By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

Nigeria is 62. 

At 20, in 1980, it had working refineries, a vibrant airline, a respectable currency and a new democracy. The Ghanaians and Indians were flocking in, and the diaspora looked homewards lustfully. The Federal Government of Shagari, drab as it was, went into an alliance with the NPP to enhance inclusiveness and clout. And later, for opportunistic political reasons that served national unity, Ojukwu received an amnesty. But the politicians had no vision, and they lost their way. The politicians went profligate and lawless, violence marred the 1983 elections, and the military returned.

Nigeria indeed looks like a chaotic but stagnant project. After living in the political wilderness of rapacious military regimes, democracy returned in 1999. But democracy, which promised much in the first and second republics and delivered little, is at it again. It hasn’t done more than become a conveyor belt recycling charlatans and clowns masquerading as leaders. This group of leaders, however, is different from the cohort of internal neocolonial masters China Achebe described in 1965. This group is remarkably shallow, hollow and often uncultured. 

In the last few years, petty politics has retarded the country. Political pyromaniacs prancing around as activists and freedom fighters have sowed confusion while patriots promoted nepotism. In many states, clowns in colourful costumes have occupied the corridors of power, lived out their gangsta egos and sometimes provided diabolical humour to the benighted. 

Maitasene had seemed so strange in the 80s. A pricked country rose and expunged the menace. Now, Bandits and insurgents hold press conferences and dine with the powerful. They have become part of the social milieu, dislocating millions, slaughtering security agents, breaking prisons, shutting down schools and abducting school children at will while receiving ransoms and encouragement from elder statesmen. 

Nigeria was once inviting. But Nigerians now flock to brokeass Ghana to work, even as bus conductors or otherwise, to do yahoo yahoo. Only the most rugged of Indians and Chinese have remained. And the diaspora feels blessed as more Nigerians seek to escape the country and its hopelessness and misery. Patriotic parents now casually send their children to roadside Ghanaian universities where lecturers never go on strike. 

But Nigeria hasn’t been all that stagnant. Though our GDP per capita in 1981 and 2021 are about equal, our population has tripled since 1979. But our revenue streams have remained few and weak. Rampant insecurity has made sure that we spend the money meant for health and education to acquire weapons of war and feed the greed of tapeworms burrowed in the intestines of our defence endeavour. Tormented by demonic wasps and ravished by gluttons, we depend on China and its loans to build roads and bridges. All we earn from oil isn’t enough to pay salaries and interests on existing loans. If only we could stop oil theft. But we can’t. The state lacks spine, teeth and spirit. It is so weak and timid that it must negotiate with every dog that barks for two days. So we must let them steal some of the oil, pretend ignorance and moan about it later when the atrocious figures are published. 

Our politicians used to holiday and shop with their wives and children in London. And we lamented. Now, they frequent Europe with girlfriends and banter mates to hold routine political meetings and gossip. So some things have changed a little, and some others haven’t. The sybaritic politicians still belch and fart into the faces of the poor who have carried their religiousness too far. The same loud and hollow religiousness that makes them so materialistic and mundane that they accept themselves as dutiful serfs, committed navel-gazing subjects to their potbellied deities. The very religiousness that inhibits people who ought to be hungry watchdogs from looking out for their children, neighbours and country. In the 80s and even before then, we used trains: Lagos to Kano, Jos to Port Harcout. They ran daily. We didn’t borrow to build them. Now, we borrow to build rails, and bandits won’t let us use the trains. That’s Nigeria in 2022. Dark clouds. 

Our electricity system collapses every week, and supply has remained agonizingly epileptic ten years after power was privatized. Hopefully, Buhari and Siemens will cut that endless story short. Those who privatized the bedrock of our economic development by selling cheaply to wolfish cronies and their scavenging briefcase companies are everywhere preaching peace and unity and receiving accolades for humility and heroism. We are sentimental folks, incurable worshippers of mediocrity. 

It’s not blanket doom. Politicians used to stuff ballot boxes. Those Fedeco and, later, the Iwu days. Now, politicians and their goons buy votes and alter result sheets. And then bribe judges. We will see what they will do with BVAS. The basic political culture hasn’t improved. Crass opportunism still dominates, and patriotism manifests mainly in slogans. A certain precariousness underlines individual and national existence and makes avarice justifiable as a precautionary self and group preservating habit. Without taboos, which have succumbed to the reign of money and might, and godliness, which has been eroded by egotism and showy religiosity, society has become unmoored. Rational Nigerians no longer see hope in the future except through the eyes of faith. But we must persevere in faith. Because At 62, Nigerians cannot self-indulge in wistfulness. We must overlook the odds and continue to dream. We must stubbornly chart a course for the new government, hoping that God will touch the hearts of our leaders and make our enemies relent.

ELECTIONS

To have a chance at rebirth, the 2023 elections must be objectively free and fair. The processes must be transparent and underpinned by rules and moral principles. The result must reflect the wishes of the electorate. Fortunately, introducing the BVAS and electronic transfer of results offers fresh hope. If the youths troop out en masse to campaign, vote and monitor the proceedings keenly, evildoers will develop cold feet. The bane of the process has always been apathy and a certain sense of lack of ownership which emboldens electoral fraudsters. 

There is a ray of hope on the horizon. Social media plays a greater role in youth mobilisation. Youths must understand their enormous numbers and powers. They have the ability to insist on freedom and fairness, from the campaigns to the announcement of results. Free and fair 2023 elections will be the essential minimum for peace and progress in 2023.

NATIONAL UNITY AND POLITICS

Hopefully, our politicians will realize that adversarial winner-takes-all politics is good, but winners who accommodate losers and their supporters often lessen their burden of governance. National unity must be the priority of the new government. It must pursue thoroughgoing, social justice, equity and inclusiveness to help douse political tensions and democratize a sense of belonging and opportunities. The new government must set clear targets for national unity. It must define a road-map to deliberately enhance national integration and cohesion. 

Besides making room for our political, ethnic and religious diversity, it must think about power devolution. Decentralization of power will reduce the scramble for the center and diffuse a sense of belonging. There is a chance that devolution of powers and resource control will birth competitiveness and a healthy rivalry among the regions.

ECONOMY  

The new president has his job cut out. Our earnings are weak. Our population is oversized. Our debt burden is currently inhibitive. The new government must find the guts and guile to remove fuel subsidies. But to achieve this tricky imperative, it must instill hope in the citizenry and earn public confidence. Massive early cost-cutting measures and demonstrable frugality will help persuade the suffering people to stomach the immediate pains of fuel subsidy removal. 

China has zipped her purse. To boost revenues and pursue critical infrastructural development like the Lagos – Calabar rail, the new government must widen the tax net. Getting more people into the tax net won’t be easy without the government offering visible moral justifications. To buoy up our sinking economy, we must widen the net from 6% to 20% quickly. But to reach this target, the new government must come to that equity with immaculate hands. If politicians continue with the habit of junketing to London to treat sore throats and gossip, then the citizenry will probably be disinclined to pay taxes, and the government will lack moral legitimacy to make tax arguments. 

Prune the government, cut wastes, plug leakages, remove fuel subsidies, widen the tax net, think of jobs and more jobs, instill law and order and make crimes expensive.

EDUCATION 

The new government must incentivise private enterprise and deregulate federal universities to charge fees to render quality teaching and research. Then it must stimulate banks to grant educational loans to the poor to equalize opportunities. It’s no use dishing out cheap education that leaves the students ignorant and the teachers starving, and the nation backwards and stagnant, staggering from one schools’ closure to another, making Ghana look like a first world. 

Identify economic advantages. Build more medical and nursing schools. The global demand for health professionals is high. Meet the domestic and world demand with a high population of intelligent youth and reap the rewards of an enlightened citizenry and foreign remittances. Build techaprks. The youths are motivated and raring to go.

Build artisan schools. Ghanaians and Togolese are dominating us in our backyards. 

SECURITY

 The new government must prioritize political solutions to peaceful and violent agitations. The country needs to be restructured so that regional leaders can own the responsibility of finding harmony in their domains. The security strategy of the new government must emphasise politics and, after that, technology: data gathering, telecoms, intelligence and drones. 

A shared sense of belonging, devolution of powers and restructuring, community policing, judicial reforms, jobs, and national unity.   

HOPE

The new government must revive hope. The easiest way to start is to disavow ostentation and profligacy and to embrace frugality, humility and Nigerian nationalism. An honest identification with the plight of the poor. 

The Buhari government didn’t permit the full manifestation of the spirit of change that brought the government to power. That Spirit, left stranded, tried to re-emerge through the EndSars movement. But the movement soon became bastardized by ambition and politics and made itself vulnerable. So it was trampled. The spirit is making another attempt through the Obidiency train. It is determined to reform and redeem the country. If it fails to manifest in 2023, it won’t lie low. It will find another vehicle. Post Buhari , the self restrained north will be volatile. We must pray that whoever wins the 2023 presidential elections imbibes that restless spirit of Change and allows it the freedom to reform and redeem the country. Otherwise, that the spirit could be forced to embrace radical options. Nigeria looks like a giant bumbling to paradise.

Nigeria, I hail thee. 

Disclaimer

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