By Olu Fasan
WHEN I started this column in November 2018, the debut article was titled “Nigeria is stuck on a treadmill – going nowhere fast!” (Vanguard, November 15, 2018). One year later, Nigeria, regrettably, is still stuck in the rot. Several decades ago, the distinguished publisher of this newspaper, Sam Amuka-Pemu, a titan of journalism and one of Nigeria’s finest columnists of any generation, ran a famous column called Sad Sam. But today, columnists are sadder, more despondent, because of the country’s deepening decay, and as we see Nigeria’s leaders doing everything in their power to run the country aground.
Truth is, Nigeria is a laughingstock worldwide. Whenever the country is discussed in any international forum, the air of melancholy is always so thick you could cut it with a knife. The question everyone asks is why Nigeria is so badly governed that it can’t fulfil its great potential. And, indeed, the country is punching well below its weight. Each time the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – meet and they are referred to as the “five major emerging national economies”, I ask, why is Nigeria not among them; why South Africa, and not Nigeria? But the reality is that these are industrialising economies. And as Nigeria is only a crude-oil producer, it’s not deemed eligible to join the elite BRICS group!
Yet, Nigeria always has an aspiration to be a great nation. But it’s just that: an aspiration. It has utterly failed to turn intentions into actions, let alone into results. For instance, Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020 set out the ambitions to be among top 20 economies by 2020, have GDP value of $900 billion and a GDP per capita of $4,000. We are now in 2020, but according to the IMF, Nigeria is currently 29th top economy in the world, with a GDP value of $446.54bn and GDP per capita of $2,222. Even its 29th position is not due to its industrial prowess or trading capacity as an exporter of manufactures. It’s based predominantly on crude oil!
But why is Nigeria failing to fulfil its potential? Well, let’s face it, it’s because, thanks to poor leadership, this country is still grappling with rudimentary problems that no serious country, or one that aspires to be great, should be facing. For instance, nearly 60 years after independence, and twenty years of uninterrupted civil rule, Nigeria shouldn’t be struggling with basic issues like conducting smooth elections, pursuing sound economic policies, respecting the rule of law and resolving internal conflicts. Yet, last year, this country plumbed the depths of maladministration. Nigeria suffered retrogression in 2019!
Take the general election. Who would have thought that a civilian president could remove the Chief Justice of the country in the middle of a presidential election campaign in which he was seeking re-election? But that was exactly what President Muhammadu Buhari did. Regardless of the merits of the suspension, doing it during a presidential election sent a negative signal of abuse of incumbency. The election itself was tarnished by militarisation, violence, voter-intimidation and massive vote-buying. As the European Union Election Observer Mission, EOM, said in its final report, “Instances of the misuse of state resources and vote-buying were evident.” The ability to conduct free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections is a basic indication that a country has come of age or destined for greatness. Nigeria failed that test!
Last year, Nigeria also plumbed the depths on economic management. It is difficult to imagine that, in the 21st century, a country could ban all food imports. But Nigeria did. Yet, it is the “poverty capital of the world”, with half of its population living in extreme poverty; it is also one of the six countries where most of the world’s hungriest people live, according to a UN report. In October, Nigeria closed its land borders, with an announcement by the comptroller-general of customs that “All goods, for now, are banned from being exported or imported through our land borders”. Really, banning your own exports? A country that wants to be great wouldn’t commit such an act of economic and social self-harm.
In 2019, insecurity and its poor handling by the government tested the fragile unity of this country. The rampant killings by herdsmen, which resulted in the murder of Olufunke Olakunrin, the daughter of Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the leader of Pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, could easily have triggered inter-ethnic conflicts. The insensitive plan by the Buhari administration to appease the killer-herdsmen by establishing cattle colonies, or so-called rural grazing areas, RUGA, in the same Southern and Middle-Belt states which they were terrorising shows the inability of Nigeria, or its leaders, to resolve internal conflicts justly. Although President Buhari later suspended the RUGA plan after widespread outcries, no leader of a serious country would have floated such a fiendish idea in the first place.
Of course, 2019 was also a year of human rights abuses, disregard for the rule of law, disobedience of court orders, suppression of free speech and erosion of media freedom. It’s hard to believe that, in today’s world, someone could be arrested and charged with treason simply for shouting “Revolution Now”, or that security operatives could invade a court to forcibly re-arrest someone that had been granted a bail by the court. But both happened in Nigeria in 2019! It took intense local agitation and particularly American super-power pressure to force President Buhari to release Omoyele Sowore and Sambo Dasuki in December. That’s not how leaders of country that wants to be great behave.
In 2019, Nigeria reached the nadir of misrule. As the country starts not just a new year, but a new decade, one hopes, and prays, it doesn’t experience such low points again!
Happy New Year everyone!