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Nigeria at 60: dashed hopes, failed promise

Nigeria at 60: dashed hopes, failed promise

By Tunji Adegboyega

Nigeria is a metaphor for the world that God created in a perfect condition. He gave us everything we need to be great: human and mineral resources, a good climate, name it. The only thing He did not give us was a good head: leadership. And that is what has recreated and condemned us to being a potentially great nation since Independence on October 1, 1960.

Indeed, the miasma of despair over Nigeria today, barely four days to its 60th Independence anniversary, is enough evidence of that missing link. More distressing is the fact that we do not see any hope of getting out of the mess, given the debt mode that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has activated as the way out, barely 15 years after the Olusegun Obasanjo administration took us out of debt peonage. The prognosis is indeed frightening.

That the country has been geometrically deteriorating despite successive governments’ promises is exemplified by the fact that the write-ups and editorial opinions written on Nigeria’s Independence anniversaries in 1990, 2000, 2010 only need little adjustments if we want to repeat them today. Very little has changed, compared to the resources that we have made from crude oil alone in the last 60 years.

My concern today, therefore, is the Buhari administration that history has made to be around at this point in time, not any stupid sectoral analysis. I am not going to be uncharitable by saying the government has done nothing in the last five years. Or that it created the mess. No. My worry is that the administration doesn’t seem to have a handle on the solutions. Worse still, five years down the line, it has begun to manifest the same signs that led to the inglorious exit of, particularly, its immediate predecessor.

The Asian Tigers that were our underdevelopment mates in the 1970s and ’80s have since abandoned us to our fate when they saw we were not serious. The only difference between us and them is leadership. And, we cannot be serious for as long as we are bogged down by the military mentality of unitary government. We would have been better off if each region had been left to develop at its immediate post-independence pace. Unitary system is why railways is centralised and its development stalled until President Buhari at the centre is convinced that the country should be linked by rail. It is this unitary government mentality that is propelling the so-called Water Resources Bill by the same central government that is incapable of coping with the basics of governance but is still hankering after water resources.

I don’t know any other country whose public officials make a mantra of moving their countries forward like Nigeria. Yet, Nigeria is not moving forward. It is only in Nigeria that citizens are perpetually and unabashedly told by successive governments to sacrifice to make the country great in return for a rosy tomorrow, which never comes. Nigeria is perhaps the only country where only hardship comes immediately to the people; goodies are in the realm of the future. It is one of the few countries that, instead of reining in its few elite subsidy thieves, would rather the voiceless millions are deprived the subsidy.

Nigerians hinged so much hope on the Buhari administration in 2015 because the Goodluck Jonathan administration had sufficiently defecated on the seat of power for the people not to notice. That we cannot expect much from the present government too is unfortunate. A government that detests criticisms cannot go far. The same way a government that delights in counting its chickens before they are hatched.

I will amplify.

A few months after the government came on board in 2015, there was slight improvement in power supply, the president was beating his chest that he had not even done anything but his body language was already bringing results; apparently alluding to his much-talked-about tough stance in government. Then, Boko Haram. We have not forgotten too that the government had been claiming it had decapitated the terrorist sect since about four years ago. We know better today.

One cannot deny that the anti-corruption war has achieved some result. At least for the first time in a long time, otherwise untouchable big men, including governors, have been sent to prison over corrupt practices. For me, this is sweet music despite criticisms in some quarters that the war is selective. Yes, the best anti-corruption war is one sans borders. But if we cannot get that, let us do with what we have. If the Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Jonathan governments had dealt with corrupt elites in the opposition, Nigeria would have been saved the agony of still having such a huge number of them tormenting our treasuries and truncating our destinies. I think what should bother us more is that those being accused are thieves and they should be diligently prosecuted and not persecuted because of their political or other leanings.

Now to criticism. That the Buhari government cannot brood criticisms was seen in its attack on former President Obasanjo when he and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka took on the government on the state of the nation. Obasanjo, whatever his motive, has merely expressed the view of many Nigerians about the Buhari administration. Perhaps what government officials conveniently forget is that people who stick out their necks the way the former president did for candidate Buhari in 2015, even tearing his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) membership card in the open, have every reason to be pained when the presidential hopeful they supported begins to derail.
Without being prophetic, I can see a lot more paranoia from the government as 2023 draws near. When you have a government that believes it is trying its best, which the people say is not enough, and glaringly so; and that government, rather than begin to review its activities, continues to fish for enemies or excuses, the chances of its ending well are very slim.

Part of the problem of the Buhari administration is its being over- distracted by irrelevances. All Nigerians know what this country’s immediate challenges are: the economy, corruption, terrorism, banditry, unemployment, power supply and dilapidated infrastructure. A serious government would face these issues squarely rather than keep spreading itself thin on all fronts, and in the end fail in its core mandate.

This government should not give the impression that it has reached its wits’ end on the very serious challenges facing the average Nigerian and is therefore looking for distractions in contentious, inconsequential issues. Soon, the government would have to contend with the consequences of the distraction that the Water Resources Bill 2020 represents, given the statement from its information minister that it is the elite who have access to the media that are opposed to the bill. What could be more fallacious? The point is; the rural people that the minister said are going to benefit from the bill can no longer be deceived because they have most of their graduate children roaming the streets of major towns in search of nonexistent jobs. They would rather vote for these children that they gladly embraced poverty to train to be gainfully employed; they want light, they want good roads to transport their farm produce to the cities, etc. Water Resources Bill is the least of their problem. However, we wait to see on whose side the National Assembly members will be on this matter that has been sufficiently poisoned by the distrust that Nigerians have for the government, especially as a result of its seeming accommodating attitude to issues affecting herdsmen.

But, no matter what the government is touting as advantages of the bill, the rural Nigerians know that it is not from water resources controlled by the Federal Government that they will get benefits they could not get from the petro-dollars that Nigeria has earned these past 60 years. Worse still, they are the ones directly at the receiving end of the killer herdsmen’s brutality.

I have good news for Nigerians who are worried that our governments are blind to other mineral resources apart from oil. They should see this as divine intervention that should be sustained until we have a government that would not throw the money away like they did our petro-dollars. I mean those who will actually run the country well as distinct from those who think they are running it well and are therefore not amenable to correction.

And, as if to further demonstrate that the country is really bogged down by distractions, President Buhari was only a few days ago making a case for Africa to be represented on the United Nations Security Council. For God’s sake, how is that the next thing for the continent that is world’s poverty headquarters; a continent which has not been able to solve the basic needs of human existence? Despite the criticism that Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of need lacks scientific basis, do we need anyone to tell us that Africa is still a long way from such dream? What will a continent harbouring governments whose policies reek of ethnic and parochial tendencies, leading almost inexorably to civil wars and ethnic cleansing be doing in the Security Council? A continent that cannot tame terrorists and bandits?

If by a stretch of imagination the continent is given the chance, it is the people that will continue to suffer as the continent’s power cartel will abandon them to join the rat race to produce the representative. They then begin to list that as part of their achievements. Meanwhile, their peoples are hungry. Thank God representation at the Security Council is not a chieftaincy title. If Africa needs it, let it work for it, and the place to begin is home, by giving good governance. It is by that time that its demand for Security Council seat can become effective, if not automatic.

All said, once again, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has another golden opportunity of introspection. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was availed the same pieces of advice which it dismissed like the APC is now doing, to the former ruling party’s chagrin. Nigerians rejected PDP mainly because of corruption. APC is going to be judged even by stricter measures when the time comes because of the huge investment of hope that Nigerians committed into its being. So, the party needs prayers and a change of direction in order not to end up like the Yoruba proverbial Omoye that had already got to the market naked ahead of the cloth sent to her. In Yoruba mythology, once a mad person enters a market naked, the madness is irreversible.

It had happened severally in the southwest, it happened in Edo State on September 19. It can only be averted in 2023 if the Buhari government changes its governance mode.

If we are still potentially great 60 years after Independence, when will we be great in the real sense of the word?

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