“This storm will pass.
But choices we make now could
change our lives for years to come”
–Yuvel Noah Harari
Nigeria marked its 60th flag independence anniversary on October 1, 2020. The country is one of the very few countries in the British Commonwealth still in search of genuine nationhood. It has become a subject of endless ridicule at national and international discourses on corruption, terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, nepotism, inept leadership, religious and political intolerance, unscrupulous governance and failed state quagmire.
Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary provides an opportunity to celebrate some key milestones, particularly flag independence in 1960. The period after independence witnessed some institutional and economic transformation by the regional governments, but the dream of improving the lives of Nigerians soon dissolved into a nightmare. The treacherous military regimes, far from fulfilling the positive aspirations and expectations of a new nation, paradoxically became a source of agony, despair, poverty, nepotism and internal conflict.
It is against the background of the January 15, 1966 revolution that the country began to disseminate tendentious and distorted interpretations of the Nigerian State, with the constitution proving unworkable in the hand of politicians whose sole ambition was to cling to power irrespective of the wishes and aspirations of the people. Regrettably, the challenges of separatism and secession became dominant issues, resulting in the Unification Decree Number 34 of 1966, which sought the centralisation of the government. The creation of more states did not stem the attendant civil war; rather, it posed the most severe challenge to the territorial integrity of the emergent nation. Meanwhile, mutual suspicions from the civil war and political aberrations are still haunting us as a nation.
For the most part, a legacy of failure is what the treacherous military regimes and politicians have given us after sixty years of independence. Despite the hopes pinned on administration after administration by the people since independence, Nigerians have lived the reality of a failed state. We have become a people adrift in the depths of injustice and trapped in the scrap yard of corruption. Rather than a nation of accomplishments, today we are a nation uncertain of itself. What a paradox for a nation born out of hope and promise!
Expectedly, there is a growing consensus that the current leadership and nation building strategies, instead of addressing the critical mass for national development, are rather exacerbating them. Nigerians are disillusioned with the divisive and ineffectual political and socio-economic landscape dotted with self-serving leaders. One of the main obstacles to nation building efforts is the prevailing reality of a government for the few – led by self-centred, corrupt, do-nothing politicians and their cronies and praise singers- not a government of the people. The current leadership template does not show an open corridor of genuine consultations with the legislature, political parties, civil society groups and the people.
This year’s anniversary sloganeering of “Together” is timely. At 60, “Together” is a call to all disillusioned voters unimpressed with the options presented in every election cycle to launch an intensive participatory push for authentic leadership. Indeed, there are fundamental shifts in nation-building thinking that should deepen our outstanding of ourselves as a people and the interconnectedness of all within the nation-state. A new generative, empathetic and adaptive leadership capability, built on a collective awareness and cohesive facilitation, is required across sectors to drive our togetherness. Our collective resolve is the will to fight poverty by creating wealth and building a more inclusive society. This kind of new nationalism will hold the key to stability and the emergence of a nation at peace with itself. We, the people, must be ready to take our destiny into our own hands. We must approach the future with confidence because it is the belief in freedom that will give us courage to advance our national interests and development.
Nigerians must begin with a change in mindset to establish greater ownership of not only where we should be headed as a nation but how to get there. Indeed, the culture of democracy does not arrive without effort. One means of nurturing our democracy is to respect people for their principles, even if we disagree with those principles. We must believe in the freedom that our forebears stood for during the independence struggles if we are to be owners of our destiny.
Undeniably, no nation can develop where its citizens sit on the periphery of its pathway to progress. Nation building is not just about growth and infrastructure statistics; rather, it is about improving the lives of the people, putting them at the front and centre of policies and programmes. The government must avoid paying lip service to the issue of unemployment. It is critical to expand the private sector and help to create jobs beyond the tokenism of palliatives amongst others. Domestic resource mobilisation is a necessary precondition for increased domestic investment. It is a general notion in the global north that public service is a privilege and an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people. Unfortunately, the reverse has been the case in Nigeria since independence.
Lastly, the country must be led by coalition of like minds, a coalition of the majority to retire the status quo whose interest is the interest of the few. We must be prepared to make the difficult decisions necessary to put our country on the path of transformation through the ballot box. A new wave of nationalism will have to make it happen. We must think big as a nation if we want to accomplish big things. The thinking of the past is predominantly parochial and driven by ethnic sentiments and mutual suspicions. We need new leadership, new thinking, to accomplish a new vision for Nigeria, where truth, reconciliation, authentic leadership and sustainable peace are second nature.
Orovwuje, founder of Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons wrote from Lagos
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