…How Time Flies
oon, Nigeria will be celebrating 50 years of political independence from Britain. I hear preparations are already in top gear, such that 10 billion Naira (about $66 million) has been allocated for activities marking the milestone. To me the question we should be concerned about and must reflect upon is whether there is any measurable progress over this long historical time-frame worth celebrating at all.
Am sure this question will precipitate keen interest across various
sections of society both at home and abroad. I happen to have
participated in such informal discussion in a social outing here in New
Jersey. I raised the hot potato and controversial question of whether
Nigeria might have been better off if the British colonial
administrators stayed beyond 1960. National or African pride aside,
this is an issue, which everyone ought to reflect upon in light of
current despicable economic and political climate in the country.
Not to trivialize the dreams and drive of our patriotic nationalists
like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macauley, Obafemi Awolowo, Alvan Ikoku,
Tafawa Belewa and numerous others, the crux of my argument is that
given what we know now and see in Nigeria, I doubt if the country might
have been worse if colonialism exceeded 1960.
…Futile Debate or Not, You Be the Judge
Yes, you might say effort to delve into this debate or draw such
parallels is merely a futile intellectual discourse, but why not? If
current state of the nation causes you enough mental anguish and pain,
why wouldn’t you consider other scenarios or how the country might have
fared under different circumstances, if nothing else for the sake of
argument? There are multitudes of views as to why the situation is so
precarious today. Everyone has an opinion, ranging from prevalence of
corruption to absence of law and order, indiscipline, nepotism,
decedent leadership and whatever comes to mind.
Appalling statistics that underscore level of underdevelopment are
already well known - major quality-of-life indicators on per capita
basis is worse today vis-à-vis 30-50 years ago. According to recent
World Health Organization (WHO) survey of 190 countries and
territories, Nigeria ranks 187th in quality of healthcare – meaning you
are more likely to die earlier in Nigeria than in Somalia (ranked 179).
What’s more, you are better off living in the colonial era or early
post-colonial period than today. All this leaves you wondering whether
there is any flicker of light over the last 50 years – no matter how
deep you looked.
I personally don’t see too many outstanding achievements. What I notice
more is hope for the future due to reasons I will adduce later in this
essay. Because there can hardly be unanimous opinion on this, to better
understand the issues at stake, I will attempt to look at them from two
major angles; Political and Socio-Economic perspectives so you draw
…Political Environment (Democratic Governance and Rule of law)
On the political front Nigeria hardly merits any accolades. From a
historical context the sins of the past continues to haunt the country
so badly till date. Few years after independence with the first
military coup led my Chukwuma Nzeogwu the country was plunged into
civil war and thereafter political instability that saw successive
military regimes (except a brief interlude of civilian rule in
1979-1983) take a stab at running the affairs of the nation, albeit
with very poor outcome. You could argue that by its sheer nature
(except maybe during serious national threat and civil unrest) the
military establishment, especially in Africa is hardly suited to
efficiently and progressively govern modern societies, not withstanding
the spurious notion that Nigeria needs benevolent dictatorship to
By all accounts, prolonged military leadership in Nigeria deprived the
country opportunity to naturally evolve or develop homegrown democratic
culture and strong institutions, leaving behind a legacy of impunity
and triumph of mediocrity and incompetence.
But then, hard-nosed proponents of dictatorship might imply that the
experience prepared the country for democracy or that after all, the
co-existence of western legal framework during those years might have
spurred growth of virile judiciary and law courts that are today the
bulwarks of our emerging democratic experience. My counter question is
whether the resultant judicial system was an achievement of the
military hunta or one of the positive vestiges of colonial rule?
To my mind, the net effect of military dictatorship spanning more than
30 years in post-colonial Nigeria contributed very negatively to
civil/political advancement and impacted immensely on unabated decline
and inability to build upon little infrastructural progress of the
colonial era. This resulted in endemic poverty and continued political
dichotomy along social strata as well as regional, ethnic and religious
lines. Fifty years after, many inhabitants see themselves first from
prism of their ethnic origin, then as Nigerians.
To the extent that even in a nascent democratic dispensation decades
after independence, polemics on national leadership are still mostly
built around god-fatherism, ethnicity, religion and myopic
self-interest, one can only pray that with time that imprint on the
psyche will wane.
…Economic and Social Infrastructure
Nowhere is the footprint of mal-administration more visible than in the
economic sphere, symbolized by institutionalized corruption, ineptitude
and numerous other vices. Anecdotally, growing up in Nigeria most
people will recall with nostalgia existence of well-planned and clean
city streets and functional public infrastructure – street lights,
pipe-borne water, public schools, hospitals and even civil-service that
collectively defined life-quality.
Decades later, most of these amenities have fallen into utter disrepair
or virtually disappeared. Aside from initiatives to build overhead
bridges in Lagos and develop Abuja (new capital city from scratch), as
well as construct network of new federal roads, airports and
universities, there hasn’t been constructive stride to diversify the
economy or improve upon what colonial rule left behind (especially the
railway system) to keep pace with time and rapidly growing population.
To be sure, some major cities in Nigeria were planned and constructed
during colonial period.
Not even the huge inflow of export proceeds from crude oil production
did enable subsequent local administrations maintain critical
infrastructures built in the 1970s or sustain the tempo of new
development in the 1980s, while modernizing management processes.
Consequently, existing infrastructure assets have all but decayed
leaving in its shadow horrendous service-quality and life-standard
similar to late 19th century in Europe.
You may be forgiven to say that no single administration since
independence (including military and civilian) merits a pass mark in
electric power and broad-based infrastructure development. Despite the
constant tinkering with ideas, planning, appropriation and spending of
financial resources Nigeria is yet to achieve befitting and worthwhile
industrial and technological advancement comparable to its peers in
Asia that attained independence around the same time. Reform efforts in
recent years however have given rise to some ray of hope that is
helping drive the economy, especially in the telecommunications and
financial services sectors.
It is known fact of life that the past is not always indicative of the
future. Quite often a bright future can be shaped by tough historical
experience and lessons learnt from daunting challenges in the life of a
nation. That is indeed where my hope and consolation reside. Nigeria
has had the good fortune of sticking together despite intermittent
crisis and a bloody civil war of 1967-1970. Thanks to abundance of
natural resources Nigeria has been able to wither political, social and
economic storms that might have dismembered other nation-states.
In fact without those natural resources it is inconceivable that
political elites of various ethnicities in Nigeria could have achieved
consensus on any issue or co-habited harmoniously today. More
importantly the resilience of ordinary folks in the midst of such
widespread angst has helped maintain a fragile tranquility. Even when
the nation was on the brink with the recent militancy in Niger Delta a
temporary solution helped bring about some reprieve. All these are not
necessarily achievements of any particular administration; the credit
must go to the people themselves for being stoic in the face of
enormous obstacles. The human factor essentially is vital attribute
that should be capitalized upon to build a fair and progressive Nigeria.
Obviously any ambitious future would demand sorting out current burning
issues of who should and shouldn’t contest for presidency and what
ought to be the criteria for selecting a candidate, especially in the
ruling party – based on geographical zoning, religion, ethnicity or
what have you? Beyond that, other very serious problems portend - like
addressing prolonged inequity in the Niger Delta, restructuring the
electoral system and deeply entrenching the rule of law, so that some
measure of predictability in the economic and business arena can be
achieved that will energize entrepreneurial and creative instincts of
With such fundamental catalysts in place, it is possible that Nigeria
might have better independence cerebrations in future just as the
people will see more things to be proud of in years to come. Without
that it is doubtful that there will even be a Nigeria to celebrate come
the next 50 years – I hope am wrong.