By Sunny Awhefeada
The Nigerian writer or thinker has never had a sunny moment to ponder about the beauty of Nigeria. The reality which daily confronts our writers and thinkers are the dreadful ugliness of a dehumanized polity and people. When the Nigerian writer sits down to write, what looms in his imaginary is Armageddon with many Leviathans bestriding the landscape with destructive ferocity. The thinkers are hard pressed to offer theoretical moorings and solutions to the Nigerian debacle. The Nigerian crisis, whatever it is and its manifestations, has been a part of Nigeria from 1960.
That the crisis is intractable is no longer in doubt. It is not that the crisis has never been identified. It has again and again. Unfortunately, those to whom the reins of power were handed and those who later seized it never at any point admitted or admit to the crisis. Even when the people wail and show glaring evidence of a nation in flames or point at a ship headed for the rocks, those in power will tell you the destructive flames were the glow of the sun and the ship was cruising to Eldorado. So we are bound to the cycle of doom, perennially.
The tragedy of our beloved country is that it is living the antithesis of its greatness. With a warm, welcoming, resilient, creative and innovative population of nearly 200 million, an endless stretch of arable land, with many rivers and streams, crude oil, solid mineral resources, forest resources, wildlife, friendly climate and more, Nigeria ought to be a paradise. But what do we have? The bedlam of a wasteland! David Cameron called us “a fantastically corrupt country” and not too long after that, Donald Trump described the continent Nigeria was supposed to lead as a “shithole”? Many Nigerians who commented on both assertions did so across two dividing lines.
Some concurred and others disagreed quite strongly, may be out of misplaced patriotism. The reality that has confronted us and still confronts us is a pointer that Cameron and Trump were apt in their submissions. It is left for Nigeria to clean up its mess and act in a manner that it would not be viewed as a scum.
Thinking about Nigeria has become a befuddling experience. It is often difficult to put a finger to when “the trouble with Nigeria” began. Yes, Chinua Achebe, the inimitable master storyteller, did publish a monograph titled The Trouble with Nigeria, but the task of locating the trouble is no tea party. Thirty-seven years after Achebe’s monographs, Nigerians have not been able to fix “the trouble”. Rather it has been so complex and inveterate which each passing day engendering newer troubles of unimaginable proportion.
Whoever thinks about Nigeria’s problems often comes up with the conclusion that things couldn’t be worse, but the next day, nay the next moment, throws up more monstrosities to the extent that pessimism now walks hand in hand with disillusionment. Whoever that is denying that things are not falling apart in Nigeria is a liar through and through! Each waking moment seems to confirm that Nigeria’s yesterday was better than today.
Yet, Nigeria’s envisioned destiny before independence was that of unparalleled greatness. It was ranked by the Wall Street Journal as carrying the same development promise with Japan in 1954. By 1959 when Nigeria had its first television station, only Britain, America and two other countries in Europe had television. Nigeria had a skyscraper (Cocoa House), Olympic sized stadium before many countries in Europe.
Up to 1979, Nigeria had some of the very best universities in the world with the Saudi royal family patronizing the University College Hospital (UCH) in Ibadan. Many foreign professors and students, from Europe and America, taught and schooled in our universities. Nigeria not only paid workers’ salaries in far away Trinidad and Tobago, but Indonesia and Malaysia borrowed palm seedlings from here in the 1970s.
Nigeria boasts of some of the best brains in all fields of human endeavours globally. Our writers are sublime, but for racism Nigeria would have been home to at least five Nobel Prize winners in Literature! Our social scientists rank among the most profound in thought and pontification. Our scientists are great inventors, trailblazers and solution finders. Our artists, whether they are fine artists or actors, have long captured global attention. Our soldiers have also fought to bring peace and stability to different parts of the world. What about our sportsmen and women? They are among the best globally. The Nigerian spirit is brewed in excellence and grit. It is a never say die spirit.
In spite of the foregoing, we still find ourselves marooned on an island of hopelessness sixty years after the attainment of nationhood. Historians are bound to say that sixty years is a short period in the life of a nation. But we can no longer continue to sustain that thinking.
A quarter of the resources and good will that Nigeria squandered in sixty years was enough to turn Africa around and put it ahead of Europe in the race for human development. Was it not once revealed that what was stolen from Nigeria from 1960 to 1999 was more than the money that was used to execute the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II? Besides the mindless plundering of Nigeria, we have for most of the independent period been subjected to the plague of bad leadership. Nigerian leadership, especially at the national level, has largely been mediocre. There is ample evidence of a reasonable level of good leadership at the regional and later state levels, but the overwhelming influence of visionless national leadership made and continue to make leadership in the states helpless. This is the reason why restructuring in line with the tenets of federalism should be carried out.
Nigeria is “no longer at ease” and since this is so, we the citizens are the ones that have been bruised physically and psychologically. Nigerians are hungry and crying. Despondency is thick in the air and there is not the least flicker of hope that things are about to change. One is confronted by anarchy everywhere one turns.
Nothing is adding up as if nobody is in charge. Nigeria is just plodding on and the citizens are at the receiving end. There is a frightening disconnect between citizens and government. The essence of the social contract has long been desecrated in Nigeria. The people no longer trust or believe government and view every move or statement of government with derision. The government on the other hand has given up on the people. Never mind the ritual of annual budgets and other such hollow gestures by government to make life (un)better for the people.
The gross incompetence of our national leadership has grounded Nigeria and the effects manifest in chaos and agony everywhere. Nigeria is failing on a daily basis and this is evident in all ramifications. The executive, legislature and judiciary have all failed. The state is no longer a source of reprieve for citizens. A social media post was quite ingenious in describing the three arms of government in Nigeria as “executhieves, legislooters and judisharing”.
This depiction is tragically apt for our unfortunate situation. Across Nigeria, doctors and nurses are treating patients to kill them, policemen are robbing and shooting citizens they are paid to protect, teachers at all levels are extorting and exploiting pupils and students, judges have put judgments on sale and abuse justice, everybody and everything is on the loose. University teachers and doctors are on strike. Our roads have become death traps. Our schools are no longer schools and hospitals are now abattoirs.
Everybody is talking about the Nigerian situation. Everybody is identifying the problems. Everybody is offering solutions. But everybody is doing nothing. Leadership has failed Nigeria. Sixty years after independence the people should ask questions about the way forward. The people should seek ways of reworking Nigeria and making the country receptive for all of us. Time is ticking and there is a limit to everything.