NIGERIA @ 54: More Pains than Gains
By Richard Imhoagene
Oct. 1, 2014.

I often sat on father's legs as he thrilled me and my siblings to the heroic tale of how our demographic heroes and radical nationalists fought for Nigeria's independence. I watched him gleefully as he tried to describe the ecstatic celebration that engulfed the entire nation when that battle was finally won on October 1, 1960.

For the first time since 1914, the Nigerian people put aside tribal and religious sentiments, and put aside the cloak of ethnicity to celebrate a collective victory won by a collective effort of a people who engaged in an unfair but fearless six-decade war.

The hopes and expectations of the people going into independence were limitless as even those Nigerians scattered abroad for education, employment, and so on, trooped in in their numbers to participate in the new dispensation of self-rule. They came back to give their own quota towards the attainment of the Nigerian dream.

Five decades after, we are still enmeshed in most of the problems that rocked the nation on the heels of independence. We are not truly free. We are not truly independent. We are still shackled by economic slavery, as the ordinary Nigerian wallows in the chains of poverty and starvation.

As a geopolitical entity, we may have broken free from British colonial imperialism, but we now have a situation where our own people are colonized by fellow Nigerians, a system where monies meant for all are siphoned by a few individuals who have seized the nation's resources and enslaved the majority, giving credence to the famous words; "monkey dey work, baboon dey chop."

Our celebration of independence as 'One Nigeria' was betrayed barely six years after when Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu led a bloody coup d'etat on January 15, 1966 killing Prime Minister Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, and a host of other public office holders.

A series of coups d'tat and counter coups followed suit, turning nigeria's political arena into a battlefront between 1966 and 1993. by the time we recovered from the military grip, we had plunged too deep that climbing back up became an Herculean task.

Nigeria's democracy which strategically began in 1999 has been described by many as infantile. In fact, a lot of Nigerians still believe the nation is not ripe for democracy, but I ask, should we continue to grapple and rot in the hands of the military because some individuals driven by personal gains and self aggrandizement have deliberately refused to conform to the tenets of democracy?

Today, 15years after democracy, we are still wondering if we actually started on the right footing. The country is plagued by a myriad of problems. It is important to examine some of them, because to know where we are headed, we need to know where we are coming from.

At the top of the ladder is corruption. This is one problem that has been regarded as the source of other problems in Nigeria. It is a terrible bane that has eaten deep like a cankerworm into every sphere of our national existence. Everybody now wants to lay claim to a chunk of the colloquial "National cake."

Poverty is another predicament that has haunted Nigeria and Nigerians for years. The common man is a victim of our poor planning during the period of abundance. Recent statistics by the United Nations reveal that 70% of Nigerians live on less than $1 per day, while over 100million Nigerians live below the poverty line. The nation currently ranks among the 30 poorest countries in the world.

The irony of the situation lies in the fact that Nigeria is supposedly the largest economy in Africa. It can therefore take the status given by Matthew Ashimolowo concerning Africa. Nigeria can be described as the richest country occupied by the poorest people. While over #2Billion is budgeted yearly as the President's kitchen maintenance allowance, the average Nigerian cannot eat two (2) square meals a day.

The education sector needs a total overhaul. The state of infrastructure in public schools from primary to tertiary levels is appalling to say the least. Some public schools in the country have become deathtraps with falling roofs, cracked walls, and so on. In fact, it is embarrassing to note that in this modern time of human existence, some pupils are still taught under the tree.

Lack of classrooms, lack of, or poorly equipped libraries and laboratories, lack of study materials, etc are some of the issues plaguing our educational sector in Nigeria. Those in power and political offices care less about the situation because they are not directly affected. Their children are flown abroad to study in choice universities like Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, and so on.

Our politicians shamelessly and ignorantly throw thousands of dollars into the education of their children in foreign lands, further helping to develop those systems. They forget that it is humans like them, public office holders like them that made those choice schools what they are today.

Our health sector is suffering from a chronic disease and requires intensive care. Our hospitals and clinics are ill-equipped with dysfunctional facilities. Basic healthcare delivery equipment is rarely available, and otherwise curable ailments and diseases are made too big for Nigeria and flown abroad. The poor man who cannot afford foreign treatment is left to die.

The frequent strike action embarked upon by doctors and medical practitioners, owing to disagreements between the Nigeria Medical Association and the federal Government, most times due to remuneration is worrisome to say the least. The last strike action embarked upon in the face of the Ebola outbreak threatened the safety of Nigerians.

The economy of Nigeria is a joke in itself. Posterity has taught us that a monotonous economy, solely dependent on one resource, is not futuristic. Our over dependence on oil, or black gold if you like, is a big problem to the Nigerian dream. Even the oil we depend on is not well managed. Apart from the fact that billions of naira are lost daily to oil theft, our nation loses a large chunk of oil revenue to foreign refineries.

More so, other industries which sustained the nation prior to the discovery of oil have been abandoned. Agriculture can no longer sustain our local food needs. Our rubber industry has collapsed, the steel industry died with the Ajaokuta corruption, mining is at its lowest ebb, and other mineral resources are not effectively and efficiently tapped.

A new problem, Boko Haram is rearing its head, further aggravating the already sad situation. The violence in the North East has exposed both our military flaws and political insincerity. In our normal tradition, we have chosen instead to politicize the war. The recent ceasefire declaration by the federal government, immediately followed by bloody attacks, exposes our recklessness in matters of national security. The 219 chibok girls are still held captive close to 200 days after, and our politicians are campaigning about. What a shame!

Nigeria's problems are terrible, but solvable. What the country needs are political will, strong and stable institutions, commitment, sincerity and dedication to the welfare of the people. The political class must begin to understand that actual power belongs to the people, regardless of who put them in office. They must begin to walk the walk and forget the talk.

The current flock of politicians is that which has been in politics since the 1960s and 70s. They have failed again and again. Nigeria needs to give its weight to someone who she believes can deliver. She should not be afraid to take risks. She should empower someone new and fresh; with fresh ideas, who can quickly transform the fortunes of the nation to become what we want her to be.

It is time for the people to begin to demand accountability and responsibility from the government of the day. The average Nigerian has been fooled for too long. The power belongs to the people; the woman selling pepper in the markets, the carpenter, the student, and every eligible voter. We can "force" anyone out of office if we want. France did it. Tunisia did it. We can do it.

Nigeria's tomorrow can only be secured by sincerity, first in dealing with corruption, then in the diversification of the economy, and down to the overhaul of our health, education, food, transport, and security sectors.

About Author / Additional Info:
I am a student, a columnist, a writer, and a keen journalist.