Ochereome Nnanna: Gains, Losses and Hopes of Nigeria At 52
Today, as we celebrate our 52nd independence anniversary, we have our eyes more on the Centenary, because it offers us a great opportunity to assess our hundred years of gains, losses and hopes.
Of all the entities which the European colonial powers amalgamated all over the world, especially in Africa to further their colonial interests, Nigeria stood out in many ways. She was the biggest nation populated exclusively by Black people on the face of the earth, with the largest population on the African continent.
From the mangrove coast in the South to the Sahelian ambience of the North, Nigeria is wholly arable, and therefore able to support healthy populations year round almost evenly throughout its territory.
It is also blessed with enormous natural resources, including petroleum, coal, bitumen, limestone, iron ore and so many other mineral deposits in commercial quantities.
Its agricultural resources include palm produce, cocoa, groundnuts, timber, rubber and other forms of cash and food crops. Before the advent of oil boom, Nigeria’s economic and political prospects were rated so highly among the emerging Third World countries that she was categorised along with Brazil, India and South Africa.
Historically, even before the coming of the white man, Nigeria boasted prestigious empires, such as the Benin, Oyo, Sokoto Caliphate, Kanem-Borno and powerful coastal kingdoms at Bonny, Calabar, Lagos and others; all of which had established treaties and diplomatic ties with world powers out there.
Apart from the monarchies, some cultural groups, notably the Igbo, Ibibio, Ijaw, Tiv and Plateau groups had developed intricate forms of republican democracies which forbade expansionist imperialism while stiffly defending their own respective independence from invaders.
The amalgamation of 1914, which some now describe as a “mistake” created a model with the potentials to put a black nation among the frontrunners of world political economy.
In addition to its large population, the quality of human resources found in the country was second to none. In fact, the three largest ethnic groups – the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, each had enough population to compete for the top five of Africa’s largest linguistic groupings.
Nigeria was also one of the first to catch the bug of independence. Through the efforts of Nigeria’s father of independence, Dr Herbert Macaulay and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who shone the light for other Africanists such as Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Dr Julius Nyerere and even Dr Nelson Mandela to find their ways to remove their people from the clutches of colonial rule, Nigeria quickly moved, on gaining independence, to establish Africa as the centerpiece of her foreign policy.
She dedicated much of her efforts towards the struggle for freedom of southern African countries still in the grips of the colonialists, such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Malawi, Botswana and South Africa.
Nigeria contributed her troops and funds to help bring peace to war-torn African countries such as the Congo, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote D’Ivoire and Sudan, thus becoming a partner with the African Union, United Nations and the sole superpower, the USA, in the maintenance of regional security and stability.
This is one of the reasons for which she has for long queued up for the prime spot for a permanent seat in the United Nations should the decision be made to grant Africa a slot.
Nigeria is looked upon as the leader of Black Africa; a role she has gallantly endeavoured to play. However, her many failings have always come in the way between her and Uhuru.
Wherever countries have managed to achieve unity in diversity, their greatness in the wider world arena is almost always assured. This is because every group within the nation submerges its individual interests to that of the nation and act as one people towards the realisation of grander national objectives.
Therein lays the power of diversity. And that is the ingredient that is boldly lacking in the Nigerian experiment, which accounts for the huge losses she has experienced since: (a) the country was amalgamated in 1914, and (b) Nigeria got her independence in 1960.
The British colonial adventurers sowed the seed of discord, not necessarily because they meant to ensure Nigeria did not work but more for their own self-interest of administering the vast colony at minimal cost and maximum gain.
Minimum cost and maximum gain
For decades after amalgamation, the Southern and Northern Protectorates were administered differently, with Indirect Rule in the North and Direct Rule in the South.
While the North was allowed to preserve its Islamic values with cautious adoption of Western education and values, the South embraced Western education and values on a massive scale, and became the front from which the drive towards independence was ignited.
The colonialists reacted to the slow pace of push for independence in the North with many geopolitical favours, while the Southern Regions (East and West) suffered many disadvantages, including census and electoral constituency configuration that ensured the North would always win elections.
It was with these serial clashes of values and perception of injustice vis-à-vis one another that the East, West and North went into unhealthy rivalries; each fighting to dominate the others while going into alliances with the sole purpose of undermining one another.
Besides, the Minorities embedded in each of these Regions also wanted self-determination and freedom from what some of them saw as “internal colonisation” by the Majorities. They commenced internecine struggles that often had them joining up with the rivals of their own local Majorities to undermine them for selfish gain.
This is the summary of the causative factors defining the apparently unending crises, wars and mini-wars and blood-letting, which have gripped Nigeria in the throat from independence in 1960 to date.
The rivalries started in the political parties and later spread to the ranks of the military class when the first coup took place in January 1966, which was read to be an “Igbo coup” due to certain trends it took.
Another coup came up in July the same year, which was equally dubbed a revenge “Northern coup”, thus setting the pace for the civil war and an attempt at secession by the breakaway Republic of Biafra.
Attempt at secession
When the war ended with the defeat of Biafra and the Igbos sidelined from the mainstream of power, the coalition that fought “to keep Nigeria One” went at each other’s throats for dominance. Some groups felt they led the war and must permanently call the shots of power.
Others felt they also had the right to vie since without their effort the secession would have succeeded. The Minorities of the North felt their role during the war entitled them to princely treatment and status like their Majority fellow Northerners. The upshot was a series of coups, counter-coups and failed coups that bedeviled the nation between 1970 and 1995.
However, a watershed was reached when Chief Moshood Abiola won a presidential election on June 12 1993 – the first time ever a southerner achieved that feat – in what was seen as the freest and fairest election in Nigeria.
The military, in the grip of the northern elite, annulled the election and toppled the Interim Government to bury Abiola’s mandate. It became the turn of the Yorubas to fight against injustice, which they did with every ounce of determination at their disposal through the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) between 1994 and 1998.
Power was ceded to the West, and General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was in jail for alleged complicity in a coup plot against the regime General Sani Abacha, was released and empowered to rule again, this time as an elected president.
The Minorities have also fought their own protest wars. The most poignant has been the uprising in the Niger Delta against the exploitation and despoliation of their environment by oil giants with an insensitive Nigerian state seen as co-culprits.
The uprising of the Ogoni ended in murders of a section of their elite, while the state arrested the factional leaders of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni people (MOSOP) led by Ken Saro-Wiwa and hanged them on November 10th 1995. A couple of years later the Ijaw youth gathered at Kaiama in Bayelsa State and issued a declaration for “self-determination” and thus started a militancy campaign which nearly brought the Nigerian economy to its knees.
However, following an amnesty deal offered by the government of the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua, peace returned to the Niger Delta; even though a high level of violent crimes are still going on in the Niger Delta and its immediate surrounding states.
Oil has brought Nigeria stupendous wealth valued at nearly $500 billion since 1958. But rather than become a catalyst for rapid development, it has unleashed a curse blamed for the civil war, runaway corruption, indolence of the elite and high poverty rate among the common people.
It has reduced Nigeria to a net importer of every need, including goods that used to be produced in Nigeria and exported.
Misrule and its resultant poverty are blamed for the rise of religious extremists in Northern Nigeria known as Boko Haram. Linked to international Islamic Jihadist group, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram has crippled the economy of the north and sent thousands of innocent Nigerians to their early graves through their orchestrated suicide bombings and gun attacks, even in places of worship.
But the Nigerian security forces have swooped on them and the signs are beginning to emerge that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Nigeria has gone through the blacksmith’s forge. Way back in 2009, predictions emerged from a report submitted to the US Congress committee on Foreign Affairs by diplomat and expert on African affairs, Mr. John Negroponte that Nigeria could disintegrate by 2015. Some say the activities of Boko Haram might bring this prediction to pass. Others are of the firm view that since Nigeria could not break up in 1966 – 1970 and after all that she has gone through the country has become unbreakable.
Perhaps, Nigerians themselves under-estimate the quiet, off-politics symbiotic relationships that have evolved over the past 98 years and beyond, which bespeak of the people’s preference to stay together under well-negotiated terms and conditions that will remove injustice, domination and corruption.
Nigeria has indeed changed a lot in the past 13years since the return of unbroken democracy – the longest unbroken run. For the first time in her history, two presidents have been elected from the South and one from the North.
The era of power belonging to one section is now over. With a Minority person elected president in 2011 in a mandate given by the electorate from across the board, hope is rekindled that Nigeria is outgrowing her post-colonial teething problems. The journey to Uhuru is still a long one, but many good things hitherto thought impossible are now happening.
If Nigeria is able to successfully create states in the ongoing constitution amendment, she would have crossed a major hurdle that will assure that anything else can be solved through constitutional means rather than violence, wars and threats of disintegration.
The economic front is also very promising. The national goal of making Nigeria one of the 20th largest economies by 2020 was based on prognosis of foreign-based economic rating agencies such as Goldman Sachs way back in 2004. It has now become the Nigerian vision, even though the drive towards achieving it has been rather inchoate.
But that Nigeria is once again an emerging economy is in no doubt. There are now talks of a BRINCS of the near future (Brazil, Russia, India, Nigeria, China and South Africa).
Perhaps, for the first time ever, a US President (Mr. Barack Obama) has taken public note of a rosy future unfolding before Nigeria on the economic front. Matters are helped by the fact that the economic team in the President Goodluck Jonathan cabinet is peopled by world renowned technocrats, such as Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Finance/Economy) Dr Akinwunmi Adesina (Agriculture), Dr Olusegun Aganga (Investments), and Mrs. Stella Oduah (Aviation) and till recently, Professor Barth Nnaji (Power).
There is hope that by the time Nigeria celebrates her Centenary in 2014, the security challenges of the nation, especially in the North, would have been largely overcome, and the “surprise” that President Jonathan promised recently would be there for all to see.
A lot of governors are working very hard to develop their states and the rot left behind by the military is gradually being addressed.
The Nigeria once dreamed of might bounce back from the stupor of hopelessness to a glittering reality. When that time comes the world will rush to Nigeria to pick nuggets. They are already coming.
But are Nigerians ready to play? Or will they wake up one day to find out that “foreign investors” have re-colonised their economy and thus resort to another struggle against “foreign domination”? Time will tell.
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