By Ikechukwu Amaechi
On Friday, October 1, Nigeria will be 61 years. Whether in the life of an individual or a nation, diamond jubilee is a milestone. Adding one more year is even more consequential and ideally, the drums should be rolled out. But that will be ill-advised.
Why? Because there is nothing to celebrate.
Agreed, there are some who will argue that the fact that Nigeria still remains united even after a brutal 30-month fratricidal war is enough reason to push the boat out. But when a country is held together by force of arms and not the consent of the federating units, the sense of unity becomes delusional.
Others use the incredible accomplishments of Nigerians – men and women in the arts, sciences, sports, technology and commerce – as a totem pole to hoist the country’s greatness. But while it is true that Nigerians, individually, are excelling globally, they are pulling off those extraordinary feats in spite of, not because of the opportunities provided by the country.
Truth is, Nigeria, 61 years after independence, has become a graveyard of creativity and innovation. Rather than promote excellence, the country rewards indolence and stifles ingenuity. Nigeria is a killjoy, which explains why most professionals – doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, journalists, etc. – are fleeing abroad in droves.
But it has not always been like this. Time was when the country was a beacon of hope for the rest of not only Africa but the black race. Today, countries that we were at the same level with or even better off at independence have all left us behind. At 61, countries that are not as endowed in terms of human and material resources are now far ahead.
Something went tragically wrong. The prudish weaponisation of the country’s fault lines by self-serving leaders is to blame. The problem didn’t start with President Muhammadu Buhari. But his incompetence and absolute lack of capacity to manage the country’s diversities have made it worse.
So, even if the government is inclined to celebrating, majority of the citizens are not in the mood. Faced with existential crisis, an average Nigerian would rather think of how to survive than celebrate a country that has offered no more than tears, blood and sorrow in the last six years.
Nigeria is not working. The country is more fractured today than it has ever been in the last half century with all the primordial fault lines that define our interactions as a people of diverse ethnicities and religious inclinations on full parade.
We humour ourselves when we claim that Nigeria is still the giant of Africa. It used to be. Not anymore. At 61, there is nothing great about today’s Nigeria.
A country where the leadership of the national integration agency, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), is advising youths serving their fatherland to always let their people keep aside money for the payment of ransom to kidnappers in case they are abducted while travelling to places of their primary assignment is a failed state.
A country that is the poverty capital of the world is not great. In October 2019, the World Poverty Clock stated that Nigeria with an estimated population of about 205 million people had overtaken India with a population of 1.366 billion people as the country with the most people living in extreme poverty – that is on less than $1.90 or less per day.
In 2020, data provided by the same group showed that rather than lifting people, more Nigerians had been plunged into extreme poverty with the numbers rising to over 105 million, representing 51 per cent of the population.
Nigeria’s case is pathetic because poverty is actually on the decline globally as statistics indicate that since 1990, one-quarter of the world has risen above extreme poverty with estimates for global poverty hovering around 8.6 per cent. In fact, India’s extreme poverty population of 84 million people as at 2019 is reducing. The reverse is the case here.
And it can only get worse because as economists say, poverty is a cyclical trap. For people to rise above it, they need education, proper health care, access to clean water and job opportunities.
Nigeria is deficient in all these. Presently, the country has the highest number of out of school children in the world and one of the lowest life expectancy rates due to inadequate healthcare.
Nigeria at 61 plumbs the depths of misery and destitution because none of the major indicators of Human Development Index (HDI) – life expectancy, expected years of schooling, Gross National Income per capita for standard of living – is currently in the green zone.
When Nigerian leaders insist, as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo did on Sunday, that though the country currently faces security, economic, religious and ethnic challenges, the collective vision of a united, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria remains undefeated 61 years after independence, they play the ostrich.
There is no such collective vision as espoused by Osinbajo. There used to be but it has long been stymied.
Building a united, prosperous and peaceful country takes more than preposterous clichés. While the Vice President’s exhortation that “our current trials cannot draw the curtains on our story … because this country is greater than the sum of its parts and the sum of its mistakes,” is good music to the ears, it is empty rhetoric. His grandiloquence may have impressed his audience – the political and religious elite – but it made no difference on the streets, where it matters most.
The streets are boiling. Students can no longer go to school in some parts of the country. Many are still held in captivity in evil forests across the Northwest. Travelling on Nigerian roads has become suicidal. Dr. Chike Akunyili, husband of late Prof. Dora Akunyili, former Minister of Information, was gruesomely murdered in Anambra on Tuesday.
He went to Onitsha to present a paper and receive an award at the memorial lecture put together by some civil society organisations in honour of his late wife. He never made it back alive.
The gory stories are many. And nobody pays for these atrocious crimes. Some people rationalise this anarchy by saying that many more people are killed on the streets of New York, U.S. and Johannesburg, South Africa than in Nigeria. Assuming, without conceding that is true, the difference is that chances are such heinous crimes will not go unpunished in those countries no matter how long it takes. In Nigeria, there is no justice for the dead.
At 61, Nigeria remains a country torn apart by religious and ethnic strife, bloodcurdling insurgencies and banditry and benumbing economic challenges – a country in darkness. Sixty-one years after independence, Nigeria is on the brink.
Some people are of the view that saying so is tantamount to de-marketing the country. Maybe!
The flipside though is that not admitting that Nigeria faces existential crisis is to bury our heads in the sand believing that no one is seeing us. That is a dippy game to play in the circumstance.
Those who howl against agents of secession without acknowledging reasons for such agitations are not sincere. Why would a man of Prof. Banji Akintoye’s standing suddenly become a Yoruba self-determination enthusiast? Why has disintegration become an option to many 51 years after such quest by Ndigbo was collectively quelled?
There is no arguing the fact that incalculable harm has been inflicted on the national psyche. Nigerians should use the opportunity of the 61st anniversary of independence to introspect. Where did the rain start beating this once promising country? This should be a time for stocktaking.
What are the prospects of pulling the country back from the brink? Can Nigeria rediscover itself? These are the questions that should concentrate all minds.
The response to the Buhari presidency and the demons it has unleashed on the country may be the last chance to get it right.
But it won’t be by mere wishful thinking. As 2023 beckons, there must be a conscious effort to walk away from Buhari’s tunnel vision and nepotism.
Conscious effort must be made by all to build a nation around a vision that promotes common good. Fairness, equity and justice must be the pivot around which any agenda to save Nigeria revolves because sustenance of the Nigerian Federation demands a union of equals.
The hubris of the former military Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, who recently claimed during an interview on Arise Television that he and fellow travelers on the boulevard of deceit had decided, unilaterally, on the country’s indissolubility no longer suffices.
Neither is the rest of Nigeria prepared to continue tolerating the puerile tantrums of ungrateful immigrants such as Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), whose father, Alhaji Baba Ahmed, a Mauritanian cow seller, only came to Nigeria from Mauritania in 1920.
Baba-Ahmed still goes to his home country, Mauritania, for family celebrations, the same way Buhari goes to Niger Republic to felicitate with his first cousins.
Yet, all that indigenous peoples of Nigeria get from these dual nationality citizens are insults, which is why Baba-Ahmed would have the effrontery to tell the rest of the country that, “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before. Whether we are president or vice-president, we will lead Nigeria.”
This anniversary should afford Nigerians the opportunity to decide what they want. But one thing is clear: The status quo is no longer sustainable. We either change course or Nigeria as we know it today perishes.