At 57, Nigeria is not near greatness

Last Sunday, October 1, Nigerians marked the 57th anniversary of the country’s independence from Great Britain. It was all pomp and ceremony. Being a Sunday, the Christian community weighed in forcefully. Many churches became de facto cultural centres. Congregants were asked to dress in national attires to showcase the country’s rich cultural heritages.

The Federal Government, as it is wont to do, declared Monday, October 2, public holiday. For a country in recession where the economic indices continue to look south, that was one more day sacrificed on our national alter of mendacity. “Leaders” sent out beautifully crafted congratulatory messages, telling us how much they love Nigeria and how prepared they are, if need be, to make the ultimate sacrifice in defence of her territorial integrity.

Any visitor to Nigeria on October 1, would wish he was a Nigerian, a country so much loved by its citizens. Yet, here is a country that is unconscionably raped, literally, by the same people who profess their undying love for her. Some Nigerians, particularly those in government, insist that the day was worth celebrating, if for nothing else, the fact that the country remains united. But how united is the country?

If age were to be the only yardstick for measuring success, at 57, Nigeria has, no doubt, come of age. But what has the country achieved in its nearly six decades of existence as an independent country? Rather than the peace of the graveyard, which our mischievous leaders flaunt as proof of unity, the Human Development Index (HDI) – life expectancy, education (adult literacy and combined secondary and tertiary school enrollment) and real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, which is the authentic tool deployed in measuring the level of growth and development, shows that at 57 the country is stagnating.

A country scores higher HDI, which was developed by Indian economist Amartya Sen and his Pakistani counterpart, Mahbub ul Haq, when the lifespan of the citizenry, education level, and the GDP per capita), which are often framed in terms of whether people are able to “be” and “do” desirable things in their life are high.

At 57, are Nigerians able to be and do desirable things? What is the life expectancy? What is the state of the country’s education sector? What is the country’s GDP per capital? On which of these three indicators can we sincerely say we have scored three in a maximum score of 10?

To claim that we have made progress is to live a lie. And nothing is worse than lying to oneself. Rather than our leaders reveling in self-adulation, the occasion of the country’s independence anniversary should provide us with the opportunity to introspect. It should be a day of sober reflection for the leadership and the followers, a day we should sit back and take stock of how far we have gone on the journey of development and nationhood.

Nigerian leaders always begin their speeches with the phrase ‘this great country of ours’ as was evident on October 1. But do they fully understand what it means or takes for a country to be great? A country does not become great merely because its leaders claim so. The legendary Nigerian patriot, late Chinua Achebe, observed in his book, “The trouble with Nigeria,” written in 1983, that our leaders delude themselves that Nigeria is a great country.

Though his position that “Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is one of the most expensive countries and one of those that gives least value for money. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short it is one of the most unpleasant places on earth,” may be considered harsh, truth be told, 34 years after, his verdict can hardly be faulted particularly now.

And there is no effort to reverse this ugly trajectory. This is made worse by absolute lack of leadership. I have heard some people who, in their attempt to make excuses for the very poor quality of leaders we have had and still have, also blame the led for the mess the country is in. I will only agree to the extent that we have a very docile citizenry that have refused to hold the feet of the leaders to the fire.

But that said, no nation develops faster than its leadership drives it. We are faced with a ruling political elite that has set a very low bar about what leadership entails.

Here again, the immortal words of Achebe bears testimony to this malaise. “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

As our past leaders amply demonstrated, the challenge of corruption, purposelessness, poverty is squarely the challenge of lack of visionary leadership. And as President Muhammadu Buhari is proving most profoundly now, the challenge of bigotry, prejudice, narrow-mindedness and political crisis is the challenge of inane leadership. That is why I shudder each time we effusively praise our past leaders for their selflessness and altruism. If we have ever had such great leaders, why is the country still plumbing the depths of misery and desolation?

Nigeria is where it is today because there is no shared vision of development. There is no ennobling dream that everyone is enjoined to key into for national regeneration. There must be a national consensus on what we want Nigeria to be.

Such visions existed at independence. Unfortunately, rather than one national vision, we had three separate visions championed by the leaders of the then regions. There was dream for Western Nigeria driving by the late Obafemi Awolowo. The Northern region vision was alive and well under Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, while Dr Michael Okpara held sway at the Eastern Nigeria flank. Little wonder there were rapid developments at the regional level while development at the national level was stunted. Then came the years of the locusts and everything went to the dogs.

It is not for nothing that Americans talk about the “American Dream.” Coined by American historian and writer, James Truslow Adams, in his book “The Epic of America” published in 1931 at the period of the Great Depression, the term was used to describe the complex beliefs, religious promises and political and social expectations of the country.

It was a vision, a dream. The “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.” The American Dream is defined by the Wikipedia as a national ethos of the U.S., the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work.

What is the Nigerian dream? Is it the amplification of nepotism, the putting of square pegs in round holes without any thought for merit? Is the Nigerian dream the building of strategic national infrastructure in places where they are not useful if only to assuage the whims and caprices of our capricious leader or to spite some sections of the country? Is our national dream the construction of roads that lead to nowhere instead of linking towns and villages to galvanize development? Is our national dream the denial of opportunities to Nigerians based on religion and ethnicity? At 57, Nigeria is neither great nor on the path to greatness. We cannot be great unless there is an overarching national vision. Right now, there is no vision and there are no dreamers. Tragically, the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has made a bad situation even worse through his vindictiveness and absolute lack of statesmanship.

That is the story of Nigeria, my country, your country, at 57.

Ikechukwu Amaechi is the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief,  TheNiche on Sunday newspaper