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Nigeria At 55: Hope Despite The Gloom

In 55 years Nigeria has remained only a potential giant, often variously described as a giant with clay feet, a richly endowed but poorly governed country, a people with so much energy but little discipine and vision

Nations, as one philosopher wrote, are forged in the furnace of self-discipline and sacrifice. Every great nation, he contended, passed through that path. On both virtues, sadly, Nigeria scores poor marks. Neither its leaders nor its people are prepared to pay the price of nation building. Neither the leaders nor the led are disciplined enough or willing to make the sacrifice that nation building calls for. The result, we dare say, is the stunted giant that Nigeria is today at 55.

If today Nigerians are feeling gloomy about the state of their country it is understandable. If the feeling of gloom has lasted for too long, it is no one’s fault but Nigerians’ themselves, especially their political leaders. In 55 years Nigeria has remained only a potential giant, often variously described as a giant with clay feet, a richly endowed but poorly governed country, a people with so much energy but little discipine and vision, and so on and so forth.

Clearly the story of Nigeria is one that didn’t have to read the way it does – a nation so naturally endowed yet so blatantly abused by its own nationals. In 55 years, the country has fought a fratricidal war, gone through a cycle of economic booms and bursts and right now seems to be in limbo. The civil war ought to have brought its lessons on the need for a more just and equitable society but alas the ethnic and religious divisions appear to be more pronounced today than they were in the 1960s or prior to the civil war.

Ethnic separatism and religious insurgency are unarguably on the increase. In different parts of the country, separatist groups have sprung up, questioning the basis of our oneness as a nation. In 55 years, the country has produced a frighteningly large army of unemployed youths who are frustrated and angry with their nation.

Over the same period it has remained a net importer of virtually every major consumer product, its borders as porous as a cane basket. It has managed to produce only but few selfless leaders, unstained by nepotism, ineptitude and corruption. Yet nations are rarely transformed by corrupt and inept leaders. Lee Kuan Yew, a ready example of transformational leadership, treated all Singaporean with justice and equity, whether they were Chinese, Malay or Indian. That way he fostered a strong sense of patriotism in all Singaporeans which helped to bring about a rapid modernisaton of the country in just 35 years.

Unfortunately Nigeria can hardly point to any such transformational leader. More ominously the country has had mostly extractive leaders who took more from the country than they gave. Any wonder the country is all but in shambles. From 1960 when the country gained independence from Britain through the laudable efforts of founding fathers such as Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Tafawa Balewa and Chief Obafemi Awolowo among others, she has plodded on without a clear vision, or so it seemed.

In the decade of the 1960s, it experienced two violent change of governments that ultimately plunged the young country into a bloody civil war. Nearly the same thing was true of the 1970s. However, in the twilight of that decade civilian rule was restored. However, barely four years later, the government was toppled by the man who is the country’s president today.

The period from 1980s to late 1990s was also marked by military coups and attempted coups, and a high level of military skulduggery otherwise referred to as democratic transition programmes that produced little or no real democratic dividends till the 1999 general election.

For a country that endured nearly three years of gruesome civil war, 16 years of unbroken democracy has tended to cover up old wounds. But whether those wounds have been healed is another matter altogether. Political desperation, nepotism and chicanery are still rife while ‘elected’ officials have displayed amazing insensitivity to the yearnings of Nigerians.

This has considerably held the country down and stunted real development. There is palpable anomie in virtually every sector while public officials deliver far less than they promised. The venality and depravity of the political class have reached an all-time high. Consequently a deep sense of nationalism is virtually absent in the land.

Nearly every one seeks something for himself while the interest of the nation is of secondary consideration. This, without question, is the bane of Nigeria. The new president has promised to take on the monster. He deserves the support of all Nigerians, regardless of party affiliation. But he must be sincere and resolute if he is to make any difference. He has the resilient Nigerian spirit to tap from to be able to restore hope and turn the country into a nation of united and happy people. We wish all Nigerians a happy Independence Anniversary.

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