Nigeria is 61, but who cares? [Pulse Editor's Opinion]

Nigeria has come a very long way since 1960, but has not gone very far.

Nigerian children are active participants in Independence Day celebrations, but millions of them are out of school, and those in school have become target practice for terrorists [Presidency]

Nigeria was born in 1914 when the northern and southern protectorates were merged into one country, an unpleasant business decision by Frederick Lugard and the British Empire.

But it wasn't until October 1, 1960 that the country really took charge of its own destiny when it got independence.

61 years down the road, and Nigeria's story has played out as a story of numerous wasted opportunities.

Anniversaries should be about marking progress, not empty ceremonial plot devices politicians use to overwhelm the stench of rotting fruit that's a metaphor for Nigeria's state.

The country that freed itself from colonial shackles 61 years ago has come a very long way, but not gone very far.

The realities of many Nigerians in 2021 are so far removed from what the most pessimistic founding father would have imagined back in 1960.

In the first Independence Day speech by then-Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, he beamed with happiness and confidence that Nigeria was 'well-built upon firm foundations'.

How wrong he was.

In his 1947 book, Path to Nigerian Freedom, former Premier of Western Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo, wrote that Nigeria was not a nation but a 'mere geographical expression'.

And that keen observation was as true for pre-independence Nigeria as it has been for post-independence Nigeria.

The country's greatest battle in its early days was keeping a union of diverse ethnic backgrounds together, and what could not be achieved politically in those days was resolved with a bloody civil war that killed millions.

The resolution of that war, that no side won or lost, has continued to haunt the country since then, a plague that continues to resurface in colourful variants.

Separatist agitations have made an even more pronounced comeback, especially in the southeast and the southwest where the government has had to pay aggressive attention.

Millions of Nigerians still feel disconnected from the idea of one united nation because they feel that not only are their interests not being served, but are also being actively antagonised.

These agitations are not new, and every time they seem to have been defeated, they come back, because internal crisis is a hallmark of the Nigerian identity.

Who does the country belong to? The people? Or the political class that assumes ultimate power?

This has been tested over and over by more than a few military coups, and less-than-satisfactory democratic processes.

And through much of that, Nigeria continues to trash around in the dark - which is fitting because the nation can never seem to fix its electricity problem.

Tope Fasua, a candidate in the 2019 presidential election, thinks that Nigeria’s single biggest failure in 61 years is leadership.

He strongly believes that the country's story would be a lot different if it had been lucky with leaders who are a bit more patriotic, and also know what they're doing.

"Unfortunately, where we find ourselves now is a scenario where it's a free-for-all and everything goes, and there's so much impunity and indiscipline in the system," he says.

More than anything, and probably more than at any other point in history, this Nigeria is abundantly hostile towards its youths, actively and passively.

The economy has been a regular occupant of the gutter for a stretch of time now, with two recessions recorded in the past five years.

Inflation hit record levels this year, and unemployment rate hit record levels last year with youths the most affected.

Last year's extreme crackdown on the historic youth-led nationwide protests against police brutality has also left a bitter taste in the mouth.

The constant wave of what’s best described as bad vibes hampering youths has further boosted a trend of panic flights out of the country.

Mary Osakwe, a tax consultant, is one of those who has made that decision to seek greener pastures in places where everything is not out to get you.

The 30-year-old moved to Canada this year, but says she'd likely have remained in Nigeria if the economy was stable and insecurity had not become a common feature.

"I left Nigeria primarily because I want to be able to live and raise my (unborn) child in a working society," she says.

To be charitable, Nigeria's story is not a one-sided story of failure, but the British Empire's business project is floundering, and has failed to live up to its potential, and mandate to serve its people equitably.

That the country has remained one, geographically at least, is a miracle in itself, but the common position that Nigeria is too big to fail remains an issue of contention.

The Federal Government sits at the centre of a very delicate system that's increasingly challenged, not only by separatists, but by sub-national governments who want a bigger piece of the pie to administrate in their own silos.

The latest face of this power struggle is the battle of the Rivers State government, alongside other southern states, to wrest control of VAT collection from the Federal Government.

And who wins what is not exactly the point; but the country's failure to equitably allocate power has become an avoidable distraction and a generational plague.

The escalation of insecurity over the past few years has worsened Nigeria’s fate in all spheres imaginable.

Not only has Boko Haram's insurgency led to the direct and indirect deaths of over 350,000 people since 2009, according to the UNDP, it has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, a sinkhole into which the country is pouring scarce resources that could best serve it in other areas.

For 61 years, Nigeria has battled political instability, unreliable institutions, religious and ethnic crises, broad daylight robbery of the nation's wealth, and a general lack of exemplary leadership.

The Nigerian project is crawling on its chest, and its attempts to unite, stabilise, and prosper are being cut down at every turn by a myriad of actors.

To believe in the Nigerian project is to dream, but Fasua does not think it’s impossible to return from the brink.

The 50-year-old businessman is a strong believer in the energy, passion, and ingenuity of Nigerian youths, and believes tapping into those could be the gamechanger.

"It is our duty to make a great country. If we pass a vote of no confidence on our country, we're actually passing that vote of no confidence on ourselves, and showing that we believe we cannot achieve," he says.

Nigeria has a lot of work to do before it can truly become home for millions of people of diverse identities, especially its teeming youthful population.

There’s a long checklist of problems, man-made and natural, that must be properly addressed before the nation can begin to hope to fulfil its potential.

And while all Nigerians must contribute towards achieving that goal, the nation’s leadership needs to take charge honestly and efficiently.

Osakwe is not confident that transformation will ever happen. She just wants her loved ones to follow in her footsteps and flee before Nigeria happens to them like it so often does.

"I sincerely have no hope for the country's future as it is," she says.

  • Pulse Editor's Opinion is the viewpoint of an Editor at Pulse. It does not represent the opinion of the Organisation Pulse.

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