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Nigeria and the illusion of independence

By Douglas Anele
TOMI Akinyeye,  in a very readable paper entitled “Nigeria Since Independence”, wondered why the Nigerian star has refused to shine in the galaxy of nations despite her impressive human and natural resources.

I, like most thinking Nigerians, am intrigued by that dilemma as well. Four days ago, Nigeria celebrated her 49th independence anniversary. Compared to countries such as England and the United States, Nigeria is relatively young.

Yet, there is a general feeling that the country ought to have achieved meaningful development beyond its present unenviable status given her huge human and natural resource base.

An individual who is 49 years old is expected to have gone beyond certain stages in the formative years of development. For example, typically a man at that age is expected to have been married with children. He should have a job or business, and be capable of providing the basic needs of his family.

To put the matter differently a 49 year old male human being, all things being equal, ought to have grown completely from a mere boy to a fully grown man.

Making allowances for differences between men and women as a result of variable biological and socio-cultural factors, the same thing applies to a 49 years old woman.

Now, although the analogy between the growth trajectory or pattern of a human being and a country can be taken too far if care is not taken, it is legitimate to expect that at 49, a country should have sorted out certain fundamentals of nation-building in its evolutionary development.

But this has not been the case with Nigeria. Therefore, we shall discuss some of the reasons why the country has failed to live up to the expectations of its founding fathers (and mothers) and of Nigerians in general. We shall suggest ways by which Nigeria can make meaningful progress in the foreseeable future.

The occasion of Nigeria’s  independence, like the birth of a baby with no apparent birth defect, was greeted with enthusiastic jubilation and high expectations. By then, Nigeria still had the highest population in Africa – the situation has remained the same ever since.

The country has vast agricultural or arable land mass with different climatic zones which could support the cultivation of a variety of both food and cash crops. Some of the cash crops include palm oil, cocoa, rubber, groundnuts and cotton, which were in high demand overseas at that time.

Severe unemployment problem which we have now did not exist as at the time the British administrators left, because Nigeria was yet to be saturated with highly skilled indigenous manpower.

Furthermore, although crude oil in commercial quantities was discovered in Oloibiri in 1956, the export of cash crops, coal and tin created some degree of economic boom in the 1960s. The military coups of 1966 further exacerbated ethnic cleavages in Nigeria.

The biggest question mark on the country’s existence was when South-Eastern Nigeria, under Odumegwu Ojukwu seceded from the rest of Nigeria in 1967.

This led to a very bloody civil war that devastated Igbo land and her neighbours. Since the end of the Biafran war, Nigerian leaders have failed to transcend primordial egoistic and ethnic interests to forge a truly united country.

Since October 1, 1960, the ruling elite has always marked Nigeria’s independence anniversary, most with pomp and pageantry. However, a dispassionate analysis of our current situation vis-à-vis what genuine independence truly means would reveal that Nigeria is far from the ideal.

In other words, after 49 years of “flag independence”, the country is yet to resolve some fundamental issues of national existence which can guarantee its sure-footed evolution to authentic self–reliant and vibrant egalitarian nation.

Wherever one looks at, the reality of our illusion of independence leaps out in bold relief. On the political plane, Nigeria inherited the parliamentary system of government from Britain, her former colonial master.

The practice of this system was truncated by the two coup d’etats of the 1960s and the Biafran war.

The 1979 constitution jettisoned the parliamentary system and opted for the presidential system practiced in the United States.

Majority of those who took part in formulating that very constitution are usually described by the media as “eminent”, “respectable”, “illustrious” etc.

Yet, I am not sure that the decision to abandon the parliamentary system in favour of the presidential model without seriously considering how to adapt the former to suit our socio-political, cultural and economic situation was a wise decision.

Prince Tony Momoh, a fellow columnist in Sunday Vanguard, has been arguing thoughtfully for sometime now that the presidential system is unsuitable for the country.

I agree with Momoh on this point. Apart from concentrating too much power on the executive arm of government, his major complaint about the way the presidential model is operated here is that it is too expensive to manage, thereby leaving very little for growing the economy.
To be continued.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.