By 1960 when Nigeria gained her independence from Britain the prospect of being a great country was bright and high. However nearly sixty years after, the dreams and hopes of the nationalists for independence had not been realized.
Poverty, divisions, underdevelopment and backwardness, unemployment, corruption, insecurity and such negative things had been the dominant features. Largely the country has been assailed by many divisive forces, thereby raising doubts about her survival today.
With the march of history, a nation that started off on the platform of unity and optimism, and with great promise of mighty wealth and greatness disappointed all expectations. It changed its course of direction, imbibed the wrong values and acquired bad drivers and sailors and went swimming and wallowing in wild sea of pessimism, disunity and humiliating shame of poverty and underdevelopment.
Today Nigeria has been declared the world capital of poverty, and her unity is severely threatened by dark forces of tribalism, ethnicity, religiousness, political bitterness set and driven by its political elite. The consensus view is that the country is not only poor and down on the development ladder, also she is highly disunited. As a notable politician has observed, the country has never been more divided than she is today. It has been a long role of disappointment and frustration resulting in self doubt and crisis of serious proportion.
The elite have implanted deep pains in my heart warranting this reflection on why the country perpetually poor, disunited and backward over the years since independence.
It is an attempt to show why the promotion of national unity and development has been so difficult a task in Nigeria.The Uninspiring role of the Nigerian elite in Nation-building(1960-2018) is noted and stressed. It is a wake up call on the governing and managing elite to rise to the challenge of nation building especially by doing the needful for national unity and development in Nigeria.
Permit me, dear reader, to say that this occasional essay is dedicated to the great Columnist Tatalo Alamu of the Nation on Sunday for his patriotic zeal, intellectual depth and sagacity and highly infection writing. I do not know him but his weekly essays have done enough to keep hope alive about the unity and development of the country and to try to keep her on the right track. Were his ideas and suggestion diligently applied to policy making, the country would have been far better off than it is today.At least his works concentrated my mind on the national question and largely inspired this essay.
Few years ago -precisely in 2014- when Nigeria clocked one hundred years of existence as a country, the Nigerian scholar, patriot and columnist wrote a very scathing article that drew attention to the fiscal imbalance that might have held the country down and backward. Obviously angry and dissatisfied with the pace and quality of national development in a land so well blessed by nature with resources of wealth both human and material, he advocated for what he calls ‘fiscal federalism’ to be put in place in Nigeria and went ahead to invite the elite to a public debate and analysis of the Nigerian state with a view to finding answers to our national problem.
The response was warm, positive and insightful. It provided me a better understanding of the inner thoughts and feeling of the Nigerian elite about the country. Many of them appeared to have fallen to the manipulations of the ruling class and accepted their wicked offering about Nigeria and so blamed the structure, including the historical process of becoming a nation state.
I disagreed and blamed the ruling and managing elite for the problems of the country especially for failing to do the necessary nurturing and development of the country after birth. They have been notorious for blaming all else than themselves for the country’s problems. Today I still do. They are the country’s leading problems – the real culprit.
I do not know whether the writer – Tatalo Alamu – who I later learnt from a reliable source to be “an eminent scholar and professor in his field” while snooping around the country had a secretariat to collate the ideas generated by the public discourse he initiated, but I do know that ever since, the call for restructuring of the country got intensified, and has not waned or left public consciousness. I know few more things : the elite lack the ability to solve problems, and the honesty and skills to do correct diagnosis and analysis of the Nigerian ailments- largely for selfish reasons.
Consequently, even reasonable, straight forward issues and easily doable things have been left undone. For instance, the ruling elite have not been able to review the revenue sharing formulae which made fiscal federalism a jerky affair in Nigeria, they have not paid due attention to the constitution especially chapter two with its nation building and nourishing values. Yet, these are simple issues which could be easily resolved by any group driven by patriotism and national interest. Even the call for restructuring had become incoherent and bizarre bordering on the near impossible or unnecessary.
Generally, the Nigerian elite have a lackadaisical and unhelpful habit of looking at the other way their country is burning for selfish reasons. This may be so because as Akinlotan has observed, Nigeria has “irresponsible political elites”…. with “many of them parochial , ethnic champions and …more preoccupied with gratifying their primordial tastes and short- sighted needs than worrying about the country’s tenuous future” ( Akinlotan – Appalling presidential election calculations – The Nation on Sunday October 28 2018).
In the face of the obvious failings of the Nigerian elite as exemplified say by their violation of relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution for instance chapter two, disregard for extant rules and regulations of public service of Nigeria with utmost impunity, extreme parochialism, massive corruption, nepotism, promotion of profane values in society, and their general ineffectiveness in leadership, management and governance, it seems improper, dishonest and a great absurdity betraying some elite’ conspiracy to blame the structures or turn attention elsewhere. Issues of elites’ failure in governance must be addressed frontally because in the final analysis they are factors that hurt people and impede the unity and progress of society.
Many Groups had sought to leave the country in the past not because of poor structure but because of rough and raw deal from poor governance by the Nigerian elite. For example In 1966 when Isaac Adaka Boro declared a Niger- Delta Republic, he cited injustice, sustained policy neglect of the Niger Delta area, denial of effective political participation, among the reasons for their action.
Also in 1967 when Ojukwu declared a republic of Biafra out of the old Eastern region, he gave similar reasons notably insecurity of life and property of the Igbos in Nigeria, injustice, break down of law and order, among others as reasons for secession.
The important point to note though is that like other Nigerian groups who had expressed desire to leave the union, these people were less concerned with structure than with the quality and effect of governance on their lives and properties. They expressed a desire to leave the country not because they were part of the structure put in place by the British in 1914 but because of the adverse effect of misrule, bad governance, poor management of resources and inept leadership on them.
These are the consequences of the actions of men. If this is true then why pursuing the shadow instead of reality? Why leave the faults of men to deal with idle structures that have no brains and hands to plan and hurt the individual unless so used by man.
Though I do not see structure as the bane of the country, yet I recognize its importance in the success of organisations. We need some to help achieve our goals and objectives. However in the final analysis, men and women make structures to work either for better or worse. The monumental failure of the Nigerian state can only be understood in terms of the deficiency of the Nigerian elite in leadership and governance. It is a reflection of the huge failure of those in charge of affairs to do the needful for success . While there are indeed many factors or obstacles to national unity and development in Nigeria today, it is clear to me that the Nigerian elites have not been able to live up to the broad challenge of nation – building. And structure is perhaps the littlest of the problems.
Let me observe here as a way of reminder that there was a time when lop-sided political and administrative structure was a serious problem in Nigeria. That was during the time of the three or four regional structure in which one of the regions -the northern region was bigger than the other two or three regions combined. That was when we talked about a lop- sided political structure- a time before the 1967 creation of states from four regions to twelve states and subsequently the present 36 states.
While the demands for the creation of more states has not ceased till date, there were loud grumblings by the oppressed, minority agitations for freedom and political participation and demands for the creation of more regions to address political fears and accelerate development. However the conspiracy of the elites prevented the creation of more regions before independence. The Commission set up to look at the problem declined to recommend the creation of more regions hoping that through good governance the fear of the minority groups of the prospect of perpetual domination and enslavement would be allayed and so be pacified.
That was what the Willinks Commission had hoped for but never came to pass because of the misrule and poor governance of the elite. Even then, there were bright spots in the regional structure such as the magical performance of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the western region. He was easily the lodestar of that era. With his great feats in meaningful development of his region, he showed that with imagination, vision, creative ideas, critical thinking, knowledge, skills and hard work, devotion to a given cause, man the builder can overcome even a very bad structure.
The relative success of Awo is a pointer to where focus should be today – the ruling elite especially in governance, management and leadership. I agree with Akinlotan cited earlier that no country can develop “without leaders possessing the appropriate political and economic ideas”. And that “Nigeria will neither develop nor be at peace, until that right leader takes office”. As the author emphasized that leader must be “some one who knows what it means to forge national identity …can envision the future, inured to ethnic politics, not hobbled by ethnic consideration,…loves the arts, fascinated by science and technology,…can dream great dreams …knows what justice is all about…, has the right instincts… and sound grasp of how the Asian Tigers broke through the development ceiling and how the West found the future and embraced it’. (Akinlotan 2018a cited earlier).
In short that leader must be knowledgeable, skillful, well informed, capable especially of differentiating between truth and falsehood. Perhaps the essential point to stress here is that we lose heavily when we turn away due attention from the real problems that ail the country to to focus on inanities such as structure or the process by which Nigeria came into being. It has not been helpful to the cause of national unity and development.
Unfortunately many lies have been told about Nigeria’s disunity and underdevelopment and wrong steps taken on the national unity and development lanes by the Nigerian elites. They need to be corrected. One of the tasks of this occasional essay is to draw attention to some the wrong steps taken in the past and show the falsity and weakness in many of the claims about Nigeria especially that of cultural diversity arising from the 1914 amalgamation being the cause of disunity. Some of the falsehoods have been peddled by the Nigerian elites for so long that they have tended to wear the apparels of truth. Sold to our collective consciousness through endless repetitions, they tend to becloud focus and divert attention from reality, blur vision, hinder truth and hamper creative thinking. But largely, the major problem has been with the failure of the elites to observe the basic principles which account for the greatness of nations as summarized below.
(To be continued)
Dr. Abhuere, FNIM is the founder of Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja