Nigeria is 54 and yes it is a huge milestone indeed, therefore let’s roll out the drums and celebrate because we have added another year as a republic. But before we sing, dance and make merry, I would love for us to pause and reflect in sincerity; is this really the best we can be at 54?

Child plays inside an oil drum at the waterfront in LagosChild plays inside an oil drum at the waterfront in Lagos

While arguments can be made for or against, I believe sincere observers will agree that we could have done better. Compared to other African nations with whom we gained independence at about the same time, we were lucky to have the population or human resources to rival the best, therefore even the West was afraid of what we could become after they left us to our own devices.

We also have the most sought after natural resource: oil!

And with that we were set to become the biggest and the best African country. We were set to become the leader of the black nation. But, 54 years later, have we truly fulfilled our potentials?

Years of mismanagement and frivolous leadership, wastage of our common patrimony and failure to plan for the future have now come back to haunt us and yes, we are paying the price big time.

When the British left our shores, we were saddled with the responsibility of educating ourselves. At least education was supposed to be the bedrock of human development. Sadly, we haven’t done a good job of that, have we? While the original aim of the first British settlers was to educate “savages” on the basics, i.e. how to read and write especially in English, the latter thrust of education in Nigeria by the British towards the end of their period of colonization was to prepare mid level workers who could work in government offices and function appropriately as second class citizens, teachers, policemen, etc.

But since the British left, we have not done better in the area of education. You can’t point at a concise policy on education to herald an industrial revolution. In fact we have regressed to the point where Nigerians now have to travel to various countries in search of quality education that is fast becoming a mirage back home.

You will be shocked at the number of Nigerians in backwater countries like Malta, Cyprus, Benin Republic, Ghana, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, etc. with the attendant ill treatment and at times unexplained but violent death of so many Nigerian students whose only sin was going to study abroad; with their parents now left alone to mourn their losses.

All these happened and is still happening because the government at home has effectively ensured that education is killed and if possible, totally destroyed, after all an uneducated people are easy to deceive and manipulate; just throw in some ethnicity and a little dose of religion, then sit back and watch them fight over trivialities like dogs fight over bones. Little wonder that we have the highest number of out of school children in the world. Currently, Nigeria has over 11 million children of primary school age out of school. Indeed our future is “bright”.

In the area of health, one can only weep. Some military adventurist years back, in a coup broadcast, referred to our hospitals as mere consulting centers. I guess we have improved on that as the hospitals have now become more of a mortuary for the poor citizens of Nigeria while the “big men” can go to the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia or even India for treatment, leaving the rest of us to either die in hospitals that are ill equipped, poorly staffed and loaded with ill motivated personnel; or better still, we take our destinies into our own hands by flocking to men and women of various religious persuasions who gleefully promise to heal us of all sicknesses. Indeed ours is a theater of the absurd.

In the area of agriculture, we have been told recently that the government is working hard to ensure food security. But one wonders if food security means constant increase in prices of basic food items in the markets. While propaganda may serve you for a time, the reality is that propaganda and television adverts don’t feed the people. No wonder the ones who said they have made giant leaps in agriculture still campaign by giving the people bags of rice. Indeed we are a people quick to stand logic on its head and thanks to the poorly educated and semi-literate young goons all over town, these wicked rulers are never in short supply of young men and women who will usually rise to their defense even when reality stares them in the face. But as Nigerians, we keep living in an Illusion. Little wonder that 54 years after independence, politicians still share rice, noodles and other nonsense as “stomach infrastructure” and the people hail them as messiahs.

After 54 years of independence, Nigeria as a country cannot boast of 5,000 megawatts of electricity. In fact in a recent publication, a government official asked us to give the present government kudos for increasing electricity generation to 5,000 MW in a country of about 170million people, after the same political party in power has spent more than $22 billion dollars on fixing electricity in less than 15 years on the saddle of governance. Meanwhile, the Three Gorges dam in China has the capacity to generate 22,500 MW of electricity and was constructed at the cost of $26billion.

Norway today has an official population estimate of 5,096,300. But interestingly, the country has a sovereign wealth fund of $828.66 billion), fractionally more than a million times Norway’s population, theoretically making every citizen a millionaire. How did they achieve this? They planned ahead. The country also discovered oil in the '60s, but unlike Nigeria, the leaders (not rulers) didn’t devise a sharing formula on how to “chop I chop” like ours did and are still doing, rather they envisioned a bright future for their children and unborn generation. Today, the quality of life of a Norwegian is what an ordinary Nigerian will not dare to dream of neither imagine because it is clearly unattainable given our present circumstances.

What we have and have always had, have been gangs of philanderers, intent on stealing as much as they can from the public purse, irrespective of the impact of their actions on the majority of the people they purport to lead.

Today we have what we call the “looted Abacha funds” the world over. But I ask, was it only Abacha who stole or is it because he was unfortunate to have died in office, unprepared? Taking into cognizance salary and total earnings, can Ibrahim Babangida, also a former despotic military adeventurist in politics, ordinarily afford the exotic hill top mansion he owns based on his military salary and other perks? Abdulsalami Abubakar is so wealthy, he even bought one of the electricity generation companies recently sold.

You may wish to ask the white bearded general if his salary was so fat as a soldier. Let me not even start with the coterie of ex governors, ministers and other lucky gangsters who have held political offices in the past. Rather than plan for the future, these people steal as much as they can get away with, build mansions and huge walls to hide themselves away from the ordinary citizens; while siphoning the rest abroad in the hope that they and their children can live on same whenever and if ever they manage to escape from the Armageddon they are intent on creating back home.

At 54, ours is a country where you can get away with anything and I repeat: anything! Recently in the USA, there have been a few reported breaches of security at the White House and we all know that Julia Pierson, the director of the U.S. Secret Service, has resigned and taken responsibility for the lapses. Well, that wouldn’t have happened in Nigeria. In fact, if anyone dared to call on her to resign, like Stella Oduah, such a person will have to contend with the usual “rent a crowd” people with placard asking that their daughter be left alone.

Such a person who dared to ask her to resign will be accused of fighting against the ethnic group of that official and if after several months of defiantly remaining in office, against better judgment, she voluntarily decides to seek greener pastures, she will be awarded the highest chieftaincy title available by her community and some overnight women groups will also surface asking her to contest for the senate. Such is the appalling level we operate at as a people.

Julia Pierson, the embattled director of the U.S. Secret Service, resigned her position because security was breached under her watch. She didn’t send any loquacious and foul mouthed spokeswoman to blame an opposition party, neither did the president complain and wail to the press about how such a breach was a ploy by some unnamed people to destabilize his government and embarrass him. That is the level of decency and responsibility expected of public officials in a country that holds her citizens in high esteem.

Asking officials to take responsibility for their actions (or in-actions) in Nigeria is akin to declaring an ethnic war on that official. While Julia Pearson took responsibility even though no lives were lost, she recognized her failure. Not in Nigeria, where a minister who superintended over the gruesome murder of about 20 unemployed youths due to his naked greed and negligence, remains in office unperturbed.

Abba Moro, the interior minister of Nigeria did not only supervise the death of young job seekers, he enjoyed so much immunity to the point where he has recently blessed the same Nigerians by asking citizens to pay much higher fees to get new or renewed international passports.

Such is the level of governance and leadership in Nigeria and one need not wonder why at 54, the president of the country delivered a customary anniversary broadcast but over half of the people couldn’t watch him speak live because there was no electricity to power their televisions and watch their “ruler” address his “subjects”. The president also praised himself for the privatization of the electricity sector, but what most Nigerians can see today are higher electricity bills for more darkness.

At 54, a nation that cannot educate her citizens at home and treat both the poor and rich in local hospitals successfully, is not a nation to be taken seriously by more serious nations. As big as Nelson Mandela was in stature, while he was alive, he received his medical treatments locally.

The northern part of Nigeria had in the past, had leaders who never took education seriously. Today, insurgents find willing hands in the poorly educated and totally unemployable youths. Sadly, the south of the country which was making some progress, decided to borrow a leaf from their fellow yoke givers in the north and destroyed education in their region as well.

Currently, the south of Nigeria is gradually but surely building its own type of monster that will one day rise up to consume it. From fraudsters to kidnappers and violent armed robbers, someday (and it may be soon) if unchecked, these unorganized band of criminals will grow and become worse than what the north east of Nigeria is currently witnessing.

Sadly, the rulers are so blinded by their greed and selfish desire to grab and grab and grab some more, not reading the signs of the times. A decade ago, we could all swear on our lives that no Nigerian could be persuaded to become a suicide bomber. Today, we all know better.

I cringe in horror as the various gangs in power steal all they can, leaving in their wake so much poverty, sorrow and pain among the people they are supposed to be governing. Wicked and unconscionable, they send their own children to Harvard and Oxford while closing down higher institutions in the county for months without any fear of a backlash. They rush their wives, concubines and selves to foreign lands to treat simple catarrh while their poor country men and women die in hospitals because they can’t afford drugs worth N1,000.

At 54, the future of Nigeria is trapped in a maze where retired soldiers are richer than legitimate businessmen because they dispensed oil blocs among themselves or stole money meant for security under their watch, while thousands of their citizens are mowed down like cattle by bloodthirsty gang of killers.

At 54, young women and men are captured and held by terrorists for 172 days and the president couldn’t be bothered to mention it in his speech. Of course such distractions are unbecoming, aren’t they? There is a coming election to be won and that is of paramount importance to our ruler and his minions.

No nation can rise beyond the level of education it offers its people. Nigeria at 54 may not have been an Eldorado, but certainly we don’t deserve to be in the mess we currently find ourselves in. Nigeria is one of the largest producers of crude oil yet we still import refined oil for domestic use. What a shame!

A nation where there are no consequences for actions is a nation inviting chaos. Pensioners die regularly while queuing to collect mere pittance, which they may not even get, while some officially sanctioned thieves have been making away with billions in pension funds with no consequences or punishment.

If Nigeria is to make progress, there must be consequences. Rhetoric only seem good on paper, nobody is fooled in reality. We can’t fight corruption when the leadership is confused as to what constitutes corruption and what can be referred to as “mere stealing”.

Education and health is the bedrock of any long-term development plan and sustained success. Nigerian leaders can’t keep pretending to be blind to what we daily witness as our reality.

Nigerians as a people have a responsibility to force her leaders to become responsible. A fish starts to rot from its head. Sadly, years of mis-education and impoverishment has damaged the psyche of the average Nigerian so much that people will confidently tell you to pray rather than hold public officials accountable. No wonder religion is such a big deal in this clime. How else do you explain sane people behaving irrationally?

What is private should be private. How a private aircraft turned into a commercial one without official licensing is something that can only happen in Nigeria. And should anyone ask too many questions, a curse is placed on such a person in “the name of The Lord”. Of course religion is the trump card of tyrants and despots. With it, they control the minds of the adherents and manipulate otherwise commonsensical individuals to lose their identity and fall in line.

Nigeria will be great again but no great nation or civilization has ever been built on loud prayers and resounding Amens. Great civilizations and industrial revolutions are built on education, hard-work, sincerity of purpose and are led by a selfless leadership willing to take the hard decisions. Even Nehemiah and Ezra, in the bible, respectively stood up and built. They prayed but they worked hard to get results.

May God grant us great leaders but more than that, may we have an intellectual revolution. It is time to rebuild Nigeria.

Happy Independence anniversary Nigeria!

The author of this piece is Ayo Oyalowo. You can follow him on twitter @Ayourb for more direct engagements.

You may also like

Read Next