Saturday, 20 August 2011

Nigeria at 50: Breakthroughs and Challenges

50 is a long time in a person's life. By the time most people are 50, they've reached an acceptable level in their career, have the house, 2.5 children are in or about to enter university, belong to a prestigious club or society and are preparing for retirement. Some are even retired already. It's a time when a person can sit back and reflect on the first half-century of life, their paths and achievements and look forward to another half-century, God-willing.
But how do you measure a half-century in terms of a country? Do you base it on the achievements of the people? Or maybe how the government have fared over half a century? Do you look at the technological advancements the country has made or how far the economy has grown? Do you look at it in terms of its greatness (or lack of it) in the eyes of the world? Or do you look at the percentage of employed and alleviated people? All these are acceptable guidelines to measure the success of a nation. Depending on which is important, the people will use it to judge the success, or failure, of their nation over a half-century.
This year, almost half the nations in Africa are celebrating their half-century. Some have been planning these celebrations for over a year. These celebrations are to show how far they have come as nations and let their people be proud of whatever achievements that have been made during this period. One nation not showing such enthusiasm is Nigeria.
Nigeria is a nation that has been fraught with so many inconsistencies in its 50-year existence. Once known as the giant of Africa, Nigeria has shrunk into almost technological obscurity and has lagged in its leadership role in Africa. Years of military rule, rot and decay has taken its toll on the country. Tribalism, nepotism, unequal opportunities are rife in the country. The oil boom, which was thought to have been a blessing, is now a curse for the people of the Niger-Delta. The country has abandoned all other forms of revenue and now solely depends on oil. Corruption is now the order of the day, from the school child right to the very top of government. Infrastructures, schools, roads and transportation have been left to degenerate almost to a point of redundancy. Ethnic violence and militias in the Niger-Delta region are threatening to embark the country on another path to civil war.
But with all these negatives, the nation also has its positives. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the third-largest in Africa. The creation of anti-graft agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have helped to control the tide of corruption in the country, though some would argue that it is a tool used to bully the opposition by the government. Its relationship with developed nations has improved with the coming of democracy in the country. Some states in the Federation have taken up the task to help themselves thrive and improve on the quality of life in their various regions. Nigerians in the Diaspora are finally coming home to take advantage of the economic growth of the nation. Technological advancements are being made in the private sector and the spirit of entrepreneurship, the hallmark of every Nigerian, is being encouraged to thrive. Foreign investors are coming in to take advantage of the stable economy. All these things are building up the positive image of the country.
But with all these achievements and continued growth, why is the celebration of the country’s golden jubilee shrouded in secrecy? One would expect that with all the nation has been through, plans for these celebrations would be known to the people and what to expect. A lack of transparency, corruption in the awarding of tenders to handle the events, nepotism and misinformation are some reasons why. Nigeria has still not lost its garb of corruption and the prebendalism that reigns in government civil services, the legislature and the executive have shown that everyone plans to make money off the honest tax-payers of the country. Till date, the House of Representatives, the lower house of legislation, has refused to pass the Freedom of Information Act, which would give the ordinary man access to all forms of government documents. The government has no spirit of accountability and the people have no idea how the revenue is being appropriated. As it stands, no one outside the echelons of power know how the preparations are going. This year, the government is having a banquet in London, England to begin celebrations of the half-century. Where on the surface of the earth is it done? That a country would waste money in hosting a 2-day event abroad when the populace have no idea what exactly is going on? After the banquet in England, I can bet there would be another one in The United States before the government then lets the people know what exactly it is planning, probably a month to the event. Lackadaisical attitudes towards preparations for events have been the hallmark of Nigeria’s doings. The Olympic Games, The FIFA World Cup are only a few examples of how Nigeria leaves everything to the last minute and then suddenly jumps up 6 months to the affair to jumble up people together, spend money that is never accounted for and pray and hope we win medals. Countries who prepare for anything know exactly how much time and effort it takes to pull off a successful event.
It is very sad that a country, after being in the dark for so many years, have finally seen the light  but refuse to go anywhere near it. The 50 year, half-century celebrations should have been a time to show the world that Nigeria is changing, Nigeria has the ability to survive,  Nigeria has the ability to plan and host important and major events on its own. As it is, if the celebrations of a nation are shrouded in secrecy, what hope have we of being taken seriously by anyone in the developed world that we can stand on our own? Nigeria We Hail Thee.

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