by Anya O. Anya
If all goes well and Nigeria holds out, it has been said that the country may be unrecognisable in 5-7 years when compared with her dismal present.
It is pertinent to remind ourselves at the outset that Nigeria is the prime product of British colonial adventure in Africa. It was constituted to abstract natural resources for the benefit of the British economy. As Sir Olanihun Ajayi has reminded us
“As at 7 January 1897 there was no place or area or country called Nigeria. The country known and called Nigeria came into being in 1897 as a result of an article in the Times of 8 January 1897 by Flora Shaw pressing that the aggregate of all the towns and villages or the protectorate consisting of many ethnic nationalities should be called Nigeria. That aggregation of several empires, kingdoms, various nations and tribes constituted what is now known as Nigeria….”
That the seeds of economic disabilities and structural deformities between the regions carried over from the colonial to the present have proved a major constraint to the efforts at building a modern nation-state can be illustrated from different episodes of our national history. This is not to say that the evident imbalances could not be redressed, given a patriotic, visionary and national leadership. But this has been lacking. In any case given over 50 years of co-evolution and co-existence of the nationalities new centres of equilibrium could have emerged to mould and drive new social forces in the direction of integration and harmonious coexistence. That this has not happened is the modern day dilemma that Nigerians and their friends must face.
Contemporary Nigeria is poised on a knife-edge. On the one hand are arrayed the forces of retrogression such as Boko Haram ready to drive the nation into the abyss never to rise again-sectarian conflicts with their attendant violence, divisiveness propelled by ethnic, religious or social inequalities and inequities. On the other hand are progressive forces pushing for economic and desirable social reforms. Indeed, the progressive institutionalisation of some of these reforms has led many outside observers such as Goldmann Sachs and the rating agencies to regard Nigeria as one of the emerging economic forces of the age of globalisation. If all goes well and Nigeria holds out, it has been said that the country may be unrecognisable in 5-7 years when compared with her dismal present. How can these contradictory visions of the Nigerian future emerge and co-exist from the same reality?
There is among the youth a sense of alienation, anomie and a brooding angst at what they regard as their betrayal by the post-independence generation of leaders particularly the military when they held sway in governance. Nasir el Rufai has given a graphic account of this leadership and its failures. Given the unacceptably high unemployment rates, the sense of deprivation amongst the youth is to be expected but this comes at a time that there is a total collapse of our values. High rate of corruption in both the public and private sectors as recently sign-posted by both the pension and petroleum subsidy scams are prevalent. The 419 scam is, as they would say, old hat. The collapse of the educational system has been facilitated by the high rates of examination malpractices often encouraged and facilitated by parents, teachers and those who would normally have passed off as role models. The total discount of merit and scant regard for excellence are emblems of the new order. The worship of money and materialism is in contradistinction to the apparently high level of religious zealotry and showmanship. We are now in the era of wealth without work. Hypocrisy, insincerity and pretentious display of phoney values is the order of the day. So where will national redemption come from and how did we get here?
It has often been said by some of our leaders that there are settled issues in the Nigerian political economy. The truth is that there are no such settled issues for we have not sincerely and dispassionately looked at the problems of Nigerian nationhood except from the vantage point of how we can take advantage of one another to advance our personal or sectional interests. Nevertheless, it is fair to state that given the state of the global environment, breaking up Nigeria into whatever number of constituent sovereignties is not an option. Globalisation enforces mutual interaction in an interlinked matrix of economic entities. Nations separate only to cooperate in new economic formations. That is the reality of our new world. Moving forward into the harmonious peaceful and united nation of our dreams enforces on us the duty to get rid of some shibboleths from the past that have dogged our every step in the journey to nationhood.
First and foremost we must re-establish and embrace the values of truth and justice as the unchanging foundations in the management of human affairs. There are some historical untruths that we as a nation must confront if we are to move forward together. In the documents British Documents at the End of Empire (BDEE) (ed. Martin Lynn) that I referred to earlier, there is irrefutable evidence that both the pre-independence census and elections were manipulated to produce a pre-determined result favourable to a section. The demands of truth enforce on us the obligation to rectify these anomalies. Justice, however, enforces on us a corollary obligation – we owe the duty of care and fairness to all Nigerians. No part of Nigeria can be allowed to wallow in poverty even as some revel in affluence. It is the obligation of the Nigerian state to ensure fairness in the management and distribution of the resources of the nation to all parts and to all citizens. It is also the obligation of the nation to ensure fair rewards and incentives to honest labour, enterprise innovation and creativity and to create the environment that promotes these conditions. These are necessary conditions for peace and unity.
Secondly, we must re-admit merit and the pursuit of excellence as part of our national objectives. In a merit-driven national endeavour ideally recruitment to national leadership cannot be on the basis of a roster or quota but on the basis of knowledge, competence and overall national interest. In societies that embrace these values, the recruitment of leadership and training of leaders in a common environment where they can compete even as they share visions of the future.
In Nigeria, there is the anomalous presumption that Nigerian leadership must emerge from particular sections of the country. This position discounts the position that localised leadership can only project a local rather that a national vision of leadership. Nigeria, and particularly the North, has paid a heavy price for this anomaly. In the 52 years of Nigeria’s independent existence, the North has produced nine of the 13 leaders and they have been in charge of the government for nearly 40 years. In much of that time development in the North has markedly regressed. Indeed, the post-election violence of 2011 had indications that it was an uprising against the leadership. Thus, the dominance of the north in the politics of Nigeria has contributed markedly to the under-development of the North and by extension of Nigeria. In other words sectionally-driven leadership recruitment has not enhanced Nigerian development, has conferred no obvious advantage to the section of the leader except to individual benefactors.
In the effort to rebuild Nigeria, there is a need for drastic restructuring and redesign of the architecture of the nation. We also need to reorganise the priorities of the nation such that the eradication of poverty and the creation of wealth will be pursued as necessary conditions for the rebuilding of the nation in an atmosphere of peace and unity. Towards this objective we need to focus on the immediate and/or expeditious solution of four problems-
• reconstituting leadership with a Pan-Nigerian vision
• reconciling and managing our diversities
• guaranteeing citizenship and citizen rights and
• restoring and realigning our value system
In the pursuit of these goals it is evident that we will need to cultivate a new mind set in tackling our problems. The challenge to put Nigeria on a fast track development needs priority attention being given to the hardware of infrastructure (power, transportation etc.) but also the software of our vanishing value system anchored on integrity, hard-work, entrepreneurship, thrift and sincerity. We must do away with the culture of impunity in governance and the entitlement complex that has put a wedge between different segments of our people. We must return compassion to one another and passion with vision to our leadership. The c-word corruption must be extirpated from our body politics.
We must not forget the challenge of our youth and women – by far the vast majority of our people. We must remember that over 60% of our population is under 30 while the gender parity between male and females suggest that releasing this explosive pent-up energy of our youths and women can guarantee us a quantum leap in our development trajectory. But the key is education. Given the release of this vast human capital, trained and skilled, the Chinese miracle that took precisely eleven short years can be upstaged. The missing link is leadership – a leadership that is well-educated, passionate and visionary. We must as a people pursue wealth with equity, truth with compassion, justice with fairness, and with reconciliation with empathy.