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Opinion: Hurray Nigeria is 59 Years Old – Many Rivers Still to Cross; By John Abhuere


After some weeks abroad it is sweet to be back home. No matter how unpleasant your native home may be there is always a yearning for it. As the Esan man would say, “Home is home” no matter how pleasurable the outside world may be. It has its special sweetness and high sense of assurance perhaps because it is where things are more familiar and under one’s control. Truly I missed Nigeria with all its foibles. Every step reminded me of home, its importance as the only place on earth to be called my home and the yawning need to make the country a better society. Yes I am glad to be back home: no more concern about the weather man’s forecast, no more winter coats, no more worries about the vagaries of the weather etc. It is so pleasing to be back to my sunshine country where it costs little or nothing to cope with the weather.

Truly, it is sweet to be home, but don’t get it wrong. I enjoyed every moment abroad especially watching the smooth working of a better organized society. It makes reach the conclusion that the way a society organizes itself accounts for its greatness or otherwise. In other words the skill or power of organization may make the difference between Nigeria and the more advanced countries of the world. My daughter -the golden girl, son inlaw, wife and our grandson ensured my happiness in Canada while my in laws, cousins and friends took care of the American axis. Thus good bye is hard to say here. But it must be said because no matter how heavy and difficult: so bye to all you beautiful guys over there and many thanks for the great care and love which made my stay out there happy and memorable.

Hurray Nigeria is 59 years old. She needs sincere prayers, high spirits of patriotism and nationalism, positive attitude, hard work and greater commitment to national unity and development to move forward.

I met the country in great fever of different forms- some unnecessary or avoidable. The one that easily comes to mind was the fever caused by the Elections Tribunals’ judgements. Public reaction had been varied but the general desire is for justice to prevail to protect the interests of citizens and safeguard democracy. The general question on the lips on citizens is: Is the Judiciary equal to the task at hand- precisely that of delivering Justice to all justly and fairly? While only time can tell or answer this question, it should be observed that the Judiciary is seen by the people as the last hope of the ordinary citizen and democracy. Judges should therefore be above board because on their shoulders rest the future of the country.

There was the fever caused by the establishment of the Economic Advisory Council by President Muhammadu Buhari to replace the Economic Management Team headed by VIce President Osinbajo. The reactions here had been strange to me as many extraneous factors were brought in while leaving out the question of rightness or benefits of the exercise to the country. Rather unnecessary tensions and falsehood were created by ethnic and regional champions and those who saw it as a way of curbing the powers and alleged ambitions of the Vice President. While some saw it as a sign of rift in the presidency others especially advocates of restructuring/ regionalism regarded it as even enough justification for their call for regionalism or constitutional review. They’re wrong. While these seem to me as unpatriotic or highly biased responses informed by narrow values of regionalism to a mere administrative action done hopefully to achieve better result, it should be observed that the president did not breach any section of the constitution because the National Economic Council which the Vice President chairs was not touched.

However, I worry about the name and membership of the Economic Advisory Council which gives the impression that the nation’s problem was largely economic in nature and only Economists can solve. This needs to be reviewed because the way a problem is defined determines the way it is solved. It is unhelpful to reduce the nation’s problems to economic and consequently leave solution to the hands of one professional group. Such approach will not produce the desired results- no matter how brilliant the members of the council because the problem has not been fully defined or properly framed.

For me the country has been faced with serious crisis of development over time since independence. And this has social, political, economic and cultural dimensions. The country needs to rise to the challenge of national development and unity which failure has been the root cause of most of the agitations in Nigeria dating back to the minority struggle for their own regions during the colonial times to the present day agitation by IPOB for self determination or the Boko Haram insurgency for theocracy.

Consequently we suggest here the the enlargement of membership of the Economic Advisory Council to include non-economists but experts in other disciplines. The name could even be changed to” Development Advisory Council”. Everyone must be involved in this renewed task of developing the country from all sides. Time now to wear our thinking cap, working gloves and development garb and mobilize all citizens to be more engaged in creative thinking and practical action for a better society .

This leads me to the fever associated with the 59th Independence Anniversary. Opinion was split between those who believe that there was nothing about independence in Nigeria to celebrate and those who held the opposite view that for being able to remain one country for 59 years in spite of the many knocks by citizens with strong regional, ethnic , religious divisive values and orientations, there is much to be happy about the country. I belong to the latter. No matter the difficulty today Nigeria should be celebrated as our God given place – our ancestral place of sort on earth.

Still, I worry as I wish Nigeria a happy birthday as she turns 59 years. There are many rivers yet to cross and lessons to learn from her history that has been more remarkable for failure than success. For instance, she needs sincere prayers, high spirits of patriotism and nationalism, elite’s positive attitude, hard work and greater commitment to national unity and development able leadership, effective management and good governance by the elite to move forward. While most of these factors were absent in the fifty nine years past in Nigeria, she needs to rise to the challenge of national development and unity which had not been possible as a result of wrong development approach, poor leadership, mismanagement and bad governance since independence.

Given my emphasis on the way certain things were done in the US and Canada, some readers have wondered if the last trip abroad was the first I had ever made outside the country. No please. My last trip was certainly not the first time I travelled outside the country as some had been tempted to think. The difference between the last journey and others earlier is the interest it generated in issues of practical development. It raised matters or issues for discussion in relation to the future development of the country.

As a student and later a public servant attending university, conferences and workshops, I made several trips outside Nigeria. But the goal was different: I was then more interested in either passing my examination or advancing my career. During the last trip I was a man in search of practical solution to national problems and I saw some materials that could be useful to Nigeria. It provided the insight to some ordinary things – simple but important that we could do to make the country great. We can benefit from what l prefer to call creative imitation.

In short time and age had changed everything including my perception of development today. For instance, as a young student of development studies at the University of Wales, U.K., l had read the book “Small is beautiful” but dismissed it as inappropriate model of development for Nigeria. But with maturity and deep thoughts flavored by reality l now think otherwise. For instance, the “small is beautiful”idea can be applied to community development where members could be organized and empowered to execute small but beneficial projects to society .With each community doing its bits well , the whole country would become developed. It can be applied to other areas of the economy. For instance, if everyone shows love, tolerance ,patriotism at individual level, do his work diligently and shun corruption, then the effects would aggregate to collective love, tolerance, corruption- free and developed society. This is akin to Gandhi’s idea of each family cleaning its premises as basis of cleaning the whole of India.

In a word, we are not calling for sheepish mimic of European ways but creative adaptation of ideas and best practices to the Nigerian situation. Let’s do those little but standard things that make society great such as obeying and enforcing the rule of law, fix infrastructure, greening society, maintain roads, check insecurity, good governance etc. Today, I have no doubt that we can easily do these things at home to make Nigeria great- provided the elite are serious and committed to the idea of national unity and development. Thus the difference between then and now is one of mature and realistic evaluation.

While abroad, I spent greater time in retrospection and reflection on the country’s development efforts over time and observed the environment much more closely than I ever did before in order to spot whatever difference there is or was between Nigeria and other countries. As noted earlier, I saw simple things they do or did that we were not doing or did badly. To recall, for instance I saw superb organization, good governance, able leadership, active citizenry participation, management of society at work, obeying traffic rules and regulations, punishing offenders, maintaining the roads, keeping the environment neat and greening it, respect for public opinion, love of work as basis of survival etc. People did not only dream, also they work, take practical steps to actualize dreams. In all, it was clear to me that we could do all these at home at little or no cost especially if we can rethink our problems and adopt appropriate measures. For instance we can mobilize the citizens to green the environment, to obey laws etc- if we really care.

This was the prompting of my “Notes from Abroad.” The idea was to preach patriotism and inter ethnic and inter religious harmony in a country that had been so weighed down and held back by regional values implanted since 1940s by the British via the Richards constitution with its divisive regional party Politics and fueled ever by the political elite for selfish reasons. It was also to propose a rethink of the Nigerian situation especially the nature of her problems, develop a new positive attitude to nation building, promote ideas such as maximum citizenry participation, “the small is beautiful” approach to nation building, the involvement of every one in the development efforts of his community and above all the development of an effective consequence management system based on justice and fairness to all citizens. My “Notes at home”shall help to advance this line of thought in due course as part of the effort to moving Nigeria forward on the unity and development lane. These are some of the things we should do to make our country great within the next decade . Happy birthday Nigeria my beloved, beautiful country. It is really good and sweet to be back home to join our great truly great.

*Prof. John Abhuere (FNIM), Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja

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