As Nigeria marked its 55th Independence anniversary last week, my hope that things would one day get better was not dampened. But I have been asking myself for years: When will I see the Nigeria of my dream? Will I continue to hope that Nigeria will get better even in my old age? God forbid!
I followed Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Nigeria’s foremost human rights and good governance activist, until his death in 2009. He got to the peak of his career by receiving the title of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He was very successful as a lawyer and was financially rewarded exceedingly through his law practice. He had enough money to take care of his family as well as the hundreds of people he supported financially. Judged by human standards, Fawehinmi had every cause to die a happy man. But he died an unhappy man. Why? Until his last breath at the age of 71, he continued to lament Nigeria’s sad condition. To underscore his dissatisfaction with the state of Nigeria, in 2008, he rejected a national honour that was meant to be bestowed on him.
Similarly, I followed Chief Anthony Enahoro, a former leader of the National Democratic Coalition, who became a newspaper editor at the age of 21. In 1953, at the age of 30, he moved the motion for the Independence of Nigeria which was defeated at that time. In 1960, Nigeria eventually got her Independence. After Independence, Enahoro continued his quest for good governance and a better Nigeria until his old age. Even in his old age, he confronted the military between 1993 and 1998 during the fight for the resuscitation of the June 12, 1993 election result that was annulled. When he died in 2010, aged 87 years, there was nothing to prove that he died happy about Nigeria.
Before Enahoro, there was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, first President of Nigeria. He was the head of state between 1960 and 1966 in a parliamentary system of government, which made him not to be the head of government or the chief executive officer of the federation. Before Independence, he led the fight against colonialism. After Independence, he contested elections but never won the presidency. In 1996, he died at the age of 92 years. Zik, as he was popularly called, was a man that worked for the peace and unity of Nigeria and spoke of Nigeria’s greatness in the years to come. But there was no sign that Zik died happy about the position of Nigeria in world affairs.
Today, I see people like Prof Wole Soyinka, Col. Abubakar Umar (retd), Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), etc, shouting themselves hoarse on the need to have a nation Nigerians can be proud of. Soyinka, for example, has been crusading for good governance since his university days. I feel a sense of sadness seeing him at 81 years still crusading for Nigeria’s greatness, lamenting about the years of mediocrity and purposelessness. I wonder if he will see the Nigeria of his dream before his exit. It fills me with a sense of worry.
Since my childhood, I have had the dream that one day Nigeria would be like other developed countries. Each time there was a change of government, my hope rose. Each government would start with great promise but would soon become like its predecessor or even worse. Then, another administration would take over, hope would rise again and nothing significant would change. The cycle has continued like that ever since. Each government records some milestones but these milestones are usually not enough to transform the nation.
The amount of work that needs to be done to bring Nigeria to a level of rejuvenation and real growth is so much that one wonders if it is achievable. Global rankings of universities, hospitals, cities, airports, police, customs, civil service, etc, always place Nigeria among the worst. For example, one looks at Nigerian universities and wonders how Nigerians can be globally competitive with the graduates that come out of such institutions. How can a country have a police force that is poorly paid, poorly motivated, poorly trained, poorly equipped, and with meagre retirement benefit but expect that organisation to be happy and effective?
Until 1980, it was a sign of low intelligence for one to attend an American university instead of a Nigerian university. Only those who could not get admission into Nigerian universities sought admission in the US and many other foreign universities. Today, it is a thing of pride to even send one’s children to universities in Ghana. Those who can attend universities in the US or the UK are viewed as princes.
Until the mid-1980s, it was a sign of poverty to buy a fairly used car. Anybody who bought such a car that had been used by another person did not make any noise about it: no show-off, no celebration, no fanfare. Also, nobody bought a used refrigerator, TV, air conditioner, etc.
That same period too, it was unusual for a Nigerian to be flown abroad for medical treatment. Hospitals in Nigeria took care of illnesses effectively. Consequently, in the event of death, home-based Nigerians usually died within the shores of Nigeria. For example, Mallam Aminu Kano died in Nigeria; Chief Obafemi Awolowo died in Nigeria. If they had died at a time like this, they would have died in a hospital in the UK, the US, Germany, India etc.
This is not about political parties or personalities. It is about the Nigerian system. If you interviewed our living past heads of state (Generals Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Dr Goodluck Jonathan), you would hear the same thing: each of them did his best while in office. They would give you a long list of achievements they recorded while in office. If you spoke to those who worked under them in government, you would get the same message: Each of them did many things to make Nigeria great. If indeed all the past leaders did great things to turn Nigeria around, why is the country still in the woods? Why has Nigeria’s fortune as a nation been worsening? Why has our infrastructure been degenerating?
Many people are optimistic that President Buhari will work wonders and consequently transform Nigeria. Buhari seems sincere and determined to make a mark. I wish him well and pray for him regularly, for if he succeeds in transforming Nigeria, it will be my gain, our gain. But he has not shown any sign that he will take the necessary radical actions that will remove the mountain that is impeding Nigeria’s progress. With what I have seen, I am worried that by the end of Buhari’s tenure, he may have only succeeded in scratching the surface without making any transformational impact that will leapfrog Nigeria from its crawling state to a speeding state: a move from mediocrity to excellence. No doubt, he will fight corruption and record some important achievements in some sectors. But unfortunately, they may be too little to make the required impact in the transformation of Nigeria.
I strongly believe that this malady that has been pulling Nigeria down is not caused by our leaders, because all of them cannot be bad from era to era. If made the Nigerian president, an Abraham Lincoln or a Winston Churchill may be adjudged mediocre at the end of his tenure. We need to find out what has made it impossible for those who succeed in their careers fail to make appreciable and sustainable impact when they become Nigerian leaders.
If we don’t find out that virus and kill it, we will continue to get high hopes whenever a new leader gets into office but dashed hopes whenever the leader’s tenure is over. And the dream of seeing the Nigeria of our dream will continue to elude us.