legislative rascality and judicial connivance are still prominent. It is no longer news that the country is witnessing one of her worst economic recession with the country’s currency, Naira, in a free fall against other world currencies like Dollar, Euro and Pound Sterling. Mismanagement and maladministration is still a big issue with square pegs being inserted in round holes at different levels of governance. There is a strident call for the restructuring of the country. I believe this should be done on a mutually agreed terms. Nigeria will yet fulfill her noble destiny. I refuse to give up on her. I choose to see the cup as being half full than being half empty. Best wishes to my native land at 56!

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.