Nigeria’s centenary: To make parts truly whole (2)

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This is the concluding part of this piece which was first published last Friday

By Louis Odion

DESPITE relatively high oil receipts in the past decades, for instance, Nigeria’s human development index has shown only a negligible drop in its poverty index. Official figures reveal that those living on less than $1.25 daily moved only marginally from 64.6 percent in 2004 to 62.6 percent in 2010. Taken together, what then confronts us is a big puzzle indeed. Apart from the white-collar audience at the IOD, the Edo Governor also engaged in informal chats with members of Nigerians in Diaspora, preaching national unity. As always, he never tires to liken the Nigerian union to a Catholic wedding where divorce is not an option.

Hear him: “When pessimists talk in a manner that suggests we never had a nation, people like us truly feel offended indeed. I was born in a small village in Edo State, but spent my teenage years in Yoruba land and later in the North. I became leader of the textile workers union in Kaduna by the votes of northerners.

Centenary-leaders

“Thereafter, I became the secretary general of the national textile workers union not on account of where I was born, but by the shared value of the workers. I later had the privilege of being a two-term president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, not on the basis of Edo votes, but again by the value Nigerian workers shared and I believe still share. So, I won’t accept any suggestion today that Nigeria does not exist.

“At best, I believe the boogie of tribalism and ethnicity is only a creation of the elite of the political and economic species to divide and rule our country. My experience in the labour movement has taught me  that Nigerians, irrespective of tribe or religion, are united by poverty. What I think we have lacked as a nation is visionary leadership to make poverty history by turning our potentials to actualities.

“While it is true that the architecture we inherited from the colonialists was not designed to create prosperity, power and equality for us as a people, It is my humble view that with a new focus and commitment, we can change the story from deficit to surplus.  So, If we desire to make a difference in the next century, I believe the first step is to move away from the culture of lamentation and self-pity to action.”

Let us hope Oshiomhole’s sentiment is shared by many more leaders. Indeed, how quickly Nigeria transits from a potential to a truly great nation will be determined by two mutually inclusive variables: democracy and accountability. While democracy offers a durable vehicle, accountability ensures high integrity.

Sanctity of the ballot

Democracy means the sanctity of the ballot. An elected leader will be accountable to the people. An elected leader will find the political courage to take tough decisions needed to advance national interest. Riggers won’t care.

In the decades ahead, the challenge before the nation is leveraging on our demographics. According to the United Nations Population Division, whereas most rich countries will shrink and age, poorer countries on continents like Africa will witness a population explosion nearly unprecedented in human history. With its present 170 million size, it is projected that by 2100, Nigeria would have almost a billion people.

That prospect imposes huge responsibility on the present national leadership to be more proactive. To an extent, big population is a blessing, just as it could mean a curse. Big population would be an asset only if it consists of educated or skilled manpower. Which is why a wise nation not only aspires to build durable social infrastructures, but strives even harder to develop its human capital.

Today, Oshiomhole’s Edo is already leading the way. There, huge resources are not only devoted to rebuilding public schools, there is also a stubborn insistence that only competent teachers are allowed in the classrooms to tutor our children. That is arguably the shortest cut to making the next hundred years truly become Nigeria’s own century.

Odion is the Edo State information commissioner

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