By Theophilus Ilevbare
As Nigeria performs the ritual of celebrating the country as it marks 53-years as an independent nation and a member of the international community, without the usual pomp and fanfare that has been associated with such celebrations, this time would have added insult to our collective injury, the journey to democracy and nationhood has been tortuous. The country is in dire straits. At the time of departure of our colonial masters, Nigeria was considered to be one of the emerging great nations of the world, like the proverbial child of great promise.
After a civil war, military rule and now, democracy, with greedy and self-serving elite as leaders, the country has continued to slide deeper into underdevelopment despite the advantages which oil wealth conferred on us. Let’s not be deceived by the ruse of a sombre celebration, typical of our government, it is a decoy, meant to pave way for a more elaborate, yet misguided, multi-billion naira celebration in 2014 to mark the centennial anniversary.
The trouble with Nigeria, title of late Chinua Achebe’s book, gives a fitting and explicit description of the state of the nation. “Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is one of the most expensive countries and one of those that give least value for money. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on earth.”
Add to that, a country of “kleptomaniacs,” whose insatiable quest for power has put a country of great potential and promise on an almost irreversible track of imminent implosion. Those who had predicted 2015 as the tipping point may not be far off the mark considering the fraud being perpetrated in the name of governance and the fact that we’ve been on the wobbly part for too long. Something has to give. Nothing else captures the picture of the sorry state of our nation at a time like this.
We celebrate independence, at a time when insecurity in varied forms like terrorism, kidnapping and armed robbery are at an all time high. Government says the economy is growing when factories are either shutting down or functioning far below installed capacity; they are winning the war against corruption but indicted persons in monumental frauds like the fuel subsidy scam are cosseting with their co-travelers in corridors of power.
Misrule and its resultant poverty are traced to the rise in religious extremists in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram has crippled the economy of the north and sent thousands of innocent Nigerians to their early graves, the latest, been the massacre of about 50 students of College of Agriculture, Gujba, Yobe State, while they slept in their dormitory.
It is unfortunate, that a country that offered so much in hope and possibilities for its citizens at independence has today become a land of suffering, insecurity and near hopelessness, teeming youth unemployment, poor electricity supply, incessant ethno-religious crises, no thanks to rudderless and bumbling leaders who have failed to lead a well-endowed nation to harness the talents of its vibrant, energetic and resilient people. We can spend the next few hours cataloguing the problems of the country and we would still not scratch the surface.
Rather than fully maximise the country’s potentials for mutually assured prosperity, a ‘privileged’ few have hoodwinked the Nigerian people. The result is what we have today; a country exhibiting all the characteristics of a failed state. The problem of Nigeria is the ruling elite and the failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything therein but the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the challenge of nation building.
Unarguably, those who started the Nigerian project, the likes of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and others had good intentions before it was hijacked by rogues and rascals donning the garb of leaders.
The strong grip of rapacious, thieving and vacillating class of people masquerading as leaders have turned a promising country to the poster child of corruption and underdevelopment. While it will be unfair to blame the current leadership of the country for all the woes of the country, post-independence, truth is, the present administration has proved as incompetent and visionless as its predecessors in its fickle efforts to take Nigeria out of the doldrums.
The Goodluck Jonathan government has shown little or no seriousness in moving the country forward. Over three years since the mantle of leadership fell on him, first as acting president and in 2011, elected president, the country’s future have never been this bleak. Fourteen years after the People’s Democratic Party ushered in the present democratic dispensation, the people have been left to gnash their teeth and rue lost opportunities. The nation is forlorn.
Nigerians must turn deaf ears to the rhetoric that celebrate growth without visible development. Federal ministers at every opportunity, pontificate about job-creating-projects without jobs. Infrastructural deficit has become the opportunity cost of corruption, negatively impacting on our socio-economic development. The current cost of governance is the highest in the nation’s history.
Recurrent expenditure gulps about 76% of our yearly national budget, leaving very little for the execution of capital projects. We must reverse the high cost of running our federal system of government comprising over 40-members of cabinet and 469 members of our National Assembly, if we are to tell a better story of the next 47-years of our independence. Some have advocated a switch to the presidential system of government.
At the milestone of five decades and three years, we must do away with tyrannical tendencies that engender impunity, disregard for the rule of law and the fundamental rights of Nigerians. We are afforded another opportunity to define for ourselves, what the value of development means to us as a country and if we have developed at the pace of our peers – Singapore, Brazil, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia. Successive leaders have failed to build on the development framework of federalism with all its essential features as given to us by our heroes past who struggled for our independence.
There are many figures in the public domain about how much our leaders have siphoned from the country since independence. From Nuhu Ribadu, former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), we learnt that the amount is “more than six times the total sum that went into rebuilding Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War via the famous European Recovery Programme. The ERP programme was $13billion. The political class and the ruling elite must take the blame for the abyss the country finds itself. We must as a matter of urgency begin to build a nation of our dreams. We cannot continue to taxi but take off!
From this tipping point we dangerously totter, the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, that will allow Nigerians from all walks of life have a say on how they want to be governed and suggest solutions to the country’s myriad of problems, in my opinion, is the first step towards national recovery.
Theophilus Ilevbare is a public affairs commentator. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Engage him on twitter, @tilevbare. He blogs at http://ilevbare.com