Journalism in the service of society

Nigeria at 61: Prospects and challenges of nationhood

NIGERIA celebrated its 61 years of nationhood last Friday with cheers and jeers from different quarters. While some admitted that some progress has been made over the years in spite of the various challenges, others claim the country is worse now than ever before. It’s been a mixed bag of emotions and sentiments, but there is no doubting its resilience and the people’s strength and industry cannot be taken away. Nonetheless, it still remains a land of huge potential even if progress is stunted.

After several years of remarkable progress, Nigeria’s nationhood at 61 has become as fragile as it was in the 1960s.  Although breaking up appears unlikely, the nation’s slow unraveling continues apace, as leaders at various levels try to half-heartedly cobble the fragments together. The fragments are quite visible in a host of issues facing the nation, one of the most serious being insecurity as the country is being buffeted from all sides by criminal, separatist and insurgent upheavals. The most fundamental responsibility of a state is the control of the instruments of violence within its borders. 

Nigeria has been struggling in this regard with the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast well into its second decade. Insurgency has acquired a more international dimension as franchises of international terror organisations have pitched tents in the country and worsening the security situation.  There are also banditry gangs with close ties to local political and vested interests raging across the northwest, farmer-herder clashes across the Middle Belt and into the south, a largely contained but tendentious militancy in the Niger Delta and a growing kidnapping industry nationwide. 

The federal government has undertaken recent military offensives in both the northeast and northwest which will help neutralise the potency of insurgency, but not necessarily address the underlying governance failures that created the problems in the first place. The fallout of the security challenges is the unenviable record of the country hosting the highest number of internally displaced persons in the world at the moment.

It has also remained debatable whether the country’s electoral process has improved even though it can be said that there have been some gains in the conduct of elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in recent times. The National Assembly shirked its responsibility to further improve on the quality of the electoral process when it failed to endorse direct electronic transmission of vote tallies from polling units as was proposed in the electoral bill.

Instead, legislators voted to keep the current corrupt system that put them in office, which allows multiple opportunities to tamper with results as they move up the collation chain.  INEC has however indicated its willingness to go ahead with the electronic transmission option in spite of the stance taken by the National Assembly. President Muhammadu Buhari should return the bill to the Assembly and request the reinsertion of the electronic transmission provision and other measures capable of strengthening the electoral process and improving election quality. This should include the reform of party primaries.

One of the most contentiousissues that has plagued the country since after the military intervention of 1966 has been fiscal federalism. It has been one of the planks on which regional apprehensions and separatists’ agitations have been laid. But even more so, Nigeria’s sub-national leaders seem hell bent on not allowing fiscal independence within their folds. State governors rule their states like emperors because of the stranglehold they maintain over state and local finances. 

The Buhari administration has made some efforts to ensure that state assemblies and local government councils gain control of their funds as the Constitution requires, but the governors continue to circumvent or ignore these initiatives and retain their grip on the public purse.  A more aggressive effort to ensure that state assemblies and local governments gain control of finances is the first step toward opening public funds to more scrutiny and bringing it closer to local concerns.

Alarm bells have been sounding over the country’s ballooning population but there seem to be no concrete move towards addressing the situation. Already, Nigeria’s population growth far outpaces the economy’s ability to provide jobs for the massive youth population in the country’s demographic profile. This has thrown up a number of unpleasant situations, turning Nigeria into a country with one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world.

Providing greater fundamental human rights protections, education and economic opportunities for women are central not only to women’s rights, but also to helping Nigeria live within its means.  Apart from the core demographic challenges, the population explosion is also fueling the farmer-herder, banditry, and kidnapping crises, as more people compete over less available land and jobs – all in the midst of a global climate change crisis which is moving the Sahara desert southward into Nigeria. These issues and more give the country the unenviable rank as one of the highest poverty capitals of the world.

In order to break out of poverty, Nigeria needs sustained economic expansion that features agriculture and non-oil industry development to produce widespread jobs and broad-based economic growth. Unfortunately, the agriculture and manufacturing sectors which had started showing signs of growth in 2018 have been seriously affected by the various security threats across the country. The issue of security is critical for the country’s exit from the cocoon of a mono-cultural economy.

The misfortune stretches further because the levers of the only commodity that provides the country’s bulk foreign exchange earnings are pulled from outside. A more strategic and focused diversification regime that will see all the sectors including agriculture, manufacturing, services etc., driving the economy must be pursued. Providing sufficient security and credible legal protections for foreign investment are also paramount for foreign direct investment.

A major cankerworm eating deep into the country’s growth process has been corruption. Though diagnosed as a major ailment, the treatment has been tepid. Nigeria is battling a highly sentimental society, a massively corrupt bureaucracy and a greatly compromised criminal justice system. The present administration came with a battle cry to stop corruption in its track, but it seems the battle is unexpectedly intense as corruption keeps fighting back ferociously.

The tempo of the battle has been further weakened by partisan outcries, ethnic blackmail and religious stigmatisation. The civil service is callously corrupt and any serious anti-corruption effort must begin with the civil service. An intensely deep reform is urgently required in the civil service, the police and the judiciary, from top to bottom, in a manner that restores their credibility.

The country is also saddled with a baggage called the National Assembly, which functions more to the detriment of growth and development of the country. The cost of running the red and green chambers is stifling and the outcomes have been variously adjudged unimpressive. It has been described as a waste pipe. Consequently, there have been calls for a restructuring that would produce a slimmer and more cost-effective lawmaking body that would serve the country better. Nigeria is reputed to be the only country in the world where federal legislators officially earn more than professionals. Their productivity does not match their wages. The Houses of Assembly in the 36 states are not different – they all serve at the pleasure of their respective governors.

Nigeria remains one of the most populous and diverse countries in the world; but the diversity which should have been a pillar of strength has continuously remained its Achilles’ heel. Political, ethnic and religious chieftains and other vested interests have consistently manipulated the diversity to their selfish advantage and to the detriment of growth and progress of the country. Both the leadership and the citizenry have refused to learn vital lessons thrown up by the manipulations of these tendencies to their own doom and gloom. 

In spite of all these, Nigeria still remains one of nature’s most endowed regions of the world. In the early days, it led the world in a number of cash crops and other commodities. Though still wobbling, the economy still remains the strongest in Africa with a huge market. It has a large expanse of fertile land and excellent climate. It still remains the world’s largest producer of crops like yam, cassava and Shea butter.

Apart from being one of the largest crude oil producers, Nigeria has the fastest growing LNG industry in the world. It is also fast becoming a domain for export-free industrial and commercial activities as well as hosting the largest beverage hub in Africa at 9th Mile’s Empower Free Trade Zone in Enugu State. It is producing a number of technology savvy innovators, making Nigeria Africa’s creative hub. Efforts are also being made in the direction of provision of basic infrastructure.

In the arts, Nigeria is the melting pot of entertainment and has the fastest growing creative/entertainment industry in the world, particularly in the area music, movies and dance. It also has the best academically performing Diaspora community in America and most of Europe. Nigerians are intelligent and industrious and the land is still fertile and green. The potentials are huge and almost limitless.

In spite of the huge potential, Nigeria is still Africa’s sleeping giant at 61 and it must wake up. What the country seems to lack is a focused direction. Its vision is blurred by dirty politics and clannish sentiments based on tribe and religion. It requires focused leadership and a responsible citizenry to drive the massive potentials for beneficial growth, development and prosperity.

Ethnic sentiments, religious bigotry and negative political partisanship, no matter the fragrance of perfume we spray on them and assumed justification, will never allow Nigeria to rise to its full potential. Nigerians must be ready and determined to change their orientation and match their rights with responsibility for the emergence of a country where peace and justice shall find concrete and unfettered expression.  

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