Yesterday, dear Nigeria, you clocked 57. I honestly don’t know what to say to you on your 57th birthday: To congratulate you or not? To pop a drink, roll out the drums and dance at your otherwise special day? As a writer, words fail me. My hands freeze as I stare blankly at the keys of my laptop.
What do you say to a 57-year-old man, who is three years shy of the diamond age (60), but is still behaving like an adolescent perambulating, beating about the bush, and engaged in the antics of a purposeless man?
Nigeria is the archetypal giant with the feet of a dwarf, whose development has been arrested by self-inflicted injuries. A permanently developing nation, where basic amenities, like electricity, water, roads, health care facilities, are still viewed like rocket science.
So, dear Nigeria, you can see why I do not know what to wish you. If I say ‘happy birthday’ Nigeria, that would not be an honest statement. The question is: Are you truly happy? Are you happy at the way things have gone since your birth? Are you happy at the conduct of some of the people who call themselves leaders, but have impoverished the rest of the people? Are you happy that you have remained a toddler, when you should be on your feet, standing firm and running the race of progress like other kids born at the same time?
Can we truly wish a distraught, beaten and battered 57-year-old man a happy birthday, without a pang of guilt? What do you tell a dependent, hungry 57-year-old on his birthday? All over the country, you find faces of frustration, hungry Nigerians, disappointed Nigerians. Nigerians feeling quite dejected at the parlous state of affairs, from the centre down to many states and local governments. Decaying social infrastructure and amenities that make life worth living. This can’t be the Nigeria of the dreams of our founding fathers!
But, how did we get to this mess? Don’t search too far. Nigeria’s story, like I once told in this column, is akin to the allegory of a group of young men, who having inherited their parents’ wealth, went on a spending spree. They quaffed the most expensive liquor, rode exotic cars, wore designer clothes and ‘rocked’ the prettiest girls. Then, like in the case of the Biblical prodigal son, they soon returned to zero.
Looking like ex-convicts who had just been released, they tramped the city in search of food and shelter. In their tattered state, one of the young men suddenly turned to his friends and asked: “Guys, what happened to us? How did we get here? How did we become what we are?” It was certainly a dumb question: What happened to the merry-go-lucky delinquent young men is simple: They blew their lives away. They took their inherited wealth for granted and lived as if there was no tomorrow. They sowed the wind, and reaped the whirlwind.
It is possible they were warned by family members and elders of their communities on their wayward living, but they turned deaf ears. They were told to take it easy, but they scoffed at the persons offering advice as ‘old school’ who didn’t understand modernity or current happenings. So, they lived large, only to turn small.
Nigeria is like that group of directionless young men who turned wealth to waste, instead of the other way round. We got the black gold, but turned it to waste; we got wealth, which we have blown like the prodigal young men. Those who found themselves in leadership positions neglected duty to community and country, and we soon began to breed worms and maggots all over. Truly and painfully, who could have predicted that a nation so prodigiously blessed with every good thing on earth, human and material, would turn this way: A giant with the feet of a dwarf, wobbly, slow, unsure and unsteady? Troubled and traumatised by myriad problems, not the least questions about its corporate existence.
Think about this: How come nations we got independence almost at the same period have left us far behind. Look at India, a nation we once derided; Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, to mention a few. How come we are still battling to get to 5000 megawatts of electricity, when power is no longer an issue in other countries? How come we are producing the 21st set of unemployed graduates, a country that is the 6th largest oil-producing nation on earth? How come we haven’t got our transportation right: air, road, rail and waterways? How come our army of the unemployed keeps lengthening, while our industrial capacity keeps reducing? How come budgets are running into trillions, while the ordinary Nigerian is still battling the basic necessities of life?
How did we get here, to borrow the words of the distraught young men? The answer stares us in the face: Leadership delinquency. We could have been a great nation, not a permanently developing nation or potentially great country, if those who happened on leadership had been more proactive, and those who took over from the independence leaders hadn’t turned vultures devouring our common wealth.
Where are the groundnut pyramids that once dotted the Northern skyline? Where are the textile factories? What happened to the once-flourishing cocoa industry in the West and the palm kernel production in the East? What about the agricultural prowess of the old Mid-West and the East? Gone! Drained, like the prodigal youngsters, who blew their inherited wealth.
Even our black gold, our oil, has been so mercilessly bled that many are wondering if we wouldn’t have been better off if God hadn’t deposited the precious liquid in our soil. Don’t let’s get angry or depressed, talking about the billions of dollars that have been stolen from our oil resource. The several probe panels on the rot in this sector are eloquent testimonies that we have been serially gang-raped by those we had entrusted to oversee our most prized resource.
At 57, we have had a surfeit of all kinds of groups clamouring for a fair deal from the nation. From groups that said they were fighting for economic and political rights like MOSOP, MASSOB, OPC and MEND, we have had a Boko Haram, fighting a totally intriguing and bloody battle garbed in a fight for religious justice, and we all are the worse for it. Of course, we know it’s got nothing to do with religion, as even Mosques have been bombed. It’s a fight that truly defies logic, because it has no logic.
Then, there is IPOB, a group fighting for a nation of its own. The soldiers rolled out the tanks and there has been disquiet over the action. Surely, dialogue remains the best option to tackle the misgivings of our brothers in the East. Dialogue will still have to happen even after the gun ceases to boom in any conflict situation. This can’t be different.
Nigeria today needs restructuring. We can’t continue to pretend all is well with us. That would be grand, self-deceit. We have too many hungry and angry Nigerians. They are angry that a country so prodigiously endowed shouldn’t have majority of its citizens wallowing in the valley of want and despair.
The second leg of the issue is that some sections of the country believe strongly that they are being short-changed in the allocation of positions and resources. We can’t in all clear conscience dismiss the concerns of such sections and persons. What to do is to address them. Nothing is wrong with calls for restructuring. It will make Nigeria stronger, better and more effective. Our present arrangement only enriches and promotes a few to the detriment of the majority. Justice is the issue. Justice, fairness and equity will heal the land of its tensions.
Of course, all hope is not lost. Nigeria may yet rise to the greatness of its potentials. But that can only come if those who preside over our affairs can learn to promote values that unite rather than divide the people. We know these tendencies: Sectionalism, ethnicity, religious extremism, among others. We can still say happy birthday Nigeria, no matter the travails we face now.
Martin Luther says: “Everything that is done in the world is done in hope.” So be it with our dear country!