Nigeria at 59: How far has the country faired

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Buhari
Buhari

For some Nigerians, it is a case of missed opportunities for a country endowed with such mineral and human resources to be recording such huge infrastructural deficits and abysmal economic growth in the midst of high unemployment rate, poverty and worsening security issues at 59

By Anayo Ezugwu

When President Muhammadu Buhari delivered his 59th independence anniversary speech on Tuesday, October 1, he was optimistic in Nigeria’s ability to overcome its challenges. He also promised among other things to fix the economy and address security challenges across the country.

“Let me reiterate my call for unity across our dear nation. Nigeria will emerge from our present challenges stronger and more resilient than ever – but only if all of us join hands to entrench good governance, foster inclusive economic development, and defend and protect our nation from all those who would wish us ill. Our commitment to achieving economic diversification has been at the heart of our economic strategies under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, which I launched on the 5th of April, 2017,” he said.

Buhari said the anniversary is a time for Nigerians to collectively remember the sacrifices made by the nation’s founders, soldiers, public servants and others and “rededicate ourselves to attaining the goals, which we have set for ourselves: a united, prosperous and purposeful nation in the face of 21st century opportunities and challenges”.

Despite the promises of the president, there are a lot of anxiety and seething discontent among Nigerians with hunger, unemployment and poverty at the highest level. For instance, in June 2018, Nigeria became the headquarters of people living in extreme poverty in the world.

In the same year, Nigeria was ranked the 16th “most dangerous” country to live in, and had the 10th highest unemployment rate. The country is also the headquarters of two out of four most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen.

There is, in addition, a deep feeling of alienation, now increasingly freely expressed, among individuals and groups and the inescapable realisation that this is still a fragile country, but not a nation. It has failed to become the united and cohesive plural society inspiring national pride and a sense of belonging among its more than 250 ethnic groups.

The question among many analysts and Nigerians is, what has Nigeria got to show for 59 years of independence? The country’s education sector is comatose at present. Public schools are in a state of disrepair and learning in many public schools now takes place in dilapidated structures.

Learning materials are grossly inadequate with teachers and lecturers poorly remunerated and motivated. Perpetual industrial actions have been the order of the day in Nigeria’s education sector. The country also loses huge foreign exchange to education tourism as Nigerians, who can afford it, travel abroad in pursuit of academic excellence. Like the education sector, Security-wise, no one in Nigeria, including those in the corridors of power will say that the country is safer and better. Before Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009, Nigeria was struggling with ethno-religious conflicts, banditry and kidnapping and armed robbery.

But presently, Nigeria is facing security crisis in multi-layer fronts. The herders/farmers clashes across the country have led to thousands of death as well as the destruction of farmlands and livestock worth billions of naira.  This has exacerbated the deep-seated animosity between Fulani herders and farmers, especially in Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Adamawa and Nasarawa states.

Various amnesty programmes initiated by both the federal and state governments to criminal elements in the country, clearly illustrate the state of insecurity across the land. For instance, in 2008, the federal government offered amnesty to the Niger Delta militants to pacify them in order to end pipeline vandalism, oil bunkering and kidnapping for ransom in the region. Presently, states like Katsina and Zamfara have offered amnesty to bandits in the bid to end criminality in the states.

As the current administration works to address insecurity, electricity has continued to hinder the country’s industrialisation. Electricity provision in the country is still very insignificant. At the best of time, the power generation is still hovering around 5,000 megawatts for a country of over 200 million people. This is grossly inadequate to efficiently run businesses not to talk of sustaining the economy.

Epileptic electricity supply has increased the cost of doing business in Nigeria as most companies have to run their businesses on power generating sets. This has also substantially led to increased fuel consumption. Ironically, 59 years after independence, the country still exports crude oil only to import refined petroleum products as the four state-owned refineries are hardly operational.

The electricity situation best describes why the country’s economy remains fragile and vulnerable. Muda Yusuf, director general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, said at 59, Nigerian economy is vulnerable to global shocks. He said over the last 59 years, the economy has transformed from a basically agrarian economy to an economy driven largely by resources from the oil and gas sector.

“The 2019 first quarter GDP data shows that the non-oil sector accounts for 90.9 percent of the GDP, while the oil sector accounts for 9.1 percent.  The paradox is that the oil sector accounts for over 50 percent of the nation’s revenue, and over 80 percent of the foreign exchange earnings.  This reflects the mounting imbalance in the structure of the economy since independence.  It also underscores the growing decline in productivity in the non-oil sector over the past 59 years.

This remains the major failing of the Nigerian economy at 59. It makes the economy very vulnerable to global shocks and weak in economic inclusion. Economic growth trend, measured by the performance of the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, has been generally positive over the last two decades. This is good compared to growth conditions in most economies around the world. However, it remains a major worry that the economy is still structurally defective as it is too dependent on the oil and gas sector, creating serious vulnerability risks,” he said.

While Aminu Usman, Dean, faculty of social sciences, Kaduna State University, advised the government to return to periodic economic development plan for the country to grow. According to him, government should discard the idea of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, which was not geared towards effective planning.

He noted that it was merely focusing on spending plans, which are not tied to long term benefits to the economy. He lamented that the nation’s economy was still wobbling at 59 years, a situation he ascribed to poor management.

“At independence we inherited an agrarian economy, but we suddenly found oil in commercial quantity and it came with near free money as we did not need to do much to generate revenue, but only to spend. Due to lack of focus over the years, we did not use the new found money to create an enduring structure that supports agriculture in all its value chain.

“We must focus on education, especially technical and provide critical infrastructure. When we got independence, we began by managing the economy on the basis of five-year development plans,” he said.

On oil and gas, Chinedu Onyeizu, energy expert, called for holistic reform in the petroleum industry to drive development in the country. He said as the country marks its 59th independence; it was an opportunity for it to look at the sector and champion reforms that would drive economic growth.

“The Federal Government should focus on a holistic reform of the Nigerian petroleum industry. It should draw up a realistic plan to liquid energy independence after which ideas on making Nigeria a global hub for related businesses could follow.

“With over 38 billion barrels of crude oil in reserves, we really should not be importing refined products. We can’t continue to remain a revenue line item for economic plan forecasts by countries that rely on how many tons of fuel we import on yearly basis,” he said.

In the face of this hopelessness, the organised labour has called on the country to reassert her value and leadership in the continent and stand by the tenets of democracy. Ayuba Wabba, president, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said the anniversary of Nigeria, like the ones before it, offered an opportunity for serious soul-searching and very candid reflection.

“In our journey to nationhood, Nigeria has had a number of highs and lows, while we should celebrate the highs, we must also ponder on the lows and pick useful lessons from them. It is important to celebrate the deconstruction of colonial rule and what independence offered the Nigerian nation and people. A priceless opportunity to pursue our dreams and rewrite the history of colonial evil by the strides of our post colonial existence,” he said.

But the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria, RTEAN, urged Nigerians to keep hope alive as Buhari would certainly take Nigeria to the next level. Osakpamwane Eriyo, president, RTEAN, said he was convinced that Nigeria would move to the next level under Buhari’s led administration.

He commended the President for his efforts towards ensuring security of Nigerians, reiterating that good governance and economic development could not be sustained without an enabling environment of peace and security. He also thanked Buhari for resuscitating the ministry of police affairs to oversee the development and implementation of strategies that enhance internal security.

As the country continues its journey into its 60th anniversary, Nigerians desire to see a new nation where infrastructural deficits would be addressed. This should cover the broad spectrum of infrastructure provision – roads, railways, airports, water ways, electricity, among others.

– Oct. 4, 2019 @ 18:45 GMT |

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