“Any society that seeks to achieve security against the background of acute food shortages, population explosion, low level of productivity and per capita income, low technological development, inadequate and sufficient utilities and chronic unemployment, has a false sense of security”
Robert McNamara( Former Secretary of Defense, USA)
As Nigeria marks her 51st independence anniversary, her more than 150 million people must be ruminating as to the essence of any state-sponsored celebrations.
The colours green and white are everywhere but are her people really happy? What is the sense of what thay feel at this moment? What does it truly mean to them? 51 years ago when the Union Jack was lowered, euphoria swept through the streets. Children were fed with independence rice and hopes for a better future than what the British had brought in over 100 years were high and infectious.
Were those hopes misplaced? Was the trust the people had in themselves and their abilities to better run their affairs misguided? In 51 years what have the Nigerian people gained and lost?
A) Liberty from foreigners:
On October 1st, 1960, we formally exchanged the reins of leadership from colonists to Nationals. Politically we were independent and we hoped that with good local leadership we will be able to achieve economic independence. While that latter is still being fought for we have been able to maintain our political freedoms for 51 years away from direct foreign domination.
B) Expansion of international clout:
Except for the the years when Abacha governed as dictator, Nigeria has remained a respected member of the international community. Our contributions to independence movements in Africa as well as commitment to stability in the west African sub-region and indeed Africa has won us alot of respect.
We have however been unable to capitalise on this international social capital to pursue our national interests.
C) Export of Talent:
Chinua Achebe,Philip Emeagwali, Dangote, Uti, D-Banj, Mikel Obi to mention a few are examples of the numerous number of talent that our nation has exported to the world. In many spheres our citizens have contributed to advancement and we have made our mark in improving the human civilization.
For twelve straight years we have been able to sustain a democratic system. This has indirectly stabilized the West African sub-region and Africa as a whole because it has provided a good example to what was a previously coup-plagued sub-region.
For all its failings in the last twelve years, some good has come of the democratic system, chief of which is greater freedoms of thought and speech. This has caused a blossoming of the arts, entertainment and fashion and created a new source of livelihood for countless peoples as a result.
Rule of law is gradually being institutionalized and while impunity is still widespread(a legacy of military rule), citizens have begun to resort more to the judiciary in order to resolve disputes.
The April 2011 general elections with all its flaws was remarkable in that electoral imperfections were not as blatant as they were in the last three general elections of the new democratic era(1999-date).
This has restored a measure of hope in citizens as to their ultimate power in deciding their leaders and this has strengthened the legitimacy of government to preside over the affairs of state. If this can be sustained it will lead to a more stable federation.
In the face of a few gains, our losses over the last 51 years are monumental and were it not that our nation was so diverse we will probably no longer still be a nation-state.
A) Erosion of civic and traditional values:
In the course of 51 years, there has been a severe erosion of our societal values. Respect of elders, protection of strangers, honesty, hard work, integrity, regard for community and institutions of state- these were values that were strong in 1960 and because a large part of our society had high regard for these values Nigeria was a much better place than it is today.
The Nigerian people are traumatized and harassed on every side by the animalistic nature of the new society that has now overtaken the previous traditional society of the independence era.
Our young women are now commodities , trading their bodies in Europe and locally for money. There is no more regard for virginty and sexual purity and we have imported wholesale western values that are doing us no good.
Nudity is paraded on the streets in the name of fashion and money instead of contributed value is idolized. As a result our youth are unprincipled and lazy.They prefer television to books and gist to seminars. Those who take shortcuts are praised for their smartness while hard workers are mocked as being slow. Everybody is now a musician and that is why unemployment is pervasive.
Westernization has met us in the wrong place. Our weak state institutions and society cannot tackle the ills of westernization. If they could many rapists will today be behind bars and murderers would be hanging from the noose instead of plotting their next killing.If they could, many chiefs and honorary doctors will be serving sentences instead of enjoying accolades from their communities. If they could our young women will not see prostitution as cool and our young boys will abhor cultism.
Today’s Nigeria is much worse than it was in 1960 – a retrogression in real terms, because we have done away with most of our traditional values .
B) Spread of dehumanising poverty:
Poor Nigerians in 1960 were poor in terms of a lack of money. At the very least they were assured of three meals daily even if of the same fare. Many had access to potable water, railway, roads, decent education and healthcare even if such services were mostly available to those in townships. At least then life was predictable. If you were poor then you still had the respect of the community if you were a good man and the government and its agents would not take advantage of your poverty to oppress you.
Today poor Nigerians tell a different story. Their community and family mock them as people who do not know what to do.Their children are unable to attend universities even when they are qualified to because they do not know the right people. Their wives are collected by security forces and raped and they have no recourse to justice because they have no access to the right people. They are beaten and extorted on the streets because they are not the right people. The poverty the poor in Nigeria are subjected to today is dehumanizing. What makes it even more saddening is that the state’s dehumanization of its people is carried out by fellow citizens.
Today with the breakdown of government and the society’s rank corruption, the poor have no access to water and power and these services which were provided free by the government at independence now have to be paid for. As a result in real terms, Nigerians have become poorer.
C) Failure of government:
In 1960, government was small but effective. There were more community vigilante then than there were police and fewer politicians than there were chiefs.
Today the story is different Government is big and bloated from feeding off the taxes and wealth of its people.Its agents are oppressive, carryig out summary executions and brutal beatings. Its cronies are rich and their children speak British instead of Nigerian.
Instead of protecting its people, the government parleys with terrorists and criminals and pleads for their mercy by offering amnesty.
When other nations evacuate their ciizes hurriedy from war struck countries, our government delays and only sends in her air force when the body count of her citizens has reached the zenith.
Every day today citizens die unnecessarily in accidents caused mostly by bad highways. Infant and maternal mortality is high because healthcare is unaffordable and facilities to provide decent healthcare are non-existent. Poor work conditions have turned our health personnel into killers-uncaring to the pain and suffering of their patients.
The failure of government to deliver to the Nigerian people an improvement in the quality of life left by the British on their departure would go into history as an example of state backed policy of citizen impoverishment and extermination.
Robert McNamara (Former Secretary of Defense, United States) said that,”any society that seeks to achieve security against the background of acute food shortages, population explosion, low level of productivity and per capita income, low technological development, inadequate and sufficient utilities and chronic unemployment, has a false sense of security” and this was in the 1970’s. At this time insecurity was not a serious challenge to the Nigerian state. Highway robbery had started increasing mostly due to large number of arms in the hands of citizens as a result of the civil war. However at this time as Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s military president said at the time, ”Nigeria’s major challenge was how to spend the cash windfall”.Today 31 years from then and with our society in disarray, we have seen how that challenge was solved.
Greed, bad political leadership and poor economic management has led to a breakdown of the bonds of society. Every man is for self and God for all. As a result, there is chaos and impunity everywhere.
Fifty-one years of state instituted societal impoverishment and corruption has created a critical mass of depraved citizens who will kidnap fellow citizens for ransom and ritual killing, who will trade human body parts for money, who will buy human body parts to gain political office and to get access to spiritually created wealth, who will rob travelers on the highway and ask oncoming vehicles to drive over them, who will gang-rape their sisters and upload a video of their shame for the world to see, who will bomb infrastructure in the hope of government amnesty and the resulting cash that pays for a lazy life,who will become suicide bombers killing innocents in the name of God.
All 21st century societies are confronted with terrorism and the insecurities that result from poverty but what makes Nigeria’s case particularly acute is the failure of state and society. Thus in the absence of strong state institutions and societal values these twin challenges of terrorism and poverty are magnified and threaten the very existence of the state.
Boko haram promises to bomb and they do. Robbers operate for hours with impunity and get away. Militias threaten and the government and people beg for negotiations. In the light of these, the continued relevance of state is questionable. This is because the essence of state is that citizens devolve some rights such as the right to personal protection to the state in exchange of taxes and willful obedience. When the state however fails to function as it should, citizens look to other means for what the state should have provided.
For protection from oppression and robbers they own guns and depend on connections to people in the armed forces. They swear allegiance to tribal militias in the hopes of protection from harm by other ethnic groups. They provide water, roads and power to themselves and see no reason to not corruptly enrich themselves should they get to hold political office.
The society suffers from having multiple centers of authority and pervasive chaos and insecurity which is beyond the ability of government to solve, results.
E) Exploding population:
Walk though the streets of Nigeria today and you will see women less than thirty years of age clutching on to babies. Young women think of marriage as their greatest accomplishment and have no real value for their potential.
Sexual mores have been liberalised and Nigeria’s youth do not know the meaning of abstinence, afterall there is the pill and the condom.
As a result,we are breeding bastards by the multitude and producing children we have no capacity to take care of.
With a population growth rate of approximately 2% annually for a population of 150 million people, we are adding 3 million people every year. Our popultaion density is put at approximately (approx.) 426 people per square mile( sq. mi.) when Norway a country with a very high human development index is approx. only 31 people per sq. mi. Our GDP growth is approx. 8% only four times more than our population growth.
China with a population about ten times that of Nigeria has a density of approx. 360 people per sq. mi. and a GDP growth rate of approx, 9% which is at least 18 times more than its population growth rate of 0.5%.
There is nothing optimal about Nigeria’s population and at this rate , she is heading full throttle towards the precipice. Already there is massive deforestation and loss of farmlands in order to to make way for habitations. Local species are dying out and the environment is struggling against pollution and degradation.There is a spread of slums and living conditions for many are dire.
Should Nigeria’s population continue to increase at the current rate, its resources will be unable to cater for its people and the future of its youth will be bleak indeed.
In summary the cost of of our independence is high and although we have made some advances in some respects we have retrogresssed on many parts in real terms.Our balance sheet in real terms is in the red and we owe a ‘debt of state’ which defined means the number of years a nation has remained in existence beyond when it should have disintegrated. ( Note: A ‘credit of state’ on the other hand is the number of years a nation will remain in existence from the current time given its current social status.Strong states have large ‘credits of state’ while weak states have small ‘credits of state’.)
As a people, Nigerians have to develop the resolve to tackle problems frontally rather than continue to wish for a messiah that will never come. The resolve of a people for change is their only true savior from oppression and suffering and this the Nigerian people must realize quickly or their continued existence as a nation cannot long be sustained.