NIGERIA: A NATION @ 50; THE PAST, THE FUTURE.
No civilization or nation is without a history. A time must come when a nation ought to critically examine its history. For Nigeria, who celebrated the Golden Jubilee of her independence on October 1, 2010, the time for such a critical evaluation has come. Hence, this paper attempts to concisely but critically explore the socio-political annals of Nigeria with a view to proposing a way forward for the future. The methodological rendition of our write-up is as follows. First, we shall briefly recall some pivotal events on the political scene that have greatly affected our country. Secondly, we shall highlight some of the major problems that bedevil our Nigeria today. Lastly, we shall make a few projections into the future of Nigeria which is not unattainable but rather what the ideal Nigeria should be. Late Babatunde Fafunwa, in the first four lines of the introduction to his book History of Education in Nigeria says, AHistory is to a people what memory is to the individual. A people with no knowledge of their past would suffer from collective amnesia, groping blindly into the future without guide-posts of precedence to shape their course.@
NIGERIA BEFORE OCTOBER 1, 1960.
The rule of the British in Nigeria can be dated between 1900 and 1960. In 1912, Sir Frederick Lord Lugard was appointed governor of both Northern and Southern Nigeria. He amalgamated the two sections in 1914 when the entire region became the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. In 1951, the country was divided into Northern, Eastern and Western regions, each with its own House of Assembly. In 1957, the Western and Eastern regions were granted internal self‑government. The Northern region got her right to self-governance in 1959. Finally, on October 1, 1960, Nigeria got her independence.
NIGERIA AFTER OCTOBER 1, 1960
Prior to the independence, three political parties emerged representing the three regions led by indigenes of the respective regions. The NPC (Nigerian People's Congress) dominated the north and was led by Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa. The NCNC (National Convention of Nigerian Citizens) dominated the east and was led by Nnamdi Azikwe. The AG (Action Group) controlled the West, and was led by Obafemi Awolowo. The first post‑independence National Government was formed by a conservative alliance of the NCNC and the NPC, with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa becoming Nigeria's first Prime Minister. The AG became the opposition under its charismatic leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The AG was manoeuvred out of control of the Western Region by the Federal Government and a new pro‑government Yoruba party, the NNDP (Nigerian National Democratic Party) took over. Chief Ladoke Akintola then became the Premier of the Western Region.
In less than six years of this rule, precisely on January 15, 1966, a group of army officers overthrew the NPC‑NNDP government, and assassinated the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, and the premiers of the northern (Ahmadu Bello) and western (Ladoke Akintola) regions. This coup d=état, which was to be the first in the country, brought General Aguiyi-Ironsi into power. Just six months into his stay in office, another coup was staged in July 1966. The second coup brought Major General Yakubu Gowon into power.
On May 29, 1967, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the military governor of the Eastern region, declared the independence of the Eastern region as the Republic of Biafra. The ensuing Nigerian Civil War resulted in an estimated one million deaths before ending in the defeat of Biafra in 1970.
On July 29, 1975, Gen. Murtala Mohammed and a group of officers staged a bloodless coup. He was assassinated on February 13, 1976 in an abortive coup and his Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo became the head of state.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari won the presidential election which was marked by violence and massive rigging under the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Notwithstanding, he was sworn in as the Head of State. On December 31, 1983, the military overthrew the Second Republic. Major General Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the leader of the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the country's new ruling body.
The Buhari government was peacefully overthrown by the SMC's third‑ranking member, General Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985. Under Babangida=s government, a general election was conducted on June 12, 1993. This election, which is considered to be Nigeria=s freest and fairest election, and which was undoubtedly won by Chief MKO Abiola, was annulled by the government.
Babangida was forced to hand over to Chief Ernest Shonekan in 1993. Shonekan was equally forced out of power by General Sani Abacha the same year. Aggrieved Abiola later declared himself President. He was arrested and detained by Abacha. Abacha died of heart failure on June 8, 1998, and was replaced by General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Abiola died later the same year. Elections were conducted between 1998 and 1999. Abubakar handed over power to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who won the Presidential election under the People=s Democratic Party (PDP).
Obasanjo served between 1999 and 2007 on two terms. He handed over power to Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. In November 2009, the latter fell ill and was flown out of the country to Saudi Arabia for medical attentions. In May 2010, Jonathan, the Vice-President was sworn-in as the Acting President. At the death of Yar=Adua in April, Jonathan became the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He could be said to be lucky in many ways, the last luck being that he celebrated the nation=s Golden Jubilee as president. So far, this is how Nigeria as a nation has fared.
TODAY IN NIGERIA
We have highlighted some events in Nigeria=s past. Something connects the past with the future, and that is the present. Thus, before we look into the future, it will be pertinent for us to lay bare the present situation of the country.
One aspect that gives Nigerians the most serious concern is that of power supply. Nigeria supplies electricity to some West African countries. Today, these countries can boast of uninterrupted power supply, but Nigeria is far from realising this dream. It is a fact that no country can develop without a stable power supply. Nigeria=s fundamental problem and retarded development can be traced to this. Any government that must transform the lives of Nigerians has to begin by solving the problem of power supply; otherwise it will only be flogging a dead horse. Lo and behold, some, if not the better part of the country, celebrated the anniversary in darkness. Nigerians ask: Is there anything to celebrate after all these years of unfulfilled promises?
In order to address this issue, many Nigerians resort to generating plants. These plants cause unbearable noise in the vicinities. However, the most dreadful effect of such plants is the deadly effect of their chemical by-product. Such plants produce carbon-monoxide(CO) which is very injurious to the health. There have been cases in which families were suffocated to death overnight from inhaling this dangerous gas produced by their generating plants. Should we continue to lose lives when the government could come to our help? If we have dwelt so much on the issue of power supply, it is because it is a very pressing need for the country.
Nigeria is one of Africa=s biggest oil producing countries. According to the OPEC Annual Statistical Bulletin in 2004, Nigeria is placed the fifth largest after Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Petroleum products now account for eighty percent of Nigeria=s foreign exchange. We now solely depend on it as revenue. Since its discovery and commercial production in 1958, oil has been at the root of catastrophic national problems, manifesting in ferocious rivalries within the ruling class to acquire and maintain control over a greater share of oil surpluses. It would have played some parts in the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war between 1967 and 1970.
The pathetic effect of the exploration of oil is the neglect of agriculture. Before its discovery, Nigeria depended almost solely on income from agriculture. We could boast of cash crops like rubber, cocoa, groundnut which were exported in large amount. Then, Nigerians never went hungry. Now, the opposite is the case. An average Nigerian is not sure of a two-square meal. For how long will Nigerians continue to go to bed hungry? Our farmers are not encouraged as they continue to apply crude methods in their labour. There are no good roads for transporting their farm produce. It is high time we went back to commercial farming.
A society’s future depends largely on the quality of its citizen’s education. The level of education in Nigeria today is substandard. The two main examination-conducting bodies in Nigeria WAEC and JAMB have been recording mass failure for over a decade and the percentage of failure continues to increase every year. Standardised measures should be put in place to revive this sector which prepares the leaders of tomorrow. The issue of schools going on strike should be addressed. The malady of unemployment should also be addressed so as to encourage education.
It is no news that no one is safe in Nigeria. Because of the exploration of oil in, and the neglect of the Niger-Delta region, the people of the area have taken to violence through militancy and kidnapping of both indigenes and foreigners. Armed robbery leaves everybody at risk. While the march past was going on in the Eagle=s Square on the golden anniversary day, there were bomb explosions which claimed about fifteen lives, leaving others seriously injured.
Very close to the issue of insecurity in Nigeria are political and religious crises which are experienced in the southern and northern parts of the country respectively. Politics in Nigeria has become a do-or-die affair in which politicians go to any length to ensure that they get to power. Because of this unhealthy attitude to politics, crises and political imbalance have become inevitable. The security agents who are meant to protect the interests of the masses at elections are used to achieve selfish ends.
Religion is meant to take care of the spiritual needs of the people. It is a pity that it has been turned into a means for satisfying one=s selfish ends. There seems to be little or no religious tolerance in some parts of the country. Instead of engaging in dialogue, the so-called religious people have preferred to employ violence in resolving religious issues. Of course, such violent engagements have brought about loss of lives and properties, displacement of millions of Nigerians, and the tainting of Nigeria=s image as an insecure country. The series of violent attacks in Jos, once most peaceful state in Nigeria, is worth mentioning. Whether the attacks were political or religious is not the issue here. The fact that lives and properties were lost is pathetic enough to be pondered upon.
Our hospitals are filled with half-baked medical practitioners who endanger the lives of the masses. This can be linked to substandard education which our students are subjected to in our schools. The Nigerian health sector also lacks adequate and efficient equipment and facilities to cater for the health of the citizens. Nigerians who can afford foreign health services spend thousands and millions of naira overseas because of our unreliable health services.
Our transportation system is nothing to write home about. The railway has collapsed for decades, and no one knows when it will be revived even amidst promises made in eloquent speeches. Our roads are nothing but death traps. Travelling from one part of the country to another has become a nightmare. The potholes on our roads continue to claim lives. The aviation sector fares no better. Some years ago, there were series of plane crashes which also claimed lives of young and promising Nigerians. Enough is enough!
... YET, NIGERIA IS GREAT
It is a fact that Nigeria is blessed with both human and natural resources. It is also a fact that Nigeria is rich, but the riches are in the hands of the few, and the masses are suffering. Nigeria has produced great minds, home and abroad, young and old alike, who have done the nation proud. To begin to mention them will be a tedious job. Notwithstanding, a few of them are worth mentioning: Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Laureate, the first African to be so honoured; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank; Chike Obi, World Renowned mathematician and so many others. Some of our cities like Abuja, Lagos, and Port-Harcourt are enviable. Nigeria has made Africa proud in sports. Worth mentioning is Nigeria=s peace keeping intervention in some war-torn African countries and beyond the continent.
THE IDEAL NIGERIA
I have a dream for Nigeria. My dream is the representation of the future of our country. I see Nigeria having an uninterrupted power supply, and in which one does not need to worry about power outage at any time. I see a Nigeria in which our educational system is competitive with those of the world powers, with strike-free and violent-free schools in which no one is deprived of his or her rights. I see a Nigeria in which, as it used to be in those days, one needs not fear the terror of armed robbers or assassins. The Nigeria of my dream is one in which everyone is gainfully employed.
The Nigeria of the future is one in which all roads are tarred and motorable, in which there is enough food and comfortable housing for everyone of all classes. The Nigeria of my dream is one in which elections are free, fair and credible, and in which competent and God-fearing persons are voted into power. I see Nigerians being tolerable in both religion and politics, everybody living together as one. I see a Nigeria in which foreign investors come in without the fear of kidnappers. The dream I have of Nigeria is a country in which people from all over the world come to receive treatments from our hospitals and other health centres.
THE WAY FORWARD
This dream is not a flying horse. I am one of the Nigerians who believe that there is a very big hope for the country. I pray for the country and I never give up because when there is life, there is hope. Arise O compatriots, join in this happy course. This beautiful hope of Nigeria being great should not remain in the mental state. Let us all come and work together to give it an extramental existence so that the labours of our heroes past will not be in vain. Let us love all Nigerians as our brothers and sisters regardless of where they come from. The solution to all these problems is just one. If we want peace in our country, then, let us work for justice. In justice, every Nigerian should be given what rightfully belongs to him or her in brotherly love. Justice also requires that everyone be selfless in serving the country. Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation.