GOODBYE NIGERIA, WELCOME NIGERIA
A golden jubilee is a time of joy and celebration. Fifty years in the life of a man is a long time but it is a very short time indeed in the life of a country. Think of Britain with many years of history behind it; think of the United States of America, the 'new nation of immigrants' which is just a little over 200 years old!
Despite the brevity of the fifty year mark in the life of a nation, it is nevertheless a good time to take stock and also to take a look at what the future holds for the nation.
In this regards, many commentators have, in going down memory lane, compared what was in the good old days to what it is now. Many in doing this have recorded a low scorecard full of gloom in the nation's past and present while predicting doom ahead for the nation.
Taking a look of the happenings around them, they easily argue that life is short and brutish, that there is very little economic and political liberty and that the government has not contributed positively to the pursuit of happiness of the people. There is no doubt that the country is nowhere near where it should be given its potentials; it is also true that personal and national growth both in economics and profile has been stunted by the lost and misapplied opportunities.
Nevertheless, the majority of the people in dwelling on this view point, fail to see the progress that has been made, the green shoots that are sprouting everywhere around us, the foundation that has been laid etc. In general, these people usually miss the big picture by concentrating on its crooked corners. The postulation is that since fifty years is a short time in a nation's life, we should use this jubilee season to look at what has majorly been responsible for our woes and have put us where we are so that we can take the lessons on board as we continue the long distance race and thus do all within our power to avoid similar pitfalls along the way and in the future. Most importantly, we should count our blessings, build on our strengths and consolidate the positive layers of improvements, albeit little, that we have around us.
The birth of the nation was heralded with so much hope. It was projected that the nation would grow faster than Malaysia, Singapore and even South Korea. These countries classified as Asia tigers have grown economically and developed astronomically that they now challenge the developed economies while Nigeria is still wallowing in poverty and underdevelopment.
It is almost with shame that one recalls that 50 years ago, these countries were all at the same level and Nigeria had a higher prediction of turning out the brightest. Instead, poverty, disease, infrastructural collapse and decay nurtured by corruption and large-scale fraud and thievery are all that we have to show for our 30 years while these tigers have grown economically from strength to strength.
In other to ensure that lessons are learnt and the mistakes of the past are not repeated, it is most important to briefly trace how and why we completely went off course and found ourselves in this unenviable position of complete self doubt. Students of history and those old enough to remember will tell you clearly that the military incursion changed the course of the nation's history and marooned it to the darkness from where it has not been able to emerge ever since. It is important to point it out to our young ones and children yet unborn that the military intervention in the affairs of the nation in 1966 changed our destiny negatively. The incursion substituted across the board what worked for what does not work and destroyed the fabrics of the society such that the nation has not been the same since then.
To start with, the military significantly altered the federating arrangement to suit their top down command structure by weakening the components parts of Nigeria and strengthened the centre by the creation of very weak, poor and powerless states. This constitutional arrangement was underpinned by a revenue sharing arrangement that virtually turned the country into a unitary arrangement that made the centre unnecessarily attractive to power mongers.
This is singularly responsible for the 'do or die' politics that is practiced even today and the jostle to wrestle power from one another that was experienced in successive military coups before then. It certainly was not like this before the military struck. Before then, there were strong regions that competed with one another on every front from revenue generation to infrastructure construction, the deliverance of quality education, good governance etc.
The centre was less attractive and as such the regions were able to retain the best and the brightest of brains. The 1966 military incursion changed the landscape and changed the psyche of the people very fundamentally. It encouraged the replacement of dialogue with the use of force, discouraged intelligent debate and replaced it with immediate 'effect' commands, changed the value system, introduced and nurtured corruption and fraud as a way of life to the monster that they have now become in our daily lives.
The change from the revenue derivation concept to revenue sharing moved people away from cake baking to cake sharing that, Nigeria is the only country in the world that lays more emphasis on revenue sharing than productivity and wealth creation. It did worse than that. It also led to militancy in the country. There is the mentality that the government and the people do not encourage dialogue and intelligent debate and that the only way to get government's attention or to get them to yield to rational demand is to resort to use of 'force'. In order to press home the demand for the development of their under privileged communities, the people of the Niger Delta had to take up arms.
They received recognition and got a ministry created for them, the leaders like Boyloaf and co got invited to visit the President in Aso Rock Villa and so on and so forth. Nobody pays attention to reasonable labour demands in Nigeria except the members are mobilised for strike action and perhaps for good measure is able to make it a nationwide strike that completely shuts down economic activities across the country. Since the arrival of the military, dialogue has become a conversation of the deaf except 'force 'is invoked.
The military in order to drive home this point and muscle the intelligentsia went to the extent of hanging Ken Saro Wiwa. Given the potent effect of the use of force, religious fanatics have, regrettably, now also latched on to its use as well. Instead of peacefully preaching their faith, some of them have resorted to the use of violence to win converts. The immediate effect mentality is as bad as the militancy that the military bequeathed to us. In all aspects of life, immediate gratification is preferred to long term investment and long term growth.
Students prefer the shortcut of examination malpractice and the purchase of answer scripts to working hard to develop self to pass examinations. These examination cheats end up with qualification that are not worth the papers on which the certificates are written and as such, these young people are not trained or mature to face the challenges of life; the young men will rather drive 'Okada' to generate immediate cash instead of taking time to learn a craft or profession that will feed them for life, businessmen will rather buy and sell rather than invest long term in manufacturing or agriculture.
The militants started kidnapping in Nigeria as a way to draw national and international attention to their course and it worked. Now in perfect style armed robbery and kidnapping have converged and the result is a regime of very deadly extortion and gangsterism now sweeping the length and breadth of Nigeria. From the payment for unexecuted local purchase orders issued during the war to the recycling of cows meant for the warfront at that time to the fiddling of pay roll records during the war that looked like minor irritants and petty thievery by emergency military contractors and their military collaborators during the war, corruption got entrenched and has gradually grown to the monster that it has become today when it is estimated that more than 30 percent of government revenue alleged to be stolen.
All these were encouraged by the misplaced sense of value system that the military directly and indirectly nurtured. What did the military teach us to reward and what have they encouraged us to punish? The parameters of punishment and reward have very powerful announcement effects. We do more of what society rewards and less of what society punishes. Following the incursion of the military into our lives, the get rich quick mentality took hold. People took mobilisation payments for contracts they had no intentions of executing. The awarded contracts turned into abandoned and unexecuted contracts.
Those who took our money for contracts that they did not execute and gave us greek gifts of abandoned projects that dotted our landscape where the rich ones that were awarded chieftaincy titles and national honours. The stigma of taking what you were not entitled to was removed and big time corruption took root. More and more people chose to big time stealing however defined. They stole to buy big cars and build big houses to show off their 'affluence' which in turn earned them more local and national titles. Today corruption and crime stare us all in the face simply because 'unexplained wealth' is what we as a people chose to honour and reward.
Intellectuality has no recognition. Intelligent and critical analysis is not encouraged. Honesty and hard work have given way to corruption and rent seeking. The deadly effect of this is evidenced in its complete destruction of the downstream sector of the oil industry. In this sector which has for years now become the shame of the nation, we import petroleum products which we should have in abundance and even have some left over for export. A greedy cabal have 'hijacked' a nation's destiny for their personal gains and both the government and the people are helpless to take the sector and their lives back our own hands.
Today the nation's downstream sector and the nation lay prostrate as a result. It seems that we are absolutely determined to turn the blessings of God in terms of our endowment with abundant natural resources and a large and youthful population whose purchasing power, if enhanced, should turn us into an economic power house into a major curse. We are determined to turn the almost complete absence of natural disasters into self destruction through religious and ethnic crisis and violence. We have also chosen to bastardise our economy with corruption, fraud, laziness and rent seeking activities.
Despite all the above, we must stop and look at the big picture and the bright side of things. Although there is not much to show for the last 50 years, we nevertheless have a lot of hope. The real story is that we have come to a crucial tipping point we should take stock and refocus taking on board the lessons learnt so that we can better build on our strengths. People are now asking the right questions that are helping to reshape the paradigm of the Nigeria structure of the future.
Within the democratic framework, people are asking, do we need to emphasise revenue sharing rather than production; do we need 36 states and 774 local governments; do we need to spend 70 per cent of our revenue on recurrent instead of that level on capital and growth so that our decaying infrastructure is better renewed; do we need to spend over 10 percent of our national budget on a bureaucracy of less than 50,000 people in a country with a population of over 150 million; must we experience darkness in a country with abundant gas to power the power plants etc.
Yes, we have got to tipping point and people are asking questions. That, in and of itself, is a good thing. People have acknowledged the negative impact of military incursions in our lives and they now collectively regularly say 'never again'. That, too, is a very good thing given what the military intervention has cost us to date. We are working hard at building strong democratic structure and institutions. We are moving away from strong men and moving towards strong institutions that will endure. This too is good thing.
The foundation for the new Nigeria is being laid on a strong and strengthening democratic environment where parties and debates will be based on ideology and not how much money that a candidate has in his kitty to buy votes. The plurality of ideas is encouraged instead of the current herding mentality which is currently fashionable. The Nigeria on the move should be the Nigeria where merit is used in ascending a position, be it in government, the public sector or the award of contracts and not the part of the country that one comes from. Tribe or geography of a person should not decide what he gets.
The yardstick that should apply should be his capacity to deliver qualitatively and quantitatively with integrity and patriotism. We need to harness our natural resources towards backward integration to grow the economy and once again enthrone agriculture as the mainstay of the economy as we aim to develop our youths through qualitative education so as to ensure that all the youths are gainfully employed. We have to speedily move our youths away from the 'Okada' mentality towards development and investment in themselves.
As we say goodbye to the old Nigeria that has offered us very little in the last 50 years our hope, in welcoming the new Nigeria of our dreams is the hope and belief that a strong economy will soon emerge; that in not more than five years power outage will be a thing of the past; we will be proud of our political system and our elections; we will slowly but surely hold our leaders to account and the people will be elected into office to truly serve the people instead of lining their pockets.
The last fifty years may have been challenging, the fact that we are still one indivisible entity is an achievement worth celebrating. It is also true that we may have missed several opportunities for greatness we should not despair. The next 50 years do provide us with very good opportunities for redemption and this will positively impact on our lives. However bad we may feel, about the projections that the nation is doomed, we should realise that the future is in our hands.
There are strengths in the diversity of Nigeria and the only people who can save Nigeria and thus draw mileage from its strengths are Nigerians themselves and nobody else. We must roll up our sleeves, tighten our belts and knuckle down not only to make Nigeria work again but to make it to work for Nigerians.