‘Comme ci comme ça’ (the French expression for ‘neither good nor bad’; ‘so so’; ‘tolerable’, ‘passable’) may well be the best way to describe Nigeria at 60. Sixty years in the life of a person may be a big deal but for a nation, it is not that much. For a person, sixty years is already a year of retirement, the year one takes a rest from active service and begins to enjoy pensions if one belongs in the public service; or, for private citizens, it is the time one begins to enjoy his lifelong investments and labour.
For Nigeria particularly, the country has been facing many hurdles in the great task of nationhood. This is a task, which has to be made right before the task of national development to commence in earnest. After the struggle for Independence of Nigeria, the founding fathers who took over from the colonists faltered a lot within the decade. The nation’s military took over in January 1966 and this was followed by a countercoup within 6 months and subsequently, a civil war to ensure the nation’s unity.
Measures employed to ensure the nation’s unity went beyond the civil war. It included the imposition of a unitary system, which adversely affected the nation’s federalism. For example, fiscal federalism was abolished by the military. Before the war, the four regions retained 50% of their revenues and released 50% to the federal government, which, in turn, retained 20% and redistributed 30% to the regions. Other aspects of federalism were also largely abridged or curtailed, making the country more unitary than federal with over 60 items reserved for the federal government in the Exclusive List of the 1999 Constitution and only about 16 left in the Concurrent List for States and Federal Government to share.
Out of the nation’s 60 years of independence, the military and military generals have been in power for over 40 years. The current democratic dispensation has witnessed Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari returning to power for 16 years out of the 23 years by the end of the subsisting tenure.
Unitary system in the nation’s federal environment has led to what Senator Ike Ekweremadu termed ‘Feeding Bottle Federalism’. In a normal federalism, the center derives from the federating units, but the nation’s military reversed it. Now, the federating units depend on the federal government to the point that beyond Lagos and two or three other States, no other State in Nigeria is viable due to the way the country is structured. Whereas all the States of the federation ought to be viable if the nation returns to federalism.
So, though the country has achieved substantially in the last 60 years, building a new Federal Capital and 36 State capitals also coming strong, the nation is still grappling with nationhood and her inability to fully resolve the issues around it has arrested economic development and caused so much unrest in the country.
Forces of centripetalism are spreading as fault lines across the country. Nigeria at 60 is disappointingly still at crossroads and yet to resolve many of the fundamental issues of nationhood let alone enacting real development. Experiences have shown that development is not possible without first resolving the issue of nationhood.
From pre-independence, it is obvious the nation’s leaders have been papering over issues of nationhood and attempting to hold the country together by force. Even the Presidential System of government imposed on the nation by the military as against the Parliamentary System bequeathed to Nigeria by Britain is yet another evidence. Presidential system concentrates power on one man and has easily created dictators in Nigeria in the absence of developed arms of government and institutions to checkmate the executive.
Evidence of this position abounds. Nigeria is adjudged the poverty capital of the world. Fault lines are escalating. Terrorism and armed banditry are on the rise despite government commendable efforts; have been on the rise; Killer herdsmen are also on the rise. Agitations for Oduduwa, Niger Delta and Biafra Republics are also on the rise. These are no signs of unity and development.
Nonetheless, having lived this long together, Nigerians can live much longer together. However, unity and development of Nigeria are not possible without restructuring.
The trouble with Nigeria(apologies Chinua Achebe) is six-fold: corruption, unemployment, ethnicity, religion, insecurity and lack of truly patriotic leadership at all levels over time to courageously take on the five. The nation’s problems call for a paradigm shift in the nation’s leadership recruitment process and eschewing of primordial sentiments in the search for exceptional leaders to bail the nation from the damning and growing leadership and development deficits.
The kind of leaders that Nigeria needs going forward has to be well-educated and possessing global outlook and reach to be able to mainstream Nigeria into world politics and development. The needed Nigerian leaders must be capable of enacting the kind of leadership that transformed UAE and Singapore, two countries with little or no natural resources but as at today, rank among the First World after benefitting from exceptional and creative leadership.
For such leaders to emerge in Nigeria, however, restructuring the country into a workable federation and full democratisation to enable national leaders seamlessly emerge based on merit and competence regardless of their region and religion. For now, the structural imbalances, which have made Nigeria more unitary than federal, and poor democratic practices characterized by the partisanship of the electoral umpires and security agencies that police the election, absence of internal party democracy to allow the party members to have the final say on who flies their party flags, heavy monetization of election, vote buying, among other negative factors, have combined to stifle the possibilities of prosper leaders emerging in Nigeria at all levels.
The leadership needs of Nigeria have become quite dire, especially in the light of the challenges of the moment, which call for new visions and creativity. Nigeria needs transformational leaders with the capacity to respond to the urgent need to reposition the country for unity, survival and growth after oil, the natural resource that is actually being phased out and replaced with clean energy sources.
Finally, despite all the challenges, Nigeria is still a beautiful project and salvageable. The two factors to do the magic are: restructuring and patriotic leadership. Without restructuring, which simply means returning the country to the precepts of the nation’s Republican Constitution as agreed between the British colonial masters and the founding fathers, the nation will remain on this barber’s chair: motion without movement. And only patriotic and courageous leadership can dare restructure Nigeria.
• Dr. Law Mefor is an Abuja based Forensic/Social Psychologist and Journalist; Tel.: +234-905 642 4375; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org