By Orji Kalu [Okalu@orjikalu.com] Saturday, October 08, 2011
Nigeria marked the anniversary of her 51st Independence from colonial rule last Saturday. The celebrations were unusually very low-keyed. The actual reason for scaling down the celebrations is yet to be known officially, except for a non-committal defence at a press briefing held by the Honourable Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, where he said that the celebrations would be low-keyed in line with the decision of the Federal Executive Council for Nigerians to do more of stock-taking than celebrating. However, the reason adduced by the Federal Government should not be enough to alter an age-long tradition of funfare and merrymaking. In my assessment, blaming the low-key events on the need to afford the citizens an opportunity to carry out quiet meditation on the nation’s social, political and economic development in the past 51 years was lame and incongruent with reality.
Curiously, while the citizens were discharging this unsolicited task of taking-stock of the events of the past 51 years, security was being beefed up across the country, especially at event centres, borders, and the Presidential Vila where the traditional parade was staged. The Eagle Square – which used to play host to this annual event – was condoned off by security agents, and completely deserted. In fact, the places where the citizens usually gathered every October to celebrate the event and have fun were also deserted due to the threat by the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and other anti-social groups to bomb some designated places. Who wouldn’t be sacred by the MEND threat? After all, they successfully carried out a similar operation the same time last year after sending out a stern warning for civilians to keep off the venue of the parade. Over 60 lives were lost and 30 vehicles destroyed. Some of those injured during the bombings are yet to recover fully.
Views gleaned from some concerned citizens showed that many people were displeased with the cancellation of events earlier scheduled to mark the epochal event over security concerns. For how long are we going to live this way? As a child, growing up in Aba, we always looked forward to the Independence Day – the march past, the pomp and ceremony, et al. They usually aroused nostalgia and a deep feeling of patriotism in us. Gradually, things started changing. Fear and trepidation have taken over our land. People now live in an atmosphere of uncertainty. I have never stopped saying it that unless we guarantee security of life and property, every effort to grow our democracy and make Nigeria great would come to naught. Security is an essential ingredient for the advancement of the sovereignty of any nation.
I am worried that Nigeria has suddenly begun to pamper terrorists who have found in Nigeria a new haven to perpetrate their heinous activities. For that is the impression of some people about the action of the government in postponing the events mapped out to mark our 51st independence. Some persons may describe the action of the government as precautionary; nevertheless, it smacked of cowardice and overindulgence. Who is sure some other misguided and nefarious groups would not emerge tomorrow to issue a similar threat as MEND’s and government shows willingness to negotiate with them?
The best way to exterminate evil is not to shy away from it; rather, it should be fought with all the vigour it deserves. Evil is like cancer – it grows malignantly and spreads until it kills its victim. Nevertheless, I do not subscribe to the general notion that President Goodluck Jonathan is a weak leader and, therefore, lacks the capacity to fight the current upsurge in crime and militancy. Even though they are entitled to their own opinion, mine should also be respected. What Jonathan lacks is not capacity but charisma. He is definitely not the Obamas or Camerons of this world. This is understandable, because of his background and orientation. However, he is patient and calculative. These qualities have their own inherent benefits all the same.
Having assessed the journey so far, I am compelled to ask: What can we bring to the table as our achievements in the past 51 years? Even if we can point to a few things as concrete accomplishments, but can we beat our chests and say they are commensurate with the huge resources and energy invested in them? Some countries that got independence at the same time as Nigeria have certainly overtaken it. Why has Nigeria failed to be where it should be despite all efforts to achieve this? What is responsible for the steady downward growth in our life as a nation? Why is Nigeria still generally unsafe, in spite of deliberate efforts by government to unite the country and make it safer? Where do we expect to be in the next 10, 20, 30 or 40 years? Do we expect to attain full ingredients of nationhood by the time Nigeria will be celebrating her 100 years of independence in 2060? How would posterity judge those that had or would have ruled Nigeria by the time it is 100 years? These are some of the questions we need to provide answers to if we are to chart a functional course for the emergence of a new Nigeria.
Now, let us attempt to answer some of the questions to enable us to properly put in perspective the progress we have made so far, and identify areas where we did not get it right. Sincerely speaking, can we confidently say we have achieved enough in the past 51 years of independence? The answer is no. Our attainments as a nation could be rated below average when compared to the huge resources that accrued to it within the same period. The greatest period of development and boom for Nigeria was first between 1972 and 1979, and second between 1984 and 1999 when the military were in control of power. It was within these periods that most of the monuments standing today were built. Some of them are the National Theatre, Lagos; National Stadium, Lagos; Carter Bridge, Lagos; Apapa Port and Tin Island Wharf, Lagos; Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos; Murtala International Airport, Lagos; Presidential Hotels, Enugu and Port Harcourt; Port Harcourt International Airport; Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; Liberation Stadium, Ibadan; etc. Again, almost all the major expressways were built during the same period. Name them: Lagos-Ibadan, Enugu-Onitsha, Enugu-Port Harcourt; Kaduna-Kano; Lagos-Shagamu, Onitsha-Benin, Benin-Shagamu, Mile 2-Badagry, Apapa-Oshodi, Third Mainland Bridge, Ibadan-Ore, Minna-Chanchaga-Lapai-Bida, Bida-Kotangora, etc.
It is also on record that the surviving major road networks in almost all the major cities in the country were constructed by the military. What did the civilians then achieve within the same period if not a few projects most of which were either poorly executed or abandoned? What is the condition of the roads mentioned above? Many of them are in very deplorable conditions and constitute death-traps. Successive governments could not even maintain them. What a pity!
The next question is: why has Nigeria failed to be where it should despite all efforts to develop it? The answer is very simple: blame it on corruption, nepotism, ethnicity, insecurity, poor educational infrastructure, lack of basic amenities, greed, wickedness, poverty, laxity, ineptitude, ethno-religious biases, parochialism, favouritism, crimes and criminalities, etc. Each of these social ills has had immense negative impact on our national development. It may not be necessary to deal with each one in detail because several commentators on national issues had written copiously on them in the past. The truth that cannot be mutated is that corruption has remained a serious obstacle in our concerted efforts to develop Nigeria. It is around it that other ills draw their life.
It is important to quickly point out before I am misunderstood that my comparison does not, in any way, mean that military regime is better than civilian’s. I have carried out the comparison only to draw attention to the inability of the successive civilian administrations to patriotically develop Nigeria. Another great opportunity to develop Nigeria came between 1999 and 2007, but it was heartlessly wasted as well. Now, we have another opportunity under President Goodluck Jonathan to make Nigeria the richest economy in Africa. How he achieves this onerous task remains to be seen. At least, we are hopeful we will achieve something positive and tangible by the time his tenure ends - going by the several promises he had made and his much-touted transformational agenda.
Let me, however, point out that the problem with Nigeria has never been the scarcity of well-written, elegant feasibility studies. The problem has remained the lack of the will to implement them. This is why we have continued to experience retarded growth and development. Nigeria will be better than it is today if we begin to put into practice what we preach. Unfortunately, patriotism has been consigned into obscurity by many Nigerians. The labours of our heroes past will definitely be in vain if we continue to treat Nigeria with levity and nonchalance.
Why is Nigeria generally unsafe? This is one question that will attract curious and diverse responses from a cross-section of the people. Insecurity has posed the hugest obstacle to the survival of the nation. It has defied numerous strategies by the government to contain it. The earlier challenges to security were the activities of militant groups such as Niger Delta militants, MEND, OPC, MASSOB, and now Boko Haram has joined the fray causing mayhem across the country. Security of lives and properties gulps a sizeable portion of our annual budget and yet there is no sign of insecurity abating. Nobody is happy that Nigeria is till unsafe 51 years after independence. It has continued to grapple with kidnapping, assassination, murder, armed robbery and other forms of criminalities that have smeared her image globally, forcing foreign investors to take their investments elsewhere. That is not all: some companies and individuals have had to relocate to other climes for fear of being harmed by the various armed gangs operating in Nigeria. Insecurity in Nigeria is caused by a number of factors that include unemployment, illiteracy, cultism, poverty, injustice, ethnicity, and inequity. These factors have combined to make the country largely ungovernable.
For us to get over the situation there is an urgent need to address these factors. Government should as a matter of urgent importance work out functional strategies to create jobs and wealth for the millions of unemployed youth that roam the streets. Some of these jobless youths are school drop-outs, miscreants and social misfits. They are exposed to manipulation by some questionable characters that see them as willing tools. Creating wealth will provide the platform for some of these people to get access to decent means of livelihood and escape the present degrading conditions under which they live. Even distribution of the national cake will also ensure the fostering of justice and equity among the geopolitical zones that make up Nigeria. This will certainly reduce resentment, restiveness, and rancour that are common among the various ethnic nationalities that have been agitating for autonomy and resource control.
Another area government should pay attention to if it is to deal decisively with insecurity is poverty. It is a well-known fact that at least 40% of Nigerians live below the poverty line – causing Nigeria to be ranked Number 127 out of 147 poorest nations in the world. Income per capita is below 1 dollar a day. This is not acceptable. What will an able-bodied person do with 1 dollar (N154) per day? This amount cannot even buy a tuber of yam or medium size bottle of palm oil. Many Nigerians cannot afford even N20 a day, and the number of people in this category is quite sizeable. If we situate the educational sector in the same context, the result will be heart-rending. The rating of Nigeria as one of the nine most educationally-disadvantaged nations in the developing world is a clear indication that something needs to be done very fast to forestall the collapse of the sector. The number of drop-outs from schools has continued to grow astronomically in recent times. Even enrolments in schools have also been on the decline, making those unable to secure admission into them to take up menial jobs that usually expose them to crimes. Cultism in schools has its own blame too. It is the breeding ground for armed gangs and other criminals that carry out the current spate of violence that threatens the foundation of our democratic system.
The standard of education has fallen to such a level that government is challenged to devise a strategy to contain it. Look at the quality of graduates produced by our tertiary institutions. Many of them are not employable. This is another reason unemployment has been on a steady rise. It is very painful that we could not build a strong educational foundation 51 years after independence. The performance of our children and wards in publicly-administered examinations in the past seven years has been very poor. If we carried out a critical analysis of the standard of education in 1960 and now it can easily be deduced that standard has continued to depreciate. This can partly be blamed on lack of qualified teachers and laxity among the students. I regret to state that a standard 6 holder in the 60s would perform better than many today’s graduates. So, in all considerations, our educational system has not recorded any significant changes since independence, save for the liberalization of education that saw the establishment of some private universities. It is these private universities that have given some hope that some standards can still be maintained.
via Daily Sun