In 2010, former president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, said that Nigeria “is critical to the rest of the continent and if Nigeria does not get it right, Africa will really not make more progress.” This speaks of the expectations of the world for Nigeria. Across the globe, Nigeria is perceived as the natural leader of Africa. The world has hinged its hope of Africa’s freedom from stagnation, underdevelopment, illiteracy, hunger and unemployment on Nigeria. The general belief is that if Nigeria should extricate herself from these ills, she would free other African countries from the shackles.
The hope is not misplaced given the country’s natural resources. Nigeria is the most populated country on the continent; it is also one of the most endowed in the world. Nigeria is rich in crude oil, natural gas, gold, bitumen, tin, coal, iron ore, limestone, niobium, lead and zinc. The country is blessed with an arable land which facilitates the cultivation of both cash and food crops. Nigeria also has a stock of great people who stand out in different aspects of human endeavours. This is a rare combination that should have made Nigeria a super power. But in spite of all these endowments and the derivable benefits, misery has become the permanent partner of the average citizen.
Nigeria is a paradox; so wealthy, yet so poor; so endowed, yet so deprived. Nigeria makes more money than many countries of the world but is unfortunately ranked among the poorest because many Nigerians live below the poverty line as they earn less than two dollars a day. According to the Brookings Institution in a report, The Start of a New Poverty Narrative, Nigeria is now home to the highest number of people living in extreme poverty on the globe.
Similarly, a United Nations report on Nigeria’s Common Country Analysis, says youth unemployment is 42 per cent, while the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) puts the number of out of school children at over 10.5million. Infant mortality rate is 85.8 of 1000 live births, while the country has the highest rate of under-five mortality in the world. Malnutrition prevalence, according to the UN, ranges between approximately 46.9 per cent in the South West to 74.3 per cent in North West and North East.
But this was not so in the beginning. Nigeria was not the world’s laughing stock in the beginning; neither was she the poster boy for failure and misery. Nigeria beat France in the race to establishing a television station in 1959. Poverty level was very low at independence in 1960, according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. Unemployment rate was quite negligible in 1960. At independence, the education system was excellent, just as the healthcare system. Security of life and property was assured. If Nigerians had to travel out of the country for anything in the 1960s, they were quick to return home. But not anymore, life in Nigeria has lost its luster. Living in Nigeria is hellish. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace in its 2019 Global peace Index report, Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. So bad is the health sector that Nigerians rank globally among health tourists as they seek healing in different hospitals from Ghana to Togo, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Israel, United Kingdom, France and the United States of America.
How did we arrive here? Why has Nigeria, with all the treasures locked in her belly, been unable to shake off the ‘underdeveloped country’ tag?
The difference between the First Republic Nigeria and the Nigeria of today is planning. Nigeria’s slide from the sublime to the ridiculous started with the failure of the country to plan its development. This is the major reason for the poor economy, deplorable infrastructure deficit, high level of poverty and unemployment as well as the rising out of school children syndrome.
But this doesn’t have to remain the narrative. We can change our story. We can change our experience. We can have a reenactment of the First Republic Nigeria or even something better. To change the current trend, we have to retrace our steps and do the right things. Great countries don’t just emerge, they are birthed. The process of birthing a great country starts with planning and taking concrete steps to actualize the plans. When countries plan and work their plans, they become great. On the contrary, when a country fails to plan, the only way for it to go is down.
As disappointed as I am with the present state of the country, I am of the persuasion that a better Nigeria is possible. If our leaders will stop being politicians and transform into statesmen, then they will be more focused on the wellbeing of the nation than on their personal comfort.
Leaders make things happen. When Nigerian leaders shun cognitive dissonance, when they act in line with their expressed vision, take charge of the country and run it profitably; when they run with great plans and work the plans, when they provide needed infrastructure and emplace clement environment, then the country’s narrative will change, productivity will escalate, poverty will decline, life of the average Nigerian will get better, the slumbering giant will be roused and Africa will experience liberation.
If we start doing the right things now, though our country lies prostrate today at 61, it will stand tall at 65 and stand out at 70. Yes, a great and prosperous Nigeria is possible. The time to start is now so that the 70th anniversary of the nation’s independence can be a departure from the excruciating experience of the moment.
It is possible. It is achievable. The time to start is now!
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