At least, for Nigerians of my generation, the 1990s was one of the most exciting time. It was the decade of the June 12 struggle. Ethnicity, regionalism, nepotism and naked propaganda between sections of the country have reached their peak. This was further complicated by the harsh economic reality caused by the austerity measures which made it easier for the Nigerian elites to dribble their fellow countrymen in search of influence and political authority.
A common site after the annulment of June 12 elections at Sabon Gari and Unguwa Uku in Kano was the web of people migrating either side of the country, northerners from south arriving in troops, and southerners living in the northern part of the country finding their way back to the south. For those of us who did not experience the sad experience of the civil war in the 1960s, it was the age of uncertainty. International media organisations, from CNN to BBC, Voice of America etc, Nigeria was the subject of ridicule and sometimes unsubstantiated propaganda. Many thought the country could not survive, yet twenty years after that, we still have a country bearing the same name given to it by the British colonialists.
From the uncertainly of the transition towards independence in the 1950s, to the 1960s when ethnic and regional politics define the psyche of Nigeria, down to the civil war, the austerity measures of the 1980s, the ethno-religious crises of the late 1980s, military intervention in politics, lack of maturity of politicians, endemic corruption in the polity, have all characterized this colonial concoction, yet Nigeria still survives.
Since the creation of this unlikely union, one would like to ask, what are the negatives and the positives? In my opinion, there are at least three key positive things about Nigeria. First is the fact that the country has survived in the last hundred years, surmounting great challenges that saw other nations disappear.
Few countries will survive the corruption that Nigeria contends with, ethnic and religious tensions, and leadership that is lacking in patriotism and sense of direction.
The second positive thing about Nigeria is that its strength amidst these challenges provides hope for the African continent and the black people in general. The position of Nigeria is nowhere near its potential, despite these challenges on a number of occasions fellow Africans will tell you that, your country is moving in the wrong direction, but the future of Africa would largely depend on Nigeria getting its acts right. The recent account narrated on how the late Nelson Mandela feels about the mismanagement of Nigeria, and how it fails Africa is a case in point. With all the challenges and the failures of its leadership to live to expectation, yet some Africans still hope that Nigeria could provide the necessary leadership that Africa needs.
In December 2012, when we were busy debating in the British House of Commons on Chinua Achebe’s book,
‘There was a country’ a fellow African stood and said, while you are busy tearing yourselves apart, do you think of what it means for Africa without Nigeria?
The third positive thing, which to me is the most important, is the human capital and the enterprising nature of Nigerians. Within and outside Nigeria, there are people who are as qualified as any serious person you will find anywhere in the world. This human capital is perhaps the saving grace for Nigeria. You only need a purposeful leadership to harness its potential and utilize it for economic development.
As for the negatives, we always discuss and write about them. Of course, others will disagree with me, and I respect their right to do so, but there are three key historical issues that lead Nigeria to its present sorry state.
The first is the 1966 coup which eliminated the most patriotic generation of Nigerian leaders, solidified ethnic and regional hatred, and sow the seed of the civil war. This historical mistake has deprived Nigeria of its potential for greatness. The scar of this unfortunate event is yet to heal.
When the pain of this sad experience begins to heal, another event is created by the political class to revive it.
The second historical event that changed Nigeria were the harsh austerity measures of the 1980s and 1990s such as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). This has changed the psyche of Nigerians, deprived it of its talents, created a huge economic vacuum between the rich and the poor.
The governments that followed to date have not departed from this philosophy. They only make few ‘adjustments’ even when it’s clear that the policies that helped countries like Malaysia, Singapore, China and South Korea where the exact opposite of the policies our country imbibed.
Finally, the third negative and the worst is the failure of leadership. Unless the question of leadership is resolved, and purposeful and right minded individuals lead the country. It is difficult to see the end of this mess.
So what is the solution? Our senior colleague in journalism, and a veteran in his own right, Malam Mahmud Jega has provided a blueprint in his Monday Column in the
Daily Trust newspaper of 6th January, 2014.
Before dropping my pen, one question keeps recurring in my mind; it is a question for all of us, but the consequences of its answer is for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In the next 100 years will there be a country called Nigeria?
(All views expressed are strictly personal)