NIGERIA:1914 TO DATE: The chequered journey so far

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BIRTHDAYS are observed or celebrated for various reasons. I suspect that Sam’s birthday is being marked by his friends, colleagues and associates not necessarily because of the quantum of 50 years per se but because there is ample evidence to show that all or part of these 50 years have been well spent far beyond the needs of Sam and his immediate family and friends.

I guess the exertions of Sam in the last 15-20 years in the service of “God and Country” are already being recognized and appreciated. The fact that I am familiar with these efforts especially in the last 12 years is the reason why I did not hesitate to join his numerous well- wishers today. It also informs my choice of the topic Nigeria – 1914 To Date– A Chequered Journey So Far.

This topic may sound over-ambitious for the time and space which could normally be allowed on this kind of occasion. Without being a political scientist or historian many could justifiably question my intellectual competence to handle the subject(s) involved in this broad topic.

Be that as it may I feel very strongly about the progress (or lack of it) so far recoded by the Country in the last 98 years, and I would rely mainly on my personal experiences in the last 50 years and what I learn from professionals like Sam Nda Isiah who try to analyze events and issues concerning the country.

For an objective assessment of our journey as a country of the British imperial powers’ dream towards true nationhood, the obvious starting point should be to take stock of our present position.

It is from the present position we should be able to learn from what went right or wrong in the early part of the journey. And then from lessons of the past and the present we should be able to chart the way for a better future.

The current state of the country: Notwithstanding persistent reservations about its legitimacy and efficiency, Nigeria has had, at various points in its history, constitutions which provided the framework of its claim to being a Sovereign State vis-vis other countries around the world.

The latest in use is the 1999 Constitution. A cursory examination of the 1999 Constitution especially its Chapter II on “Fundamental Objective And Directive Principle of State Policy” would show how the Federal Republic should be organized  and operated in the interest of justice, peace, unity and the well being of Nigerian citizens. Weather we are succeeding in the letter and spirit of the provisions of our Constitution is the main subject of this presentation.

52 years of independence

Nigeria will observe 52 years of Independence from Britain next October. Like in previous Independence anniversaries, Nigerians will, as usual, debate issues concerning the economic, social and political development being achieved by the country over the past years.

Tools for measuring economic development of countries have over the years evolved. These tools are not themselves perfect and, in fact, may not always have easy universal application at all times. Nevertheless, most countries, especially those with political and economic systems in the image of the so-called Western Capitalist democracies have accepted the current parameters of measuring economic development of countries around the world. The early concept of measuring economic progress relied on the index of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the only tool.

More recent thoughts have argued, more correctly, that GDP alone is not a sufficient indicator. It has, therefore, become imperative to add new variables and objectives in order to objectively test or assess progress (or lack of it) in the socio-economic development of Countries.

By mid 1990s, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) succeeded in introducing a more comprehensive concept it called “Human Development” as a more realistic measure of economic progress. It is the components of Human Development concept which were adopted as “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs), most countries including Nigeria, have adopted for monitoringprogress towards achieving their socio-economic objectives.

This shift in concept is justified from experiences in many countries which record stupendous growth in their GDPs while the majority of their citizens wallowed in abject poverty. This is a classicalexample of what is often termed as “economic growth without human development.”

It is against this background we should further examine in some details, the current state of the Nigerian economy after five decades of efforts to develop it. Using these Human Development indices, ie the Millennium Development Goals, various recent surveys conducted by National and International Agencies have concluded, rather sadly, that Nigeria’s socio-economic progress remain very unsatisfactory. Their major findings and conclusions are summarised as follows:

•Nigeria is presently grouped among the 20 poorest countries in the world, and among the 30 least developed countries in Sub Saharan Africa.

•Of Nigeria’s estimated 160 million population (projected from 2006 census) about 100 million people live on less than US$1.0 a day. That is an estimated 70 per cent of all Nigeria’sare classified as poor.

This unfortunate state of affairs is as paradoxical as it is embarrassing to Nigerians especially in view of all known indicators that Nigeria would become a great African country within a very short time after independence in 1960. The remaining part of my address will attempt to explain the various factors which alone or in inter-play, brought us to our sorry situation today, and hope that some useful ideas might be incorporated in our future development policies.

Nigeria -1914 to 1960

Like most parts of Africa, Nigeria was also colonized by an imperial foreign power. The present day Nigeria (plus or minus some territories) came into existence with formal amalgamation of conquered territories of the North and South by the British Colonial Governor – Lord Lugard in 1914.

By this historic action the numerous diverse peoples who constitute the new country willy-nilly began the difficult and arduous journey towards building a modern nation. The justifiable suspicions and mistrust between the diverse ethnic groups were indeed real and palpable.

However, over the years, after the amalgamation, through the spirit of give and take by the pioneer leaders and people at large, a national spirit began to manifest to the point when the leaders agreed to work together, if only to kick out the British in 1960.

In the 46 years of direct colonial rule, as would be expected, the British designed and organized how the huge economic resources of the colony should be harnessed and exploited. It is fair to assert that the economy of Colonial Nigeria was organized primarily to serve the interest of the imperial power.

The incidental benefits to the natives came in the form of residuals of some out-moded infrastructures like the present narrow gauge railway, port facilities and some road transport mainly used for easy exploitation and export of agricultural and mining products as well as imports and marketing of manufactured British goods.

As soon as the British realized that at some point, they would have to relinquish direct political control to the natives, it became imperative for them to plan a long term strategy to ensure continued control and exploitation of their former colony long after attainment of political independence. The British succeeded in achieving its neo-colonial hold on Nigeria mainly through the following instruments:

•Education System: Through their education legacies they succeeded in entrenching a mental condition which to-date continuesto deprive Nigerians of their self esteem, self confidence and self-reliance.

•Political Legacy: They also left behind a political system which to-date perpetuates national instability and the resultant poor governance by few selfish elite.

•Economy: Through the failure of our education and political systems, the British and, now its numerous Capitalist countries allies in the West, have been able to remain in control of the commanding heights of Nigerian economy.

Nigeria – 1960 to-date

As already alluded to in the above paragraphs, it was anticipated that political freedom at independence would ushers in new thinking and new policies which together would bring rapid transformation of Nigeria from exploitation and under-development as a former colony. Nigerians were so optimistic about the bright prospects of Nigeria becoming a country where its citizenry will live in justice peace and prosperity as could be found anywhere else in the world. Now that these aspirations have been dashed 50 years after independence the present generation of Nigerians must be confused as they should be justified in asking the older generations for explanation.

The rest of this paper will attempt to offer some explanations even if many of them are mere reputations and have been subject of endless arguments over the years. I believe Nigeria’s poor development performance could be explained from a number of perspectives including:

•Political instability: From 1960 to date Nigeria had not experienced the kind of stable political atmosphere necessary for orderly continuity of good governance for development and growth expected in truly democratic societies. Within a relatively short period of 52 years, Nigeria has had 14 heads of state (an average of three years each), and of this number nine were not elected, and of the remaining five only on two occasions were their election deemed free and fair. The political instability which retarded Nigeria’s rapid development since independence in 1960 is rooted in the following main factors:

•Tribalism/ethnicity/sectionalism: It is my contention that tribalism, ethnicity and sectionalism played the most part of Nigeria’s political instability. Most of the military interventions experienced in Nigeria were inspired by tribal and ethnic tendencies inherent in the country’s social diversity.

The civil war, the creation of states and local governments over the years have simply been a response to continuing pressures arising from tribal and ethic loyalties. The constitution of the country was changed or amended several times since independence, and this was largely   to address political instability arising from tribalism, ethnicity and sectional sentiments.

Neo-colonialism after 1960

Nigeria’s colonial history and heritage unfortunately provide the conducive atmosphere for neo-colonial interests to manifest and thrive. These interest have been deeply entrenched and have so far continued to undermine Nigeria’s self esteem and self reliance. They have aggravated the country’s over-dependence on foreign ideas and foreign technology. The overall consequence of this is that the country has virtually lost control of the commanding heights of its economy. That is why the country is paradoxically both rich and poor at the same time!!

Bad governance/corruption et al: Instability in the Nigerian polity could be both the cause and the effect of bad governance with all the other attendant ills such as corruption, inept leadership, poverty and general insecurity. The demise of the first republic marks the beginning of political instability in Nigeria and the inevitable consequences which arose from un-elected leaders-both military and civilians.

The only two occasions when Nigeria was about to have good leaders with potential capacity to provide good governance, which might have led the country to regional and global greatness were quickly subverted by foreign neo-colonial vested interests using their local agents. Good governance should have meant that Nigeria and Nigerians would take their destiny in their own hands, while the consequences of bad governance as we have seen since 1960 mean the surrender of Nigeria’s resources to foreign control leaving, as it were, the Nigerian citizenry to wallow in abject poverty.

Good governance in Nigeria should have been freedom from control and manipulation of neo-imperial agencies like the World Bank, IMF etc.

Prognosis about the future: While it is easy to look back into the history of Nigeria and its development, it is far more difficult to look into its future in the face of all the odds that have so far continued to challenge it during the last 98 years. Let us start from the optimistic view point that nations are not necessarily built overnight. Nations usually evolve from the hard work, sacrifices and resilience of their own peoples.

We may also further argue there is nothing like a perfect nationhood where every citizen is happy or is in agreement with every happening in his country. So, from this optimism, we may further argue that we are unfairly being impatient with the failings of Nigeria and Nigerians only after a relatively short period of 98 years of becoming a country. After all the countries we are trying to copy to-day have taken much longer than 100 years to arrive at where they are to-day.

On the less optimistic point of view it may be argued that Nigerians are not deliberately working hard and diligently enough to make the Nigeria project work. On the contrary while there may be those who would genuinely believe in the Nigeria project, there are those who believe that the Nigeria project could not possibly succeed and therefore the sooner it is terminated the better for its component parts. To support their position they point as examples many countries with similar features and history as Nigeria who tried but at the end failed to build and keep their countries. For example the so-called oldest democracy in the World, the United Kingdom, is still trying to keep the country together after about 1000 years of trying. Scotland and Northern Island are still asking to exit out of the United Kingdom. In 1948 India gained independence from Britain.

A few years later it became India and Pakistan, and yet in another few years Bangladesh was born out of Pakistan. More recent examples are Yugoslavia and the former super-power, the Soviet Union. Mention could also be made of South Sudan-the youngest nation in the world. The point here is that nothing should be taken for granted about the future of Nigeria project. We cannot ignore the fact that the most important factors against a politically stable Nigeria since 1960 are becoming more virulent than ever before. These factors are tribalism, ethnicity and sectionalism in our national life. These core diseases which today deny good health for Nigerian State are gradually being enlarged to incorporate additional factors such as religious differences and exclusiveness in the ownership of resources which in normal international law and convention should be shared as common heritage regardless of their location.

“EARSHOT”- Media in the Nigerian Project

Since we are today celebrating one of the country’s best journalists, we should also use the opportunity to appraise the role of the media in the Nigeria project so far. At 73 I am in a position to know what roles the media have so far played especially in the political and social life of Nigeria. In the first republic you could easily predict the home base of any newspaper by simply glancing at their main headlines. The papers were replicas of the major political parties in the three regions of the Federation, the NCNC in the Eastern Region, the AG in the Western Region, and the NPC in the Northern Region. Whatever issues were at stake, the newspapers in these regions, regardless of their ownership, reported only the partisan and parochial positions of their leadership and their respective areas. The question now is whether there is any significant change in Nigerian journalism today. The honest answer in my opinion is “NO”. In fact it could be argued that there is more parochial and divisive journalism today than in the first republic. And there is no indication yet that the media will be balanced and neutral in their reporting of events in Nigeria. It is this sensational divisive reporting on Nigerian affairs by the Nigerian media which gives foreign interests the materials with which to project the “likely disintegration” of the country in not too distant future. However in every general rule there is always an exception no matter how small the margin of error.

Not many will disagree if I pronounce Leadership Newspaper as one of the few exceptions of the crass journalism exhibited by the generality of the Nigerian media houses today. The credit may be, to so many behind the scene but I want to give a large chunk of it to Mr Sam Nda Isiah personally. We pray that God will continue to strengthen his resolve in the service of “GOD AND COUNTRY”.


In : Nigeria

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