Tomorrow, Nigeria celebrates the 59th anniversary of its independence. In these 59 years, the country’s leaderships have more or less seriously grappled with many challenges that include ethnic cohesion, national identity, home-grown insurgencies that all but went out of control, revolutionary tendencies, infrastructural decay, corruption and lack of transparency in governance, encroaching impunity by government officials and a lot more. These are obviously grave responsibilities to deal with, by any stretch of the imagination. But we need to get something right here. Nigeria is not alone in all these predicaments. Even in more advanced countries like the UK and America, similar challenges are facing not only the politicians but the entire populace, and that is not a joke.
In his Twitter [email protected] just this week, the famously celebrated Channel 4 broadcaster, Jon Snow noted that in all his 45 years of reporting, he cannot remember a more chaotic, divided and disturbing period in British politics.
America has its own problems which border on health care, immigration, religious freedom, marriage and family, education, environment, spending habits, welfare and election integrity.
Globally, there have been great concerns about climate change and destruction of nature, large scale conflicts and wars, inequality in income distribution, poverty, religious conflicts, government accountability and transparency, corruption, food and water security, lack of education, security and well being of citizens, lack of employment and economic opportunities.
But, while every country in a way has its tales of woe to tell, there are countries which have been specially blessed by God. And it would be truth that Nigeria is one of the very few. Nigeria, as a country, has come very far from the days of amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914, through the creation of three states at independence in 1960, four states in June 1963, twelve states in 1967, nineteen states in 1976, 30 states in 1991 and now 36 states created in 1996, all in an attempt to bring governance to the grassroots. Indeed, the journey towards true democracy has never been an easy walkover for any country. But much depends on the quality of leadership and the willingness of the masses to support their leaders along the direction they are piloting the country.
One of the mistakes Nigerians and some other African people often make is to keep on accusing Britain and other European countries of being responsible for the lack of growth of the African continent. The truth is that no country can stop another from progressing. America, England, Japan, China, Russia and the rest of them, not one of them has the capacity to stop Nigeria from growing. Only Nigerians can stop Nigeria from growing. Mark my word. Only Nigerians can do that, perhaps with the collaboration of foreign powers. And so, if Nigeria must grow, the leaders must rid themselves of that tendency to mortgage Nigeria to foreign powers or foreign interests, whether it is military, religious or economic, whether it is Chad, Somalia, Britain, Saudi Arabia or America.
Having said that, when we reflect on 59 years of Nigerian independence, there is indeed much to be proud of, in terms of development. But there is still a lot more to be done. Two incidents call to mind here. In one incident, a young man who worked with me in London once asked me why it was that white people never had any respect for black people. He should have said “generally” but he didn’t. Still, I understood where he was coming from. So, I told him why.
I told him these white people know that your country is rich. You graduate from a reputable university in your country. You come here with a Masters degree to work as a cleaner, a dead body washer, a security officer, a bar attendant and stuff like that. Why would they respect your country or you? On the contrary, if the leaders of some of these wealthy African countries applied the abundant resources in their countries across board to develop critical infrastructure, good roads, well equipped schools and hospitals and so on, the rich ones among the white would be coming to African countries like Nigeria for treatment and sending their children to school in Nigeria. That is the only time they will respect Nigerians, whether at home or abroad.
Another reason why they don’t respect Africans generally is when the educated and highly skilled ones – doctors, lawyers, architects, nurses and so on – leave the continent in their droves in search of what they say is greener pasture in Europe and America giving the leeway for half educated and greedy politicians and businessmen to keep killing each other in their insatiable quest for the spoils of public offices. Why do those educated and skilled workers prefer to offer their expertise to foreign countries when they should be serving and upgrading their home countries in the comity of nations? Those white people know that if things were right, educated Africans would stay home – as their own people stay home in the UK and other developed economies.
Another incident was when I interviewed some Eastern Europeans casually on the streets of London following the Brexit palaver. I asked them: “do you like England?” And the general answer was: “Yes. England is good but my country is better.” “You must be joking. So, if your country is better”, I murmured under my breath, “why are you here? What are you doing in London?” It didn’t make sense to me. Not until I spent a few nights in a hotel in Ukraine one summer. After 5 days in the hotel, I was checking out, back to London. It was a 3-star hotel in Kiev. I asked for my bill. The receptionist said it was $US50. I told her this was a mistake. It should be $US500. She said she was right. It was $US50. Like $US10 a night. Jeez. That was when I understood what those Eastern Europeans meant by “England is good but my country is better!” Some Nigerians feel the same way too – that England is good but their own country is better, but obviously for very different reasons.
One thing everybody agrees with is that Nigeria has got potentials. Nigeria has some of the best brains in the world. Nigeria has some of the best athletes in the world. Nigeria has lots of mineral resources which include crude oil and natural gas, talc, gypsum, iron ore, zinc, manganese, gold, bitumen, coal, limestone, clay, dolomite, quick sand, rock salt, tin ore, uranium, lead, silicon, niobium, barite, gemstones, sapphire, ruby, aquamarine, emerald, tourmaline, topaz, garnet, amethyst, zircon, fluorspar, kaolin among others.
Nigeria has great rivers which include Aba River , Anambra River, Agulu Lake , Benue River , Bonny River , Calabar River , Chanomi Creek , Cross River , Donga River , Ekulu River , Escravos River , Forcados River , Gadar Tamburawa River , Gongola River , Goulbi de Maradi River , Great Kwa River , Hadejia River , Imo River and Jama'are River . Others are: Ka River , Kaduna River , Katsina Ala River , Kwa Ibo River , New Calabar River , Ngadda River , Niger River , Nun River , Ogun River , Ogunpa River , Oramiriukwu River , Oshun River , Otamiri River , Ouémé River , Rima River , Sokoto River , Taraba River , Yobe River and Zamfara River .
All these natural endowments should naturally make Nigeria great and Nigerians globally proud. Yet most Nigerians are still longing daily to travel outside their country to work for people of other climes and circumstances? Nigerian politicians should worry about this trend and address it with the political expediency it deserves if they truly love their country as they claim they do.
Actually, building up a Nigerian nation, and I mean nation, not country, is not as difficult as it seems and definitely not as expensive. It only demands determination on the part of Nigerian political leaders. Just about three things would set the ball rolling.
First is getting electricity into every village and every town and every city in Nigeria 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Now, why do I say it is not difficult or expensive? Even in most democratically advanced countries, electricity supply is given out to private entrepreneurs who source for energy and supply their clients. They compete among themselves to have the greater number of customers and that implies adequate and flawless supply. It also means that citizens can sue and claim damages from their supplying company in case of a default.
Government must stay completely clear of this function and the companies involved must pay their taxes to government as duly agreed. So, do Nigerian politicians want to do what others are doing or do they still want to play “politics” with the lives and destiny of majority of their countrymen and women? Take it or drop it, the result of such a commitment as electrifying Nigeria would be the massive return of Nigerians who live abroad. They would come home to set up small and middle size enterprises and employment rates would automatically go up. More people would be employed by companies willing to do daily 2-shifts of 12 hours (7 am to 7 pm and 7pm to 7am) and 3 shifts of 8 hours (6am to 2 pm; 2 pm to 10 pm and 10 pm to 6 am). Many businesses would be functioning day and night. Money would revolve. Crime would lessen. The society would become saner. A lot would be achieved.
The second challenge would be to pass a law that would make it compulsory for every Nigerian child from primary school level upwards to learn to speak the three major Nigerian languages. This is predicated on the knowledge that a peoples’ language is the bedrock of their tradition and culture. People would embrace and assimilate anyone who can speak their language more easily than anyone who cannot.
If this law is made, in less than two generations, Nigerian political leaders would have built that so urgently-needed connecting bridge between ethnicities. With time, it would be difficult to distinguish between Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba as everyone would be speaking everyone else’s language and would understand everyone else’s tradition and culture. This would lay the foundation of a true national spirit for the country.
If we take Americans for example, they come from every part of the world including the s-hole countries, courtesy Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter whether they come from Africa, China, Caribbean, Japan, Mongolia or even Europe. They come and they drop their original culture and way of life to embrace and adopt the American way of life. Why? Because it makes them proud to be identified as Americans – their country largely touted as the most powerful nation on earth.
Why do Nigerian leaders, given all the mineral and manpower resources that abound in their land not think that Nigerians want to be proud to be identified as Nigerians, with all the wealth nature endowed on their country, a country that can comfortably boast of some of the best brains in the world, a country that is the most populated in Africa, a country that is the gateway to the African economy?
Without being immodest, I think Nigerian politicians should sit up to their responsibilities. Sometimes they are criticized out of ignorance. And I readily jump to their defence. After all, anyone can testify to how difficult it could be some times to manage or control even a family of six. Then think of a whole local government area or state or country. We cannot pretend that we don’t know these are difficult tasks. The point is that there is art in governance and not until Nigerian politicians learn the art and science of governance will they succeed in ushering into the land the brand of democracy that will lift this massively endowed country and its wonderful citizens to the level they deserve in the comity of nations.
For instance, so many of the politicians do not have constituency offices but collect allowances for that. How can a legislator effectively function without a constituency office? Not only does he need one, he also needs to map out a day when any of his constituents who are in need would meet and discuss their problems with him. When Nigerians see the pictures of legislators sleeping in the chambers of the House when debates are supposed to be going on, it makes a mockery of the country and its leaders. And of course Nigerians are quick to ensure that such pictures go viral. They know why they are doing that. They know that this is a time bomb that will explode any day in the face of government. And every day, developing events seem to proffer greater momentum to the trend.
As Nigerians celebrate the 59th anniversary of their independence, I salute their leaders and wish them well. I salute all those who made the supreme sacrifice so that Nigeria might march victoriously towards true democracy. We will not let them down. I urge Nigerian leaders to think and plan better about the future of their country. If only Nigerian political leaders can summon the political will, there should be hope in the future of the country.
Asinugo is the author of ‘The Presidential Years – From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ and Publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website: imostateblm.com)
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