I do not believe in celebrating birthdays, but I agree that it is desirable to take the stock of progress in an entity’s life at every point to assess if the cumulative accomplishments are driving the entity towards its stated objectives. Last Monday for Nigeria and Nigerians witnessed another independence anniversary ritual. Expectedly, the day came and went leaving little or no elation on the grounds.
As usual, President Goodluck Jonathan addressed the nation on the occasion. I read speech thrice. It was rendered in that elevated emotional poetic style, the kind of simple but sublime utterances that penetrate into the mind and inspire the soul. It brimmed with nationalistic fervor and cliché, measured out in staccato spurts reminiscent of speeches of famous American presidents when they spoke during epoch making occasions or during moments of national tragedies.
The speech was inundated with lofty adjectives of dreams and visions conceived by the nation’s founding fathers that had passed the baton to the present generation. But when analysed, it would read like an excellent speech for a nation celebrating five-year anniversary and definitely not for a nation in its 52nd year of independence! The reason is that the speech is composed of 92 per cent promises and eight per cent reference to concrete achievements!
The so-called achievements being no more than putative improved profile of foreign direct investments for which Nigeria now accounts for 20 per cent of all FDIs influx into Africa; the annual growth rate of Gross Domestic Product which averages 7.1 per cent for the second year; and the representations by Manufacturers Association of Nigeria that the ever-shrinking industrial space is now expanding with the influx of some new members. That is all. Hurray! Great achievements for a nation celebrating whopping 52 years of independence!
If the speech documented scanty positive accomplishments, it was no doubt prolix in the great future that awaits us – a future anchored on a mountain of promises! On the issue of expanded electricity project to cater for our basic needs, it is a promise; improved welfare of Nigerians, another promise; alleviation of the insecurity, promise; on the Petroleum Industry Bill, which is very critical to reformation of the oil and gas sector, a promise, on the issue of overcoming the monster of corruption, a promise! There is nothing wrong with promises, especially if they are well-intended, but if year-in-year out, what people keep having are promises upon promises with hardly any substantive positives, the soul becomes very weary.
By the way, the metaphor of relay race evoked by the president with the picture of the founding fathers passing on the baton to the present generation may be a very succinct representation of our nation’s predicament. However, while during their own race, the founding fathers had the finishing line on sight, albeit very far into the horizon, the present generation of runners keeps running with no end in sight! Thus, it would appear that we don’t even know where we are going.
The ideological concept of Nigeria is a lofty dream, but the substantive foundations were faulty right from the beginning. When the amalgamation was executed in1914 through foggy colonial political engineering, the peoples were not prepared then to form a common nation; it was a case of forced matrimony. 1960 offered a golden opportunity to redefine the inherited union; to structurally rebuild the nation and put it on firmer and fairer grounds of social justice and mutual respect, but we simply rubberstamped the prevailing political architecture.
Obviously now, we have not evolved any pragmatic national ethic that could drive integrative processes. Those who want to be cynical would point to corruption, greed, tribalism, violence et al, as our national characters, but that is not true as vices are not natives of any nation. It is when vision evaporates, when people no longer share a common dream on a project that everybody starts to superimposes parochial interests above nobler aspirations.
Nigeria should first strive to win the war against corruption and lay a foundation for sustainable development. We must first of all get people into believing in Nigeria. This faith can only be fostered through adored collective experiences that spawned fond memories; through consciousness of common struggles culminating into treasured achievements and through self-belief anchored on credible virtues like love, mutual respect, selflessness and work ethics.
To address the problems facing Nigeria, we must get rid of the phobias preventing us from convening a honest and authentic forum where all ethnic nationalities this country would table their hopes and aspirations, specify the kind of union they want, remove all the extant anomalies in our structural and fiscal federalism.