Wednesday Column By USSIJU MEDANER
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At independence, the founding fathers and millions of Nigerians joyously looked out for the moment of freedom and emancipation from the colonial hold and a birth of a country they would soon call their own. They had hopes of building and living in a country; an ideal of a society, in which the citizens, all alike and without discrmination will coexist, contribute, and benefit from their God’s given nation and its resources. The optimism was high.
Unfortunately, a contrast emerged in Nigeria after the glorious independence celebration in 1960, the vicious events, the cage fight that best describes what the nation grew to become – speak of a counter expectation of the founding father. We now have a split screen Nigeria, a country of near unbridgeable divides, beset by aged military usurp and democratic decay, evaporation of unity, acute corruption, endemic-level insecurity and a whole lot of unpatriotic citizens.
In my characteristic manner, I have written along this line every other year as the nation celebrates its independence. I have always at this same period of every year wished I could, in a different way, celebrate the great day of my country. As much as I wished in the past, my write up has always tilted toward more of complaint and wishful narrations of what we are capable of as a nation which we have not been able to realise. As odd as it always seems, considering the enormous potential of Nigeria to develop at a momentous pace and stand taller in the committee of nations, it had been really impossible to truthfully rejoice and present evidence of a nation with marked developmental stride worthy of the long year of independence and the abundant resources at its disposal. This is because in a marked contrast with ideal expectations, the reality of the state of Nigeria, has been over the years, that of a battered nation; of a decimated people and an aimlessly roaming system.
This year, though not much of a departure from my annual style, I want to do yet another analysis of the provable factors that disposes Nigeria to the current state. The questions, how did we begin the journey? At what time does the nation lose out its pipe dream of a great nation capable of unspoken growth and development as envisaged by its founding fathers? Where are we exactly right now? And by any means, how can we retrace our steps to the path of greatness for the nation and its teeming population?
I don’t know how many Nigerians will accept and agree with my submission that from the beginning and till now, Nigeria does not have a resource problem; a nation so blessed above its contemporaries. Rather than the rhetoric of a damaged and problematic nation, I indulge us to rather focus our attention on the story of a damaged, problematic people. It is Nigerians that have problems; it is the functional impairments of the citizens that is the problem of the nation; the inability of Nigerians, mostly by choice and rarely by chance, to do what it is expected of them as citizens; to showcase the greatness of their country that reflects as a problem for the country. When we see it rightly as it is, rather than attempting to work on the nation, we would be working on ourselves.
So, how have Nigerians been responsible for the underdevelopment of Nigeria? To start with, Nigeria is populated by people who willingly chose to be separated along all possible divides and celebrate their differences far more than they ever celebrate their nation. The concept of disunity in Nigeria is a multifaceted-edged sword ripping through the fabric of the nation unabatedly. Disunity, rather than unity becomes more or less what we celebrate, discuss and promote with vigour and excitement instead of making conscious attempts to rid it out of our nation and systems. Summarily, our dispositions over the years have led us individually and as competing ingroups to benefit disproportionately from disunity. Nigerian politicians by and large thrive on the broken relationship to perpetrate corruption unabatedly against the commonwealth of the nation; maintaining hold on to power on the back of divisiveness. The Nigerian media also flourishes on the propagation of news that feeds on and magnifies divisiveness and hardly prescribes antidotes to both the national and sub-national destructive anomalies. As hard as it is to swallow, the Nigerian citizens, apparently at the receiving end of the consequences, have been robotised as they now derive joy in turning divisiveness in both its insidious and ostensible manifestations into verbal weapon of attack against each other on all fronts, leading to a regular circle of inter-tribal and inter-religious rivalries, conflicts, and hostility. The lastest is the thriving social media bashing which some have taken to habituality.
Our refusal to address the problem of disunity among us, when we should have, becomes the foundation of the current hydra-headed monster rocking the foundation of our nation’s existence.
Take insecurity, for instance, where does it begin from? Our failure to agree as we perpetrated the 1965 coup; our failure to forgive each other as we revenge with the 1966 counter-coup; our failure to resolve our differences as we spent three years in a costly civil war inscribing hatred deep down in the hearts of citizens; our failure to recognise our commonality and oneness, when we blow the amber of religious violence across the nation, killing ourselves in droves. Crises beget crises. Today, every region with its ethnic dimensionalities now boast of arm-bearing groups under various nationalist appellations. Groups have emerged and more are likely to emerge on the shoulder of the hatred we created. Another hard pill to swallow is that the same, though insidious vehemence we have been showing ourselves for a long time, is what the Boko Haram sect and other armed ethnic groups have to extremism. We cannot pretend that if any armed group in Nigeria presently has in its captivity those it perceived as enemies, that the captive would be treated to merriment.
How about corruption? Gradually, after 1960, there was rapid development occasioned by the discovery of crude oil and its prospects. The time for the nation to fully commence its journey to massive infrastructural leap and socio-economic development in the order of what happened in the United Arab Emirate (UAE) was on us, but what did we do with it? Suddenly, individuals entrusted with public trust started becoming rich and richer than the nation. And then, a grand scheme of conspiracy, with an unwritten confraternal agreement to siphon and distribute Nigeria’s resources among themselves at a scale and manner that is obvious to the citizens who, till date remain helpless. Today, we now have an entrenched anomaly, whereby a relatively small population of few politicians and their cronies, both without commensurable and justifiable income sources, are multi-millionaires and billionaires in a nation characterised by record-breaking poverty. By some oligarchic calculations and against the interest of the masses, Nigeria’s resources are shared among the few and some are even the owners of the nation’s oil wells – all getting fatter at the expense of the poor population.
It has become commonplace to be fed with news of individuals defrauding the nation of billions and getting away from it, with such an impunity that defines the almost irredeemable level of corruption in the country. This is the country of Umaru Dikko, Sambo Dasuki, Diezani Alison-Madueke; the country of Abacha; the country of PDP and others in the league of graft. Paradoxically Nigeria is a rich but poor nation; rich in resources but poor in development; rich in revenue generation and yet rich in poor population. The nation where ‘stealing is not corruption’ and one man can declare that he has forgiven another who stole the nation dry on behalf of the country. The nation where $16 billion was spent to produce darkness for the citizens’ $8 billion DISCO fraud; $1.3 MALABU fraud; and $440 million CCTV fraud. Nigeria is the country of individuals who found it easy and acceptable to conspire with foreigners to rob their own nation as is the recent P&ID fraud against the country.
What correlation does corruption have with disunity in Nigeria? I have said it all, our problems revolve around disunity. Till now, the reason why stealing of national wealth and massive corruption thrive in our system is because it is protected by disunity. It is very difficult to accuse and prosecute corrupt elements in the country without inviting ethnic and religious sentiments to the matter. An attempt to try either Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan, Ibrahim Babangida or any other Nigerian that may have been suspected to have defrauded the country, would naturally hit the rock, not for lack of evidence, but for the divisiveness, potential conflict that may arise along ethnic and religious lines the mere attempt would generate. That will trigger response such as “Is he the only one that is corrupt,” and “why selective Justice;” and the youth from the ingroup in question will troop out with placards to call for the freedom of a man who pocketed resources that could have giving them access to employment opportunities, good roads, portable drinking water, quality healthcare services, regular power supply, and the benefit of ownership of their nation’s various natural resources. Afenifere’s leaders, for instance, will be on air; Arewa Consultative Forum will begin fomenting trouble; the Niger Delta militants will return to the Creeks; the government will be held hostage until the enemies of the commonwealth walk freely. And then, the same youth, the same people will return to the street demanding for the dividends of good governance from the same government and administration they have incapacitated from doing its job. A phrase from the PDP campaign in the build up to the 2019 presidential election says it all, a unanimous agreement among the teeming supporters of the PDP presidential candidate, inclusive of the entire leadership of the party that “they don’t care what he had stolen in the past, he is the best man for the job.” Truly, the bulk of his supporters knew quite well that all the allegations against him were true, yet they don’t care.
As part of our divisive rhetoric, we have coined the concept of superior versus inferior tribes and regions. This much I know, the idea of superiority of a people, tribe or religion over another that we have over exaggerated in the Nigeria context is a tool, forged to create and deepen the non-existing idea in the minds of Nigerians; which further deepens the wound of disunity in the country. No two tribes, or region, or religion are exactly the same as much as one is in reality superior to the other. We are not the same because of our individual and cultural uniqueness, endowment and pace. Nigeria is blessed with a people of different tribes, regions and religions, doing exploits across fields and in all locations. Broken into states and local government areas, national income is appropriately shared; federal presence are drafted across regions, so when we hit the street and over the media with the rhetoric of superiority of one tribe or religion over another, we achieve two mal-objectivesa; firstly, we expose our nation’s disunity and stagnation despite all the endowment; secondly, we create unnecessary tension that causes more stagnation, and whichever way, we all remain the losers.
We are busy clamoring for break-up and separation, without consideration for what the consequences would be. I have asked the question repeatedly; in the case of a hypothetically balkanised Nigeria, what will happen next? Will it be uhuru? Or will it be business as usual or maybe worse? There are three basic elements of nation building; the populace, the resources and the leadership. If Nigeria split today, absolutely, there would be more problems with the new nations than we have now in Nigeria. This is because our current predicaments are not natural but the result of the combination of leadership and followership failures across the country. For as long as we present the same crops of people as leaders in the corridors of power, whether in the east, west, south or north, that have led us to the point we are now as a nation, and with a growing population of gullible and non-objective followers cum citizens, it would be a herculean task for any region to successfully build and manage a virile nation. Rather than continue with the rhetoric of divisiveness, we must all recognise that it is not an option now and will never be an option for us and we should, instead come together to make Nigeria work and become the nation we all dreamt of.
Rather than waking up and speak of the rots that our leaders over the decades have done to the nation and collaborate with efforts to bring them to justice as a deterrent to others, we on one hand, defend our oppressors, on one hand, descend on an administration attempting to act and do the right thing for the nation and regularly muse on why our country cannot be like other prospering nations.
We want Nigeria to be like the UAE; we want it to grow at the pace of the US; we cannot understand why it cannot be like Saudi Arabia, after all, we are an oil producing nation. We ignore realities while we bash our nation in comparison to others; not ignorantly, but intentionally to spite our government.
Where are the basis for the comparison between Saudi Arabia and Nigeria? Nigeria is a nation of over 208 million people while Saudi Arabia has just 35 million people. Nigeria has for decades been an oil dependent nation with an average daily crude oil production of 2 million barrels as against Saudi Arabia’s 12 million barrel daily production. It is obvious that Saudi Arabia produces six times as much daily crude oil to cater for a population six times lesser than the Nigeria population, so where is the comparison between the two nations? Over the last four decades, the corruption perception index of Saudi Arabia has been twice as much as that of Nigeria with an average of 53 to 27. Where is the comparison? While we condone financial abuse of our commonwealth and celebrate perpetrators of corruption, we want to develop at the pace of a much disciplined society.
Yet, despite the greatness of nations like the Saudi Arabia, as compared to Nigeria, there has been a critical turnaround for many nations since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. While we would rather choose not to be bothered with the current economic realities of those nations as compared to ours, even as we ridicule our own government for the necessary actions they take, we appreciate those other nations’ far more stringent pandemic measures. For instance, having been hit hard by the sharp decline in oil revenue as the coronavirus pandemic saps crude demand, Saudi Arabia inputs measures necessary to save its economy. To do that, in the last four months, the country has tripled its domestic Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5% to 15% and simultaneously halted the nation’s popular monthly stipend of around £250 to most of her citizens and £1100 for pensioners and those serving in the armed forces as well cancelling, extending or postponing expenditure for some government agencies and including cutting spending on projects introduced as part of the nation’s ambitious “vision 2030.” By these measures, the Saudi Arabian government has boosted the nation’s coffer by 100 million riyals (£21.5 billion).
When our country, with far less income sources, far more population and sophisticated, indigenous corruption, but with a lower pump price of PMS and lower electricity tariff, was forced by economic realities to take similar measures to save the economy, we ran amok. We are okay with China, USA, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others taking austerity prescriptions to protect their national economy but not with our own nation doing the same.
There was a time when Nigeria had a pool of credible and committed populations of youth who were consumed wholly with the desire to contribute to the emergence of a greater Nigeria at the expense of their comforts. The link between early development of the Nigeria nation and youth involvement was quite obvious; the interaction of the youth then with national issues, clearly depicts the fact that national development and the youth are symbiotically connected for mutual sustenance. The wheel of development of the country is supposed to be carried on the shoulders of the creativity, productivity, ingenuity, patriotism and freedom of the nation’s youth. The youth constitute the critical population whose actions and inactions make or mar the fabrics of their society. Beginning from their early 20s, the likes of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Mallam Aminu Kano, Chief Joseph, Ladipo Shodunke and several others took up the challenge of liberation and nation building.
What are the current Nigeria youth contributing? What are the approximate 120 million Nigeria youth adding to the revival and revitalisation drives of the current Nigeria state? Unfortunately, the current population of Nigeria youth are practically either unused or misused. The bulk of the youth are now political praise singers, who have turned the entire media space to platforms for singing praises of the very politicians, who ordinary deserved to be stoned, and abusing those who deserved to be praised. They are the political jobber men doing the biddings of the very people who are mortgaging both their present and future.
Now, the time has come for a revival and renewal of the potentials of Nigeria to grow and develop at a commensurate rate with its available natural and human resources. There is but just one path to rejig Nigeria for refresh development; to become the nation it is capable of becoming: the path of unity. Winning the war against insecurity, corruption and all other vices will be as easy as they come in a united Nigeria. The greatness of Nigeria and Nigerians in years to come depends on our collective strength of togetherness and willingness to go against tribalism, religious separatism, ethnic jingoism, pervasive discrimination, regional bellicosity and political parochialism.
Until we are ready to go this way, we will continue to enjoy humiliating the same nation we call our own and make caricatures of our leaders and elders like children without home training, while the political robbers continue to destroy whatever remains of the country as insecurity deepens.
Unlike every other year, I am going to sign off with this. I do have reasons to celebrate Nigeria at 60. Though we have not arrived, I can see a ray of hope.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!