Yours sincerely left 9th mile in Enugu State on a five-hour journey to Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State. I remained alert and conscious of everything along the way. I counted over a thousand trailers, loaded with animals and various foodstuffs, heading south from the North. Some were conveying yams, others grains and yet others tomatoes, onions and vegetables. Earlier on at a different time, I was in Okrika in Rivers where, to my surprise, I found that a tuber of yam costs more than ten times its price in Kaduna. The same goes for the disparity in the price of tomatoes in Rivers and Challawa in Kano. It then occurred to me that Nigeria’s domestic economy is complementary.
Yesterday, Nigeria celebrated one hundred years as a nation. Nigeria came into being as result of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates by Lord Lugard on January 1, 1914. In every sense, there was a lot of wisdom in that. Due to the amalgamation, there is virtually no crop known to man that cannot be grown in one part of the country or the other. This is because there are different climatic conditions in the South and the North.
You see, most of the South experiences heavy rainfall that washes away the top soil that is necessary for large crop production. Also, the trees grow very tall in the South as they try to get sunshine. Thus, there is no good grass to support animal husbandry. Furthermore, there are tsetse flies, which kill animals, in the South. For all these reasons, most of the southern parts of the country rely on the North for much of its food, except for some parts of the South where certain tubers are grown.
America today is the strongest nation and largest economy because of agriculture and not oil. The US produces what can feed the entire world. You fly over the grand prairies in the middle of America and for five hours you see nothing but grain farms and healthy animals. Agriculture is the foundation of industrialisation and food security is the greatest security of any nation. Go to any American restaurant and see how generously they serve customers. That is why the US is stable.
Officially, agriculture is said to contribute 42 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP, but I personally believe it contributes more than 50 per cent. Oil contributes most of the nation’s foreign exchange, 95 per cent and a significant percentage of the nation’s revenue, 80 per cent. But oil has no vertical or horizontal link to the domestic economy in the sense that the capital, technology and management of the industry is mainly in the hands of foreigners. That is why its contribution to the country’s GDP is not significant, about 14 per cent.
Moreover, unlike agriculture, which is sustainable, oil is a finite resource. In the next three decades Nigerian oil will finish. In fact, with most African countries discovering oil and with America now emerging as a major oil-exporting nation, oil is on its way to insignificance. That is why countries like Saudi Arabia are now using the resources from oil to develop their infrastructure. Indeed, any country that can generate foreign exchange need not have oil, as it can buy any quantity from anywhere, anytime.
As Nigeria celebrates this centennial festival, the country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred by, in particular, the greedy elite. There are illusions and there is delusion. This is one of the richest countries on earth but there is poverty, there is bad housing, there is disease and there is inferior education. Scandinavian countries are not as endowed as Nigeria, yet there is no poverty, no unemployment, everyone gets a good education, everyone has decent housing there.
As former US president Truman said, the seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive. Nigeria is in a sorry state today largely because of political manipulation, social injustice, neglect of agriculture and widespread corruption over the years. The challenges the people are confronted with in this country need to be analysed and a new approach devised towards trying to find solutions.
If Nigeria is to attain its full potential and assume its rightful place in the world, there has to be a holistic approach to development. Developing infrastructure across the country will benefit all of us. Horizontal and vertical development and integration will help to create a sense of patriotism in the citizens and generate harmony and unity. Nigeria needs egalitarian economic development that distances itself from tribal, clannish and centralised hegemonic models and seeks to build a strong middle class, provided with basic social support in education and health care. Nigerian youths are already exposed to new technologies, thus accelerating their ascent to democracy and the supremacy of reason. Inclusive governing will help to further deepen and widen the democratic space.
Nigerian women have come of age. They have equal rights and equal opportunities. They are contributing to national development in all fields creditably. They contest and run for elections on their own merit. In fact, both the chief justice of Nigeria and the president of the court of appeal are women. But just as women are advancing, the issue of ‘bottom power’ has refused to go away. With intellectual, political, economic and social empowerment, one would think that women ought to hold their heads high…
Yes Nigeria is faced with many problems. Yes there are centrifugal and centripetal forces pulling and pushing the country to the edge. Yes, there have been many mistakes made by one and all. But, Nigeria has come to stay. The country will never break up, but it will have some difficulties before it stabilises. In African native philosophy, it is said that getting sick does not necessarily mean imminent death. But anyone who is looking for medicine knows that he or she is not well. Nigeria is obviously in need of good medicine to be healthy and strong.
Two institutions are critical to the ultimate reform and rejuvenation of the nation. These are the judiciary and the law enforcement arms of government. These are key to a rules-based societal order. The police must be reoriented, re-trained, adequately equipped and given good incentives. With a good police force, the security service will be returned to its traditional place and the armed forces will revert to their constitutional roles.
The judiciary is the last hope of the common man, but it is now hopelessly corrupt. The judiciary needs serious reform that will flush the bad eggs out of the system. There cannot be rule of law if there is no credible, independent and free judiciary. The electoral system will continue to be bad as long as the police and the judiciary are not good. Even foreign direct investment cannot be attracted if there is no adequate law enforcement capability and an efficient rule of law regime.
There is cause to celebrate, even for the mere fact that Nigeria has remained one for one hundred years now. Every realist knows that nation building is not an easy task. But, I think we have passed the worst. I see a great nation in a great continent, blessed with great material and human resources. Its 170 million people are at peace among themselves and they are making their country a good neighbour among nations. Congratulations, Nigeria is 100! History is on the side of the oppressed.