Nigeria At 61: The Journey So Far

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About 61 years ago the founding fathers of Nigeria came together to celebrate the victory of years of nationalism and anti-colonial agitations over the overbearing grip of British colonial rule. At this same time, the need to put aside sociocultural and political differences in order to pursue the collective development of Nigeria became crystal clear. However, while the agenda was clear, there was substantial disagreement even among our celebrated founding fathers on the roadmap for achieving national development. One of the most renowned manifestations of these differences is in the famous conversation between Nnamdi Azikwe and Ahmadu Bello, in which the former argued that we should “forget our differences” and the latter argued that we should instead “understand our differences”.

From a historical perspective, it should not be surprising that just about six years after gaining independence, Nigeria had its first military coup in 1966, which for the first time, brought the military into power. Having had a taste of power, the military became a habitual threat to democratic stability up until early 1999 when both the Nigerian populace and the international community seemed to have had its full of military rule in Nigeria. The 29th of May 1999 became another historic moment in the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria, marking the beginning of the fourth republic – that is, Nigeria’s fourth attempt at democracy – which fortunately continues till today.

The past 61 years of independent rule have no doubt been replete with socio-economic and political challenges such that one might wonder if indeed Nigeria has any reason to celebrate its independence. Despite being blessed with abundant human and material resources, the country remains largely underdeveloped due to poor management of these resources. According to the World Bank report of April 2021, about 39.1% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, while the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics puts the country’s unemployment rate at 33.3%. Similarly, Nigeria currently ranks 161 out of 189 countries in terms of the Human Development Index.

A 2020 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) revealed that Nigeria has had the highest number of persons reported missing in Africa with over 23000 people (mostly children) reported missing in eight years. The rate of kidnapping, banditry and extrajudicial killings in the country have soared in recent years, which have been captured in a previous editorial on insecurity in Nigeria. With these realities in mind, the description of Nigeria as “a giant with clay feet” by the former Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank and immediate past Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, becomes instructive.

The question that arises is: who do we blame for all these? While it might be tempting to point accusing fingers at the failures of government as the sole reason for Nigeria’s current predicament, it cannot be said that the people have only played the role of victims. For any country to function effectively, both the government and the people have a role to play, without which there would be no tangible development. In this sense, the Nigerian people are part of the problem with Nigeria today. There can be no good governance without responsible citizenship. Many times the Nigerian populace have actively frustrated governmental efforts at development. This brings to mind the recent upsurge in railway vandalism, which constitutes a major challenge to the development of railway infrastructures in Nigeria.

Furthermore, the culture of tax evasion among Nigerians, prevalence of ghost workers in civil service, selling of votes during elections, political apathy and failure to engage or hold government accountable are some of the ways in which Nigerians continue to pull the country downhill.  Needless to say, the Nigerian government also contributes in no small measure to the country’s predicament. Corruption among public officials, rudderless governance, lack of respect for the rule of law, human rights violation, mismanagement of public funds, the prevalence of amoral politics among others have crippled the forceful role of government in the development process.  

This is not to argue that Nigeria is a failed or collapsed state, after all, the country is faring better than many of its African counterparts. However, to say that the country has a lot to do before development can be achieved would be an understatement. Moving forward, to achieve substantial development, there needs to be an overhaul of the institutional makeup of the country. In other words, the rules and norms of acceptable behaviour for both government officials and the citizenry should reflect the desire for positive change that will yield development across the country.

Happy Independence to all Nigerians!

© Fatherland Gazette

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