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POLITICS

Nigeria @59: The Journey So Far

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President Buhari with Obasanjo in Addis Ababa

In this piece, DANJUMA JOSEPH takes a look at some developmental issues the nation has been through in the course of its independence in the past 59 years

Since Nigeria gained its independence on 1st October, 1960, the country, arguably, is yet to design a political framework that is capable of stirring its development. This is partly because the country’s polity has witnessed series of regime disruptions that have crippled her democracy and political development.

Besides the intermittent rules of the civilian; 1960- 1966, 1979-1983 and 1999-till date, out of the 59 years of Nigeria’s post-independence era, 29 years, was marked by military rule.

It is worthy of note that successive military administrations at different times suspended the country’s constitution and ruled by decrees, which gave them the license to constitute themselves as the law. Political analyst however observed that some of the policies decreed by successive military administrations were questionable, as it kept Nigeria in ‘debt’ and ‘slavery’. Some analysts also opined that Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), introduced by former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, remains the worst economic policy in Nigeria’s history. Those in this school of thought believe that the policy shattered the country’s potential of being economically independent.

Another school of thought believes that besides looting the nation’s treasure dry, the military also killed the education sector by underfunding it, failed to invest in science and technology, and failed to industrialize the country, thereby making her a consumer nation instead of a producer.

During Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the world rejoiced because the country was perceived as the giant and hope of Africa, it was hoped that Nigeria would use its human capital and resources to bail itself and other African countries out of the dark effects of colonialism.

Many also hoped and predicted that Nigeria would pioneer and champion Africa’s renaissance. Nigeria’s prospects were so much that many touted the country to join the comity of developed nations in no time. Sadly, barely six years after independence, the euphoric and optimistic atmosphere was replaced by gloomy pessimism as tribal politics began to tear apart all the positive predictions that Nigeria had received.

The country began to witness fierce political rivalry laced with ethnicity amongst the nationalists, until the military overthrew an democratically elected government in a bloody military coup in January 15th, 1966. Six months after, there was a bloody vindictive retaliation from some radical majors of most of them of northern extraction, who killed the first Head of State, Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi and other top officers in and outside the military; the rest in now history.

A cross section of political pundits interviewed argued that the civil war coupled with incessant military coups that plagued Nigeria between 1966 and 1999, truncated the development of Nigeria. They are of the view that the nation once regarded as the giant and hope of Africa watched as its potentials turned to disabilities as years of bad leadership, political instability, ethno-religious crises, and corruption plunged it into a terrible beggarly state that made the country a laughing stock amongst the comity of nations.

Barrister Emmanuel Kuza, from Nasarawa State is of the opinion that the civilian government did not also help matters, saying “The class of 1960-1966 allowed ego, selfishness, and ethnic sentiment dominate their sense of patriotism until the military took over.

“While the class of 1979-83 was notorious for corruption and all kinds of electoral malpractices until they were sacked by the Buhari-Idiagbon regime. The current class of 1999 has also continued with the pattern of corruption and electoral malpractices that characterizes the Nigerian political system. This and lack of concrete political ideology have continued to hinder the progress of Nigeria since independence”.

“Economically, Nigeria has not fared better since we gained independence in spite of her resources and the oil boom that we experienced. Nigerian leaders have failed to diversify our economy from oil dependency to industrialization. Fifty nine years after independence, we are still a consumer nation and dumping ground for substandard European and Chinese products”.

“Many Nigerians are living in abject poverty and the debt burden is high. The level of unemployment amongst the teeming able-bodied youth like me is alarming. There is no hope that a fresh graduate will get a job immediately after graduation. This terrible economic condition has turned many Nigerian youths into economic migrants who have flooded the diaspora in search of greener pastures”.

“Socially, 59 years after independence, Nigerian public secondary schools are like warehouses, none of our tertiary institutions is ranked amongst the top 500 in the world, our hospitals are like sick bays as they cannot treat complex medical problems. The roads are in terrible shape and remain death traps for Nigerians, and possibly worst of all, electricity is still epileptic” Kuza lamented.

 

Post-Independence Security Challenges

A cross section respondents, while expressing their opinion said, Nigeria is bedeviled with numerous security challenges such as Boko Haram insurgency, IPOB quest for sovereign autonomy of the Igbo people, agitation for resource control in the Niger Delta, Fulani herdsmen’s war on farmers, etc.  They were of the view that the threats are increasing in different forms by the day and yet, there is no visible end to them.

Records have it that the Boko Haram sect, has destabilised the North-East of Nigeria. Since 2009 the group killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more. Statistics also show that about 2.5 million Nigerians fled their homes and towns, and the direct consequence of the conflict was that the North-eastern part of the country was plunged into a severe humanitarian crisis. As of 2018, the humanitarian crisis in the North-east was recorded as one of the worst in the world, as left about 7.7 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

On the other hand, the Middle Belt region of Nigeria has faced prolonged violent clashes between farmers and herders. At the core of the conflicts are disputes over access and rights to land and water resources and rapid desertification which has changed the grazing patterns of cattle. These clashes are not necessarily new, but since 2015, the disputes have become more frequent and violent. In 2018 alone, more than 2,000 people were killed in such clashes – more than the number killed in the past two years combined.

Another security challenge which rocked the Nigerian nation in recent time is the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), believed to be backed by Iranians Shia movement. The leader of the group Ibraheem Zakzaky, is alleged to be opposed to the federal system of government Nigeria.

Zakzaky has reportedly called for an Iranian style of revolution in Nigeria. The group’s strong position on these issues and their regular protesting has resulted in clashes with security forces. However, recently these clashes have become more frequent and more violent.

Niger Delta, the oil-producing core of Nigeria has for decades suffered from oil pollution which has led to the loss of livelihoods and sources of food for locals. In the last decade, clashes between armed groups in the area and the security forces reached an all-time high; kidnappings were rife, and oil infrastructure destroyed at a phenomenal rate. In 2016, one of the most prominent armed groups in the region, the Niger Delta Avengers (and other smaller groups), destroyed oil production infrastructure reducing production from 2.2 million barrels per day to the two decades low of 1.4 million barrels a day. The infrastructure vandalism contributed to the onset of one of Nigeria’s worst economic recessions on record.

The prevalence of kidnapping, banditry, rape, murder and armed robbery in Nigeria, appears to have been high and rising over the years. The Nigerian Police said it had arrested 2,175 suspects since April 5 this year amidst efforts by the security to stem the tide of crime and violence in Nigeria, adding that armed robbery, kidnapping and murder are on the top of list of crimes escalating in the country.

 

Nigerians Speak

Speaking on the state of the nation, Barrister Anthony Akika, a former permanent secretary in Nasarawa State, posited that Nigeria has gone so far in the last 59 years, but not so well.

“At 59, we don’t have any business at all with all the indices we have in this country like strife, insurgency, unemployment, ethno-religious rivalry, corruption, and so on. These are the indices of a failing state. But in spite of these, as a people of faith, we are hopeful that we will come out of this. The first step is for Nigerians to decide to take their destinies into their hands and be proactive”.

“At this age, we should not be talking about infrastructural decay. Going back 30 years, social services and our maintenance culture were better. Also, our education was much better and well respected at that time. What we experience now is evidence of bad governance. We should hold our leaders accountable for their actions”

“If I were to assess the nation as an examination paper, I would not give it a pass mark. Given the potentials of the country, where we are after 59 years, in truth, cannot be adjudged as progress,” Akika said.

Barrister Emmanuel Kuza, a private legal practitioner from Nasarawa State, said Nigeria as a country is yet to know its purpose for existence.

”Our country is still trying to find its feet after 59 years to be exact and it is unfortunate because we know of younger republics that have moved on and become great in Asian countries like Indonesia and Singapore,” he said.

Mr. Paul Araneshri John, who is also a lawyer based in Nasarawa State, said; “Nigeria has actually made progress in 59 years but as a country, we have only moved like a millipede. Those who said we are the largest economy in Africa merely gave us that tag to make us happy, but in reality we are nowhere near being the giant of Africa.

“If you take a look at the country, key sectors are lying fallow without the appropriate authorities doing anything tangible on it. Corruption has become fully entrenched in our society, swelling by the minute in fact. The government of the day treats us all as morons, but we are not fools because we know better. So, in my humble opinion, I think Nigeria has moved from where it used to be at independence, but that movement is nothing short of a millipede’s movement: slow and aimless” he said.

Hon Nathaniel Isa, who is a politician in Nasarawa State, said Nigeria has been a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly in the past 59 years, most especially in terms of poverty of leadership, and that has bred so much corruption in the system, such that everything now revolves around it. While a retired civil servant in the same state, Abdullahi Adi, said; “When I was born over 60 years ago, Nigeria was indeed, a great country. It was truly a ‘Giant in Africa’ because of its high economic activities, not because of its population only.

“I remember we used to export commodities like cocoa, rubber and groundnut in large quantities to many of the western countries of the world. There was no acute hunger. Before I graduated from the university then, I had got offer from the then regional government with good salary package.

“Graduates now struggle to get jobs these days. Our country was not known for corruption in those days. May the Lord restore us back to our lost glory. The truth is that we have achieved some progress in terms of infrastructural development. But apart from that, qualitatively, we have retrogressed as a nation. For example, the education we had in the early 1970s and 90s was much better than what we have today. The same goes for the health sector and governance as a whole,” Adi lamented.

For his part, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Alhaji Adullahi Ladan,  is of the opinion that Nigeria have improved in some areas. “There is no doubt that we have improved in a number of areas, for instance, in Information Technology and Communication. We are talking on the telephone, which was impossible 59 years ago. So we have made giant strides in those areas”.

“We now have a lot more industries especially foods and beverages. It’s true that some companies have closed down, but a lot more have come on stream. The only area we have to improve is security and employment generation which is an international problem. The anti- corruption agenda of President Buhari, is on course in the country and I don’t see any reason why the government will not follow it through. A lot is being done in the area of power” he said.

 

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