By: Adémólá Òrúnbon
Nigerians mark the 61st independence anniversary of their beloved country this Friday, few will disagree that, amidst the myriad of unnerving socio-economic and security challenges facing the nation, Nigeria remains a great country still waiting to happen. October 1, therefore signals another opportunity to ponder on the state of the nation and the failure of leadership which has largely defined the country’s misfortune. To that extent, no patriotic Nigerian can pretend to be satisfied with the development and progress of this country 61 years after independence. Yet, it is not misguided optimism to argue that the nation’s best days are still ahead.
Nigeria remains a country of diverse nationalities, cultures, religions and values, and has defied all doomsday predictions to remain a united nation. This is enough reason for self-congratulation and hope of a better future. On balance, however, there is little to celebrate about Nigeria at 61. As the depressing indices show in areas such as security of life and property, food production, industrial output, quality of education and healthcare, economic diversification and productivity, there is indeed cause for worry. Not only do Nigerians eat the bread they do not produce, wear clothes they do not weave, and drink wine imported from other countries, they now import almost everything, including toothpicks.
Nigerians today read books, quote facts and figures about their country from foreign sources and parrot models of development designed by outsiders with vested interests. Sixty one years after independence, many are even wanting to blame the present parlous state of the country on British colonialists who left over five decades ago. At 61, Nigeria has much catch-up to do. And let no one be deluded that 61 years is a short time in the life of a country. The Nigerian economy is in dire straits with the potential to get worse if sound political and economic judgment is not brought to bear on the affairs of state.
It is indeed tragic that the Nigerian economy officially registered its first recession in more than two decades. The National Bureau of Statistics released a raft of official data on GDP, inflation, unemployment, and capital formation, which along with the CBN manufacturing performance index, show a terrible economic downturn. With foreign reserves depleted significantly, exchange rate rose up to unexpected, and oil prices unstable, the impact is only better imagined if all the fundamentals are not mustered to manage this situation. This is why Buhari must now articulate a grand vision for the nation, and re-direct Nigerians towards actualizing the vision. Given the terrible scenario playing out in the country, manifested in mass poverty, high corruption in government, gross official recklessness and near zero governance, it is no surprise that the Nigerian ship of state is rudderless and adrift. There is hardly any aspect of governance that cannot be faulted for corruption and incompetence.
As the nation marks 61 years of self-government, it is not too late for Nigerians leaders to change and make democracy work for the people. Too much pain has been inflicted on Nigerians and now is the time for Nigerian leaders to focus more on the Nigerian promise – notably what is standing in the way of realizing that promise. At independence in 1960, there was a groundswell of euphoria and hope in the Nigerian project. It is sobering that, 61 years later, the anticipated gains of nationhood envisaged by the founding fathers are still being awaited. Not a few have marveled at the exemplary character of Nigeria’s founding fathers: the simplicity of Tafawa Balewa, the selflessness of Ahmadu Bello, the nationalism of Nnamdi Azikiwe and the enduring vision of Obafemi Awolowo, all of which tower above their personal ambitions. Despite the sense of foreboding that the new multi-ethnic nation was unworkable, Nigerians envisioned a great and bountiful country.
Today, Nigeria is so greatly afflicted that some wonder at her prospects. The trouble with Nigeria, noted famed author and intellectual icon, Chinua Achebe, is a failure of leadership. This failure has resulted in shattered hopes, broken promises, missed opportunities, and unfulfilled aspirations. A nation, it has been said, rises or falls on the quality of its leadership. Nigeria is a terrible victim of the poverty of good leadership, but most destructively, political leadership. Good leaders must show strength of conviction and character. What poor leadership in Nigeria has done is to create 200 to 250 million passive citizens who have no voice.
Every citizen must therefore share the blame, one way or the other, for the Nigerian condition. There has never been a shortage of speeches by Nigerian leaders in favor of good intentions to govern in the best interest of the country and its people. Over the years, Nigerians have heard, to the point of being deafened, that the government is committed to promoting good governance. The inaugural addresses of elected leaders and military coup plotters reveal uncanny similarities in promises. Yet, as the quality of successive leadership deteriorated, Nigeria has regressed in terms of the truly important yardsticks for measuring the progress of nations. All these notwithstanding, it is pointless to look back with regret and anger at lost opportunities.
If Nigeria gets its leadership right, gets its act together, this can be as great and live-able a country as any on earth. There is, of course, a time and season for everything. So, a change was inevitable. The election of President Buhari, largely on the strength of his integrity, indicated a yearning by the people for a good leader they can trust to serve in the best interest of Nigeria. But over six years after taking oath of office twice, Nigerians are still waiting for the change promised by the APC. From his appointments into high public office, Buhari has demonstrated an uncanny addiction to primordial sentiments. This indeed, is unfortunate, for a man who pledged in his inaugural, that he belonged to nobody and he belonged to everybody. Buhari needs to understand that leadership is not about ethnic domination or a selfish power equation; it is rather a disposition of moral strength and sacrifice to genuinely carry out a mission for the common good.
Since the return to democracy in 1999 the political class has shown impetuous and irresponsible behavior at the expense of the people. The looting and the waste going on in Nigeria in the name of governance has no parallel anywhere else and is responsible for breeding an angry and alienated citizenry who see no dividend in this democracy. On all accounts, Nigeria at 61 is yet to fulfill her destiny. The current structure of Nigeria today, which is anything but federal, holds down the country, stunts its growth, truncates its progress and actually threatens its unity.
This falsehood must be corrected as soon as possible to liberate the nation’s full potential. The starting point towards the actualization of a Nigeria of our dreams is the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report, not in any way a perfect document, but certainly one good enough to take off from. These proposals for a new Nigeria are daunting. To chart a course of progress, Nigeria needs big dreamers and even bigger dreams, leaders who would do things the unusual way. It is not too late to rescue Nigeria from the brink. Exemplary leadership is imperative at all levels to realize the dreams of the founding fathers who toiled for Nigeria’s statehood. Nigeria must demonstrate its coveted state of independence by beginning a new chapter, and the time to do so is now.
As the nation gets set for her 61st independence anniversary, questions and more questions have cropped up. Has the country come of age? Is there a need for celebration? Are there hopes of better tomorrow? So as the 61st anniversary begins, Nigerians look forward to the actualization of the dreams and visions packaged by the founding fathers of this country. They also look forward to seeing a realistic improvement on the inherent inadequacies that have stood in the way of attaining peace, harmony, tranquility, progress and unity, in the first instance, and the accomplishments of all the tasks that will make room for true attainment of a Nigerian nation.
Òrúnbon, an opinion writer, poet journalist and public affairs analyst, writes in from Federal Housing Estate, Olomore, Abeokuta, Ogun State
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