Challenges of the Twenty-first Century in Nigeria: The Case of National Development and Unity


Vie Internationale with Bola A. Akinterinwa Telephone : 0807-688-2846 e-mail:

‘Challenges of the Twenty-first Century in Nigeria’ was the theme of the discussion organized by the Centre for Public Policy Alternatives (CPPA) on Thursday, 5th May, 2016 at the Ford Foundation, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos. The CPPA, though a centre within AndChristie Research Foundation in the United States, is an independent, non-partisan public policy think-tank.

The AndChristie Research Foundation was set up in 1975 in honour of Dr. Charles W. Christie who began medical practice and surgery in 1924 in Champaign in Urbana Region of the United States, with the aim of sponsoring medical education and research, as well as increase knowledge and information on health services. However, the focus of the CPPA is different: it is ‘committed to rigorous research through which public policies and processes are examined, supported and best practices disseminated.’

More important, the CPPA seeks to promote proactive research beyond the understanding of current affairs with the ultimate objective of strengthening the decision-making capacity of government, creating an informed citizenry, facilitating dialogue between policy makers and their constituencies, strengthening the civil society, serving as an informed and independent advocacy.

These objectives are to be attained on the basis of objectivity, non-partisanship, credibility, public-sector focus and innovation. It is within the pursuit of these objectives that a dialogue between the CPPA and its invited guests (media men, scholars, civil society organizations, etc) was held. The dialogue was funded by the Ford Foundation. Two main papers were presented. Mojisola Akpojiyovbi, the Research Director of the CPPA presented a paper on ‘Nigeria: Country Situation’ while the MD/CEO of the CPPA, Dr. Folarin Gbadebo-Smith’s paper dealt with ‘Constraints to Nigeria’s Development.’

What is particularly noteworthy about the papers and dialogue is the research methodological implication of the theme for discussion, ‘Challenges of the 21st Century in Nigeria.’ The challenges of the 21st Century can either be investigated from an empirical perspective, hence, looking at the past first sixteen years of the century, or from a conjectural approach, in which case a predictive analysis would be required. In this regard, a conjectural analysis of what is likely to happen in the next 84 years appears difficult if it is to have a scientific justification, especially from the perspective of social science.

Besides, the notion of ‘challenges’ cannot but be ambiguous in nature, multi-dimensional in conception, and unwieldy in scope to deal with because of its extensiveness. In other words, how have national life, national productivity, political governance, national and regional security, economic growth and development, national planning, foreign policy and relations, etc been impacted upon by international constraints or challenges? In fact, which of the international challenges are we talking about? Is it about climate change, proliferation of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction? Is it the problem of international migration which is currently tearing apart some of the Member States of the European Union? Is it about energy crisis, humanitarian crisis or the deepening international insecurity, especially of which Islamic extremism has now become a catalytic agent? In Nigeria, is it about the lengthening of ‘waithood’, that is, the time between graduation in the college and the time of offer of job opportunity? Is it about threats to national unity and national survival? Will Nigeria’s current recession (fall in GDP, employment, economic growth rates etc), not lead to depression (prolonged recession) in the foreseeable future?

Without whiff of doubt, the dialogue focused attention on the macroeconomic situation in Nigeria and on how to find enduring solutions to some of the main problems identified. The main submission by the CPPA is that, if solutions can be found to Nigeria’s economic problems, there is no way Nigeria would not have respite. The contention of this column is different: Nigeria’s problem goes beyond econometric or macroeconomic analyses.

Beyond the Macroeconomic Questions
The first and most critical challenge with which Nigeria is faced in the 21st Century is the ‘Challenge of National Unity’. Nigeria under colonialist Britain and Nigeria in the post-independence era has existed for one hundred and two years, five months, reckoning with January 1, 1914, time of amalgamation of the then British-established protectorates. Since 1914 political governance has only succeeded in the management of geo-politics of Nigeria but Nigeria’s national unity is more of a debate. It has not been given any concrete expression. National Unity has been enforced through the introduction of policies and mechanisms that do more havoc than good to the objective of national unity.

For instance, Dr. Yakubu Gowon introduced the National Youth Service Corps programme in 1973 to make the young graduating students in Nigerian tertiary institutions serve in parts of Nigeria other than their own. The Federal Character Principle was also introduced and under the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo, was actually enshrined in the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria. The principle is an attempt to balance merit and quota system, which is based on the consideration of state of origin. The extent to which the operation of the NYSC programme and the Federal Character Principle has fostered national unity is, at best, arguable.

In the eyes of many Nigerians today, Nigeria does not mean much to them. Princewill Tabia of the Vanguard Newspapers asked on November 18, 2015 ‘why do we hate Nigeria?’ Jimanze Ego-Alowes responded in his column, The TurfGame in Daily Sun of May 19, 2016 by first comparing the cases of Israel and Russia. In this regard, he argued, Israel is geographically located in the Middle East but politically considered as part of the Euro-American world. As Ego-Alowes put it, ‘Israelis consider themselves and act the reality that they are European people and a key participant in the march of Western civilization. And the Westerners oblige them in full favour. Thus the Americans and Europeans take Israel as a European outpost in the Middle East.’ Israel is just like Australia, another European off-shore colony, he said.

On the contrary, Russia Union could not find any good formula ‘to weld its peoples into a cultural whole, and ‘it so happened that the Russian claim of being Scythians –part Asiatic, part European – failed her. Gorbachev came and the myth unraveled, as the Russian peoples went their separate ways and their destinies. They were never one people. They only shared one geography, not one destiny.’ In the case of Nigeria, professional politicians toy with national unity. Currently, the agitation for self-determination and a new Biafra is on the increase. Government is responding to it with an initial manu militari approach, with the ultimate objective of full scale war if need be in the future. Ego-Alowes cannot be more correct when he says ‘you don’t share destinies by force or armed thuggery, aka coups’. What is needed to reduce the tension of secession-seeking by Nigerians is to go beyond living by name or simply providing infrastructure. There is the need to visibly promote fairness and justice, honesty and objectivity of purpose, in the political governance of the country. There is the need to reduce the attractions of politics and bring politics to the same level with other professions. Politics is money-making in Nigeria while all other professions are more of service rendering.

In fact, dialogue, not only with the secessionists but between and amongst all Nigerians on the essence of One Nigeria, is what is first required as a step. Gowon’s policy of keeping Nigeria One as a task that must be done was ideal but it currently conflicts with the principle of self-determination in contemporary international relations in which very powerful countries have not always succeeded in combating guerrilla warfare. Government can always and easily win the battles against the secessionists but not necessarily winning the war. Lessons from the Red Brigade in Italy and the unrest in the Ireland may be useful. Policy makers should seek to prevent rather than calculating on the altar of cure.

Put differently, building a united Nigeria cannot but be difficult in the face of perceptions of political and economic injustice. For instance, is there any difference between an armed robber who used force to rob and kill people and a Federal Government of Nigeria that invited applications from the general public for allocation of small and medium bungalow houses that would not be built? Many people made deposits, including my little self but Government has not allocated any house nor refunded the deposits made for such houses in 1994, under Alhaji Lateef Jakande, then Minister of works and Housing. The applications were made in April 1994 and the houses were supposed to be allocated by end of December 1994. Government does not bother to explain its inaction since 1994 to the applicants. It is only in contemporary Nigeria under the Fourth Republic, where petitions are not investigated before decisions on the matter are taken. It is only in Nigeria that board appointments are for money making and when chief executives did not give room for stealing, the government sanctions the chief executive under various pretexts. Where is government’s transparency? Has government credibility or policy of accountability to the people of Nigeria especially that governance is said to be continuous?

More disturbingly, the NTA had it in its 7 pm news report last Thursday, 19th May that Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama visited the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). As the Supervisory Authority of the NIIA, what has he done about the staff accused of falsifying examination results to favour some people? What has he done about those who took advantage of their office to constantly change their dates of birth? What has he done about those who leak official secrets? What about the report of the inter-ministerial panel set up to look at the allegations when the Supervisory Authority opted to keep quiet on the matter? Why should the Supervisory Authority be aiding and abetting acts of serious misconduct when Government is claiming to be fighting societal ills?

In the past, in order to cover up embezzlement of public funds, the practice was to set the accounts department of the institution ablaze. Today, the practice is to send hired assassins to complainants. This is one major reason that explains why many people of integrity still risk their lives by patriotically drawing attention to the implications for the future: bleak future.

A second critical related challenge is the ‘challenge of national security and corruption.’ National insecurity and corruption are two separate but critical questions in nation building in Nigeria. Even PMB had to create a sociological and political linkage between corruption and national security by admitting last week Wednesday that corruption is responsible for why the Nigerian military have not been able to defeat the Boko Haram (Daily Trust, May 19, 2016, p.3). In other words, corruption has prevented a focused attention on the Boko Haram, especially through leakages of Nigeria’s military strategies to the enemy. Not much should be expected when the Nigerian military is divided against itself and not united against the Boko Haram.

What is perhaps more important and relevant to recall here is the paper by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, written in 1999 when he was still Assistant General Manager, Credit Risk Management and Control Division, United Bank for Africa, Lagos. The paper, entitled “Issues in Restructuring Corporate Nigeria,” was presented at the National Conference on The 1999 Constitution, jointly organized by The Network for Justice and The Vision Trust Foundation at The Arewa House on September 11th and 12th, 1999.

As noted by Sanusi, now Emir of Kano, ‘the Yoruba elite were the first, in 1962, to attempt a violent overthrow of an elected government in this country. In 1966, it was the violence in the West which provided an avenue for the putsch of 15th January… The Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie have conspired to keep the Igbo out of the scheme of things…’ Sanusi noted further that ‘our present political leaders have no sense of history. There is no new Igbo man, who was not born in 1966 and neither knows nor cares about Nzeogwu and Ojukwu. There are Igbo men on the street who were never Biafrans. They were born Nigerians, are Nigerians, but suffer because of actions of earlier generations. They will soon decide that it is better to fight their own war, and, may be, find an honourable peace, than to remain in this contemptible state in perpetuity.’

Perhaps most importantly, he reminded and cautioned that ‘the Northern Bourgeoisie and the Yoruba Bourgeoisie have exacted their pound of flesh from the Igbos. For one Sardauna, one Tafawa Balewa, one Akintola, and one Okotie Eboh, hundreds of thousands have died and suffered… If this issue is not addressed immediately, no conference will solve Nigeria’s problems.’ There is nothing to suggest that Sanusi has not been vindicated. He made his statement in 1999. In 2016, proponents of secession and self-determination are on the increase but Government wrongly believes that the eventual use of force will keep the secessionists silent. Will the Yoruba Bourgeoisie be in solidarity with their Northern counterparts in the event of a new war? Who really would the enemy-target be? Is it stricto sensu the Igbo people?

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) made it clear last week that ‘Biafra is not about the Igbo alone but Biafra is a blessed nation of people with common value system. The public must ignore and stay away from anyone or group that equates Biafra with Igbo. The IPOB is not for only Igbo-speaking people and will never be for only Igbo-speaking people.’ (DailySun, May 20, 2016). In this regard, what will be the position of other peoples beyond the Igbo people?

Concerning corruption, it was identified as the bane of the Nigerian society as far back as 1967. The 1987 Report of the Political Bureau so referred. If corruption has been a challenge since 1967, why has it remained recidivist? Explained differently, it is not simply corruption that remains a challenge but the inability or lack of determination to decisively deal with corruption is the main challenge. Consequently, discussions on fallouts of non-existence of ‘Nigeria’ in the minds of Nigerians cannot be meaningful challenges of the 21st Century. That Nigerians are yet to know what their real problem is all about is the most critical challenge to begin to address.

National Development and Unity
If there is no good foundation for building and sustaining national unity, there cannot also be a good basis for national development. One can only be committed to what one believes in. Since national development is not also seriously taken by the generality of Nigerians, room can only be given to promotion of corruption and creation of obstacles to nation-building and national unity. The lack of political will to sustain fairness, justice, merit, honesty of purpose, hard work, etc, in the political governance of Nigeria largely explains her development setbacks, existence of systemic corruption, as well as do-or-die approach to politics in the country. Let the change mantra begin with political will-driven honesty of purpose.