Nigeria At 61: What is there to celebrate? by Lateef Adewole
The Insight by Lateef Adewole
Let me use this auspicious occasion to commemorate with all Nigerians on our anniversary of 61st independence of our dear country, Nigeria. In all situations, there will always be room to give adoration to the almighty God, who has kept the country going and as one, up till now, despite the turmoil it has experienced in the last six decades, and particularly in the last six years!
Congratulations to all of us. May we live long to witness many more, but in a better country, not the one we are living in today.
Yesterday, October 1st, 2021, I was awakened by the shouts from the military who were on parade early morning, in what they called a “show of force”. They usually do this to exhibit their capacity to deal with trouble makers and warn them in advance, usually whenever there is a peculiar national event. To me, it’s contradictory that the citizens are being intimidated with such display when they are supposed to be in celebratory mood. How can scared citizens celebrate?
My deduction over time is that, when leaders and government in a country are disconnected from the people they govern, they are bound to live in fear of people’s venom. They will never live in harmony with the people. A day like this reminded me of when I was young, in primary school and part of secondary. Nigerian Independence day was a day we anxiously looked forward to.
Schools prepared their students for competitive march pass display at the stadium or wherever the ceremony would take place. We would dress in green and white attires or in school uniforms, with each student carrying the Nigerian flag. It was usually a day of national joy. But, can we say the same today?
Can we even celebrate now? What exactly is there to celebrate at 61 after exiting British rule? While thinking of what to write, I had difficulty deciding on a title. In as much as I wanted to just write fanciful and exciting stories about the country, to portray celebration, as I proceeded, I felt like I was telling myself lies. My conscience kept on pricking me. It kept reminding me that I might be relatively “comfortable” but do I remember tens of millions of others who aren’t? I had to rewrite the article.
To be fair, there are so many things to be thankful for in Nigeria at 61. We survived a civil war that lasted 30 months even if the wound has not healed completely or the scar still poking our eyes till date. We witnessed numerous military coups and countercoups, many successful, while many unsuccessful, both with their fatal casualties. We have had interrupted civilian rule for 22 years since 1999 to date, the longest in our history. We have had booms and bursts in the economy. Our national life has been a rollercoaster.
We are a blessed but unproductive country. We have everything but we have nothing. Or how do we explain the calamity of a cooking gas price going through the roof when we have one of the largest gas reserve in the world? Ironically, we didn’t set out to search for it but we “stumbled” upon it in the process of prospecting for crude oil. No wonder this Yoruba’s adage succinctly describe us as “Ajogun ewu etu, ko mo iyi agbada nla” (he who inherits unexpected fortune, would never know the value of it).
Even the crude oil that we explore, what happened to it? It’s like a curse to us. While countries with such unmerited fortunes maximise its benefits for the betterment of their citizens, the reverse has been the case in Nigeria. We have experienced uncountable number of fuel scarcity, despite being number seven on the OPEC list of daily crude oil production in the world. We have had relief in the past few years now but at an incredible cost to our national revenues, in the name of humongous subsidies paid by NNPC monthly.
How could Nigeria and Nigerians truly celebrate? I am safe at home with my family as I write this, what about hundreds or thousands of others, including school children like mine, who are in captivity of satanic kidnappers and bandits across the country, especially in the northern Nigeria? When we thank God for being alive, but we remember that 42 people were massacred in Southern Kaduna on the very day the northern leaders gathered in the state to counter the demand for power shift to the south by the 17 southern governors and their people.
Another 41 Nigerians were killed in Niger states few day later. Dr. Chike Akunyili was brutally murdered in cold blood, along with his driver, his security attachè and six others in Anambra. All within this week of our celebration. Can anyone blame me for finding it difficult to ignore all of these?
We got independence from Britain but are we really independent? It’s like we don’t add value to everything we get free. We are a country endowed with nearly everything. I mean everything. From human to natural. We are blessed with natural resources beyond our imaginations, from as simple as great weather conditions, to good soils and arable lands for agriculture.
On the surface and underneath the earth, buried are unquantifiable mineral resources. Abundance of water bodies that provide water for all purposes, human consumption, agricultural irrigation, fishing, transportation, and the likes. Crude oil is present like a running water in some parts of the country within the Niger Delta. Under the sea, more reserves are still being discovered after 65 years of first discovery in Olobiri in the present day Bayelsa state.
Yet, we don’t have a single functional refinery. We export crude oil and import refined products which accounted for only a minute number of byproducts of the refined oil, at exorbitant costs.
Almost every other mineral that could be found anywhere in the world, is present in Nigeria, mostly untapped, underutilised or mismanaged. We export cocoa and import coffee. Our trees are fell, without replanting them mostly and sent out, only to import all kinds of furniture and processed woods. We export raw gold to spend fortunes on gold jewelries imported into the country. Our cotton and textile industry has collapsed. We now import all our fabrics. What exactly do we not import? Toothpicks, paper, nylon, plastics, foods. Just about anything. We depend on other countries, many of which are far smaller in landmass, population and human and natural endowments. What is wrong with us as a people? What is wrong with our country?
The commendable progress that have been made in some sectors cannot be ignored. Telecommunications remained the shining example that we brandish all the time, and rightly so too, though, it came late to us after the technology has been in use in many western countries for many decades before. The efforts of the current administration to revive our rail system is noteworthy and commendable. My colleagues, who went on official assignment in Ibadan, came back with the train yesterday morning. They had good news to share.
This is the story in some other parts of the country where the service has taken off. It’s the saviour of many Abuja-Kaduna travellers from kidnappers now, though, it’s being delivered with hole-sinking indebtedness to China in particular. Sadly, it does not seem that they are being managed commercially profitably. That has always been the problem with government’s managing businesses. If they are not efficiently run, how would they pay back the loans borrowed to build them?
Road infrastructures have been a focus too. I have not travelled by road across the country in the last few years, for fear of insecurities. So, I can’t say precisely the extent of improvement. However, if the ones I ply regularly within the South-West are examples, then, they are disasters. Travelling from Lagos to Abeokuta, via Sango-Ota is now hell. There have been billboards advertising the rehabilitation of that road since the inception of this government but it is still what it is. Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has been unfinished. Ife-Ibadan is death trap. These I know. May be there are fantastic roads all over that I have not travelled through. I leave the verdicts to Nigerians in each area.
Also, enormous energies have been deployed towards diversifying our economy through expanding participation in agriculture by the populace and improving the practice. Huge concessionary loans were always advanced to farmers by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), sometimes, recklessly, without due diligence and proper monitoring. For those who genuinely used the funds for agriculture, what happened to them? Killer Fulani herdsmen, bandits and Boko Haram have destroyed their farms. Many lost their lives in the process. That’s money down the drain. The insecurities in the rural communities and farming settlements are unprecedented.
What about education? Many Nigerians are brilliant people. This is evidence in the achievements of many of our citizens in the diaspora. At home, it is talent-killing. Many geniuses and would-be great scholars never got the chance or the conducive environment to blossom. Our school system has collapsed. Imagine university lecturers going on strike for almost a whole year. That’s a common phenomenon.
This administration introduced school feeding programme for student at elementary schools. The enrolments skyrocketed, though, it was once reported that many of the children only came to eat breakfast and lunch before returning home (lol). That was the story in some parts of the north. However, there was still significant improvement in enrolment. That led to drop in out-of-school children. Sadly, all these gains are being eroded by the challenges facing the sector due to insecurities, particularly in the north.
Kaduna state that embarked upon huge reforms in education, to the extent that the governor even enrolled two of his children in a public primary school. He has since withdrawn them for threat of being kidnapped. He had to shut down schools due to insecurities. That’s the fate of many others across the northern states. Many parents wouldn’t even send their children to schools there again. Many have withdrawn their wards. We all witnessed how students have become the targets of bandits who kidnapped them in hundreds. There are still many who are in captivity in Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Niger states and others. Of what use are the investments in the education sector then?
The president is always harassed in London by some Nigerians in diaspora whenever he travels for his medical check ups. Why so? General Buhari, as a candidate of APC, going to 2015 general elections, was a vocal critic of medical tourism, especially by government officials. Everyone was well pleased with such stand. He won his election and we all looked forward to a revamped health sector. Unfortunately, President is now the “chief medical tourist of Nigeria” to foreign land, given the extent he has travelled for that.
Many wondered why a single world-class hospital could not be built in his six years so far, even if just to treat himself and his family members. Doctors now go on strikes, even in the middle of a global pandemic. A minister once said we have more than enough doctors, so, any doctor willing to leave the country could do so. Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, and some other more responsible countries didn’t waste time to take advantage of that. Our medical personnels, doctors, nurses, and other health workers, have been leaving Nigeria in droves. Do I blame them?
Despite the enormous deposit of oil, gas, coal, water bodies, sunlight, and other sources of energy, required to generate electricity, Nigeria has remained a country in darkness. We are still battling with 5,000MW after 61 years of independence, for a country estimated to be over 200 million people. It’s disheartening. This administration is making efforts to improve on it. There is a Siemens (Germany) – Federal Government of Nigeria deal being worked on. We are yet to see the results. That must have prompted Chimamanda Adichie to ask the outgoing Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, about it recently in a forum they were both present.
A rich country in resources but poor in reality. That’s Nigeria. How could we become the poverty capital of the world despite our huge potentials in human capital and natural endowments? Greed. Corruption. Bad governance. Inept leadership. They ruined a potentially prosperous country.
Almost every other sphere of our national life has been negatively impacted by insecurities as we now have. It’s something I have written many times about. I wouldn’t want to start all over again. We are all “victims”, not necessarily that we have been kidnapped, maimed, raped, robbed or killed, but because; “b’ojo ba n pakan ore, gbogbo wa lojo npa” (a calamity to one, is a calamity to all). We all suffer for the insecurities directly or indirectly, near or remotely. BokoHaram and ISWAP, killer fulani herdsmen and bandits, unknown gunmen, ritualists and armed robbers, militants and ethnic militias, have all carved out territories for themselves within the ungoverned spaces. Which way Nigeria?
Economy is improving on paper. There were growths in GDP in the last few months but poverty is increasing in reality. National headline inflation is 17.01%. Food inflation is 20.3%. Unemployment is 33.3%. Exchange rate is 413 officially and 570 at the parallel market (naira to a dollar). National debt is 35 trillion naira. Debt servicing now takes about 98% of oil revenues. Only few states are viable and can stand on their own without federal allocations. And so on.
We can only hope for improvements in all of these. But how will that be possible when people rigged themselves into political offices for self-aggrandisement? President Buhari was only able to win in 2015 because of the marginal improvements ensured by former President Jonathan, which ousted him too. But, has the president reciprocated this by bequeathing better electoral system to Nigeria? He didn’t sign amendments to the electoral acts sent by the 8th assembly, four different times. Now, the 9th assembly wants to emasculate INEC by subjecting it to themselves and NCC, before it could carry out it’s constitutional duties of conducting elections. President Buhari has not said anything about it so far.
Nigeria has never been this divided. Agitations by secessionists have become heightened. Some subtle ones in the past have suddenly become violent. IPOB created ESN, which is now accused of all killings and attacks in the South-East. IPOB was speedily declared as terrorist group, even though President Buhari is still being begged, massaged, prodded, coaxed to declared killer Fulani herdsmen and bandits in the north as terrorists, after many years of them committing atrocities.
I don’t really know what to believe any longer. I have hoped against hope and did everything to sustain my optimism about the country over the years but I am getting tired. Leadership seems to be on different page from followership. All appeals, advice, entreaties seem to fall on deaf ears. Only God can redeem the country. We can only hope and pray that our leaders have a change of heart to do what is right, be just, fair and equitable in their dealings with all Nigerians. They need to listen to the people and heed their demands. This is the panacea for survival of our dear country, Nigeria!
Once again, Happy Independence Day to all of us.
God Bless Nigeria.
Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator. He can be reached by email email@example.com or via WhatsApp +2348179512401 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter, Lateef Adewole on Facebook