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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Would Nigeria’s next 100 years be different?
Monday, 08 July 2013 04:56

Would Nigeria’s next 100 years be different?

Written by Olu Akanmu
Nigerian child Nigerian child

One hundred years of the Nigeria nation is gone. Perhaps, another one hundred is ahead. The managers of the Nigerian state have called for celebrations. There will be pomp and pageantry, gala nights and award dinners, lotteries and beauty contests.  A centenary of the Nigerian nation should however call for more sober reflections of hundred years of opportunities lost, potential unfulfilled and generations wasted. There are far many more things to be sober about on Nigeria than what we have to celebrate. Some will say that we still do have a nation united despite our history of ethnic and political schisms.  These are the politicians talking, the few who are reaping disproportionate economic benefits from the weakness or the “near-failed” nature of the Nigerian state and its weak institutions.  How many unfulfilled potential can we count?  A state, whose people have been getting doctorate degrees in medicine and law from prestigious universities like Oxford since 1898, yet has some of the lowest quality of university education in Africa, with no Nigerian university among the top 5000 in the world.  The Nigerian state that gave Malaysia its first seeds of palm oil in the 1960s yet now has to import or smuggle palm oil from the same country. Groundnut pyramids of Kano are gone, cocoa is gone, and cotton is gone and replaced by an oil industry largely on the sea that has done little to create employment for the mass of our youths.


The unfulfilled potential of our resources is even more illustrated by contrasting us with the United Arab Emirates which has leveraged its oil resources to diversify and modernise its economy to match the best of the western world. Therefore, resources do not necessarily have to be a curse. It could be a blessing if a nation state is blessed with the fortune of good rulers, true statesmen who govern for the common good and put the nation first. Nigeria has however had the misfortune in its hundred years of being a state with few statesmen.  The late Papa Alfred Rewane, lamenting the unfulfilled potential of the Nigerian state, had to say during his lifetime that, “Yesterday (at independence), we prayed for a better tomorrow; but today, we now pray for a better yesterday”. A centenary celebration of the Nigerian state therefore has to be more introspective than beauty contests, march pasts and award dinners. It must ask the fundamental question, “Why would the next 100 years of Nigeria be different from the last hundred?” Would those who are members of this state in the next hundred years look on this generation with kindness that we laid a foundation for a better centenary or would they refer to us as another generation wasted  just like those before us?  History has a way of defining a mission for each generation depending on the turn of history to which it finds itself. Perhaps, it is not an accident that we happen to be the generation at the centenary of the Nigerian state.  If we therefore reduce a centenary celebration to gala nights, march pasts and beauty contests, we would have missed an historic opportunity to fulfill a generation mission of tilting the ship of the Nigerian state on a new course of progress.


In this essay, we highlight some of the things that must be done to make the next centenary different from the current one. We expect to provoke some sober reflections and challenge more patriots to change the current paradigm of the celebration of the Nigerian centenary.  First, we must build a more inclusive society where every citizen matters, have an opportunity to make it and fulfil her God-given potential. Today, the Nigerian state is increasingly becoming an opposite of this. What is the essence of thumping our chest that we are the biggest black nation on earth when the largest majority of our people cannot fulfil their potential or are just barely existing only in number and add no serious value to society? We must deal with the social exclusion mechanisms through institutionalised political and economic  arrangements that make it difficult to climb the social ladder or even have real choices and voice in the  way society is governed.  In a young country, where the majority of our citizens are below the age of 30, investment in the youths and their education must be a top priority to liberate the potential of our largest majority. Access to good and quality education is one of the biggest social exclusion mechanisms in Nigeria. The education of the youths must be matched with an inclusive economic arrangement that recognises that the youths must find gainful work to fulfil their potential and add value to society.  So much has been written around this, the need for a strong formal vocational and technical education system that produces young graduates that are truly employable in industry or can work as small vocational businesses supporting big businesses in their economic value chain. The German education system in a strong organic link with industry has been built around this principle. It has enabled Germany to keep its youths gainfully employed with one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe.


Inclusive economic arrangement also implies a more inclusive financial system where many more citizens have access to financial service and all its benefits. Financial services and the banking system are the bedrock and blood of the modern economy. If more than half of our citizens continue to be excluded from this service, they will be unlikely to fulfil their God-given potential and add their best value to society.  Banking penetration and access to credit must improve.  Brazil found its own way to democratise access to financial service and credits for its initially excluded majority and it became one of the strongest economies in the world. Brazil had similar social structures like Nigeria, a very unequal society with extreme wealth on one side of society and extreme poverty and misery on the other. However, by democratising the financial system, public-private sector housing programmes and improving access to property titles as collaterals to access financial credit for the its large majority, it liberated its people from poverty and misery.  In this centenary period, we need to introspect on the progress we have made in building a more inclusive financial system, consolidate the gains made and publicly debate what else is standing in the way to improve the pace of this critical initiative.


On the political front, we must deal with institutionalised political exclusion mechanisms that offer no real democratic choices for the people.  Weak political parties with poor internal democracies exclude the true will of the party rank and file and ultimately true democratic choices at elections.  Unless the party rank and file can freely choose their representatives and present such to the electorate in a free and fair election, we will continue to have a “selectocracy” rather than a democracy.  Unless the people can find their voice and choose their leaders in a free and fair electoral process, we will have to kiss good governance and responsible government a perpetual good bye in Nigeria. This is because the only incentive for politicians to act responsibly and govern well is the fear of losing elections. At the turn of this new centenary, we must therefore strengthen our electoral process and the political institutions that will make our elections truly what they are supposed to be, with the plurality of choices that capture the diversity of patriotic ideas in the nation.  To do this, the Independent National Electoral Commission and its future successors and the courts must be able to sanction the breach of internal party democracies.  Other things to be done  to strengthen the electoral process, make the INEC  truly independent of the executive including special sanctions for electoral offences are contained in the Uwais panel electoral reform report. At this historic turn of Nigeria’s next centenary, we call on President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Assembly to summon the necessary courage to put our democratic process on a new progressive trajectory by implementing the Muhammadu Uwais panel report.


- Akanmu, a corporate executive wrote from  Lagos, Nigeria.     This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last modified on Monday, 08 July 2013 05:00

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