HENRY OFA, PhD
Nigeria is sixty! October 1st, every year vibrates a nostalgic feeling in me just like in many Nigerians. For one, it reminds us of the long, forward-backward movement to the attainment of political independence from the British colonial masters. On that Saturday morning, when the British overlords formally relinquished their holds on the country’s political space, the joys in the minds of Nigerians were both palpable and effusive. This was so much so that the then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakr Tafawa Balewa, declared that “it is with justifiable pride that we claim the achievement of our independence to be unparalleled in the annals of history”.
However, since the formal lowering of the union jack in 1960, Nigeria, as a country, has been trapped in a seemingly perpetual search of its soul as the country daily strives to attain full nationhood. Undoubtedly, this great walk began in 1914, with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates by the British imperialists for their administrative convenience. Still regarded as “the mistake of 1914”, the amalgamation of the hitherto separate constituents gave birth to Africa’s largest country in the world: Nigeria.
Many years after the thrust of governance fell on the shoulders of its indigenous leaders, the country has continued to journey through myriad tumultuous periods that have incessantly questioned its unity, dwarfing the progress that have been made in the last six decades. From the January 15, 1966 military ouster of civilian rule through the avoidable civil war periods to the present dispensation of corruption and other frailties among those within the corridors of power, Nigeria and Nigerians have been engrossed in an endless battle with the kickbacks of widespread poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, increased death rates, insecurity and terrorism among many other indices of misrule.
In the country’s North-east region, Boko Haram terrorists have butchered many innocent citizens and displaced thousands of people from their aboriginal homes. Kidnappers and bandits have literally taken over major routes, such as the Abuja-Kaduna road, Abuja-Benin road and Asaba-Benin-Lagos expressway. Similarly, widespread unemployment among youths remains a hydra-headed monster that is feasting on the a significant number of the populace, and the overall effect of plummeting national economy has not only doubled the economic woes of the citizens but also resulted in rising debt burden occasioned by government borrowings to finance recurrent expenditures. Nigerians have also had to pay increasing cost of premium motor spirit (popularly called petrol), suffered epileptic power supply, paid (often unjustifiably) high tariffs on telecommunications and travelled on usually dilapidated roads. All these negative realities present a sharp negation to the supposed sixty years of independence which the country is celebrating.
Despite the numerous challenges however, Nigeria’s 60 years of political independence has not been without some gains. The country and the mass of its people have recorded some notable improvement in certain aspects of its national life. For instance, in the political spheres, the country’s democracy has recorded an appreciable growth since the dawn of the fourth republic in 1999. Unlike some other African countries, there has been no incidence of military coup which had truncated political progress in times past. More so, although our elections are yet to be freely devoid of irregularities, recent realities, such as the conduct of the 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo State, are pointers to the wind of positive change that is sweeping through our political landscape.
In the health sector, Nigeria has also recorded appreciable improvements in the fight against killer diseases such as polio, measles, malaria and HIV/AIDS. The rate of infant mortality has dropped from its high-heaven level in the early 20 century to a manageable size, with many pregnant and nursing mothers having access to a reasonable level of healthcare facilities and services. The level of education has also been on the increase in the past 60 years. Up from the abysmal 5 percent of literacy level that was recorded in the pre-independence era, more than 60 percent of the Nigerian population now boasts of varying degrees of formal education. Urbanization level has also been on the higher side since independence, with over 60 percent of Nigerians living in urban areas.
Since 2000 when the Olusegun Obasanjo administration introduced the Global System of Mobile Communication (GSM), terrestrial and satellite communications have seen geometric advancements, with nearly all areas of the country being connected. In the transportation sector, there have been quantum improvements across Nigeria, especially with the construction of BRT lanes and railway tracks which have eased the mobility of people and goods within and across the various regions of the country. Although funding for these major projects account for the rising level of the country’s foreign debt burden, its salutary effects are evident in the Gross domestic Product (GDP) level and overall size of the Nigerian economy, which is rated as the largest in Africa.
Some states have also made individual progresses in a bid to improve the lots of their citizens. These progresses span from infrastructural growth to human capital development. One of such states is Delta where successive administrations have recorded no mean feats in raising the standard of living and contributing to the collective happiness of the masses. From 1999 to 2007, former Governor James Ibori designed a unique model that saw the simultaneous development of multiple cities across the state. Besides paying premium attention to workers’ welfare and maintaining a robust civil service, the Chief Ibori’s administration built unity bridges along soggy terrains that were once though impossible to build on. To bolster the state’s educational sector, the Ibori’s administration did not only build primary and secondary schools, but also established and completed the state’s three polytechnic institutions at Ozoro, Oghara and Ogwashi-Uku to cater for the growing educational needs of Deltans.
Ibori’s successor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, who had been part of the previous administration, achieved no less as he consolidated on the gains of the former government and extended the frontiers of governance in several areas with his impactful three point agenda that revolved around health, education and transportation. With Dr Uduaghan’s administration came the opportunity for the ordinary Deltans to enjoy healthcare services at a substantially subsidized rate, while pregnant women and their babies enjoyed absolutely free maternal health services. This administration also built model schools in each of the 25 local Government Areas and designed an education template that is still being used by states in Nigeria. What more, Deltans had the privilege of enjoying affordable transportation with the establishment of the Delta State Intra/inter-city transport system (popularly known as Uduaghan Bus) which has been privatized to enhance its efficiency and shore up the revenues accruing to the state government.
Expectedly, the current government, under the leadership of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, has further extended the banner of good governance despite beginning his governance under clement circumstances that were occasioned by the last economic recession. In the past years, I have made spirited efforts to chronicle some of the excellent achievements of the Governor Okowa’s administration as part of my pet project and contribution to the growth of the state. Many of these noble achievements were published in details in the first and second editions of my book, “The Lasting Legacies of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa”. At present, we are working on the third edition which will give a full coverage to the countless gains of the current administration from 2015-2023 to enable Deltans understand what have been achieved by the current administration.
With the above feats highlighted above, it will be safe to conclude that Nigeria has made significant progress in some areas and failed in others. The country has fallen more than seven times but keeps rising from the ash. Therefore, as we celebrate 60 years of independent nationhood today, Nigerians must reinvent their hopes for a better Nigeria and work towards the actualization of the country’s defining aspiration. As a matter of urgency, governments and those in positions of authority must honestly work towards tackling the giant socio-economic challenges that the country is faced with. It is high time we grew a home-based economy. We cannot continue to import refined petroleum products at outrageous costs when God has richly blessed us with natural crude oil that are freely found within our soils. We must get our refinery working and stop the undue importation of fuel that has given rise to the fuel subsidy phenomenon and its associated corruption. We must kill corruption in all of its manifestations before corruption kills us. We must end terrorism in all aspects of the country and reduce insecurity to its barest minimum. At 60, Nigeria can no longer tolerate parochial religious tendencies and any form of tribalism be it at the national or state levels. The growing challenge of youth unemployment must be tackled. As we celebrate, we must begin to celebrate and promote the things that bind us over the ones that divide us.
Happy Independence anniversary to Nigeria and Nigerians.