Nigeria at 55: All Warts and Blemish

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Buhari
Buhari

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President Muhammadu Buhari, reiterates his desire to change Nigeria for the best in his independence speech even as weary Nigerians still celebrate the independence anniversary despite the nation’s warts and blemish

By Olu Ojewale  |  Oct 12, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

IT was time for celebration on Thursday, October 1, when Nigeria turned 55 as an independent nation. As expected, President Muhammadu Buhari, as the occasion demands, inspected a guard of honour, released pidgins for the peace of the country and hosted national leaders as well as foreign well wishers to a dinner. Ahead of all that, Buhari made a nationwide broadcast to the country on the journey so far and why his government would need the cooperation of everyone to effect the kind of change desirable for the country.

Even though a lot of people may not have been in celebrative mood, the president said: “October 1st is a day for joy and celebrations for us Nigerians, whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in because it is the day, 55 years ago; we liberated ourselves from the shackles of colonialism and began our long march to nationhood and to greatness.

“No temporary problems or passing challenges should stop us from honouring this day. Let us remind ourselves of the gifts God has given us. Our Creator has bequeathed to us Numbers – Nigeria is the ninth most populated country on the planet. We have in addition arable land; water; forests; oil and gas; coastline; and solid minerals.”

All that and many others, the president said, made the country a potential great nation but the major hindrance had been lack of unity of purpose. “This would have enabled us to achieve not only more orderly political evolution and integration but also continuity and economic progress,” he argued.

He also noted with chagrin that “countries far less endowed have made greater economic progress by greater coherence and unity of purpose.”

Indeed, progressiveness of the country since independence seems to get everyone worried. This is because nothing seems to be on the right path for the country which is blessed with so much natural and human resources.

Shehu
Shehu

As a nation, Nigeria has had its share of political upheavals, civil war, civil disobedience, threat to its unity, military interventions among others. But with all these, and perhaps, to the disappointment of doomsday analysts the country has remained united.

Nevertheless, at 55, Nigeria’s various institutions in different sectors such as the economy, power, transport, health and education are still grappling to be at par with some other countries that got their independence as Nigeria in 1960. Countries such as Singapore, Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia, Cyprus, among others, are far above Nigeria in terms of economic development, industrialisation, poverty alleviation, healthcare delivery, among other parameters that determine the strength and progress of a country.

Even with enormous resources and potentials available in the country, Nigeria seems to be a nation suffering lack in the midst of plenty, which some persons have traced to overreliance on oil wealth.  For instance, Kayode Alabi, an economist, said Nigeria inherited a potentially good economy from the British colonial masters at independence in 1960, which was then based on agriculture and mining. But the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity changed all that. He noted that oil money boosted the potential of Nigeria to become a great world economy and leading nation in Africa.

Alabi said notwithstanding the oil fortune, bad leadership, corruption, impunity and other vices eroded the economic potentials of Nigeria and did not allow it grow even after 55 years of independence. “With the current fall in the price of crude oil, the Nigerian economy has become even more vulnerable; one is forced to conclude that the economy has performed below average since independence,” he said.

The current administration of President Buhari must have realised the danger in relying on oil alone and has thus promised to exploit areas of economic development to put Nigeria back on the path to development.  One of such areas is mining.

Indeed, Sani Shehu, president of Miners Association of Nigeria, said mining had witnessed slow pace progress due to overdependence on oil, collapse of tin market and civil war of 1967 to 1970.

Shehu regretted that mining which was generating good income for the nation before independence had now become moribund for lack of development. He, therefore, called on the Buhari government to put more effort to make the sector viable.

Teriba
Teriba

On his part, Ayo Teriba, chief executive officer of the Economic Associates, said Nigeria’s economy might have been better in 1960 than now because of the effect of rail transport then. “In 1960, Nigeria had something close to a nationwide rail transportation network as our core means of transportation in Nigeria. But today the rail sector is dead and we can’t grow the economy without rail. Without rail, road transportation and haulage cost will continue to kill manufacturing, industrial activity and agriculture and none of these real sector activities will fulfil their full potentials. These industries would thrive and Nigeria will begin to produce from these sectors for export if we can fix the rail,” he argued.

Besides, Teriba said the government must find solution to the power and energy sector for the economy to move forward.

Holding a similar view, Tony Ejikonye, president of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry Limited, ABUCCI, however, noted that Nigeria had recorded tremendous progress in its 55 years of economic struggle, especially in small and medium enterprises which had been driving the economy of the nation.

Ejikonye said Nigeria at 55 would need to further strengthen the real sector to make it more competitive and increase its capacity.  He said that Nigeria must position itself to take advantage of the opportunities and challenges arising from global and regional developments in trade and investment to put its army of youths to work.

Apart from the economy, another area which has been a major source of concern for the country is corruption. The problem is believed to be responsible for making the Nigeria unattractive in terms of foreign investment.

For instance, a report said that Nigeria would have been buoyant enough to finance its 2015 budget of N4.36 trillion and still pay off its external debts of N2.03 trillion if it had not lost more than $32 billion or N6.4 trillion (at N200/$1) to massive corruption that characterised oil sales by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, during the last administration.

Ejinkeonye
Ejinkeonye

According to an independent investigative analysis by the Natural Resource Governance Institute, NRGI, more than $32 billion oil revenue was lost to the NNPC’s mismanagement of Domestic Crude Allocation, DCA, opaque revenue retention practices and corruption-ridden oil-for-product swap agreements.

The report alleged that the NNPC’s discretionary spending from domestic crude oil sale revenues skyrocketed, exceeding $6 billion a year for the 2011 to 2013 period, that is more than $18 billion in three years.

Similarly, it said that an in-depth research found no evidence that the corporation, between 2004 and 2014, forwarded to the treasury any revenues from sales of Okono crude with volumes of over 100 million barrels, with an estimated value of $12.3 billion.

In other words, the corporation was accused of not providing public accounting of how it used revenues from an entire stream of the country’s oil production in 10 years.

But the NNPC is not the only culprits in the corruption allegation, which seems to have permeated through every segment of the Nigerian governments and parastatals.

Irked by the level of corruption in the country, Nigerians elected Buhari who had promised to fight and eliminate the scourge. As part of its plan to deal with the monster, the president has ordered the probe of revenue generating agencies in the country. Prominent among those on the list are the NNPC, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Nigerian Customs Service.

In his Independence Day nationwide broadcast on Thursday, the president said the probe of the revenue generating agencies became necessary following noticeable widespread corruption in all the affected agencies. “Prudent housekeeping is needed now more than ever in view of the sharp decline in world market oil prices. It is a challenge we have to face squarely. But what counts is not so much what accrues but how we manage our resources.

Ajiboye
Ajiboye

“We have seen in the last few years how huge resources were mismanaged, squandered and wasted. The new APC government is embarking on a cleanup, introducing prudence and probity in public financing,” he said.

To effectively do that, the president has also ordered that all government revenues should be in a single account for effective monitoring and accountability.

Another area which Nigerians would like to see improvement is power supply. According to available statistics, the sector had been neglected for so long before the advent of return to democracy in 1999. Even the 16 years of democracy showed that the nation has expended N2.74 trillion without commensurable improvement. The nation now has 4,600megawatts, up from a meagre 750 megawatts in 1999.

In any case, Buhari said the small improvement being experienced in the power sector in recent time was the result of a series of long sessions of meetings embarked upon over several weeks about the best way to improve the nation’s power supply in the safest and most cost-effective way.

“In the meantime, improvement in the power supply is moderately encouraging. By the same token, supply of petrol and kerosene to the public has improved throughout the country. All the early signs are that within months the whole country would begin to feel a change for the better,” he assured the nation.

Some other areas which Nigerians are expecting change, but which were missing in the president’s address border on health and education. They are particularly disappointed that the country has not fared well in providing healthy healthcare system to help the teeming majority, which has forced a lot of people to go engage in health tourism.

Among concerned stakeholders is Kingsley Oragwa, a radiologist in Lagos. Speaking in an interview, Oragwa said mortality rate was still very high in the country because of lack of quality healthcare system. “How can we say we are successful at 55 when the average life span of a Nigerian male is 47 years while that of the female is 53 years? This means any Nigerian male living above 47 years of age is living on a borrowed time, same with the women. Compare this indices to that of other countries, even most African countries that are our neigbhours still have better mortality rate than us. We should be ashamed of these indices because they depict how poorly our healthcare system has fared,” Oragwa said.

He noted that the situation could be more harrowing in rural areas because of lack of primary healthcare and basic infrastructure. “For a country to have a healthcare system that directly affects its citizens, priority must be given to primary healthcare, rather than what Nigeria is currently concentrating on – secondary and tertiary healthcare. We must tackle the basics first, otherwise, in the next 20 years, we’ll still be where we are,” Oragwa said.

Odumakin
Odumakin

Jude Areogbu, a doctor, is equally unhappy with the state of healthcare delivery in the country. “Nigeria at 55, I want a working health sector such that even our government officials and rich Nigerians would treat themselves here rather than travel abroad for medical purposes. There should be adequate training for our medical students and the sector should be well funded,” Areogbu said.

He is, however, optimistic the Buhari administration would soon transform the sector.  “If things are done accordingly, we will achieve our goal as a country,” he said.

On the way forward, he advised private investors to consider investing in the health sector of the country as they had done in the country’s power and oil sector. The doctor said it was imperative for Nigerian investors to take advantage of facilities and manpower available to develop the sector and stop capital flight associated with people taking money abroad for healthcare.

Indeed, according to medical and dental council of Nigeria, the country has about 25 medical schools across the nation, graduating between 2000 and 3000 medical doctors annually. Unfortunately, a good number of them prefer to go abroad to practice. This has created problems for Nigerians to get required health experts needed in certain areas.

Considering the mirage of problems facing the nation, a lot Nigerians said the 55th anniversary actually called for sober reflection and not celebration.

In this school of thought is Segun Ajiboye, chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, University of Ibadan chapter. He said: “When one considers the hopes that Nigerians had at Independence and the reality that has greeted Nigeria today you will agree with me that there is nothing to really celebrate. In the area of politics we are picking up again. We lost initially with military intervention which truncated civil rule in 1966 and on until 1999. That was a big setback for the country. But gradually we are getting back. Having returned to democracy in 1999, and having sustained it for 16 years I think we are getting it right again.”

Ajiboye said despite the nation’s wealth and economic potentials it was regrettable that about 72 percent of Nigerians were still living below $2 or N500 per day.

The university don blamed the problem facing the country’s education to lack of consistency in policy and poor management. “Our education sector has not also been spared from the bad leadership and poor management we have had. There is policy somersault where today you introduce one policy and tomorrow you have another, from 6-5-4 to 6-3-3-4 and so on. The country has not got it right in terms of education policies and that has robbed us of development in education,” he said, adding that if Nigeria wants to develop, it must improve the standard of education. According to him, no nation could develop beyond its standard of education.

The way out of the doldrums, Ajiboye said: “We need a good policy that will guide our children from kindergarten through primary and secondary to tertiary levels, a policy based on envisaged national goals. The current education policy cannot take us far. Right now, the ASUU and other unions in the universities are putting together an education policy that will give direction to the new government. So, we must get the policy right and inject the necessary resources into the institutions and perhaps also declare a state of emergency in education to discuss the issues of funding and governance in the sector. It is important that we must get our education right.”

Osoba
Osoba

Yinka Odumakin, national publicity secretary of Afenifere, a Yoruba socio-political organisation, blamed the foundation of Nigeria for its current state of affairs. He said in an interview: We started as a country in 1960, now we cannot even say that we are a country. The level of insecurity is high, kidnapping here and there; insurgency and all other insecurity. Our Infrastructure is collapsing. Our economy is in doldrums. It is very clear that there is nothing to celebrate in this country at 55. The foundation of Nigeria is faulty. There is no way you can run a country like Nigeria with all its contradictions in unity line and you think that we will be in harmony. We must go back to the foundation to restructure this country. We must allow every part of Nigeria to develop at their pace. With all these command and control centres in Abuja will not help us.”

Odumakin said mouthing change would not change anything until the structure of the country itself had been changed. He said: “For example, many states are asking for bail out. These states that are asking for bailout have resources under their soil that they cannot touch because the constitution states that it is only the federal government that has the authority to touch mineral resources. Now, Nigeria is only concerned about oil. Be assured that Nigeria looses not less than N50trillion annually on untapped resources and the oil that we keep fighting for gives us less than N40trillion in a year. If we want to develop, we must ensure that, we will reconstitute Nigeria to allow these states to tap these resources. If we don’t, we will continue to suffer in the midst of plenty.”

He argued that for the nation to move forward a people’s constitution must be fashioned out, which would recognise autonomy of each state to develop at its own space. “In spite of all the situation around us, we should not lose hope. This country is potentially great and we must ensure that we do all that is useful to ensure we move this country forward,” Odumakin said.

Similarly, Olusegun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State and a veteran journalist, agreed that a lot of things would be needed to put Nigeria in shape and its counterparts that got their independence at the same time as the country. Osoba said: “Trying times, but we shall survive. I have observed and seen Nigeria go through more terrible and worrisome things but we have survived. Whatever level we may be, we will recover. Was there not a time when Harold Wilson had to devalue the Pound Sterling? Did the British not get to the level, are they not back? And the Pound now is a very strong currency. A nation will always survive, it is leadership. I’m worried, bothered and unhappy but I’m optimistic.”

But whether the kind of change that the Buhari government has promised the nation would continue to keep hope alive is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, just as the president himself admonished in his independence day speech, patience is not the kind of virtue possessed by everyone and if the kind of changed he and party promised doesn’t start to manifest Nigerians would feel that they have been short-changed again.

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