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Fifty-Seven Wasted Years! By SOC Okenwa

October 8, 2017

We have collectively failed to confront the mistakes of the past and present in order to chart a new course for our dear nation.

Last Sunday, Nigeria marked 57 years as an 'independent' nation. Fifty-seven years of flag independence from the Great Britain. On October 1, 1960, it would be recalled, the Union Jack was lowered in Lagos and the green-white-green national flag hoisted gloriously in its stead. Two scores and seventeen years later, Nigeria has changed for good or bad, depending on the class - the poor or rich - to which one belongs.

A full-grown man of 57 years must have accomplished certain things in life expected of him as an adult or senior citizen. It is often said that life begins at 40! So at 57 such a man should have either achieved something worthy of note or be considered a failure by his peers. From 1960 down to 2017, a whole lot has happened: coups and counter-coups, civil war, military incursion into the polity, June 12 and the Abiola saga, restoration of democracy, etc.

So last Sunday as tradition dictated and in the spirit of the auspicious occasion, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation. He outlined the key policies and programs of his APC administration two and a half years down the four-year span. He dutifully listed the achievements recorded thus far and the challenges that lie ahead. The speech was a long one and, in all fairness, a good one, but not good enough!

For one, the President maintained his belief in one Nigeria, saying rigidly that the country was indissoluble. For another, he chided the elders and leaders of thought in the South-East for their inability to control their wards manifesting their desire for a Biafran nation. And for yet another, he declared the war against Boko Haram as almost won and the one against graft as a work in progress. However, his obdurate insistence on one unbreakable country based on the present flawed federal arrangement is something to be worried about. Nigeria, as presently constituted, cannot possibly withstand, for a long time to come, the socio-political pressures for restructuring and struggles for equity in the system. The President ought to know better!

Since taking official residence in Aso Rock Villa in Abuja on May 29, 2015, President Buhari has done his very best in terms of combating militarily the Boko Haram terrorists up north. From having defeated them “technically,” we seem to be approaching another phase in the armed campaign against Shekau and his murderous boys and girls. The same goes for his fight against corruption without let or hindrance. On these two areas, he has performed above average, indeed, even though we note that no looter of the treasury has ever been convicted. A High Court had ruled that the government should publish the names of looters and the funds recovered from them but nothing has been done to that effect.

The APC national government had promised sweeping changes (with a rich broom!) in their party manifesto leading to the electoral victory at the federal level. But today, 'change' has not occurred anywhere in the lives of Nigerians. The 'change' promised can only manifest itself when a majority of our people are lifted out of poverty by the provision of employment opportunities, steady power supply, pipe-borne water, good motorable roads, and affordable homes. The 'change' mantra has become a vehicle of propaganda!

Economically, the Buhari regime has not fared any better than the previous ones. We have witnessed recession, inflation, the depreciation of the naira against the major world currencies. Hardship has returned to terrorize Nigerians. It seems the President has lost control on the economic front with assurances of a brighter future being eroded by issues like the on-going feud between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, and the GMD of the NNPC, Maikanti Baru. The alleged contract worth $25 billion awarded by Baru without due process must be investigated so that the truth shall come to light.

Last Sunday,  I reflected on Nigeria at 57 and concluded that 'this house has fallen'! One may be tempted, with disappointment and discouragement in mind, to ask: What were we celebrating at 57? Fifty-seven years of acute waste of national resources and consequent arrested development? Fifty-seven years of our inability to right the Lugardian wrong in 1914? Fifty-seven years of our lack of will to put our house of commotion in order? Or our unimaginative unintelligent inability to pull down the defective federal edifice and start reconstructing same from the foundation?

Nigeria is a failed state, as recently acknowledged by the former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi. We have collectively failed to confront the mistakes of the past and present in order to chart a new course for our dear nation. We have failed the generation before us and the present one - of which we are members. The yearnings and aspirations of majority of Nigerians have not been met because our leaders cared less about us. We did not count much in their plans and actions! Our leaders have failed us and mortgaged our future! Fifty-seven years in the life of a nation-state ought to be enough to articulate the way forward achieving unity in diversity and national concord in the process.

But ours remains a hope dashed and the future compromised! The conclusion that could be drawn here is that there is nothing to celebrate about in the positive sense of the word. As long as some of us are still unhappy staying inside the union and others murmuring in silence over what tomorrow might bring then we have a long way to go. We must avoid creating the impression that staying together as a nation must always be enforced whether anyone likes it or not.

Nigeria lost its innocence ever since the jackboot invaded the political space. General Ibrahim Babangida opened the floodgates of official corruption in Nigeria in 1985. The unpopular detested man from Minna stole millions of dollars and billions of naira retiring to his magnificent hill-top mansion as a stupendously rich ex-dictator. He was forced to relinquish power after causing the June 12 political confusion that nearly ignited a second civil war!

And following in his ignoble footsteps, the late General Sani Abacha did even worse cornering the national patrimony in a staggering dictatorial heist only comparable to what the late Mobutu Sese-Seko did in the defunct Zaire or what the late Idi Amin Dada did in Uganda. Today, decades after his timely demise, the rough estimates of the total amount pilfered and stashed away in bank accounts abroad is still a subject of international controversy! Baptized "the Abacha loot," we are still being regaled with stupefying figures of what was mindlessly taken away from our national purse.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo never fared any better in the imprudent management of the national wealth. OBJ, who came out of the Abacha gulag a pauper, drained physically and mentally, suddenly became the African Donald Trump! Obasanjo was smart enough to hide his loot playing the statesman and even criticizing those in power he deemed corrupt. He has had a running battle with the National Assembly over corruption and emolument matters. Accusing the pampered overfed legislators in Abuja of being "unarmed robbers" Baba struck a hard blow which was instantly returned in kind. The Senate leadership labeled the Aremu of Ota as the "father of corruption" in Nigeria.

Let us leave ex-President Goodluck Jonathan out of this for now. Now that the jury is out on Diezani-gate and Dasuki-gate we must refrain from reaching any conclusions until justice is done and be seen to have been done. Yet GEJ must stand accused forever for allowing the huge financial hemorrhaging of the nation under his watch. By declaring that stealing was not equivalent to corruption in one presidential gaffe too many Jonathan made name for himself as the weakest President ever to preside over our national affairs. He was clueless, aloof, mediocre and dour. He never inspired anyone nor made any lasting leadership impression worth remembering for.

In our reckoning, Nigeria at 57 was all about noise and no substance! There was absolutely nothing to celebrate about 57 years of waste.

Wasted years, wasted hopes, wasted dreams, wasted greatness and a wasted generation. Since the leadership (due mainly to executive mediocrity and corruption) has failed to show us the way, we must, with determination and love in our hearts, find the way or make one!

We commend fellow Nigerians for our uncommon resilience and perseverance in a climate of national paralysis. We salute our daily demonstration of the power of imagination and creativity. Yes we can!