Nigeria's 50th Independence Anniversary - Our collective failure to build a virile Nation

On 1st October 2010, Nigeria marks its 50th Anniversary as an independent and Sovereign Nation. A Golden Jubilee, is a milestone in the life of an individual or a nation, and typically calls for celebration. This therefore, explains the flush of enthusiasm in the build up to this year's Independence Day Anniversary. Our political leaders have rolled out drums across the Federation for an elaborate and lavish Celebration.

It was widely reported in the nation's media that the Federal Government, with the approval of the Senate, has budgeted to spend N9.5 billion for this year's Golden Jubilee celebrations. The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) considers this humongous amount insensitive on the part of our political leaders. This is at variance when placed side by side with the plight of the suffering Nigerian people, who are living in abject squalor, endemic poverty and unable to afford basic education for their children and a measure of good life for themselves and their families.

Indeed, this is not an auspicious moment for a beleaguered nation, beset by this catalogue of denigrating socio-political conditions, to be beguiled into a reckless and profligate adventure, in the guise of Independence Day celebration. Rather than a jamboree, the Nigerian government should use the occasion of Nigeria's 50th anniversary for self-assessment and sober reflection. It is, therefore, in the interest of our collective humanity that we use this period to identify and analyse how we have managed (or mismanaged) fifty years of our life as a nation and, with the lessons determine how best to, forge a better future by avoiding the misadventures and pitfalls of the past.

We are deeply bothered that at 50 years, Nigeria, a country of about 140 million people, still toddles due to countless socio-economic and political problems. With such a huge and promising global market share, the envy of many other nations, access to health facilities/services is largely expensive - about 38% of rural dwellers consider cost to be the greatest challenge to accessing health care. Our hospitals suffer from scarcity of funds for operation, obsolete equipment, power failure, incessant doctors' strike and poor working environment. As it were, only the rich can afford better healthcare services in mostly privately owned hospitals, and the alternative of going overseas for minor Medicare.

Regrettably, the Energy sector that is supposed to be the driving force towards economic development is comatose. In spite of numerous assurances, the government has failed to meet its own target of 6,000 megawatts for the country, thereby proving that the 10,000 megawatts target set by the Obasanjo's administration was over ambitious. Incessant power outages and fluctuations in the country have had a great toll on the economy, with many industries being heavily dependent on alternative sources of power especially generators, while those who could not cope have folded up.

The state of insecurity in the country is worrisome. Armed banditry, kidnapping, political assassinations and militancy have gradually become the order of the day. The police authorities are underequipped, poorly remunerated and ill trained to counter the increasingly daring dimension of criminality in the country.

Nigeria's socio-political and economic growth was stunted and bastardized by the numerous years (28 years) of military dictatorship which truncated Nigeria's path to greatness. However, in the immediate past 11 years of civil rule the political class has, unfortunately, not helped matters with all sorts of characters hijacking the democratic process and occupying privileged positions through questionable circumstances, including large scale electoral manipulations. The result of this is massive corruption and large scale looting of public funds. A review of the Corruption Perception
Index (CPI), which, according to Amnesty International "measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in countries and territories around the world," reveals that Nigeria is consistently ranked top on the list of most corrupt nations in the world, hovering around 0.6 and 3.0 confidence range for over a decade.

Nigeria, which currently produces a minimum of 2.2 million barrels of oil per day (OPEC) allocation, and the eighth largest producer of oil in the world, cannot even properly account for the estimated $300 billion realised in oil revenue since 1960. And the political leaders who presided over this plundering of our common wealth still walk the streets freely. Some of them have even besieged the political space with great effrontery, brazenly making their way back to power in 2011 to again pillage and plunder. In addition to the huge Oil resources, Nigeria earns revenue from the abundant Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to the value of 50% of whatever revenue the country earns from Crude Oil. Sadly, the anti-graft agency, the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that used to hold many corrupt public office holders accountable and keep other criminals in check now lies comatose and subdued.

The oil that has been a source of blessing to other nations has become a curse to Nigeria due to the contradictions thrown up by its own dysfunctional political structure. The Niger Delta area, which produces over 90 percent of the country's wealth, has suffered tremendous neglect. Then recommendations of the Willinks Commission of 1957 have been ignored by every successive constitutional arrangement. The 1963 constitution which tried to entrench true federalism has been replaced. Worst still, some obnoxious laws such as the Exclusive Economic Zone Act; Petroleum Act, Land Use Act, Oil Minerals Act, the Oil Pipeline Act, and the Oil Terminal Dues Act, National Inland Waterways Act, and Territorial Water Act, have all been skewed to deprive the region a fair share of their God-given natural resources.

Though some strides have been made by successive governments towards the development of the country, through the massive (but largely uncoordinated) deployment of the oil revenue wealth to infrastructural development in the '70s and early '80s leading to the establishment of some educational, health, manufacturing and agricultural institutions, and the recent revolutionary strides made in the telecommunication and banking industry, the country is still far from being economically viable and self sufficient.

The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) states in unmistaken terms that Corruption is inextricably linked with underdevelopment and poverty. It is not surprising, then, that despite Nigeria's abundant natural resources it is classified as one of the poorest countries in the world. In the 2009 Global Hunger Index (GHI), Nigeria scores 18.40 and is ranked the forty-seventh of eighty-four hungry countries in the world. Nigeria's situation is equally designated as "serious"; the same level as neighbouring Benin Republic, though ranked slightly higher than Benin in the Index. The GHI, according to International Food Policy Research Institute, the publisher of the Index, is measured on three indicators: "prevalence of child malnutrition, rates of child mortality and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient."

Life expectancy at birth is taken by experts as a measure of the overall quality of life in a country. The 2010 World Bank report on Nigeria reveals that 29.6 percent of Nigerians live on $1.25 per day while 83.9 per cent live on $2 per day. Also the 2010 World Bank development report further reveals that Nigeria's per capita income is $2,748, lagging far behind some African countries such as Cameroun with $10,758 and Ghana with $10,748. Inflation rate in the country is at 10% compared to South Africa's 7.3%, Kenya's 7%, Egypt's 9.1%, and Angola's 11.8%.

Though there is appreciable increase in the number of enrolments recently into schools with the introduction of the Universal Basic Education, there is still a very high rate of illiteracy in the country. Statistics have shown that about 60% of Nigerians are still illiterate. A recent report by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) has stated that Nigeria has more children out of education than any other country in the world. The once vocal student body, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), has been corrupted and rendered toothless in the immediate past decade – a very regrettable development in the nation's educational system. Less than
50 percent of Nigeria's rural population has access to safe drinking water. This explains the recent outbreak of cholera in some parts of northern Nigeria. While only 34 percent of the households have access to electricity.


The government of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua came up with policies aimed at ensuring the complete turnaround of the economy to a much vibrant and viable one which would place Nigeria high up in the committee of nations in the near future in its Vision 20-2020 and the 7-Point Agenda. The present administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has stated its commitment to the pursuit of these policies in a bid to attain the goals envisaged in the Vision 20-2020.

However, such sound and ambitious plans and projections have, over the years, been hampered by a myriad of obstacles, primary of which are corruption, lack of focus, insincerity, selective execution of policies and non-committal attitude of government to deliver basic services in some cases. Eventually, these policies are either scuttled or sidelined or completely discarded.

The National Association of Seadogs (NAS), therefore, calls for a pragmatic and revolutionary approach to the political and economic issues that have hitherto kept the country in the unenviable condition of stagnation:

*        The government must tackle corruption headlong. Lip-service approach to corruption issues must be discarded forthwith.

*        The total reorientation of our values and ethics has become pertinent and expedient. Merit must take precedence over tribe, religion and political affiliations. Without this, the country cannot go beyond just the usual rhetoric and political braggadocio.

*        We have had terrible and pernicious leadership, without vision. We must now embrace the tenets of true federalism and discard through an aggressive and continuous amendment process the fraudulent document called the 1999 constitution imposed by the military.

*        The upcoming 2011 elections must be the collective responsibility of all Nigerians and should be a watershed and complete break from the past. We should come out to register during the upcoming voter registration process and subsequently vote for credible individuals irrespective of tribe, religion or political affiliation. The era of hijacking the political process by all comers and rascals must come to an end. Nigerians must abhor voter apathy before, during and after the 2011 general elections. All well meaning Nigerians should give their ALL to ensure the new Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) leadership, having shown an honest WILL to guarantee free and fair elections, succeeds in the 2011 and future elections in the polity. Nigeria still needs Option A4 voting pattern.

*        The political party system should be strengthened to avoid a near One Party State. Nigerians should clamour for the emergence of a strong and viable platform as an alternative to the ruling party. Opposition parties must re-strategize, re-invigorate and develop a pragmatic road-map of action to effectively engage the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The opposition in the past 11 years remained a far cry of the expectations of the people and must retool if they are to be taken seriously. The time to do so is now.

*        We demand that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan find a lasting solution to the problems of the fractious Niger Delta Region. The current amnesty is a fragile arrangement that holds little possibility for a permanent solution to the underdevelopment and degradation in that region. The President should equally address the deliberate marginalization of a section of the country so that the unfortunate 3-year Civil War can be put behind us and to ensure the desired and elusive Unity and National Integration.

*        This government should embark on an immediate and sustained action against the incessant kidnappings in Nigeria, especially in the South West, South East and South South regions. We must not compromise adequate security of lives and property, anywhere in Nigeria, in our collective effort to build a virile nation. The police force should be decentralized to pave way for State and Community policing in line with what is prevalent in other climes.

*        All Progressive forces and Civil Society groups should pull resources together to revitalize the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to enable students take up their pride of place in the polity as leaders of tomorrow. The prevalent void created by its current toothless status is militating against the full actualization of a democratic civil culture.

As we reflect and reminisce, the National Association of Seadogs (NAS) enjoins all Nigerians to join hands to move the country forward by being politically conscious and aware, economically proactive and socially responsible. We are wishing all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria a hitch free Golden Jubilee Independence Anniversary Celebration!

Signed:


Oscar Egwuonwu
Pyrates' Cap'n
National Association of Seadogs (NAS)

September 28, 2010.