NIGERIA AT 50

Nigeria will be marking her fiftieth year as an independent nation on 1st October, 2010.  Whether in a person’s life, an organization or a nation, 50 years is not a small attainment. However, the nation’s journey thus far has been fraught with contradictions.  There were moments when as a people we experienced heights of joy, but there were also times when we found ourselves in the depths of despair. Through all these, Nigerians have become a study in resilience. Therefore, the occasion of our Golden Jubilee gives us ample opportunity to rejoice, to reflect and to chart a new course for our nation.

A TIME FOR REJOICING

Some people may wonder whether there is anything to celebrate.  We are not celebrating that everything is alright in Nigeria but because it could have been much worse than it is now.  That we still have a nation occupying the geographical entity called Nigeria is a miracle in itself.  With over 250 ethnic groups, diverse religious systems and difficult political history, we are still one nation.  Nigeria is currently being cited as a model for “unity in diversity” for other African nations to emulate.

We have been through “hell and high waters” in the past almost five decades but God has been our mainstay.  How many times since 1960 did we get to the brink, but the invisible hand of the Almighty did not let us tip over. There are few countries that have gone through civil war, countless ethnic and religious crises, coups and counter coups and are still standing today as one nation.  We have seen countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia fight a protracted civil wars over things that we take for granted in Nigeria.  Even after a civil war that cost several million lives we are still living together as one nation. No wonder we are recognized worldwide as an indefatigable people.

Nigeria is immensely blessed with an “unfair” share of natural resources when compared to most other African countries. It is said that there is hardly any natural resource that Nigeria does not possess in small or large quantities. Despite the successive pillage of these resources over the years, we still have so much left for us to start all over again.  Nigeria is also blessed with abundant human resources.  Not only are we the most populous nation in Africa, we also rank among the best trained workforce.  Nigerians compete favourably with their foreign counterparts. Many Nigerians who left this country due to economic hardship or repressive regimes are making their marks in the field of science, engineering, technology and business etc in the various nations where they are found.

Nigeria has become a global name in the area of sports, especially in football.  Our youths have made us proud in many competitions that they were engaged in.  We have been recognized as “the giant of African football” even with our inconsistencies. Sports have been a uniting ingredient in our nation.

Nigeria has been globally positioned to play key role in Africa.  This nation was a major factor in the liberation of Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and several other African countries. The countries of West Africa have a lot to be thankful to Nigeria because we have continued to play the “big brother role” in our sub-region. The United Nations has recognized that Nigeria has been a stabilizing factor in Liberia and Sierra Leone, even though we could have also been in the same condition ourselves but for the grace of God.

The foregoing are just a few of the reasons why our nation’s 50th anniversary calls for celebration. After all, where there is life, there is hope.  The future still holds great promises for Nigeria.  

A TIME FOR REFLECTION

The jubilee year also calls for a time of reflection.  Our history is mixed with an array of missed opportunities and betrayed hope.  When Nigeria obtained her independence from Britain in1960, the nation was strategically positioned to offer inspiration and a ray of light to other African nations. It is often said that “as Nigeria goes, so goes other West African countries”. The first sign of problem with the young nation manifested when the founding fathers that fought for our independence started ethnic politics and bickering over political positions.  The acrimonious seed that was sowed at that time has produced bitter fruits that have dogged our fifty years journey.

When oil was discovered and subsequently exploited in large quantities, Nigeria was shot up to the world stage as an emerging economy to compete with the West.  What is known today as the “Asian tigers” were peers with Nigeria at the nascent stage of our nationhood, but alas, while those nations embarked on human capital development and building of viable industries and institutions, we frittered away our patrimony.  Indeed, one of our leaders in the 1970s even observed that Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it.  That was why our leaders engaged in such profligacy that today Nigeria is considered among the poorest nations of the world. Some years ago, as Nigeria was pleading for debt forgiveness, a Japanese ambassador observed that “Nigeria is not a poor nation, but the people are poor”. This is the contradiction we have had to live with.

Probably, an area of painful reflection is our betrayal of the people who have a sense of shared destiny with us.  Nigeria ought to be the pride and glory of the black race.  It is not merely a coincidence that God put the largest concentration of the black race in the geographical entity called Nigeria.  It is a proven fact that one in five black people is a Nigerian. Not only that, there is probably no other black nation that has the kind of natural endowment that Nigeria has.  Why did God do all this?  It must be that God wanted to use Nigeria to disprove the normative assumption that the black race is cursed.

Today, blacks suffer all kinds of indignity and prejudice in the world because so far, no black nation has been outstanding.  That’s why whether they come from the West or any where else, the global community still has a stereotype for the black man.  If Nigeria had been all she ought to be, it would have been a positive reference point for the black race. There was a time when Nigeria spoke, the international community listened to us, the naira was stronger than the dollar, our prospect for greatness was intimidating but through reckless political experiment and corruption we have been reduced to “a giant on clay feet”.

Another area of great shame in our nation is how much the value for human life has depreciated.  Daily, lives are wasted with reckless abandon, sometimes by people who are supposed to protect it.  The practice of ritual killings and militancy add to other forms of bloodletting that can be felt through the length and breadth of Nigeria. The level of insecurity in our cities has made it difficult for us to attract the kind of foreign investment we crave for.

Other nations have benefited from their elite class but in Nigeria the situation is different. Rather, they have been the instrument of oppression and corruption. If there is one thing that has dented our image internationally, it is endemic corruption.  Like an octopus, corruption in its different forms, has its tentacles spread across every segment of our society.

No nation can move forward without respect for justice and equity.  Our penchant for disorder and lawlessness has gained us international notoriety. One of the reasons for restiveness in the Niger Delta is that it is a protest against deprivation and oppression.

A TIME FOR RE-DIRECTION

The nation’s Golden Jubilee is another opportunity for us to renounce our self-sabotage and embrace our destiny.  It is a time for Nigeria to reappraise her purpose and correct the things that are wrong with our nation. We can no longer play the ostrich while the rest of the world is watching and matching on.

Most importantly, this is the moment for us to assess the level of our patriotism as a people.  It is sad that people would rather assert their ethnic nationality than their citizenship as Nigerians – and our leaders have not helped in this matter.  The hurts, hostilities and suspicion arising from the civil war have continued to mar our march towards the future. There is need for mutual forgiveness. This is the moment for the different ethnic groups in Nigeria to accept one another and the synergy of our corporate existence. 

The pervasive sense of hopelessness has to be addressed. There are few people who believe that something good can still come out of Nigeria. They have given up all hopes that the situation of our nation can change.  The disappointments and failures of our past leaders created this atmosphere of despair. There is need to restore optimism in the hearts of Nigerians. The need for a genuine national mobilization and re-orientation cannot be overemphasized.  If we are to fulfill our purpose as a nation, we need to nurture a positive spirit in the emerging generation.

There is a generation of Nigerians that has grown up with a wrong work ethic.  The belief in get-rich-quick has so much dominated the thoughts and minds of our young people that no one wants to wait or labour to be rich. That is why many of them have found solace in scam, drug trafficking and other vices. Sadly, this culture was foisted upon them by politicians and military looters who flaunt their ill-gotten wealth. Our youths need to know through exemplary leadership that there is dignity in labour.

No nation can become great while neglecting education.  In the past many years we have spent more of our national budget to maintain our military than in education, yet we were not at war.  The need to restore quality in our education is urgent.  Today, certificates from Nigerian tertiary institutions are despised both at home and abroad because for the most part, graduates can hardly defend their degrees.  There was a time when teachers were respected in the society.  They earned enough to keep them focused in their calling, but today, those who survived the brain drain give less than 50% of their time to their profession.  No wonder then that our schools have become breeding grounds for cultists and criminals. Our educational system needs to be overhauled.

If Nigeria is to march forward, we need to give priority to energy, transportation and roads. The decay in our infrastructure requires national emergency. The continuous dependence on the importation of virtually everything has not allowed local industries to thrive.

Our value system as a people has to be restored.  A people are known by their sense of virtue. Justice, equity, honesty, and respect for law and order should be emphasized as the core values of our nation.  The fruit of justice is peace.  We must demand integrity in governance.  Our laws must be enforced.  Excellence and merit should be celebrated while mediocrity and fraud should be scorned.  Nigerians must be made to understand that their opportunities in life do not depend on where they come from or who they know.

Nigeria stands at a critical time in her history.  What we do now will determine whether we shall move forward or be left behind by other nations of the world.  Countries like Ghana and Malaysia used their golden jubilee to rebound and move forward. A generation may experience jubilee only once in their lifetime.  This is our moment, let us maximize it. May God bless Nigeria!

Article written to commemorate Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee in 2010

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