With its natural and human endowments, as well as previous achievements such as peacekeeping missions, which have significantly saved the heads of many other African nations, Nigeria over the years have been able to secure the name “giant of Africa” as one of the feathers that made the country in time past a key actor in global politics. However, taking into consideration both present and past successes without excluding the failures, does Nigeria still deserves to be called giant of Africa? It is not uncommon to hear older generations speak of how things were better in their days. As if retrogression was a distinctive part of our culture, this same set of deplorable words are passed down from generation to generation.
The period between the independence of 1960 and the dawn of the 1999 fourth republic has been referred to by commentators and scholars as to the most turbulent in the history of Nigeria. It was characterized by both political and economic instability, which were injurious to other sectors that exited in the country as at that time. The failure of Nigeria to develop alongside other countries who as at that time were also referred to as developing countries but are now developed could not be separated from the series of instabilities that ravaged the nation during this era of political and socio-economic sabotage.
In less than three decades, Nigeria imprudently practised about four distinct systems of government, with each system introducing divergent policies some of which were hostile and made an immense contribution to the deterioration of our socio-economic status. Notable among the numerous policies was the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) which was introduced by the military junta Ibrahim Gbadamosi Babangida in 1986. Also, during this turbulent era, Nigeria was accosted by not less than ten military coups of which about six where successfully executed. This speaks of how ambitious our armed forces as at that time were and stands in opposition to the sole function of the army; one could conclude that the army then was more concerned about wielding power than protecting the territorial integrity of the nation.
Perhaps the climax of the turmoil that characterised this period was the civil war, which claimed the lives of countless Nigerians (both civilians and soldiers) and lasted for almost three years. The war had several negative implications particularly on the economy of Nigeria. Part of which includes the loss of Bakassi Peninsula, which is an oil-rich zone to our neighbouring Cameroon. Interestingly, despite the volatility of this period, Nigeria was still caustically able to earn the name “giant of Africa” though it was partially as a result of the colossal generosity of our leaders toward other African nations. However, the vigour and future of every society are said to lie in the hands of the youths, the Nigerian youth of those days also played a very prominent role that accounted for many of these successes.
The Nigerian youth during this era were patriotic and hardworking, on several occasions; they fought relentlessly against the injustice of both civilian and military government. Political activism during this period was more pronounced than it was during colonization, which was when it began. Many a time the youths of those days do take to the street to re-echo the voice of the masses when needed despite how arduous it was in those days to rise against the government. One interesting aspect of the Nigerian youth of those days that makes one wonder if Nigeria is still composed of youths is how developmentally oriented and knowledge-driven the youths of those days were. Their sagacity is often embedded in their kinds of music, movies, literary works, televisions, radio programs and so on.
Today (1999 – till date)
The political terrain of Nigeria’s present, that is, 1999 till now seems to be superficially stable, as our democracy is yet to witness any form of interruption or change in the political system. However, apart from the political sector, other sectors seem to be volatile while some are even depreciating both drastically and slowly. Even the political arena appears to be struggling relentlessly to find its feet. Between 1999 and now, the rate of corruption as well as other discreditable irregularities in Nigeria have dramatically increased and is showing no sign of retreat. As at now, one could ostensibly conclude that Nigeria is sitting on gunpowder, which if care is not taking can spell the end for the so-called “Giant of Africa.”
Both the leaders and the people of Nigeria seem to have made it a point of duty to ensure that Nigeria does not develop. Our leaders go into public offices only to exploit the country’s resources. Their electoral promises are best defined as rainbows, vanishing after each electioneering period. They are only concerned about how to get their share of the national gateau while we are left in oblivion to continue leaking the wounds of our misfortunes. The people on the other hand, particularly the youths have developed a new ideology, an ideology of a continuous hope that never dies even when they are dying. “E go better” has taken the place of bread.
Unlike before, nobody is willing to confront the government. Nigerians these days have developed an adaptive culture, the atmosphere is too hostile to be changed, we all want to survive and as a result, the survival of the fittest has become the order of the day. Also, the role played by ethnicity when it comes to disunity amidst Nigerians is a story for another day. In recent times, even religious affiliations are beginning to take Nigeria to a noxious destination.
Tomorrow – towards a better Nigeria
We have suffered a lot as a nation; we have gone through difficulties, setbacks, several devastations and have recorded more failures than our enemies could ever imagine. However, despite all the vicissitudes, despite the civil war, countless ethnic violence, Niger-delta crises, Boko-haram insurgency, economic deterioration, currency devaluation, unemployment escalation, increasing rate of abject poverty among many others, we are still together as a country united by territory and government. Irrespective of our ethnic groups, we are still the people of Nigeria; we constitute the totality of this nation, which is potentially a great one. The fact that the difficulties we have experienced and is still experiencing have not been able to consume or obliterate our existence implies that we are more than capable of overcoming them if we have the willingness.
In every democratic state, power is said to be located in the hands of the people and the present predicament of Nigeria makes it obvious that when the people fail to exhibit or prudently use this power, they become predestined for doom. Now is the time for us to start using our democratic power more rationally. During elections, youths should not allow themselves to be used by political gladiators as weapons of victory; neither should any sell his or her vote for a morsel of bread. The spirit of political activism should be revitalised in the heart of everyone.
Good governance without good people will only bring about the repetition of past failures and vice versa. Moreover, when the people are good, the propensity for good governance is proximately certain since the leaders are unswervingly from the people. Now is the time for all Nigerians to actuate repentance and activate the God-given good which is in the heart of all, in other for us to fully restore our past glories and prove to Africa as well as the world at large that we are more than capable of being the Giant of Africa. Finally, the best antidote to all our conundrums is that we all follow with strict adherence to the national pledge which we profess and together we will no less make a better Nigeria.
Happy Independence to all Nigerians!