Nigeria at 55: From despair to hope
WHETHER we like to admit it or not, we are living through troubling times. After 55 years of independence, Nigeria remains a story of false starts, a nation on reverse gear. With all the huge human and natural resources that God has endowed us with, there is absolutely no reason why we should be where we are today. Many years of bad government and failed leadership gave rise to an entrenched system of corruption, mediocrity and impunity.
Until recently, public office was synonymous with corrupt enrichment and brazen disregard for law and order. The persistence of unemployment and our present insecurity nightmare, which have turned our country into a republic of bullets, bombs, blood and tears, are the fruit of the many years of failure of leadership to provide a just workable system of wealth creation and distribution.
There are hundreds of people who die everyday in this country because they are simply too poor to stay alive. They have no jobs. They, therefore, have no means of sustenance for themselves and their families. When they are sick they cannot afford to go to the hospital or to procure medication. They cannot afford to pay the school fees of their children. They are unable to pay their house rent. They can hardly put food on their table. These are not numbers; they are human beings whose dignity have been bruised and battered because of the burdensome weight of life’s unbearable challenges. In virtually every sector of our economy, the indices are at an all-time low. Social infrastructures from schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, water supply, and even prisons are at their worst state than at any other moment in the history of this country.
With billions of naira in both budgetary allocation and international aid allegedly spent on improving social services, Nigeria remains the sore of the African continent. We obviously do not need to read the reports from international development agencies, humanitarian bodies and civil society organisations to see how poverty, hunger, disease and want are decimating the lives of millions of Nigerians on a daily basis, in a country where all the resources necessary for maintaining a high quality of living for the citizens are in abundance.
What is it that we need that God has not blessed us with? See our landmass, the rich diversity of cultures, languages, flora and fauna. See the huge quantity of precious mineral and natural resources that God has deposited in this country. What about our human resources? In virtually every department of human endeavour, phenomenally talented Nigerians are blazing a trail both at home and abroad.
While the independence anniversary for many nations of the world is a privileged time to celebrate progress and prosperity, for Nigeria, it is always a sober moment for lamentation. After the last general elections that brought a new government to power, Nigerians have once again expressed their resilient hope and undying optimism that things will be better this time around. However, we are yet to see an overwhelming commitment from the generality of Nigerians that we are really prepared for the sacrifices that change entails.
We are still living with warped values, from things as minute as obeying traffic rules, proper sanitation, and respect for decency, order and protocol in public places. We are yet to shed all manner of brazen wrongdoing from corner cutting, queue jumping and rule breaking that have made this country a republic of organised anarchy. We are still living with a culture of militarisation where the security agencies of the state continue to terrorise hapless citizens with the might of their guns, sirens and uniforms.
We discovered oil before we became an independent nation. It was like being rich before we had the wisdom to manage wealth. After five decades of oil exploration, what have we harvested? We have reaped a false start and flawed foundation, over 10 military coups, a bloody civil war, a prebendal political class, a rentier economy, a series of half-baked and poorly-conceived policies and, above all, a Leviathan state and government. These are the repercussions of bonanza wealth, “the income of men who love to reap where they never sowed,” to use the very words of Adam Smith.
After 55 years of independence, Nigeria has no single world-class university, airport, tourist attraction site, industry or product. How can a nation rise on the ladder of social prosperity without these trappings of modern economic development? All we see on a daily basis are ethnic rifts, political polarisations and religious divisions. Is this how a nation become great? According to Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, “A nation is great not by its size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people, and the quality of their leaders which ensure it an honourable place in history.”
I believe that at all levels of government and society, Nigeria needs an ethical leadership to inspire, articulate and drive change, an individual who will echo the rallying cry and hunger for substantial dialogue and justice; a leader who has a soul, who is committed, competent, and courageous; with a core vision and sense of mission and willing to sacrifice for them by taking on vested interests and anti-democratic forces.
Now is the time for us to reclaim our country from the hands of political marauders and thieves. Now is the time for us to entrench transparency, accountability, hard work, discipline and commitment in public service. Now is the time for us to shun corruption, mediocrity and impunity that have held our country down for many decades.
Now is the time for us to channel the blessings of our diverse ethnicities, cultures and religions for the service of the common good. Now is the time for us to move with the momentum of a revolution because we face daunting challenges of nation building, political restructuring and economic transformation.
May God forgive our past failings and bless our country Nigeria!
• Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.