A Nation in Search of Itself

A Nation in Search of Itself

Dakuku Peterside

Though for different reasons and from different perspectives, most Nigerians are united in accepting these tripartite issues as apt in defining the soul and essence of contemporary Nigeria. The first is that 63 years after independence, we are not yet a nation. Our journey to nationhood has been tortuous, painful, and often bloody. We quickly default to ethnic fault lines at the slightest disagreement. And many of us look at Nigeria from the narrow prism of ethno-religiosity. The second is the problem of the paradox of plenty. We have abundant human and material resources, yet more than 60% of Nigerians are multidimensionally poor. The third is that although we are the biggest democracy in Africa, we are yet to fathom a brand of democracy that is fit for purpose, bespoke, and capable of propelling Nigeria into a stable, economically buoyant, and multidimensionally developed black country. 

I acknowledge that Nigeria is a work in progress, but other “peer” nations are the same. But they have moved in leaps and bounds in recent times. Our snail-like move to greatness and prosperity is albeit depressing. Nigeria is like a stunted child who refuses to eat proper food and grow healthy. The tremendous Nigerian “potential” mesmerised the world, but this potential has existed since independence 63 years ago. It is what it is – only potentials that never get actualised.  

Furthermore, these issues have been complicated by the nascent challenges of modernity and a youth bulge that threatens the very foundation of our society. The impact of modernity has been profound and multifaceted in our communities. This complex social, economic, political, and cultural change associated with industrialisation, urbanisation, technological advancement, and globalisation typifies modernity. Besides, Western cultural norms and values have often influenced traditional customs and practices. There is a continual negotiation between traditional and modern cultural elements. And the adoption of modern technologies, particularly in communication and information technology, has reshaped Nigerian society. Ironically, the youth bulge in Nigeria, which in theory should provide the energy and talent to propel Nigeria to greater heights, is now our albatross. Youth unemployment and restiveness have fuelled insecurity and criminality to incredible levels. 

So, the idea of Nigeria as “a nation in search of itself” reflects Nigeria’s complex and multifaceted nature. It encapsulates the ongoing process of nation-building, identity formation, and addressing complex challenges in a diverse and dynamic country. Nigeria’s journey to define its national identity and overcome historical and contemporary challenges is difficult and ongoing, reflecting many post-colonial nations’ broader struggles. Let us examine three key aspects of Nigeria’s battles for identity and relevance in the 21st century. These include nationalism, nation-building, and ethnic identity; second, power, governance, and democracy; and third, maladies to greatness – poverty, corruption, and poor institutions. 

On nationalism, nation-building, and ethnic identity, the genesis of our problems as a country was the failure of the founding fathers to fight for independence as a united national elite. They instead engaged the British as an ethnic factional elite. The consequence was divisive politics and the calamity of war. From 1970, the military tried nation-building through structural changes, especially state creation, to replace powerful regions. They reconfigured the nation without a sense of nationalism among the citizens. The post-independence nation-building experiment that emphasised constructing a Western model country that subordinated all primordial loyalties to a central supranational state failed. 

Ethnicity and linguistics are more resilient forms of identity than it was imagined. Unlike in the industrialised world, class and other forms of modern social and political relations played a minimal role as the fundamental forms of identity. The emphasis has since shifted to managing ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversities as essential nation-building tools. Unfortunately, recent developments show that the lousy foundation laid by our elite has remained the same. The average Nigerian owes loyalty to primordial sentiments and economic survival interests. 

On power, governance, and democracy, Nigeria’s political landscape has evolved over the years. The emphasis has more to do with the format and structures of power and democracy than on developing a culture of democratic principles, ideals, and civility. Whether it’s a parliamentary or presidential system, we have been more concerned with form than content. Our periodic change in government under democracy, via often fractious elections, is the only semblance of democracy, and this has produced regimes that have presided over a less-than-democratic society. Democratic principles and ideals are lacking, such as the rule of law, human rights, accountability, openness, tolerance, and due process. Military incursion may have slowed down our democratic journey, but each time we move one step forward, we also move two steps backward. The immediate challenges are two prongs. How do we hold credible elections acceptable to most Nigerians? How do we grow a model of democracy that is fit for purpose, away from Western-style democracy that has not worked for us?

At the intersection of democracy and development are challenges that appear insurmountable but are attributable to a lack of creativity by our political leadership. Our journey of economic growth paints a disastrous picture. From agrarian beginnings, the military presided over an oil economy. However, the country failed to use oil wealth to create an alternative economy like most Arab and some Southeast Asian countries. In Southeast Asia, particularly South Korea under Park Chung Hee, military dictatorship created economic prosperity and discipline, fuelling an appropriate democratic culture and a strong economy.  

On maladies to Nigeria’s greatness, there is rot across the board – poverty, corruption, weak institutions, poor management of our diversity, insecurity, poor quality of living, unemployment, and the “Japa syndrome”. Poor and shortsighted leadership and lack of commitment on the side of citizens have thrown up new challenges and exacerbated existing difficulties. Nigerians are increasingly despondent and on the edge. The immediate challenge is how do we resolve unresolved issues in nation-building, diversity management, inclusiveness, model of democracy,and youth bulge so we can walk away from the life support machines and compete with our peers- nations?

Solving Nigeria’s problems is a complex and long-term endeavour that requires cooperation, political will, and sustained efforts at various levels of society. The government, civil society, and citizens must work together to address these challenges and create a more prosperous and equitable future for Nigeria. Interestingly, almost every Nigerian knows the solutions to our problems, yet it seems impossible to tackle our problems. We have yet to have a leader with the political will to turn Nigeria around and make it a great nation. This present administration is new, and we hope it will build the courage to take bold steps in dealing with our many problems. 

Some of the solutions the government must strive to provide include investing in infrastructure development, especially energy production, to stimulate economic growth. Diversify the economy by promoting sectors other than oil, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and technology. Support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to create jobs and boost economic resilience. Pursue better education outcomes. Improve healthcare infrastructure and access, especially in rural areas. Address security challenges through operations and comprehensive strategies that address underlying social, economic, and political factors. Prioritise infrastructure projects that promote economic development and job creation. Attract foreign and domestic investments in infrastructure development. Develop agricultural value chains to achieve self-sufficiency . Create youth employment programs and opportunities through skills training, apprenticeships, and vocational education. Promote entrepreneurship and provide access to funding and resources for startups. Promote interethnic and interreligious dialogue and understanding. Encourage inclusive policies that address historical grievances and promote social cohesion. Strengthen anti-corruption institutions and enforce strict anti-corruption laws.

These solutions may not be new, but we must keep highlighting them until we get the messiah in the ilk of Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, and Deng Xiaoping of China, who will summon the political will and strength of purpose and vision to transform Nigeria. 

Dr. Peterside is a public sector turnaround expert, former member of National Assembly and columnist

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