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Since my childhood, I have been having great expectations about Nigeria. With the coming of every new head of state, that expectation would rise but would nosedive soon after. In the early 1990s, I hinged my hope of a transformed Nigeria on the exit of the military. I looked forward to graduating from the university into the civilian regime. Sadly, that dream was truncated by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by Chief MKO Abiola and the crisis that enveloped the country afterwards. It was only in 1999 that civilian rule returned. With the return of civilian rule, my excitement lasted for some months and waned.
I used to believe that Nigeria was merely battling with teething troubles that would give way. I consoled myself that Rome was not built in a day. But what I see is not an attempt to progress. What I see is retrogression.
Consequently, I have begun to look at Nigeria critically, replacing my optimism with realism. I am beginning to ask if Nigeria would ever rise to its feet. There are some yardsticks to use in measuring progress or attempts at progress. The first is to ask ourselves one area of life that has experienced progress in Nigeria since 1960 when Nigeria had her independence. Progress should be differentiated from technological advancement. For example, we cannot refer to the change from typewriters to computers as national progress. That is a global phenomenon. We cannot also refer to the rise in the number of graduates from 1960 to 2017 as progress. That is a natural occurrence in demographics. What we are looking at is the change in the quality of education, health care, food security, transport, security, leadership, electricity, water supply, maintenance of infrastructure, national cohesion, respect for human lives, etc.
For example, those who had secondary school certificates could easily be employed in many organisations in 1960. Is that obtainable now? No. Even many university graduates are not employable today because of the low quality of university education in Nigeria. That is why parents are eager to send their children abroad for studies, including sending them to West African countries like Ghana and Benin Republic. In the same vein, one can ask what happened to Nigerian Airways, Nigerian Railway Corporation, Daily Times newspaper, Nigerian Telecommunications, Nigerian Postal Service, and other government agencies. These were big government corporations that employed thousands or millions of Nigerians. Why is the National Art Theatre dilapidated? Why are our national stadiums in ruins? Why are our national roads death traps? Why has there been a steady decline in the quality of anything handled by the federal government since 1960?
Some 60 years ago, it was not difficult for Mallam Umar Altine to beat an Igbo man to become the first Mayor of Enugu. And it was not because he had his Northern kinsmen as the majority among the electorate. It was also not difficult for Chief Felix Okonkwo to become a member of the Northern Nigeria House of Chiefs. It was not difficult for Prof Kenneth Onwuka Dike to be made the first Nigerian vice chancellor of University College, Ibadan, which is University of Ibadan now. Surprisingly, today, when it should have been the norm for a non-indigene to be elected in any part of the country, it has become almost an impossibility. It only happens in few areas where non-indigenes are the majority among the electorate, and the wishes of the people are allowed to prevail as occurred in the 2015 election. Nigerians are daily digging into their ethnic enclaves.
By 1966 when the first coup took place in Nigeria, one of the complaints of the coup plotters was that public office holders took a 10 per cent cut on contracts as bribe. From the 1980s to the present, it is no longer 10 per cent bribe but treasury looting. Money budgeted for projects are looted wholesale with no job executed. Millions of dollars are stolen from the system and paid into foreign accounts, thereby further impoverishing the nation. The callousness is so much that even money meant for people internally displaced by the Boko Haram terrorists is stolen, while the children in the IDP camps emaciate and die from hunger and diseases.
I know that men like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Tafawa Balewa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, and Chief Dennis Osadebay, who led the nation at independence, would have hoped that they would see a great Nigeria in their own time. However, they all died without seeing such a nation. Within them, they would have thought so highly about themselves and believed that they did wonderfully well. However, the state of the nation shows that their best was not good enough, and that they even contributed to the present problems of Nigeria.
I watched men and women like Chief Margaret Ekpo, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Dr Tai Solarin, Mr Chima Ubani, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, Prof. Chinua Achebe, Dr Eskor Toyo, Dr Bala Usman and Prof Dora Akunyili battle to see this nation transformed. They showed how things could be done better; they even participated to make things better. They were filled with high hopes that Nigeria would be great. But one by one they died, sad and disappointed that rather than rising to greatness Nigeria was deteriorating.
It is not that Nigeria is not making flashes here and there occasionally. It is not that Nigerians are impatient. The problem is that the little progress usually recorded in certain areas now and then is never enough to make the nation move from its unenviable position to a place of reckoning or hope. If a pedestrian walks while others are running, there is some hope that the person will reach the destination, albeit later than others. But if that person takes a step forward and two steps backwards, there is no guarantee that the person will ever reach the destination, because the person is actually moving backwards while pretending to be going forward.
After four decades of watching Nigeria and hoping that it would rise from its prostrate position, my fear is that in my old age, I may still behold Nigeria lying prostrate or even in a worse condition than it is now if nothing is done differently. We have placed our hopes on different leaders – both civilian and military – yet, there has not been any transformation in the fate of Nigeria. And a majority of Nigerians. Sadly, we continue to believe that our problem is lack of “honest and selfless leaders.” The question is why do these so-called bad leaders perform excellently in private organisations but the moment they are appointed or elected to work for Nigeria, they become “bad”? What makes them bad? Can’t we change that thing that makes them bad rather than hope that God will send some good leaders to us someday?
There are many people who are working against the interest and progress of Nigeria, thinking they are working in the interest of Nigeria. There are agitations in the land asking for restructuring of the country or secession. Those who see tomorrow would know that these agitations portend no good for the nation. No government waits until an issue becomes a crisis before acting.
It is not debatable that Nigeria has not progressed; Nigeria is not progressing; Nigeria is not showing signs that it will progress. It is obvious that its pseudo-unitary system is the cause of its sorry state, not “bad leaders”. The 2014 National Conference is a document to start with if there is a genuine desire to salvage Nigeria. Let it be brought out and deliberated upon for implementation. If that is not acceptable to the government, let a new national conference be constituted to find a solution to Nigeria’s structural problem.
– Twitter @BrandAzuka