Nigeria: Nigeria At 63 – Where Are We Going?

Nigeria’s journey as a self-governing nation clocks 63 years today. But we cannot help asking, what is the destination? Where are we headed as a nation? What is the point of our nationhood?

Nations, great nations at least, are defined by ideals–a sense of something greater than themselves. Ideals give nations a purpose, which, in turn, gives both the government and society, and both individuals and institutions alike, meaning. What are the founding ideals of Nigeria, the realisation of which all Nigerians should strive daily one way or another? What is it that gives our society a sense of purpose? What are the central principles around which both state and society are organized in Nigeria?

For sure, our national anthems and pledges, our national symbols and flag, as our cultures and mythologies, are all filled with certain ideals. But there is scarcely any meaningful connections between those words and symbols on the one hand, and what we do–our actions–as a government or as a society on the other.

And so, then, sixty-three years into national independence, the question remains: why are we here? What’s the point of it all? Are we to be defined as the giant of Africa, politically, economically and culturally? Are we to be known as the shining example of democracy on a continental soil blighted by demagogic autocracy left, right and centre? Or are we to be the torch bearers of the black race, the heart not just of Africa but of all that is African at home and in the diaspora?

Or are we forever to remain as we are, growing without maturing, travelling without a destination, and consequently going nowhere at all? Are we forever to remain an unrealized potential? A richness that is never tapped? And a gift to the world, if only?

At a moment such as this, when we go through the rituals and motions of national celebration of our independence from colonial rule, Daily Trust cannot but reflect about the deeper and still unanswered questions of our nationhood. As one of the primary recorders of our history, if in a hurry, we see, and feel, the daily frustrations of just being a Nigerian among millions of our citizens. But we also see, and feel, the unrealized potentials, the yearnings to achieve and succeed, among millions more of our citizens, young and old.

And we cannot but wonder how and why we all find ourselves where we are. At independence in 1960, Nigeria was more than just a newborn country. It had a civil service where the traditions of merit, probity and service still held sway. It had a university system that would, in the 1970s, become the pride of the Commonwealth; its armed forces already were. There was, also, governments at national and provincial levels that still cared much more about governing, and less about self-aggrandizement of the leaders.

Just as important, the society itself was still steeped in values of selflessness, honesty, and fellow-feeling, if not patriotism. You could count on the average Nigerian to do by right, speak the truth and not take what did not belong to them, everywhere across the country. Needless to say, millions of Nigerians–leaders and ordinary citizens alike–had high hopes at the time that the country would only get better. Friends of Nigeria had those high hopes too.

Of course, there were exceptions, and problems here and there. None of these institutions–government, universities, family, etc–was perfect. But most Nigerians who have seen a good part of the past 63 years would agree there has been a retrogression in the quality of governance, and the quality of citizenship too, in the country between 1960 and today. Nearly all would agree that the Nigeria of today was not the future we sought back in 1960. Many would certainly wish we were travelling in a different direction today.

Which sector of Nigeria is left standing today, from what it was in the past? Leadership has all but collapsed. The sense of responsibility and of urgency, the need to solve society’s problems, that used to characterize our leaders in the past has now all but gone. The political parties, which produce governments and the leaders, are beholden to some of the least able persons and the most retrogressive political values. As such, the political culture remains dominated by frivolities, cheap talk and corruption, rather than policy ideas that help rejuvenate both the government and society.

No wonder that the nation’s economy has almost never been worse than it has been during the past ten years or so. The security services have not only been overstretched; they have almost given up the job of protecting the rest of society altogether. Yet, in our current crop of leaders at all levels, we can scarcely sense that urgency and determination needed to move society out of the current situation to a better place.