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Nigeria at 55: Time to Grow-up and Tackle its Colossal Challenges

[Image: The author]

On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation from Great Britain due to the nationalist activities of Nigeria’s founding fathers and mothers.  And so, on October 1, 2015 as always since fifty-four years ago, the nation will pause to reflect and extol the nationalist leaders for their courageous activism and leadership.  

President Buhari and his cabinet – even though still non-existent since he was elected this past May, will probably have a modest celebration this year, unlike previous years.  He approved only seventy million Naira for this year’s independence anniversary, which are peanuts compared to previous years.  He will also probably give an impressive speech similar to the one he gave at the U.N on September 28, 2015 and assure Nigerians that he will conquer corruption and degrade the murderous activities of Boko haram, Niger Delta militancy and oil bunkering – since he the President has also appointed himself to be the Petroleum Minister.  And so the speeches will not be inspiring and probably, celebrations and fanfare will be modest.  

Many of Nigeria’s founding fathers and mothers will look out from their heavenly abode on this October first with despair at a nation that is now fragmented and a people without much hope and future.  With the embrace of the new presidential dictatorship, continued Boko Haram insurgency and the massive youth unemployment among other vast challenges, the future of Nigeria looks windswept than ever. 

In his controversial memoir: ‘There Was A Country – a classic and masterful narration of Nigeria’s history and civil war, the eminent scholar, and international poet, the late Prof. Chinua Achebe published before passing into glory few years ago.   He wrote abundantly about Nigeria’s independence and freedom.  In the words of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, he writes, Nigeria was given her freedom “on a platter of gold.”  We should have known that freedom should be won, not given on a plate.  Like the head of John the Baptist, this gift to Nigeria proved most unlucky.

The late sage was absolutely correct. Nigeria gained independence on a platter of gold on October 1, 1960.  Since then, she has floundered and has not really enjoyed any genuine freedom or political peace or national prosperity because of tribalism and ethnic hatred, political instability, poor leadership, religious ignorance, intolerance and violence, moral degradation, bribery and corruption, injustice, indiscipline and irresponsibility.  These and other vices quickly marred the nation’s prospect for development and progress until today.  

And so, Nigeria’s intractable problems and challenges continue.  The challenges and problems facing Nigeria are convoluted.   Apart from the social and economic problems confronting the nation, new kinds of challenges are surfacing daily. Today, Nigeria is besieged by many challenges namely—–ethnic strife,  bias and hatred, religious conflicts, terrorism, political instability, government corruption, lack of infrastructure, public healthcare crisis such as HIV/AIDS, poverty, crime, violence, lawlessness, injustice, political thuggery, looting of public treasury, money laundering and debilitating political corruption.

However, one problem that observers, even those outside the shores of Nigeria do not hesitate to talk about is that of weak and poor leadership.  Governance in Nigeria for the last fifty-five years was hijacked by a group of selfish, greedy, egoistic, visionless malicious, mischievous and treacherous rulers.  Since she gained independence in October 1st, 1960, she has not had good and courageous leaders to pilot the affairs of the nation.  Nigeria has not really enjoyed any genuine political peace and national prosperity despite enormous natural resources and abundant human capital.  Instead, the country has been ruled and governed by military and political dictators that denied the people of Nigeria security, order, peace and basic needs of livelihood – which are the primary duties of government.   

For fifty years plus, what we’ve had is a military dictatorship, political hypocrisy, idolatrous religious system, and extravagantly indulgent corrupt judicial system that oppressed the poor, the less privileged and minority members of the country.  In a nutshell, Nigeria’s rulers have failed to fulfill their obligations to the nation and its people.

In his famous and widely quoted treatise on Nigeria: ‘The Trouble with Nigeria,’ the eminent scholar and world renowned poet, late Prof. Chinua Achebe writes, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”  

Many Nigerians as well as foreign observers agree and have also attributed most of the enormous problems facing the nation are due to lack of good and courageous leadership. 

In his classic book: ‘The Open Sore of a Continent – A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis,’ the literary icon, an international acclaimed playwright, essayist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Novelist Wole Soyinka brilliantly and succinctly writes about the corruption, human rights abuses, bad leadership and political bondage in which Nigeria and most of Africa was subjected to since her independence.

Dr. Joseph Nanven Garba in his treatise of governance in Nigeria said this: 

“Nigeria, to my mind, does not lack real men and women.  The ingredients for creating a formidable nation exist.  What is lacking is leadership with the political will and the selfless dedication to galvanize the entire nation.”(Fractured History – Elite Shifts and Policy Changes in Nigeria)

I concur with the late Joe Dr. Garba, Novelist Wole Soyinka and late sage Chinua Achebe.  The Nigerian state is surely chronically ill, ethically and morally decadent and frankly suffering from a serious and severe nation building challenge.  Since Nigeria gained independence, she has had various systems of government – Unitary, Parliamentary, Military and now Democratic Presidential system.  Despite Nigeria’s enormous human potential and abundant natural resources, the promise of these various governments has been a dismal failure.  The politicians have not kept their promises but floundered and left the Nigerian masses worse than when they were under the British ruler-ship.  

Since the return to presidential democratic government in 1999, Nigeria has not yet maximized its potential to the fullest, but wallowed in religious and sectarian violence, political leadership failure, corrupt courts and judges and security challenges.  Despite the many reforms that the nation has embarked upon; yet not much has been done to uplift its citizens.  The nation is also rapidly falling apart and disintegrating and the rulers care less about it. The truth is that Nigeria is faced with serious challenges of nationhood and most politicians in power don’t want to hear it.  

Luckily, Nigeria does not lack competent people who can govern.  Rather, what is lacking is visionary and courageous leaders that are transparent in their discharge of domestic, public and foreign responsibilities.  Nigeria do have capable  men and women with reputable education, qualification and impressive resume to lead and govern well but most of them are not willing to dive into the murky and muddled political landscape of Nigeria.  Nigeria does not lack human power but what it lacks abundantly is the political will and courage to tackle the enormous problems and nation building challenges.  

Therefore the truly missing ingredient and biggest problem in this age and time for Nigeria is lack of courageous leaders – finding men and women ready to tackle the capacious challenges of nation building.  Such challenges as ethnicity and tribalism, injustice, bribery and political corruption, Insecurity and militancy, religious ignorance, intolerance, and violence, lapses and paralysis in education sector,  poverty and disease, moral & social decadence, and lack of patriotism and nationalism among others. 

By the way, ethnicity, tribalism and religious conflict are a huge threat to the security, unity and do hamper the development and progress of the nation.  Also religious ignorance and intolerance breed violence.  Religious ignorance, intolerance and violence are also a big problem in Africa.    In the continent of Africa, religious violence and ethnic cleansing are enormous. Religious violence has decimated more lives in Africa in the last 50 years than hunger, disease, accidents and even wars combined together.  Africa has been properly called a “Bloody Continent.” They are a battleground between Islam, Christianity and traditional religions.  Muslims and Christians kill each other in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Senegal, Rwanda, Burundi and other places in Africa.

For instance, since 1999, we have seen the rapid rise of radical Islamic violence and the authoritarian corrupt political leadership. There is a growing religious intolerance and conflict, ethnic bias and strife, rise of Islamic fundamentalism especially in the northern part of the country, where jihadist sects like Boko haram, a group that detests Western education and social norms, are bombing businesses, Churches, Temples and Police stations killing people at random.  The sect is also agitating for a Sharia Republic in the north.  And then  there is the Niger Delta militant groups like MEND in the South-south that are kidnapping foreign nationals working in the oil fields for a ransom.

Prosperity gospel is destroying Nigeria and most of sub-Sahara Africa especially in this age of innovation and technological revolution.  While nations are tapping into the next frontier of technology innovation and advancement, most Nigerians and African peoples are looking up to their herbalists, pastors, and off-course to heaven not for ideas but for God to rain $millions$ on them.  And this way of thinking pervade the African Christendom currently.  They refused to understand that “manna” stopped failing from heaven after the Israelites crossed River Jordan and settled in the Land of Canaan.  God commanded them to go to work and be innovative and productive. The danger of prosperity and materialistic message is immense and it’s killing the African mind. 

While many nations around the globe are prospering, educating their younger generation and motivating them to achieve great things in this 21st century world of scientific progress and technological advancement, Nigeria and most of Africa are trapped in a culture of corruption and bad leadership.  Today, while technology innovation is linking people—especially young people and nations together through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., for great purposes, millions of young people in Nigeria are utilizing social media for financial fraud, crime and violence. More than ever, the need to train educate and prepare young people of Nigeria to be become good leaders, entrepreneurs, and to participate in the global economy and job market is crucial and paramount.  

Despite its abundant natural and human resources, Nigeria is listed among the poorest countries in the world.  It has one of the lowest primary school completion rates in Africa.  Also, Nigeria has one of the largest percentages of the 100 million children, mostly girls; who are out of school worldwide.  Today, the population has exploded and ballooned where many children still go to bed hungry and millions of families subsist on less than one dollar a day.  It is estimated that there are over 70 million people who are 30 years and under unemployed in Nigeria today.  

The culture of learning which was strong and admired by Nigerians has eroded due to weak educational leadership and corrupt government leaders.  Since the return to democratic government in 1999, the portfolio of education has been held by corrupt and incompetent politicians.  Moreover, most of the governors of the various states in Nigeria have been visionless and myopic.   The university campuses have become centers for raping young girls, gang activities, deaths and cultic activities, in addition to constant strikes, poor lecturers and lack of funds. Everything nowadays is driven by money and even the university admissions are now bought by rich people for their children.  The schools are also dilapidated and teachers who cannot write simple correct sentences or speak eloquently are teaching the future leaders.

The evidence of lawlessness and purposeless education are so prevalent in today’s Nigerian universities.  That is why many young Nigerians are leaving the shores of Nigeria to elsewhere – even to the nearest neighboring countries like Ghana or South Africa to attend university.  Those of them who are extremely lucky to go to European and United States are excelling in their studies and academics.  Why would the young people live in a nation that does not care for them, recognized as the future leaders of the country, receive proper training, developed and prepared to take over the affairs of the nation at some point? Why would they live in a nation without job after their university education and unemployment roaring at almost 80%? By the way, the Nigerian military is still searching for over 300 Chibok schools that were taken away from their dormitories by Boko haram for over a year now.  

In report published by Lo Spazio della Political (LSDP) in 2013, Kenyans dominate in Africa among the global thinkers and innovators.  Only Babatunde Fashola, former Governor of Lagos State, Nigeria for transforming Lagos into an African hub of innovation and for launching the Lagos Innovation Advisory Council, and Adefunke Ekine, from Nigeria, Fellow Echidna Global Scholars, Nigeria, for her experience of teaching and directing schools in Africa, in particular, for the promotion of science among young female students – made the list.

 President Buhari must declare state of emergence in the education sector.  Nigeria needs a massive educational restructuring and education entrepreneurs.  The closure of some of the so-called illegal universities recently in Nigeria should be examined properly for viability and alternative to most Nigerian universities that are now haven for violence, gang activity, prostitution, rape, killings, corruption, cheating, conflict and all manners of evil and atrocity – rather than institutions of higher learning and innovation.  And this is simply due to the massive failure of leadership in the education sector – where those who direct the sector and institutions are simply corrupt, myopic, incompetent and visionless.  Educational entrepreneurs should be encouraged

The government must find ways to tap into the uncommon and huge resources of Nigerians scattered around the world – by seriously fighting insecurity, providing basic infrastructure, and setting up attractive incentives and conducive-working environment to be able to attract some of these Nigerian brains in Diaspora back to Nigeria. Nigeria does not lack the big idea and innovation, but the political will and right environment to galvanize and harness its people for growth and greatness.

Let us do what other nations have done – nations like Japan, India, Turkey, etc. have done in the past with their Diaspora citizens.  Apart from setting up organizations to database their citizens, a minister of Diaspora Affairs was appointed to harness the enormous resources of their people that reside in the Western rich nations.  

For instance, ten years ago, Turkey began investing only 0.95 % of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into Research & Development (R&D), Innovation and Software Technology.  Today, the well-known ‘Technopark” located in Istanbul – similar to Silicon Valley in California or Technology Village in India, has 3,325 companies employing over three million young IT professionals for R&D to software and information and communication technology representing the most active sectors. And I am not referring to the so-called computer village in Lagos and Abuja that are flooded with useless hardware that is thrown into garbage here in the West.

How to tackle unemployment – especially youth unemployment – a small excerpt of a paper I delivered at the just concluded Nigeria in Diaspora (NIDOA) 2015 World Conference in Atlanta, USA. 

1. To combat youth unemployment, reduce poverty, and increase job and wealth creation in the country, the various tiers of government must invest in entrepreneurship training and development of young people.  

2. Government must partner with businesses; universities as well as Nigerians in Diaspora to create Workforce Development Centers (WDC) designed for customized needs of job market and high-demand tech jobs.

3. Creation of Nigeria Diaspora Entrepreneurship Institute (NDEI) to help youth entrepreneurs in the country and others involved in entrepreneurship learn what is needed to develop ideas into successfully business ventures.

4. The federal government must be willing to increase its investment in entrepreneurship development, partner with Nigerians in Diaspora to create an Entrepreneurship Development Centers in the nation as well as an Entrepreneurship Development Institute here in the U.S. , U.K., and other industrialized nations for training, business ideation, innovation, networking, etc.  

5. The federal government must also be willing to assist with capital to finance innovative business idea that is capable of generating jobs for many and spur economic growth and prosperity.

6. Finally, the federal government must review its policy and legislation as well as endeavor to make things easier for Diasporas to invest and do business in their home land.

In conclusion, we live in a time of global opportunities and economic prosperity.  It is a time of unlimited possibilities.  This is the time to get the timing un-employed youths to develop the capability and capacity to create something out of nothing.  The young generation can do so with technology today.  They need to be given the opportunity to express themselves. If we lead well and support our young people, it can be a gamer changer for the nation. 

We must support them to receive knowledge, because knowledge is power.  We need to move from oil resource based economy to knowledge based economy.  We must invest in them to change their lives, to help them to become business owners, to become employers and not employees.  We must give the opportunity to change the country, to receive knowledge, to become entrepreneurs and leaders, to experience freedom, to experience the world and vast opportunities that abound in our planet.  

We must help them to develop the tenacity, the strength, the core values and character to confront challenges and obstacles that they will face in lives.  We must give them the opportunity to learn every day, to experience the world that is rapidly changing every day.  We must orientate their minds to think entrepreneurship and self-employment.  Finally, the federal government, businesses, companies, etc., must partner, collaborate and work together with Nigerian entrepreneurs in Diaspora for this economic transformation and nation building. 

As we celebrate today, let us thank God for preserving and keeping Nigeria together for these tumultuous 55 years.  But let us think and work together to achieve the divine purpose for which God amalgamated us.  May God give all Nigerians and their leaders the strength to continue to confront any forms of enslavement and impediment of their hopes and dreams and to continue to fight for their liberty and true independence!  

Happy birthday Nigeria!

Dr. C. K. Ekeke, a consultant, author, speaker and leadership scholar.

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