Lost Decades, New Decade

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Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU

By Issa Aremu

Gain time, gain life goes the received wisdom.

It is significant that President Muhammadu Buhari alluded to “time” concept three times in his letter to Nigerians on the 1st of January 2020. Time and timeliness are critical success factors in human development.
The two major religions of Islam and Christianity stressed the importance of time for humanity.

A number of verses in the holy books describe the creation of the earth in record six days taking place in six days are: – “Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority) (7:54). Even the Darwinian narrative of the
evolutionists acknowledge billions of years in earth formation.

Time nonetheless!
I share the optimism of the President that the new decade brings new time, hope and “fresh possibilities”. A decade is the defining time line in the transformation of many countries.

The Meiji restoration which triggered industrial and technological revolution of Japan was within a decade (1868- 1889) under the slogan: “Enrich the country, the capital city moved to Tokyo, First railway line between Tokyo and Yokohama constructed and Meiji Constitution was promulgated. The Bolshevik revolution which radically lifted Russia from a backward absolute feudal to an industrialized super power took place between 1917 and 1924.

In his book entitled My Vision (Challenges in the Race for Excellence) Sheikh Rashidi Al Maktoum highlights how Dubai was transformed to a city state of destination in the decade of 80s/90s. Paradoxically, the 80s was “Africa’s Lost Decade” when neo-liberal Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) of liberalization, devaluation and subsidy, state melt down, replaced development plans of post-colonial states. The immediate post-colonial decade of 60s was Africa’s Development Decade. Nkrumah in Ghana first audaciously proclaimed Independence in 1957, embarked on an unprecedented aggressive industrialisation built among others Tema Oil Refinery even when Ghana had not discovered oil! Nigeria is 60 years as an independent Republic October this year.

Just within the decade of 1950s Nigeria’s founding fathers in unity with organized masses in trade unions, women groups, professionals and students regardless of their legitimate differences were unanimous to damn colonialism. This is why yours sincerely is surprised that the President’s first letter to compatriots says nothing about Nigeria at independence at 60!

It’s was good that Nigerians in his letter are reminded that, (we are trying to consume what we produce for the first time in a generation our food plates have not all been filled with imports of products we know can easily be produced here at home).

Also remarkable is the current investment in reinventing the railways, roads, industry and agriculture. I agree that all this ought to have been done “a long time ago”. But the best assessment framework for a nation is timeline of nation-hood and independence.

Buhari in recent time commendably raised the noise level of Independence celebrations wrongly stepped down by previous administration as “low key” event. At 60 Nigeria must raise the banner of development, with in a national vision and global agenda as contained in Africa Union agenda 2063 and UN Sustainable Development Goals Of 2030.
I was privileged to be witness to history: China at 70 in Abuja last year. I agree with Ambassador Zhou Pingjian that the “joy” of both Nigeria and China “ is shared and happiness doubled on the occasion of October 1st celebration every year.” Nigeria must learn and copy China, which at 70, (just a decade older!) as a liberated country has almost banished illiteracy, fully in the space, lifted more than 700 million people out of poverty, parades “over the past 70 years, GDP averaged an annual growth rate of about 4.4% for the first three decades and 9.5% for the last four decades.

By 2020, China announces that “all people living below the current poverty line will be taken out of poverty”.At 60 this year Nigeria should be up-beat to say like China: independence has “brought enormous changes to the country, creating an unprecedented miracle of development in the world history”.

The Chinese Ambassador aptly puts it better the “path you take determines your future”. At 60 Nigeria and Nigerians should stop agonizing but organize like China at 70. Which then raises the question of political economy. I agree with President Buhari that “Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy”. With as many as 86 million registered voters, Nigeria remains a democracy destination in Africa. We must make 2020s a decade of democratic consolidation.

Beyond elections, Nigeria must reaffirm commitment to democracy as the only route (not just fashionable route !) to development. Contrary to the cynicism of some partisans, I hail President Buhari for repeating the obvious that : he “will be standing down in 2023 and will not be available in any future elections.”. Nigeria lost three decades to Military dictatorships (1966- 1979) and (1983-1998).

No democracy could have imposed the notorious IMF inspired Structural Adjustment Programmes ( SAPs) of the 80s which undermine investment in power, roads, railways as we were told that government had no business in business.
Never again should anybody have access to political power without having our mandates through votes and vote counting. No short cut to political power again. No instant “revolution now”! People should lead through their votes not red herrings of some sponsored minions.

Elected leaders must also abide by the term limit which is what the President rightly reaffirms. Nigeria needs politicians by the rules, not militicians by brute force as witnessed between 1999 and 2003! But for the 1966 military Coup (“revolution” then!) which ended for the first time the democratic civilian rule Nigeria should be marking uninterrupted 60 years of democracy and independence.

Nigerian independence in 1960 was fought for and won by clear headed civilian democrats not military adventurers who later years ruined the nation through coups, counter coups with an avoidable civil war to match.

The democratic founding fathers and mothers deployed democratic methods; peaceful pressures, strikes, protests, persuasion, negotiations, referendums and elections.

All Nigerian founding fathers and mothers were civilian democrats not military men. They include Herbert Macaulay (1864–1946), Professor Eyo Ita (1904-1980s), Alvan Ikoku (1900–1971), Michael Imoudu (1900-2005), Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904–1996), Chief Obafemi Awolowo (1909–1987), Sir Ahmadu Bello (1910–1966), Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1912–1966), Sir Egbert Udo Udoma (1917-1998), Mallam Aminu Kano (1920–1983), Joseph Tarka (1932–1980) and Dennis Osadebay (1911–1994) among others.

The troika of Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Ahmadu Bello remained the true faces of Nigerian democracy.
It is refreshing and reassuring that President Buhari understands “ very well the frustrations our system has in the past triggered” and that he is “determined to help strengthen the electoral process both in Nigeria and across the region, where several ECOWAS members go to the polls this year”.

Let’s have a healthy debate about fixing electricity, reviving the railways and repositioning our foreign polices instead of throwing missiles at each other.

We need healthy contest of ideas not conquest of territories, with minimum level of discipline among the participants to respect the rules of the game and to implement them fairly.

Issa Aremu is a Member of National Institute, Kuru Jos.