Nigeria At 57: Time For A Reset?


The country is in dire need of reform

Riding the surge of giddy good feelings associated with the period, President Muhammadu Buhari, accompanied by many dignitaries, last Friday, attended a special Juma’at service in commemoration of the nation’s 57th Independence anniversary. After the service, Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, asked reporters a rhetorical question: “What are we congratulating ourselves for?” to which he answered himself: “We have achieved a lot. We have been able to maintain our peace despite our diversity. The most important thing now is for us to stay together. We should continue to pray for the unity of Nigeria.”

In many ways, Saraki was right. Despite the formidable challenges and obstacles, Nigeria has managed to remain one. All factors considered, that is almost akin to a miracle. But many will challenge the Senate president about other assumptions. With the new level of violence across the country and with many extremist groups sprouting out in different corners, Nigeria is a nation trapped in perpetual conflict. The union, to say the least, is still an uneasy one. Will Nigeria survive?

After almost six decades of existence, it is a difficult question. Yet Nigeria started on a bright note. After independence in 1960, the regional governments went to work in the bid to make a difference in the lives of their people. The regions competed to show that they could do things better, as they brought new energy and resourcefulness to government and administration. But it was not to last. In 1966, the army struck and Nigeria has been on the slide ever since.

Following three years of a brutal and bitter war, and after almost two decades of civil rule, the country is still in dire straits. Virtually everywhere, the news is grim. It was Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, who said that the ultimate test of the value of a political system “is whether it helps to improve the standard of living for the majority of its people.”

In a profound sense, successive governments in Africa’s largest economy have not done much to improve the standards of living for majority of the people. Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is among the lowest in the world. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 100 million Nigerians were living in absolute poverty as at 2012 while the World Bank put the country’s level of poverty at 33.1 per cent as at 2014. The situation is now getting worse.

Even more alarming was a recent report on fragile states index (FSI) for 2017, categorising Nigeria as the 13th most fragile state in the world. Compiled by the Fund for Peace (FFP), a Washington DC-based organisation, the report showed that Nigeria retained her 2016 unenviable position, indicating that not much progress had been made in the effort to remedy the political and socio-economic conditions that were dragging the country down the slope.

However, nothing less was expected because of the rising tension occasioned by hate speech, divisive comments and a polity obsessed with ethnicity, religion and regions. Buhari was hailed as a strong man who would deal efficiently with Nigerians problems when he assumed power in 2015. Indeed, in his acceptance speech, he said, “Change has come and a new day and a new Nigeria is upon us.”

However, as Buhari must have found out, the challenges are enormous. Happily, many Nigerians are of the belief that he is equal to the task and there are reasons for optimism, at least with the administration’s war against the country’s devastating malaise – corruption. We see in the present debate over restructuring of the federation for efficiency as also well intended. The nation should be freed from the stifling centralisation of power which has been the bane of innovation and enterprise. The least the government can do is to encourage the conversation and bring the wishes of the people to fruition.

We wish all Nigerians the best on this 57th anniversary of our independence as a nation.

In a profound sense, successive governments in Africa’s largest economy have not done much to improve the standards of living for majority of the people