Nigeria at 60: Still learning to walk the talk

October 1, 2020
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“BY 2020, Nigeria will have a large, strong, diversified, sustainable and competitive economy that effectively harnesses the talents and energies of its people and responsibly exploits its natural endowments to guarantee a high standard of living and quality of life of its citizens.”That magic and enigmatic year, 2020, which Nigeria premised its dreamed phenomenal growth and development agenda in the 21st century is here and is almost gone. Incidentally, the year marks the country’s 60th anniversary of freedom from the shackles of British colonialists. Ironically, it also chronicles incredulous tales and indices of poverty, misery and forlorn hope about a land of immense blessings yet bugged down by inept leadership and drought of prosperity and progress..

The above excerpts from the executive summary (Overview of Nigeria Vision 20:2020), encapsulate the plethora of blueprints that emanated from the stable of successive administrations in the country.Dating back to the time it attained independence on October 1, 1960, the country had never lacked in fallacious promises of such development templates by Nigerian leaders. From the period of the federal administration in the First Republic through the jackboot government of military autocracy down to the civilian dispensations from 1999, the promise to herald a new dawn in Nigeria appears Utopian. An elated TafawaBalewa in expressing gratitude to those patriots, especially nationalists and allies that made the attainment of independence possible for Nigeria, was full of platitudes in his inaugural speech on October 1, 1960. He had declared: “This is an occasion when our hearts are filled with conflicting emotions: we are, indeed, proud to have achieved our independence, and proud that our efforts should have contributed to this happy event.” Recalling the how tortuous journey to independence, coupled with the huge sacrifice that was made in the course of the struggle against colonialism, Balewa added: “Today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a process which began 15 years ago and has now reached a happy and successful conclusion. It is with justifiable pride that we claim the achievement of our Independence to be unparalleled in the annals of history. Each step of our constitutional advance has been purposefully and peacefully planned with full and open consultation, not only between representatives of all the various interests in Nigeria but in harmonious cooperation with the administering power which has today relinquished its authority.” Sadly, all those that subverted and short-circuited the First Republic equally made a vow on the future of the country. First was Major ChukwumaNzeogwu, who announced the first putsch on January 15, 1966.  His words: “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 per cent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds.” But was followed was a chain of ugly events, including a countercoup and three-year civil war that ended in 1970. In a reconciliatory speech meant to heal the wounds of the war of no victor, no vanquished, the new head of State, General Yakubu Gowon said: “Let us therefore, march manfully together to alter the course of this nation once again for all and to place it on the path of progress, unity and equality. Let us so act that future generations of Nigerians will praise us for our resolution and courage in this critical stage of our country’s history.”

Nigeria at 60
From left, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, another dignitary and the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, on Independence day From left, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, another dignitary and the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, on Independence day

Those speeches from the corridors of power flowed with a stream of agenda that were sold to Nigerians as processes that would drive seamless development, economic growth and stability in the polity. The most recent of those so-called templates designed as the launch pad for Nigeria’s breakthroughs included most recent ones like the Poverty Strategy Reduction Papers (PSRPs); National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS 1 and 1D); the Seven-Point Agenda; Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP); Green Revolution; Operation Feed the Nation (OFN); National rolling Plans. All of them have not only paled into insignificance in terms of real impact and effect, but ended in a miasma of austerity measures and vicious circle with the resultant impression that Nigeria is, perhaps, a country where nothing works. With abandoned projects littering everywhere, as contractors swindle government after colluding with leaders in charge of either supervising or managing national wealth or resources, the national economy lies prostrate and comatose.

Role models

Though virtually all those leaders who navigated Nigeria’s journey to independence have passed on, their footprint on the sands remain indelible. They remain a reference point in the annals of the country. The list of such titans include the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello; first premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief ObafemiAwolowo and his counterpart in the Eastern Region, OzumbaMbadiwe, as well as Sir TafawaBalewa who became Prime Minister and DrNanamdiAzikiwe as ceremonial president. The monumental achievements of these leaders, especially the premiers still dot the landscape of the regions that have since been split into 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Because of their sterling qualities, commitment to the service of humanity, administrative acumen and vision coupled with integrity, they command a cult following, with the few remaining nationalists, associates and allies sustain the creed of those leaders of blessed memories. Their political philosophies and ideals coded in publications enjoy wide interest and study by academics, professionals cutting across many disciplines. The departure of those visionary nationalists created vacuum that is yet to filled, as money, mundane issues and other primordial factors as opposed to integrity and vision has gained ascendancy.

Development blueprints

If the number of economic growth and development plans were anything to go by, Nigeria should have been in the celestial plain, the astral world where everything beautiful and comfort-driven could be taken for granted.  At 60, the country would be rubbing shoulders with the Asian Tigers, Latin American kid wizards behind the astonishing impact in automobile technology. What Nigerian leaders had in excess in policy formulations, they make up in deficiency and deficit in honest and faithful implementation of so-called development agenda that gulps trillions in planning and haphazard action.  Policies are either jettisoned with reckless abandon through policy inconsistency and somersault. According to a report by https://www.projectwriters, tagged the National Development Plan and Planning from 1968 till date, there were three eras of the variegated development planning. They included the era of Fixed- Term Planning (1962-85); Rolling Plan (1990-1998), and the New Democratic Dispensation (1999 till date).

The report added that the period of Fixed Medium Term Plan (1962-1985) captured the First National Development Plan (1962-1968), the JORIND Second National Development Plan (1970-1974), the Third National Development Plan (1975-1980) and the Fourth National Development Plan (1981-1985). According to the report, the first plan covered the period 1962-63-1967-68 and provided for capital expenditure of N2.2 billion. The implementation of the plan was extended to 1969-70 due to the Nigerian civil war. One major employment promotion scheme in the First National Development Plan was the establishment of the National Manpower Board (NMB) in 1962. The Second National Development Plan covered the period 1970-1974 with a capital expenditure of about N3 billion. The Plan witnessed attempts to rectify some of the shortcomings of the first development plan.

For Chief Olabode George, an astute politician and former top military brass, the road to self-recovery and panacea for the stability and progress in Nigeria is restructuring in order to calm all frayed nerves due to the existing defective federal structure. According to him, the troubled country can no longer boast of the epithet as the Giant of Africa because of its convoluted structure.

A legal practitioner and acting national chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Shonibare is another personalities that feels seriously dissatisfied with the despicable state of the nation after six decades of independence. He said: “While a diamond jubilee is a notable landmark, it is unfortunate that 60 years on, we are yet to grow into viability. We have stumbled from one existential crisis to another; never resolving one quandary before proceeding to the next. In the process, we have stored up a harvest of dysfunction that we cannot avoid addressing. Similarly, a former national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun believed more could be done to bring succour to Nigerians by their leaders, particularly in the interest of posterity. “We are not sufficiently giving the people hope or explaining things to people and giving them hope that tomorrow will be better. So, there is despondency in the land; that critical ingredient that makes people say ‘okay, things are bad today, but they are telling us that it will be better tomorrow’. That is missing. In addition to economic difficulty, economic deprivation, we have not successfully conveyed to them, the picture of a better tomorrow,” he said.

Nonetheless, the romanticism with the past by the majority of the populace is a function of the culture of enlightened interest being exhibited by the political class, which has weaponised poverty in the land. Whereas the legacies of the heroes past endure in the public space and psyche of the citizenry, subsequent generations of Nigerian leaders have mortgaged the present and the future generations of the people. Many are turned into cannon fodders to be deployed during elections by politicians and their allies, who themselves lack the capacity to lead. Kleptomania has upgraded to an art in public places.

In the midst of all these misgivings, however, a former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor AttahiruJega gave clarity to issues concerning how the country could reduce the level cynism and restiveness against the system. An advocate of restructuring, Jega was quoted to have said: “No federal arrangement is perfect and accepted by all in it. For countries, which are diverse in complex and intricate ethno-religious mosaics, such as Nigeria, federalism is the only game in town, which can be continuously improved upon. We can do this by removing all the distortions, which have accumulated in our short history, and by bringing and adapting, as value-additions, global good practices from other relatively more stable federal systems. Learning how countries with more complex diversity than ours, such as India manage to stabilise their federal arrangement, can help us in no small measure to address our own challenges.”

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