ure, I see good things about Nigeria. I have known a lot of good things about Nigeria. When I went to school as a young boy, our Nigeria, just over thirty years old at that time, was the great excitement that ran through all our school learning. Nigeria made us dizzyingly proud. Children tend to create childish myths, and we created many about our Nigeria. For instance, we “knew” that our Nigerian football team was the best in the world, and that some members of that team were so good shooters that they could rip goal-keepers apart with their shots. We even had stories of how, during a tour of England, our national team simply terrified English teams. There was a litany which we used to recite proudly: Nigeria is the largest producer of groundnuts in the world; Nigeria is the largest producer of palm oil in the world; Nigeria is the largest producer of cocoa in the world; Nigeria is the largest producer of tin in the world. We were sure that our Nigeria was going to become the greatest country in the world – and we were eager to get ready to serve her with all our might. Nigeria was an intoxicating possession.
For the most part, the dream and the pride grew as we rose higher and higher in the educational system. In my secondary school years, Chief Awolowo’s generation of leaders in the Western Region turned on an incredibly bright leadership light, and made our Region “first in Africa” in most areas of development and enterprise. We could only think that the rest of our Nigeria would catch up soon, and that that was the direction our country was destined to go.
Later, at the University College, Ibadan (UCI), the peak of the educational system, we students lived, learned, dreamed, and walked the earth like on-coming servants of one of the greatest countries of the immediate future of the world. If any among us did or said something shoddy or unbecoming, we politely chastised him with, “Arise, gentleman”. Shakespeare wrote in one of his sonnets that it is at “heaven’s gate” that the lark sings; we students of UCI lived in the confident hope that it was on top of the world’s highest mountains that Nigeria and Nigerians would soar.
In those wonderful years in the life of our country, I had the privilege of representing UCI and Nigerian students in a number of international conferences – in Africa and other parts of the world. Again and again, I had the awesome experience of standing face to face with important leaders of the world as they said, “Young Nigerian, we hope that you Nigerians are aware that your country holds the key to Africa’s future”.
In international student events, students of other countries treated us Nigerians with respect. So, we Nigerian student representatives made it the rule among us to be humble and cautious in our statements before the word. Once, however, one of our most senior student leaders allowed himself to brag in a conference in Switzerland, “Whithersoever my country Nigeria goes Africa will go”. Though we later rebuked him in private for his gaff, we nevertheless believed (nay, we knew) that he was right.
Unhappily, very unhappily, virtually none of the great dreams of Nigeria has had fulfilment. Since independence, our Nigeria has declined relentlessly. From the enormous wealth of our country’s resources, we have succeeded in producing very sordid poverty for our people. Even our Federal Government admits that about 70% of Nigerians live in the awful condition classified as “absolute poverty”, and that the percentage continues to increase. Some estimates have it that some 78% of Nigeria’s youths are unemployed, and that that percentage continues to increase. For decades, Nigeria has been classified, year after year, as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. As a result of violent crimes, Nigeria is classified as one of the most unsafe counties in peace time in the world. Year in, year out, countless thousands of Nigerians die as a result of inter-ethnic conflicts. Year in, year out also, countless thousands of Nigerians die from religious conflicts. Today, a most extreme Islamic fundamentalist sect holds a whole region of Nigeria in its grip, accounting in the past five years for some 12,000 violent deaths, according to official estimates. Nigeria has become the home of hopelessness, crookedness and unrelieved vileness in human and group relationships.
A recently held National Conference has presented its report before our President. Many of us are happy with some of its fairly reasonable decisions. However, some of its other decisions – like the decision to splinter our federation into 54 states – certainly will doom the more reasonable decisions to failure. And the heavy issues that the Conference did not touch represent a preservation of a devastating part of the status quo. The conference did not touch such issues as corruption, poverty, unemployment, crimes, spreading inter-ethnic hostility and conflicts, and religious terrorism. It tells a horrible story that this is the best we can produce from a National Conference. And that horrible story gives a hard new emphasis to the question, “Should we continue to insist on being one country, or should we consider other paths to our future?”
These are the reasons why it is hard for me to be otherwise than toughly realistic about Nigeria. It is not that I don’t see some good things about Nigeria. I have seen Nigeria flying to the gates of heaven, only to see her turn around and plunge down to the depths of hell.
Gbogun Gboro via linkedIn