NIGERIA AND THE CLASS OF ‘60

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Olusegun Adeniyi argues that while Nigeria may not be doing well as a country, individuals are doing exceedingly well

President Ali Bongo who suffered a stroke in Saudi Arabia in October 2018 has been out of circulation since then, leaving the administration of Gabon in the hands of varied vested interests.

Having first come to power through a coup detat in 1975, Didier Ignace Ratsiraka was President of Madagascar for 18 years until he lost out in 1993. He came back four years later in 1997 before again losing out in 2002. Despite its unique biodiversity of wildlife hardly found anywhere else in the world, the GDP per capita is $527.50 and is ranked 162 among 189 countries in HDI. With nearly half of the country’s children under five years of age malnourished, Madagascar is regarded as one of the world’s poorest countries with the majority of citizens living on less than a dollar per day.

Ranked at 184th out of 189 countries in the HDI, Mali has a GDP per capita of $899.66 that makes her a very poor country. But Mali also lacks security. Just about five weeks ago, both its president and prime minister were arrested by the military following a mutiny spurred by public protests over a worsening economic and national security situation. The following day, the duo resigned at gunpoint and the military now hold sway and call the shots. An ongoing insurgency continues, with a never-ending civil war and continuous civil unrest. That in a nutshell sums up the story of Mali in the past 60 years.

Like most other African countries, the history of Mauritania has been characterized by military coups, the most recent of which took place in 2008. Despite an abundance of natural resources, Mauritania remains poor with a GDP per capita of $1188.83 and is ranked161 among 189 countries in the HDI. Meanwhile, with a GDP per capita of $1,521.95 and ranked 166th among 189 countries, Senegal cannot be said to be doing well even though it is one of the most politically stable countries in Africa. With a tumultuous history of military coups before it stabilized under a multiparty democracy, the same goes for Benin Republic where the GDP per capita is $901.54 and is ranked at number 163 in HDI.

The foregoing captures the state of affairs in the 16 African countries that gained independence in 1960 along with Nigeria. So, it is easy to conclude that none of our classmates can be described as doing well. But we can also invent excuses for them. Almost all have experienced a similar history of colonial subjugation, military incursions, weak institutions, rise of powerful men, security challenges, including insurgency and civil wars, etc.

However, before we conclude, it is important to look at the last of the nations in the class of 1960—the only one outside the continent: The Republic of Cyprus, an Eastern Mediterranean island country. Instructively, Cyprus and Nigeria share the same 1st October Independence Day and the country is also marking its 60th anniversary today. Like Nigeria, it has faced wars, military coups and all manner of disruptions, instigated from within and without. But unlike Nigeria, Cyprus has done relatively well for itself. The GDP per capita in Cyprus is $30,800. That of Nigeria is $2,250. Nigeria ranks 158th out of 189 countries in HDI, Cyprus is on number 31. In almost all the indicators I have looked at, Cyprus has fared far much better than Nigeria.

What this suggests is that the year 1960 is not culpable for jinxing any nation. In our own case, the real paradox is that while Nigeria may not be doing well as a country, many Nigerians are doing well as individuals—both at home and in the Diaspora. There is hardly any compilation of the Global 100 in any sphere of human endeavour that will not include at least one Nigerian. For instance, of the five Africans listed in TIME Magazine’s 100 ‘Most Influential Persons in the World’ for 2020, three are Nigerian professionals (a writer, an entrepreneur and a medical doctor). That has been the consistent pattern no matter the metric used and regardless of the field profiled. Giannis Sina Ugo Antetokounmpo, who has been breaking all manner of records in the United States, recently joined a tiny elite of two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Players. Although born in Greece, his parents (Charles and Veronica Adetokunbo) are of Nigerian heritage. Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua is a two-time unified boxing heavyweight champion. Yes, he is British but he has also never denied his Nigerian roots. In fact, he remains proud of it.

So, either in the field of sports or in the intellectual world, Nigerians are there. Yet, this has not reflected in our country’s development.

Of course we can open a debate as to why and how we have fared so dismally as a nation despite enormous potential. The elephant in the room is leadership at practically all levels and in all spheres, but that is not even my point today. I am more concerned about what has become the defining ethos of our togetherness. Despite being blessed with abundant human and material resources, we have failed to aggregate the parts into the collective whole. With no communal sense to building a functioning society, the ‘whole’ of our country remains far much less than the sum of its parts, essentially because the accumulation of individual greed far outweighs the collective need. How we redress that is the urgent task before the current generation of leaders.

At the interdenominational church service to commemorate Nigeria’s 60th Independence anniversary on Sunday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, took his message from the Biblical Book of Nehemiah which he said should be a metaphor for the challenge of nation-building. He added: “Fortunately for us, our walls are not yet broken, but there are apparent cracks that could lead to a break if not adequately addressed.” That has deliberately been misinterpreted by some sectional titans who consider themselves more Nigerian than others and are now issuing meaningless threats. However, the aspect of that Biblical story Osinbajo left out is Ezra’s charge to the people who were weeping for their failings after hearing him read from the Book of the Law of Moses: “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Notwithstanding misgivings over the 1914 amalgamation for those who still refuse to come to terms with that or the distortions to our federal structure caused by years of military rule or the disappointment we may have with the current crop of leaders and the choices they make, it is also appropriate to remind ourselves that we have come a long way as a nation. Not even the most implacable enemies of Nigeria will deny its socio-economic potential, the enormous capacity of its people and the bright future that still beckons if only we can look beyond artificial differences and rally our diversity as the real source of our strength.

I wish our beloved country happy 60th independence anniversary.