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Issues in Nigeria's Golden Jubilee Independence Anniversary

By Dr. Bukar Usanm

 

Come October 1, 2010 Nigeria will be fifty years old as an independent country. The date marks fifty years of the end of British rule over Nigeria. It will be dual celebration in that it combines the annual celebration with the jubilee. The federal government considers it important and set up a committee well ahead of time to make adequate preparation for the event to be celebrated in a big way. The sum of 10billion Naira being proposed to fund the event at the federal level has generated public concern.

    Individuals and groups celebrate important events such as birthdays, marriages and even deaths of their loved ones. Likewise, nation states mark certain events; for instance the end of the two world wars. Celebrants are normally jubilant and reflect on fortunes or misfortunes as the case may be, and rededicate themselves to the future. 

     Nigeria's landmark celebration of solid 50 years of independence is therefore nothing extra-ordinary. However, the event itself and the sheer magnitude of what is being planned to mark it has raised a lot of questions about the achievements to be celebrated; some cynically remark: ‘what is there to celebrate; is it worth the N10 billion being proposed.'

    Nigeria's achievements in the last 50 years will continue to generate debate before and well after the golden jubilee anniversary celebration. Some achievements are pretty obvious like the country remaining one after all the numerous squabbles Nigeria had gone through including a devastating civil war. It is a no mean achievement considering that other countries which are less diverse than Nigeria had broken up between the end of Nigeria's civil war and 2010. What is unfortunate is that Nigeria to the disappointment of patriots and well wishers has fallen short of expectations in physical development, industrial production, institutional development and the enhancement of the quality of life of the citizens and services.

     Proponents of contrary view may point to the growth of urban centres following the creation of more states and local governments, the higher number of airports and educational institutions, growth in air transportation and more recently telecommunications as evidence of progress.  Nigeria's enviable record of contribution to world peace through participation in peacekeeping operations and joining forces to end apartheid and colonisation in Africa are also worthy achievements.  However,  the internal dynamics of chronic malfunctioning of democratic institutions and systems, corruption, decline in shipping and rail transportation, poor urban and intercity transportation, extreme shortage of electricity and other basic amenities, especially when contrasted with the performance of less endowed countries in the provisions of these facilities to their citizens, the reader could appreciate the views of the protagonists, who perhaps reflect the depth of peoples' feelings and disappointments in their arguments. A Nigerian who attended the recent 2010 FIFA world football competition in South Africa had observed that the dual carriageway linking Durban with Johannesburg a distance of 600Km was without a single pot hole. This speaks volumes of the state of the highways in Nigeria the construction of which are stalled or annoyingly bogged down by controversy over terms of the contracts. Meanwhile the commuters continue to suffer.

    The following remarks by a Nigerian reporter who covered the recent election in Guinea are equally instructive about the conduct of elections in Nigeria: ‘..the central thing about what we are observing in Guinea is the honesty to want to get it done. In the Nigerian setting, it is always implicit in the beginning that the entire process had been rigged even before the polling day. The voters list is very faulty, even dubious in many districts; INEC, more often than not, is part of the process of subversion of the electoral process; parties are not interested in letting the people express their preferences while we do not seem to have the civic discipline which obliges people to stay on long queues with each person taking his/her turn to be verified as a voter and then getting to cast a vote with the hope that it will genuinely count in the process of democracy. Even when  all these processes run their course ,groups of thugs might arrive shooting to scare away everybody to be able to highjack the box and when that is not done, INEC will announce a result other than what really transpired!'(P.12, Sunday Trust 11/07/10).  Granted that this sordid picture of election in Nigeria may not be representative of all the polling stations in the country, it is certainly not a fiction. It is a true reflection of what happens in quite a number of polling units, particularly during several elections conducted in the last decade. 

    Nigeria's apparent under-achievement compared to its peers and co-travellers after independence like India, Brazil, Malaysia and more recently, the performances of even smaller countries like Ghana, Rwanda and Botswana, annoy many commentators and stakeholders. Nigerians recriminate, lament and apportion blames at Nigeria's failings.  Quite a significant number of the enlightened appraisals place the blame largely on ‘leadership'.

     Having worked under several leaders at the federal level for many years, it will be uncharitable not to acknowledge that they took their responsibilities seriously. The fact that some served for fairly long periods and in some cases several times over and do not want leave the seat or after leaving still crave to get back shows that they have something to offer and that their services require extra time to consolidate. This also suggests that quest for leadership is insatiable and there appears to be something like a magnate or gravitation at the seat of power which tends to hold back the occupants and attracts aspirants. And somehow this attraction is at all levels, from the highest to the lowest offices in the public service. This has led some critics to conclude that ‘we are collectively guilty' in acts of commission or omission which contributed to Nigeria's underachievement.

     Where lays the solution? Some people contemplate the unthinkable. ' Bloody revolution!' some say in desperation'. No!'  Caution mature minds. So the debate goes on. Whichever way the debate swings, there is no denying the urgent need for change, change in attitude and change in ways of doing certain things generally.

     Under the circumstances, Nigerians and well wishers while celebrating Nigeria's existence as a united country especially over the last fifty years should mark the occasion essentially as one of deep and sober reflection, refrain from recrimination or cry over spilt milk and lost opportunities. It will surely be more rewarding if the leadership and followership rededicate themselves to' good governance'. While Government has already set for itself the goal of ‘Vision 20-20-20', it would be more appropriate to look and plan ahead for the next fifty years.

     Nigeria's current ranking on industrialization which stands at 44 among 181 countries does not make its aspiration to be among the top 20 economies by 2020 realistic, given its infrastructural and institutional inadequacies. This view is supported by the unhelpful fact that Nigeria ranks 125 out of 183 countries as at June 2010 in the critical index of ‘ease of doing business.'

     More glaringly, Nigeria's current GDP of 173,428 USD put against the 470,400 USD GDP of the lowest first 20 industrialized countries (Belgium) makes its dream of beating the second 20 countries by 2020 highly unlikely. For instance, the second 20 industrialized countries currently led by Poland have a GDP of 430,197 USD while Israel, the lowest second 20 countries, has a GDP of 194,825 USD. To be among the first 20 countries in the next 10 years, Nigeria will need to beat countries like Sweden, Norway, Venezuela, Denmark, South Africa, Finland, UAE, Malaysia, Egypt, and Singapore. To beat them as easily as we wishfully envision, the economies of those countries may need to remain static for the next decade.

     Among the critical factors required to attain the objectives of 20:2020 is electricity. Our position here does not     compare favourably with that of any of these countries in energy production and consumption. As at 2006, Singapore had twice Nigeria's energy consumption while Belgium had six times Nigeria's consumption figure. Nigeria at 50 currently has 4,000 MW but needs, according to Nigeria Energy Commission, 50,000 MW of electricity to realise Vision 20:2020 goals. If it took us 50 years to achieve 4,000 MW, how is it feasible to achieve 50, 000 in 10 years? Added to all this, Lagos Nigeria's largest industrial conurbation currently has only 25 percent of the industries in operation and Kano 5 percent, research by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission reveals. How and when would the collapsed industries be revived to previous levels and new ones thrive. 

     Not having the art of looking into the crystal ball and without the extraordinary minds of Nostradamus and George Orwell, it will be futile for me as a commentator to predict what Nigeria would become  in the next fifty years. Hopefully, Nigeria would prove the dooms day predictions wrong and remain a strong, united, virile and prosperous nation with well established democratic institutions which its citizens will all be proud of. Survivors should be able to look back with pride and rate the first 50 years of independence as the ‘bad old days,' instead of assessing their time by describing the first five decades of independence as the ‘good old days'. 

     The fact  that' Vision 2010' in which so much public and private effort was put and heralded with fanfare was dumped and  passed away as a non event, is enough reason for sceptics to have reservations  regarding the implementation of the much hyped ‘Vision 20-20-20.' It is understood that Nigeria is ten times lower in the aggregate of the indices which informed the membership of the group of industrialised economies popularly known as G20. Their annual per capita income averages $100,000 as against Nigeria's $1200. That being the case, it is highly unlikely for Nigeria to catch up with those economies which are already cruising at that level.

      While it is legitimate to aim high it may amount to self deception to set an unrealistic goal. For the foreseeable future it would be more realistic for Nigeria to resolve to forge a concert of the next group of twenty countries into a formidable pressure group to engage the original G20 in shaping the world economy. Surely it would be more dignifying than the present arrangement of waiting and craving for the favour of being invited individually to the summit. The D8 recently hosted by Nigeria is a step in the right direction. All that is required is to expand the club to 20 to become D20.

     Turning to the internal dynamics which inevitably impact on Nigeria's external performance and image, there are several areas requiring attention. Attempts had been made to narrow them to ‘seven' but have now been further pruned down. Still a further prioritisation is necessary to zero on the more critical areas of fixing the' electoral system' and the supply of `power and energy'. These twin problems are the root cause or form a significant part of the solution to the other equally weighty problems begging for solution.

      It is noted that the constitution and electoral regulations and organs are under review and so too is power supply under close attention. However, it is most intriguing to say that since independence and in spite of the intensified effort and promises made over the last decade, the aggregate electricity supply still hovers around four thousand megawatts, leading to seemingly endless load shedding throughout the federation.

     The changes in electoral regulations and staffing of the electoral bodies are reassuring. However, it needs to be emphasized that the ‘forces ‘which impact on electoral outcomes are far beyond the scope of responsibilities of the electoral bodies and staff. Time constraint which is an obvious problem presently; the interminable litigation which follows the elections; the failure to apprehend and mete out instant justice to all manner of people who committed criminal acts connected with elections ;the lack of internal democracy in the political parties; the general comportment of party activists and overzealous party officials and candidates; the weight of money on the poor electorates; and the expressed or body language of the Chief Executive which influences others to commit themselves to ‘deliver' at all costs so as to enhance or retain their positions,  militate against the conduct of smooth and credible elections.

      The current moves are meant to change the mood, orientation and attitude towards creating a more conducive environment for the electorates to freely exercise their rights and cast their votes according to their conscience. While Nigerians and the international community should appreciate and applaud government's commitments and resolve in that regard, it is maintained that only the outcome of the elections will determine the degree of success and back slapping of the election managers, the voters and the government. Above all, what Nigerians earnestly hope for is to have in place a permanent culture of electoral integrity and democratic institutions  as an assurance to ‘good governance,' service delivery and' good living'.

 

24 July, 2010

 

 

 

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