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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Columnist: Uche Okoronkwo Uche

61 years of nationhood: Which way Nigeria?

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

Nigeria and its citizens have indeed come a long way, from the days of British colonisation to the first years of indigenous rule, through military takeovers, onto the democratic rule. Yes, Nigerians have survived many high and low moments with hopes of a better tomorrow.

Different leaderships have come and gone; all with promises of a brighter future but that future has remained elusive. Such broken promises have always been rekindled at the turn of each of the nation’s landmark events.

In this season of another “celebration”, the question on the minds of many is, “Which way Nigeria?” The common ground maintained is that governance reform has not witnessed the anticipated momentum since Independence especially under civilian rule.

While we still grapple with the raging COVID-19 pandemic, our health sector is threatened with avoidable collapse due to incessant strikes by health workers, practitioners and professionals. Health care reforms and implementation are either still in the pipeline or slow to manifest. This is worsened by the government’s failure to reach a truce with the striking resident doctors. Also, there are concerns about dissuading our doctors from emigrating.

There are numerous other issues for which we have continued to progressively perform abysmally. Check out education, security, economy, youth engagement and empowerment; the gains are very few and far between. One of the things retarding the country’s growth is her increasing debt burden. According to records, public debt stock has risen continuously from N8.3tn in September 2013 to N37tn in September 2021.

Despite securing debt relief, successive governments have continued on a borrowing spree such that the Federal Government’s component of the public debt rose to N26.9tn in the last 21 years.

Often, when government embarks on each borrowing venture, the justification put forward for Nigerians is the completion of critical infrastructure. Although economists and financial experts posit that borrowings are tools for development if properly utilised, citizens are perpetually worried that most such ‘critical infrastructure’ remain work in progress or campaign issues for election.

In a nutshell, the absence of a hands-on approach to governance defined by sound democratic practices seems to sum up the woes of the citizens. They are denied the basics of security, general wellbeing and happiness for which the government exists.

At 61, security, peaceful existence and happiness which form the bedrock of any sovereignty continue to elude a greater percentage of Nigerians except the political elite who remain very few.

One major way to measure a people’s level of participation and corresponding state of happiness in democratic governance is not only in the quantity of physical infrastructure. It is much more, measured by the level of liberty the citizens exercise in freely choosing their leaders via a credible cum transparent electoral process, as well as exercise the freedom to criticise government programmes and policies particularly where their rights or liberties are endangered. Since Independence, it is no exaggeration to say that my beloved country is still grappling with elementary issues in the electoral process.

For a nation acclaimed to be among the most prosperous, Nigeria’s position by every global development index has remained at a permanent backbencher. We are ranked globally as one of the poorest nations with over 40% or about 80 million of our people living below the poverty line. In fact, a report by the World Poverty Clock presented Nigeria as a country with the most extreme poor people in the world, overtaking India which has a population seven times larger than ours.

The PMS, a product of crude oil which Nigeria has in abundance, sells above the official price of N165 in many parts of the country causing continuous price increase of other items. Where then lies our gain?

With vast agricultural and mineral resources, we cannot feed ourselves. This is an indictment on successive governments that have squandered our vast oil riches through bad leadership and brazen corruption; each administration bequeaths an economy that is lacking in progressive performance. And so, Nigerians are asking our leadership, “where is our greatness”?

At a lengthy age of existence, and in a world greatly aided by technology, we have yet and have continually demonstrated government after government, that we on our own are incapable of organising our electoral processes.

Except in the negatives, Nigeria has not recorded any heyday in her electoral process since 1960. It has been one form of disorder or the other before, during and after elections. Census wise, we still could not transparently say how many we are. Sad!

However, our journey into the second half of our diamond anniversary can and should be better. That is the hope. The responsibility is for us, Nigerians, to roll up our sleeves, demonstrate unbroken practical patriotism in every noble vocation or assignment, whether given or taken towards making Nigeria truly great.

Unless and until our political class and more especially, those in the legislative branch realise and resolve to play the game with the spirit of service to the people as footballers play for the fans’ pleasure, our nation and political birthdays even in future, will remain everything but mere ceremonies of counting numbers.