Tuesday, 29 September 2020 06:17

[OPINION] Nigeria @ 60: How Market? - Eugene Enahoro

On October 1st 2020 even as the murder of innocent law-abiding citizens is becoming routine, top political office holders will banquet and make merry at public expense. They will paint rosy pictures of Nigeria’s progress in 60 years of independence. Phrases like “global best practices”, “minor challenges”, “territorial integrity” and “robust prospects” will be bandied about in an attempt to convince citizens that all is well. But all isn’t well. Since 1960 successive governments promised a better tomorrow, which never materialised. On the contrary things are getting progressively worse.

None of the promises made for Nigeria have so far been fulfilled. As usual, political leaders will celebrate the annual ritual of congratulating themselves for keeping Nigeria one, even though the “unity” has been described as “a forced marriage”. Even the current vice-president has confessed that there are “cracks” that could lead to break-up if not addressed.

The level of distrust and mutual suspicion amongst the ethnic nationalities comprising Nigeria has perhaps never been higher and the proposed Water Resources Bill may just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The late great author Chinua Achebe said; “The people you see in Nigeria today have always lived as neighbours in the same space for as long as we can remember, so it’s a matter of settling down and lowering the rhetoric…”.

 

The late great Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said; “The federal system is the only sure basis on which Nigeria will remain united. We must recognize our diversity and the peculiar conditions under which the different tribal communities live…”

As the federal government seeks more powers for itself, evidently those lofty ideals have been thrown out of the window!  After 60 years it’s difficult to say for sure what it actually means to be a Nigerian. Some believe it means having a name traceable to a particular ethnic nationality and being able to point to the graves of one’s ancestors in ancestral lands, while others believe it means simply possessing a document such as National ID Card issued by government regardless of name or ethnicity.

In 1960, independence was seen as an opportunity for self-determination of indigenous people, and in 2020 it’s appropriate to assess the extent to which Nigerians have been able to determine their fate. The military illogically thought they had solutions with numerous coups which only illustrated their indiscipline and made the situation worse. Successive governments tried all sorts of imported and home-grown solutions ranging from Structural Adjustment Programme to Millennium Development Goals to Vision 2010 then Vision 2020, all of which failed miserably. The extent of failure is highlighted by the fact that 60 years after independence the once prosperous Nigeria has become the poverty capital of the world with 13 million children out of school! Quite ridiculously the proposed solution is yet another “vision” (Vision 2050) being promoted by a government which has failed to fulfil any of its economic promises made since 2015!

Continuity of programmes by succeeding governments has never been guaranteed in Nigeria, and there is no reason why any  government, which ignored its predecessor’s plans should expect its successors to follow their own. Vision 2050 should be dismissed out of hand because it is based on false premises and flawed assumptions. In local parlance the question Nigerians really need to ask themselves after 60 years of independence is; “How market?”  This expression grew from the old days when people laboured daily on farms and sold their produce at the weekly village markets. When produce prices were high the reward for all the sacrifice was worth it, market was good. When prices were low and all the effort was in vain, it was bad market!

Many Nigerians believe they have yet to be compensated adequately for all their labour and sacrifice for the nation over the last 60 years. Despite all the sacrifices in the pro-democracy struggle, the current political landscape is awash with political parties devoid of principles and politicians lacking shame who took no part in the struggle. How market? Nigerian democracy is all about elections and depriving law-abiding citizens of any means of enforcing their best interests.

After 60 years of self-governance there is no moral justification for continuously asking citizens to bear increased suffering supposedly “in the national interest”.  The majority of Nigerians aren’t looking for a greater tomorrow, they simply want a better today!  Currently, even as governments worldwide are assisting citizens to cope with the crushing effect of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Nigerian government is creating more hardship by planning to increase electricity tariff and fuel prices. How market? Since independence government has serially failed to control the funds at their disposal. A prime example is the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC).

In his 2019 Independence Day Speech President Buhari said “learning from the mistakes of the past, this administration is responsibly managing our oil wealth”. However, according to the audit of NNPC, the Kaduna Refinery generated N2 billion in revenue and an operating loss of N112 billion. In 2018 they recorded zero revenue while incurring operating expenses of N65 billion! Salaries and allowances for the non-operational refinery cost N23 billion while a whooping N843 million was spent in “consultancy fees”! Warri and Port Harcourt refineries reported similar operating losses of billions. There is a suspicion that the plan to “privatize” NNPC (a national asset) may cover up serial top-level malfeasance.

Nigerians are justifiably outraged that both state and federal governments continue to source loans which future generations will be burdened with repaying despite the money not being invested in profitable ventures. However, the financial mess the nation finds itself in after 60 years, isn’t its biggest problem. That distinction is reserved for the high level of insecurity which government has proved incapable of curtailing. Concerned over the welfare of their former colony, members of the British Upper House of Parliament asked their government what they were doing to stop Nigeria from being a “killing field and mass graveyard, where reports of massacres are an almost daily occurrence”. How market?

Perhaps the one thing Nigerians agree on after 60 years of independence is that their welfare is not the priority of political leaders who budget billions annually for their personal comfort, while a plethora of reports detailing how the lives of ordinary citizens can be improved lay gathering dust.

Since independence Nigeria has been “re-colonised” by a political class whose only achievement is providing more for themselves and less for everyone else! They have no desire to create a well-informed, well-educated population of enlightened citizens capable of critical thinking simply because that would be against their personal interests. They have entrenched a system in which citizens must passively accept that their personal circumstances will continue to deteriorate while political billionaires proliferate.

Perhaps the lesson after 60 years is that even though individual Nigerians are great people and their nation has everything required to be prosperous, they still cannot manage independence because there is neither a true sense of national identity, nor of  national purpose.

Ignoring whatever political actors may tell us, it’s left to each of us to ask ourselves after 60 years of independence; “how market”!

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