Nigeria at 62: The journey so far!

NIGERIA’S political independence from the British Empire was three scores and two on October 1. Nigeria attained that status amidst pomp, pageantry and high expectations. This independent state status was first as a constitutional monarchy for the first three years (1960 – 1963) during which time the British monarch was Head of State on whose behalf the Governor-General held ceremonial power while the Prime Minister exercised authority. 

The first republican constitution, subsequently, came into being in 1963 and lasted till 1966. The sequence of the country’s political development that led up to our independence includes becoming a British protectorate in 1901 and amalgamation of the colony of Lagos and northern and southern protectorates 13 years later in 1914.

The republican constitution of 1963 had an administrative structure of four federating regions: East, Midwestern, North and West. It was, unfortunately, terminated in the country’s first military putsch on January 15, 1966 – heralding the incursion of the jackboots into Nigeria’s political process and history.

From 1960 till date, Nigeria has had a cumulative 33 years of civil democratic rule. A cursory look at it will reveal that the country has had a total of four republics: the first republic, 1963 – 1966; the second republic, 1979 – 1983; the third republic, 1992 – 1993 and the fourth republic, 1999 till date. 

Of these four republics, it was only the first that was modelled after the Westminster parliamentary system. The others, beginning with the second republic, were modelled after the United States executive presidential system. 

On the other hand, military incursion into the country’s political process lasted for 28 years: 1966 – 1979 and 1984 – 1999. And it is to this genre of our political administration that is attributed, in sequences, the creation of a thirty-six state structure and a Federal Capital Territory FCT) in Abuja, the seat of the federal government since 1990.

In its journey since after Independence, Nigeria has witnessed a number of internal upheavals, military coups and a civil war that lasted for about three years; and it is to the credit of the people’s tenacity that the country survived these disruptions and is still standing as one united entity.

However, in all of its political history and especially in the last 23 years, Nigeria and Nigerians have witnessed an inexorable decline in almost all aspects of their national life. One way of assessing the country’s post-independence trajectory is to take a closer look at the national economy and also developments in the political arena.   

In 2011, the World Bank classified Nigeria as an emerging market, reaching lower-middle-income status. In 2013, the bank still considered Nigeria to be an emerging market. And in 2014, with over $500bn in terms of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and $1tn in purchasing power parity (PPP), Nigeria rebased its economy to become the world’s 20th largest economy and overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest.

Consequently and despite these plaudits, a new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report of September, 2022 indicates that Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is ranked a dismal “163rd in the United Nations (UN) Human Development Index (HDI) for the second consecutive year”.  This ranking has seen Nigeria dubbed the poverty capital of the world, with decayed infrastructure and spiking insecurity of lives and property.

The political process and the attitude that drives it has failed in the last two decades, especially in delivering a greater good to a greater number of the citizenry which, in a popular cliché, is known as the “dividends of democracy.” It has become glaring to all discerning minds that the executive presidential system and its financial implications for the national economy are too humongous and therefore an albatross to Nigeria’s tax payers.

The debate is, therefore, raging as to what is responsible for the country’s failure to transform its huge human and material endowments into meaningful wealth for its citizens. While a school of thought holds perennial leadership failure responsible, the other points to weak governance structures. 

The answer lies, perhaps, in a relationship between the leadership failure and the existence and functioning of weak governance structures plus a citizenry not fully committed to demanding good governance.

Nigeria, at independence, inherited the public service structures of the colonial era and appeared to be doing well until the military incursions. Even at that, the Gowon administration thrived on and succeeded in running the Nigerian state for nine years – including a successful prosecution of a civil war – with the support of the structures inherited from the colonial era, especially the civil service.

It was the Murtala/Obasanjo administration (1975 – 1979) that sounded the death knell for the public service structure.

The solutions to the myriad of the nation’s challenges lie in the adoption of immediate, medium and long term strategies – the scope of which is too wide for this Editorial to cover. Suffice to draw attention to and recommend a paradigm shift in just one area: development plans and planning. Beginning from independence in 1960 and up until after the Gowon era, five-year National Development Plan models were the in-thing. It provided ample time to re-set buttons in plan implementation – where need be.

In subsequent years, however, Nigeria’s development planning became a two-year Medium Term Sector Strategy (MTSS) – a model that is widely believed to have been fed to Nigeria by the Bretton Woods institutions: the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund(IMF). A two-year window in a Development Plan is too short for any meaningful appraisal to be undertaken.

It is gratifying to note that the Buhari administration re-introduced the more robust five-year National Development Plan (NDP) policy in December 2021. It will run till 2025. It is hoped that the succeeding administration in 2023 will not indulge in any form of policy somersault but integrate it by way of making it a national planning imperative.

In the short term, therefore, the succeeding administration in 2023 must retain the recently re-introduced five-year Development Plan process. Within the short term, the NDP must be a focused, tenacious and deliberate strategy to resuscitate the nation’s agriculture as an immediate deliverable to attain some food security against the backdrop of the activities of bandits and terrorists that have rendered farming in the rural areas dangerous.

In the medium and long term, the plan should aim at re-engineering the mindset of the average Nigerian away from an oil-wealth induced sense of entitlement. This is because most Nigerians see all forms of economic and political engagements from the prism of immediate gratification.

Overall, as 2023 beckons, we recommend a fresh start in our political consciousness. We need to reconstruct our future while not necessarily discounting the past. What kind of leadership should we have going-forward? While considering new designs for our political structure, we should consider the implications and not desire change just for the sake of it, bearing in mind that the structure does not corrupt Nigerians. From our experience, it is Nigerians that corrupt the system. Restructuring that does not take care of our peculiar tendencies will only result in the transfer of incompetence. 

In whatever we do, we must note that fairness, equity and justice form the bedrock of good governance, growth and development. We must therefore endeavour to build strong institutions and not strong personalities. We must also adopt the “Yes, we can” mentality to drive a new Nigeria where unity, peace and progress will be the hallmarks. 

Enlightenment agencies like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) must wake up and drive the consciousness for the rebirth of a new Nigeria that will work for everyone and remove the spectre of agitations and sectional upheavals from our national life.

Only by these and other policy prescriptions can we look to the future with hope and inspiration for a better Nigeria.

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