Nigeria’s 63 years of independence and 60 years as a republic have been a paradox of existence. While there have been significant improvements in our democratic governance, our political system has continued to operate abysmally.
On 1 October, Nigeria celebrated its 63rd independence and 60 years as a republic. I say Nigeria and not Nigerians because active participation and celebration of the country’s independence has dwindled. In the past, Nigerians would recognize the day by wearing a touch of green and/or white while some would stick the flag on their cars. Such active celebration has waned and many only look forward to the day as another public holiday for an extra day of rest.
As if to further confirm how much Independence Day has lost its significance among Nigerians, on 26 September 2023, the Nigerian Labour Congress announced the commencement of a nationwide strike and threatened to shut down land and air operations from Monday, 2 October citing the government’s insensitivity to the sufferings of Nigerians as a result of the removal of petrol subsidy.
Even before the Tinubu administration removed fuel subsidies (resulting in a 22.41 per cent rise in inflation), Nigeria appeared to be in an endless cycle of maladies battling the same problems every year, with no signs of possible solutions. From corruption to poverty, from ethnic division to nepotism, from police brutality to political subjugation, from inequality to violence, it appears that the same problems Nigerians complained about in the 1960s are the same things they complained about in the 1970s and 1980s and have complained about every decade since then. If one opens a random Nigerian newspaper published say 25 years ago, the same issues that Nigerians complained about then, that sparked protests and strikes, are still the same conversations dominating today’s headline. Nigeria doesn’t seem to be learning from history.
Perhaps it would be unfair to designate Nigeria’s entire 63 years as an independent country as a failure. After years of military interregnum, Nigeria’s Fourth Republic (1999-present) has operated a democratic system for 14 straight years. In 2023, Nigeria has spent more years as a democratic nation (34) than under military regimes (29), a commendable testament to the growth and acceptance of democracy as the preferred choice of governance.
Although the health sector still has a long way to go to meet global standards—especially when one considers the medical brain drain which has resulted in an average of one doctor to 10,000 patients—one cannot but celebrate wins like the incredible way Nigeria managed the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and has managed the COVID-19 pandemic so far. Also of note is the eradication of the wild poliovirus as confirmed by the World Health Organization.
The Nigerian fintech space has dominated the African landscape in recent years. In the second quarter of 2023 alone, the Nigerian fintech ecosystem attracted 42 per cent of the share of deals that came into the continent. Between 2021 and 2023, Nigerian fintech companies grew from 144 to 217, the highest in Africa.
Regardless, negative events often overshadow Nigeria’s wins. Some of these problems could have been mitigated if Nigeria paid attention to history and learnt from the past with the intentionality of not repeating them. Despite being a federal republic since 1963, very few of Nigeria’s structures actually reflect federalism. Despite numerous calls for power to be decentralized to federating units, economic and political power is still concentrated at the centre and many states still rely on ‘Abuja’ for sustainability. It is no surprise that the local government, which is supposed to be the closest tier of government to the people, has been rendered useless. Despite the 2014 National Conference recommendation for the restructuring of the country, the federal government still wields absolute power.
The 2023 general election has further polarized the nation with religious and ethnic sentiments dominating electoral conversation. 63 years as a nation and Nigeria has still not learned to be a stable country. We have learnt nothing from our civil war and similar incidents of ethnic profiling, nepotism and political violence that characterized Nigeria of that period reared their ugly heads in the 2023 elections.
Nigeria’s poverty rate continues to rise with 71 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty. Insecurity continues to be a major challenge with the country ranked the 15th most fragile in the 2023 Fragile States Index. Police brutality has not abated despite the #EndSARS protests of 2020.
THE WAY FORWARD
Nigeria has had 63 years to understand its perennial problems but solutions seem elusive. This has not been helped by our country’s leadership problem, where the worst of us find their way to leadership positions. These range from governors and lawmakers who have been accused or charged with allegations of corruption to millions of ghost workers in the civil service.
To move forward, Nigeria’s endemic corruption needs to be addressed ‘from top to bottom’. The electoral system needs a revamp to rekindle interest among the electorate and to increase electoral participation, so that those who sit in political offices truly reflect the interests and decisions of the electorate.
An enabling environment for economic growth and development is critical to Nigeria’s development. This includes addressing the issues of climate change and its impact on agriculture and food sustainability, which is also tied to us becoming more self-sufficient agriculturally, solving farmer-herder crises and improving infrastructure.
At the core of national development should be the intentional promotion of national unity by eradicating nepotism, strengthening ethnic and religious integration and facilitating national development irrespective of whether a region gives 97 or 5 per cent votes to the winner of an election. History has shown that it sustaining political and economic inequalities does not end well. These recommendations are by no means exhaustive but are a starting point for reshaping Nigeria and Nigerians into a country the majority will be proud of⎈
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