FROM A PROMISING GIANT TO A FEEBLE DWARF – By Nosa Igiebor
Freedom is sweet if you know what to do with it. Nigeria became free sixty years ago with a huge promise that, if the leaders got their act together, it would turn out to be a giant and the pride of the Black race. But at the beginning of the seventh decade of its independence, the story is depressing – one of unmitigated failure. The country has morphed from a potentially promising giant to a feeble, pitiable dwarf.
It is beyond any contention that Nigeria has lost its way very disastrously. Sixty years on, it’s now debased, distressed and dangerously dysfunctional. It’s crippled in every respect and showing all the worrying, unmistakable signs of a failed state.
One of such signs is the ease with which many rogue groups have successfully carved huge swathes of ungoverned spaces for themselves – Boko Haram and the Islamic State of West Africa Province in the north-east, Fulani militias in the north-west, Fulani herdsmen marauding all over the country, and sundry criminal gangs that have turned kidnapping into a very lucrative business.
And where is the federal government in whose hands the powers of the state are vested? It is nowhere to be found as the country is being suffocated by insecurity. All we hear from Aso Rock are excuses that are risible in their hollowness.
Late Sam Mbakwe, governor of old Imo State (1979-1983), had frequently lamented the sorry state of Nigeria. He was dubbed by some people sarcastically, others humorously, the “Crying Governor.” That was 38 years ago.
But in his lamentations was a gleaming gem of truth. Nigeria was – and is still – floundering. What hurt Mbakwe badly was the lack of a defined purpose for the country, and the failure of the political leadership and the elite generally to see the danger lurking ahead for the country without a national consensus on what ideals should shape it. He had wished the British were still running the country since we had collectively aborted the dream of greatness that independence promised.
Mbakwe has been proved right all round. He died a sad man. Just as the country’s founding fathers went to their graves disillusioned by what Nigeria they struggled to free from the British had become – a nation lost in transition to nowhere but inexorable perdition.
In order to clearly understand the scale of Nigeria’s failure, we need to look at one of those countries that were in the same league with her, in terms of population, natural resources and general potential, in 1960. Brazil, South America’s giant: At that time, its population and gross domestic product, GDP, were 72 million and $542 billion respectively. Today, with a population of 212 million, it has a GDP of almost $2 trillion, and is the world’s 9th largest economy.
At independence, Nigeria’s population was 45 million with a GDP of $4.2 billion. The 2020 estimated population is 206 million and GDP, $440billion. Which compares very poorly to the 2014 estimated GDP of $568 billion.
While Nigeria was way behind Brazil economically in 1960, its huge natural and human resources had given rise to optimistic projection that it would be able to compete with other developing countries with similar potentials. Brazil is now developed and industrialized. Nigeria remains under-developed and poor. And the prospects of its current status improving in the near future are dim.
This is because the country is just not working. It is burdened by a political and governance structure that will continue to drag it down unless and until radical changes are effected. It is sheer delusion to think that the country, as it is now, can be made to work. Worst still is a leadership deficit that has cost the country dearly. Its misfortune is that those who, like late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had what it takes to lead didn’t get the chance to do so. And in his case, he was denied the opportunity to show what a good, effective leader could do with Nigeria.
The good news is that there’s a growing consensus that things need to change now for the country to still have any chance of surviving intact. But there are many who are still in denial of the existential threat the country is facing from its present trajectory. A trajectory that is fed by injustice and the bastardization of the federal system that is best for a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria.
Fronting the pack of those who are ignoring the fact that a radical change in the country’s present destructive direction has become imperative is President Muhammadu Buhari. He doesn’t want to hear about change, particularly one that is spelled restructuring. He seems to equate the call for real change with an agenda for dismembering the country. And his spokesmen continue to cavalierly dismiss those, who are clamouring for it, as dangerous agitators.
But he is not alone.
One very influential political voice that has remained eerily silent over the matter is that of Governor Bola Tinubu. Perhaps, as being widely speculated, his presidential ambition is defining his deliberate absence in the national discourse on this most important issue. The strident demand for restructuring is no longer controversial. It’s now urgent and unavoidable. Further delay in frontally engaging the issue will only spell doom for the country.
Furthermore, Buhari’s total lack of interest in, and Tinubu’s silence on the issue of restructuring mean only one thing – the All Progressives Congress, APC, of which they’re the leaders, duped Nigerians in 2015. APC rode to office on the powerfully evocative political mantra of change, giving the promise of restructuring a very prominent mention in its manifesto. Having got power, they no longer want to be reminded of that promise. And they have tried unsuccessfully to wriggle out of the promise with semantic obfuscation.
However, there is something they can only ignore at the country’s peril – the Law of Change. Nations are born. They continue to evolve constructively. Or they die when they’re terminally denuded of legitimacy as a result of pervasive injustice. Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution of Species applies to nations and organisations too. Either adapt or die. It’s now time for Nigeria to adapt to fast changing circumstances, such as dwindling inflow of petro-dollars that drives the economy, or die prematurely with all the attendant social and economic dislocations.
It’s no longer unthinkable that such a calamitous outcome could happen if we continue to ignore the stark reality that the country is literally and figuratively on life support. The once almighty Soviet Union, one of the only two global super powers for over four decades, died in 1990, with all the component republics led by Russia going their separate ways. At least, one good thing about the historical demise of the United States of America’s only serious rival is that it was peaceful.
But it wasn’t for Yugoslavia where the dissolution of the republic was utterly bloody and destructive. The successor republics include Serbia that was the aggressor in the wars that followed, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Czechoslovakia Republic also dissolved peacefully into Czech and Slovakia. What about Somalia? After decades of political strife, civil wars and terrorist insurgency, the country remains a failed state.
A federal system of government means that the federating states, and in Nigeria’s case, nationalities, own and control resources located within their territories. When this fundamental principle of federalism is blatantly upended for so long, it inevitably fuels agitations for change. A system built on and lubricated by injustice cannot last. Continuing resistance to the imperative of changing it will only accelerate the end of the country. And the end may not be pretty.
One glaring, provocative case of rank injustice is the expropriation of the resources of oil/gas producing states. It’s the country’s main source of foreign exchange and the jugular of our mono-cultural economy. Hence anytime the global oil industry suffers a burst, as in the current COVID-19 pandemic situation, the country’s economy catches severe cold and recession ensues.
Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars oil/gas has earned for the country, the producing states are under-developed. The dollars that flow directly to the national treasury is shared nationally on the basis of some dubious parameters like landmass, population and number of local government areas.
So much has been said about the 13 per cent special derivation payments that the oil states get. What is usually forgotten is that the payment only started in 2000 under the Olusegun Obasasnjo administration, which also established the Niger Delta Development Commission, NNDC, to replace the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, OMPADEC.
Nigeria began oil export in 1959. The derivation payment came after over 40 years of oil and gas export during which the deprived states got practically nothing, compared to the humongous dollar revenues that accrued to the federation account. What can be more provocative than this brazen seizure of the resources of some states to feed the financial needs of others and enable the federal government to become more powerful, over-bloated, inefficient and ineffective?
Meanwhile, individuals and private companies have for years been allowed to mine gold and other precious metals in some states like Zamfara and keep the proceeds for themselves. Recently, Zamfara governor, Bello Mohammed Matawalle, said that his government would invest in the mining and refining of gold and sell to the Central Bank of Nigeria. The CBN had earlier announced its plan to buy such refined gold from the private producers.
This is a classic example of different strokes for different folks. Is the federal government no longer the custodian of all mineral resources in the country? And why has it been impossible for the government to create the equivalence of NNPC to explore all the solid minerals that abound all over the country, so that all the states can also benefit from the money?
Gold built South Africa, which is the most industrialized economy in the continent. The African name for Johannesburg, the country’s financial and commercial nerve-centre, is Egoli, meaning the city of gold. So gold is always a money-spinner.
This is why it’s right for the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, to remind Governor Matawalle and the CBN that the control and management of all mineral resources is vested in the federal government, and that only his ministry has the sole authority to grant mining licenses to all prospective investors in that sector.
The agitations for change have grown more strident under the Buhari administration because of the way it has assaulted the federal character principle designed to ensure balancing in federal appointments and guarantee fair representation for most parts of the country. How does anyone, who genuinely cares about Nigeria, defend the infuriatingly lopsided appointments that Buhari has made in the past six years? Or the anomaly of the three arms of government controlled by one section of the country? Or nearly all the top military command posts and all the other security agencies headed by people from one section to the exclusion of the others?
The bells are toiling ominously for Nigeria. It’s time to activate the reset button to prevent the country’s present dangerous spiral to the point of no return, where no true patriot wants the country to be.
Engaging the issues propelling the agitations, through constructive dialogue, is a far better option than pretending they don’t matter and ignoring them. And the 2014 National Conference Report that came out with about 600 resolutions on how to remake the country can be the roadmap for the engagement. The notion that these vexed issues will somehow miraculously disappear amounts to gross irresponsibility and inexcusable failure of leadership. So it’s either we begin talking about how to make Nigeria work well for all of us, or we start singing nunc dimittis for it.
Engaging the issues propelling the agitations, through constructive dialogue, is a far better option than pretending they don’t matter and ignoring them.
“Nigeria remains under-developed and poor. And the prospects of its current
status improving in the near future are dim. The strident demand for restructuring
is no longer controversial. It’s now urgent and unavoidable. Further delay in
frontally engaging the issue will only spell doom for the country. A calamitous
outcome could happen if we continue to ignore the stark reality that the country
is literally and figuratively on life support. A system built on and lubricated by
injustice cannot last. Continuing resistance to the imperative of changing it will
only accelerate the end of the country. And the end may not be pretty.”
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