New Telegraph

February 25, 2024

Nigeria @ 62: Still in search of nationhood

…unfulfilled dreams for Nigerians despite abundant resources

Reflection on the myriads of problems confronting Nigeria is expected to take the centre stage as Nigerians mark the country’s 62nd independence anniversary tomorrow. Nigeria gained independence from British colonial rule on October 1, 1960, and the drums are usually rolled out every year to celebrate the nation’s attainment of self-rule.

As the citizenry take stock of the journey in nation building, issues expected to dominate discourse include the inability of Africa’s most populous nation to fulfil the dreams of its founding fathers despite abundant human and natural resources. Also expected to be part of the discourse are the leadership failure, insecurity ravaging most parts of the country, ailing economy and the forthcoming general election, among others.

It is another opportunity to take stock in the journey of nation-building and assess progress against plans as Nigerians mark the country’s 62nd independence anniversary tomorrow. FELIX NWANERI reports

At independence from colonial rule on October 1, 1960, Nigeria held the hope of black renaissance. For the country’s founding fathers and the citizenry, it was freedom at a great cost. But 62 years after the British Union Jack was lowered for the nation’s Green-White-Green flag at the Tafawa-Balewa Square, Lagos, it is still unfilled dreams, leaving many to wonder if the country’s independence was not freedom mismanaged. There is no doubt that the optimism that the nation would stamp its feet in the comity of nations in a record time still remains a mirage. Nigeria remains a land of poverty and violence despite her huge potential due to ineffective leadership, unbridled corruption and ethnicism.

With an area of over 923,773 square kilometers, the largest single geographical unit along the west coast of Africa and the largest population in Africa (estimated at over 200 million), Nigeria has the most envious economic profile on the African continent. Nigeria is the leading producer of crude oil and gas in Africa and 6th in the world. However, Africa’s most populous nation has been struck by a string of incompetent leaders, who have only succeeded in running the country aground, while less endowed nations that got independence the same time with her, have continued to record giant strides. According to many, Nigeria’s problem had never been paucity of funds and resources, but lack of political will by her leaders to do the right thing.

This explains why the country has stagnated in almost all facets of life, with more than half of its population living below the poverty line as it takes commitment and focus on the part of leaders to deliver good governance. Leadership failure There is no doubt that no nation makes progress without visionary leadership, but there is apparently no Nigerian leader since independence, whose circumstances of ascension to the throne showed that he was prepared for the task of steering the ship of state. In the First Republic, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, emerged as leader of government business in the parliament courtesy of an arrangement that he should hold forth for the Sardauna of Sokoto (Sir Ahmadu Bello) as Prime Minister in Lagos. Six years after, the five army majors led by late Chukwuma Nzeogwu, who drew the blueprint for the first military coup that sacked the First Republic on January 1966, ended up in jail, while then Chief of Army Staff, Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, became the surprise beneficiary of the mutiny.

General Aguiyi-Ironsi was still grappling with the challenges of the bad blood generated by the coup, when a counter-coup claimed his life (July 1966), just six months after he assumed office. General Yakubu Gowon (then a Lt. Colonel), who was not actively involved in events until that point, was named head of state. The leader of the counter-coup and who later succeeded Gowon was General Murtala Mohammed. General Olusegun Obasanjo, who took over from Mohammed after his assassination in 1976, was equally not prepared for the job at that time, and he gave very graphic details of his lack of readiness in his book “Not My Will.” It was the same story when he emerged as a civilian president in 1999. He was barely out of prison over an alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the then regime of General Sani Abacha, when he was drafted in for the 1999 presidential election.

But unlike in his first coming, Obasanjo demonstrated that he learnt some leadership lessons between 1976 and 1979 given the way he ran affairs of the state between 1999 and 2007, he was in office under a democratic setting. For Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the first executive president of Nigeria; he only wanted a seat in the Senate before he was drafted to run for the presidency in 1979. What later played out in his administration, especially his inability to control some ministers in his cabinet proved that he was ill-prepared for the job.
It was a similar story for Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who was head of state between 1983 and 1985. He was never in the picture of the coup that truncated the Second Republic and which brought him to power. Arrowheads of the plot like General Ibrahim Babangida, later toppled him in a palace coup. Babangida went ahead to rule for eight years. He capped his reign with annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola. Wide spread protests over the botched Third Republic forced Babangida to step aside on August 26, 1993. He signed a decree establishing the Interim National Government (ING) led by Chief Ernest Shonekan. The ING was ousted three months later (November) by the then Minister of Defence, General Sani Abacha.

The same story of not being ready for Nigeria’s plum job goes for late President Umar Yar‘Adua and his vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, who later succeeded him. Many still believed that they were handpicked in 2007 by then President Obasanjo. While Yar’Adua never showed interest in the presidency until he was drafted into the race by Obasanjo, Jonathan was set to contest the governorship election in his home state – Bayelsa – before he was equally picked by Obasanjo as Yar’Adua’s running mate. As fate would have it, Jonathan became president three years into their four-year tenure following Yar’Adua’s death in May 2010.

Expectedly, Jonathan presented himself for re-election in 2011. He was so popular in the build-up to that election that he got a pan Nigeria mandate. The euphoria, which heralded his victory was soon to go down over what some Nigerians, particularly members of the opposition political parties termed his “government’s lack of vision.” Even Obasanjo, who helped him to power, faulted what he described as his clannish disposition.

A former military ruler, General Buhari, defeated Jonathan in the 2015 polls, thereby making history as the first Nigerian to defeat an incumbent president in Nigeria’s political history. He also became Nigeria’s second former military ruler after Obasanjo to return to the presidency through the ballot. Buhari’s return to the position he vacated in 1985 was after three failed bids and even a vow in 2011 not to contest for the position again. Unfortunately, not much has changed more than seven years of Buhari’s ascension to power (he was re-elected for a second term in 2029). The dissatisfaction and discontent in the polity that compelled most Nigerians to seek for a new beginning in 2015 is yet to be addressed. Again, this has raised the leadership question, particularly the recruitment process as it is incontrovertible that visionary and committed leadership is the principal element, which ensures that government serves as a vehicle for the attainment of the socio-economic aspirations of the people.

Faulty structure

Though Nigeria’s fragmentation predates independence given her over 300 ethnic groups, efforts by successive administrations to cement the crack have not yielded the desired result. As a result of this, the country is still seen by most of its citizens as nations within a nation.

This, perhaps, informed the clamour for restructuring, which according to arrowheads, will save Nigeria from disintegration given existential threats over pertinent questions of autonomy for the states; resource control by the states; equality of states and local governments among the six geo-political zones; state police and indigeneship question, among others. It was advanced that the present federal system in operation is a disaster as it has only succeeded in creating a powerful Federal Government at the expense of the states and local governments. Others have queried whether Nigeria should continue to operate the presidential system of government, a full-time legislature, among others, in the face dwindling resources.

High cost of governance at the various levels – federal, states and local councils – it was noted, is partly responsible for the country’s stunted development despite abundant human and natural resources. The argument is that after deduction of running cost by the various levels of government, little or nothing is left for capital projects.

There is another political school that is advocating a return to regionalism as the present 36-state structure is no longer sustainable. Advocates of regionalism are of the view that the proliferation of states had continued to impede the country’s progress. Reference was made to India with a population of about 1.2 billion people with only 28 states, while Nigeria with a population of 200 million has 36 states that are mostly unviable as evident from their inability to even pay salaries of workers. Despite the insolvency of most of the states, some individuals and groups are still demanding for new states just to carve empires for themselves.

Some, however, seem genuine given that they are inspired by the same concerns that preceded state creations in the past – minority fears, inequality and skewed development. There are also calls for re-tooling of the Nigerian federalism by tinkering with items on the Exclusive and Concurrent legislative lists as contained in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The argument over this is that the powers of the Federal Government should be whittled down as it seems that it is the only government in place with the 65 items it has powers on in the Exclusive Legislative List. They further argued that the unitary constitution/ system of government presently in place under the guise of a federal system has failed to solve the country’s numerous problems and therefore, the need to restructure the nation cannot be more urgent than now that the nation is faced with agitations for self-determination as well as security challenges in almost every part of the country.

It was against this backdrop that the 2014 National Conference convoked by the Goodluck Jonathan-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came up with several recommendations to restructure the country and put it on the path to greatness. Successive administrations had tried to bring Nigerians together to discuss on national issues, but such talks failed to meet the peoples’ expectations and as a result, their reports/recommendations ended up in the archives. Such discourses include the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference (CC) by the regime of late General Sani Abacha and the 2005 National Political Reform Conference (NPRC), convoked by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The 2014 confab was packaged by a 13-member Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue headed by Senator Femi Okurounmu and the 492 citizens selected from across the various strata of the country for the confab was inaugurated on March 17, 2014. The conference headed by former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Idris Kutigi, was originally billed to last three months but was granted one month extension. It concluded committee sittings and plenary sessions in mid-July after which delegates went on a short break to enable the conference’s secretariat compile the report.

The delegates returned to approve the draft report after which it finally wound up following a motion by Second Republic Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Richard Akinjide, and seconded by Yadoma Mandara, who was the youngest delegate. Consequently, its report was submitted to then President Jonathan on August 21. No doubt, the conference was tested by some thorny national issues such as resource control, derivation principle, Land Use Act, national security among others, but at the end of deliberations, the delegates were able to reach common grounds on a majority of the issues by consensus and made some far-reaching recommendations.

The 22-volume report of the confab, totaling 10,335 pages contained about 600 resolutions. Top among the recommendations were the creation of 18 new states; three per geo-political zone and an additional state for the South-East to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the North-West which has seven.

It also recommended that states willing to merge can also do so based on certain conditions. On resource control/derivation principle/ fiscal federalism, the conference recommended that the Federal Government should set up a technical committee to determine the appropriate percentage on issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development. It also recommended that the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5 per cent, State Governments – 35 per cent and Local Governments 22.5 per cent, while the percentage given to population and equality of states in the existing sharing formula be reduced.

On forms of government, the confab recommended the Modified Presidential System, a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government. According to the recommendation, the president shall pick the vice president from the legislature; should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo -political zones and not more than 30 percent of his ministers from outside the legislature.

It also recommended for a reduction in the cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary. The conference endorsed the bi-cameral legislature in place, but recommended that all elected members of the legislative arms of all the tiers of government should serve on parttime basis. It also recommended that the presidential power should rotate between the North and the South and among the six geo-political zones while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.

On the contentious issue of local governments as the third tier of government, the confab recommended that the councils should no longer be the third tier of government, rather the federal and states are to be the only tiers of government. It recommended that states can now create as many local governments they want; the Joint State/Local Government Account be scrapped, while the Constitution should fix the tenure for local governments at three years. The conference also recommended the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs).

The confab also recommended for the removal of immunity clause if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy; independent candidacy so that every Nigerian who meets the specified condition in the Electoral Act should be free to contest elections; special courts to handle corruption cases; amendment to the Land Tenure Act to take care of compensation and stoppage of governments sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands, among several others.

Jonathan, who assured that the report, would be passed to the Council of State and the 7th National Assembly for legislation, added that the Federal Government will act on aspects of the report that require executive action. This negated initial belief that the confab recommendations would be subjected to a referendum. Despite the assurance on the report’s implementation and the belief among Nigerians that it held the key to restructuring of the country in order restore it to the path of progress, the Jonathan administration failed to commence implementation of the recommendations (even those that required administrative fiat) until it lost power in the 2015 general election.

Also, the 7th National Assembly never debated the report until it wound up. The PDP’s loss of power, which saw the ascension of the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) that boycotted the conference, prompted many to express doubt about the implementation of the confab report. The fear was confirmed, when President Buhari, described the conference as a misplacement of priority. Despite President Buhari’s stance on the confab report, his party (APC), later bowed to the demand by Nigerians for the country to be restructured, when the clamour got to a height.

The party then set-up committee that initially had 10 members but its membership was later expanded to 23. The committee’s mandate was to distill the true intent and definition of true federalism as promised by the party during the campaigns for the 2015 elections, and to take a studied look on the report of the various national conferences, especially that of 2014 and come up with recommendations. Chaired by Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, the committee in the cause of its duty held town hall meetings in the respective six geopolitical zones, and after a long wait, submitted its report in January 2018. Among its recommendations were resource control, state police, control of local governments by states, constitutional amendment to allow merger of states, state court of appeal and independent candidacy. El Rufai, who revealed that 8,014 people were engaged by the committee in the course of its research and that Nigerians indicated interest in 24 issues, announced that out of these 24 items, the committee made recommendation on 13 of them.

His words: “After four months of rigorous research, we are pleased to inform the chairman we have completed our assignment and are here to present our report. Our report is in four volumes. “The report is in four volumes with Volume One containing background information of the research and recommendations; Volume Two, Action plans from the research to implement its resolution and draft of bills; Volume Three, Media reports and the result of the online survey of the issue and Volume Four, the appendix- summary of all memoranda received. “I’ll like to highlight some principal recommendation by the committee. We articulated 14 issues re-occurring in previous conferences. At the end of our rigorous research, debates and deliberations, we came up with 24 items that Nigerians have indicated interest views that balance our federation.” Expectedly, cautious optimism greeted the assurance by the APC leadership to implement the report. Some members of the opposition described the ruling party’s move then as a ploy to buy time ahead of the 2019 general elections. The doubt over the sincerity of purpose by the ruling party has been proved right as nothing came out of the report till date.

North/South dichotomy

Despite efforts of Nigeria’s founding fathers – Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa- Balewa to foster unity among the people, there still exist a wide gulf between the north and southern parts of the country. Citizens along the two divides have continued to view each other with suspicion.

There is no doubt that given the heterogeneous nature of the country, the tendency of the various nationals is towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness. The respective regions, at some times in the country’s history, had used threats of secession to extract concessions from the Federal Government.

In 1950, the North threatened to secede if it was not granted equal representation with the South in the legislative council. In 1953, the West also threatened to secede over revenue allocation and making of Lagos the Federal Capital Territory. In 1967, the East (now the South-East and South-South) declared the Republic of Biafra in line with the tradition of using threat of secession as a political instrument. Unfortunately, the nation paid dearly for the civil war that ensued. Despite the over three million lives that were lost during the 30-month old war, some sections of the country are still adopting secessionist approach in their response to national issues. Often times there have been calls for disintegration. But, the question over time is: Will balkanization solve the country’s problems? Most stakeholders believe it will not as every region is a mini-Nigeria with the same contending variables.

Corruption, bane of nation’s development

One thing that has held Nigeria back since independence is systemic and entrenched corruption. Sadly, the nation’s laws have not recognised the cankerworm for what it is. Corruption is closely linked to the leadership question, and explains why successive Nigerian leaders failed to see headship as all about service, sacrifice and making positive impact on the people, rather than a means of amassing wealth. Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who likened corruption in the country to cancer, once used two words – ‘hydra’ and ‘octopus’ to describe the level of graft in the country. He said: “We have a cancerous situation, you fight one arm of corruption, another grows. A methodological name for corruption in Nigeria is hydropus.” Soyinka may not be far from the truth, as the country over the years has seen its wealth withered with little to show in living conditions of the masses. However, the frightening dimension that corruption has taken in Nigeria of late has prompted calls for more drastic measures to combat it, as the various anti-graft agencies – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) are fast losing the battle. Part of measures being advocated include capital punishment given the slap on the wrist kind of judgements on several high profile corruption cases.

Poverty amid plenty/Insecurity

Over 100 million out of the country’s estimated 200 million population live in relative poverty conditions as successive governments merely engaged in glorifying poverty alleviation programmes. The various interventionist programmes of successive administrations and even those initiated by the present administration rather than alleviate poverty, which they were meant for, only succeeded in entrenching it. Nigeria has more poor people defined as those living on less than $1.90 a day, than any other country, including India. The country’s currency – Naira – has of late been on a free-fall.

It presently exchanges at N700 to a dollar. Besides issues of poverty and ailing economy, growing insecurity across the country portends a grave danger to Nigeria’s unity. From the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North-East to banditry and kidnapping in the North-West and North Central; farmers/herders clash in the North Central as well as the entire South; militancy in the South-South, and killings over agitation for self-determination in the South-East, the picture of Nigeria is that of a nation at war with itself. The Boko Haram insurgency, driven by Islamic extremists, has not only claimed thousands of lives and property. It has turned millions of Nigerians to refugees in their own country. Across most northern states and even in neigbouring Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon, are camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

The crisis, which has lasted over a decade, has equally brought economic activities in the affected states to a halt, while rebuilding efforts by the Federal Government in conjunction with donor agencies have gulped billions of naira. Sadly, the APC-led Federal Government in 2015 pronounced Boko Haram “technically defeated” but most Nigerians believe that the proclamation was mere propaganda as the insurgents have remained an ever-present threat. For bandits ravaging the North-West, kidnapping and cattle rustling have become a lucrative industry. In the oil-rich but impoverished South- South, crude oil theft and sabotage of oil pipelines is legendary. Similarly, incessant clashes between Muslim Fulani herders and Christian farmers have claimed thousands of lives and destruction of property worth billions of naira. Though the impact of the crisis has been more devastating in the North Central since 1999, the herders have recently advanced towards the southern part of the country, thereby shifting the battleground.

Appreciable progress despite challenges

The myriads of problems, notwithstanding, there are appreciable progress in some sectors of national life in the last 62 years. Most significant, that Nigeria has been able to remain one despite threats to her corporate existence is a feat worth celebrating. Some analysts pointed to the democratic experience, which has not only afforded Nigerians the opportunity to elect their leaders at the various levels of governance since 1999 but freedom of speech associated with it. In socio-economic development, Nigeria has also made appreciable progress.

The nation did not have more than five universities at independence but it presently has more than 170 universities that include federal, states and private universities. It is the same story with polytechnics and Federal Government colleges now called unity schools. Analysts say these are testament to the fact that the nation has progressed politically and socio-economically although slow compared to its peers. Against the backdrop that most past Nigerian leaders were railroaded into positions of leadership without any demonstration of ability to comprehend the problems of the nation, the consensus is that only leaders with vision can inspire and mobilize the citizenry for nation building. While there is no doubt that advancement is not easy to come by, the forthcoming 2023 general election provides an ample opportunity to end the era of endless blame on pathetic leadership for the nation’s woes, so that Nigeria can take her rightful place in the comity of nations.

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