On October 1, President Buhari will roll out the drums on his administration’s achievements especially since the last independence anniversary, but more generally since the beginning of his presidency. He will tout his achievements in infrastructure, including massive investments in road construction works going on around the country, the rejuvenation of interstate train system, the ongoing economic diversification efforts, anti-terrorism struggle and, of course, the fight against corruption.
On their part, the president’s opponents will do all they can to invoke nature and force it to rain on his parade. They will point to bread and butter issues that afflict the well-being of the population. They will decry salary backlog in states and local governments. They will highlight the persistent division among Nigerians under the President’s watch. They will shout about lopsided appointments in the federal workforce. And of course, they will pooh-pooh achievements in the anti-terrorism and anti-corruption efforts.
Neither side will be completely honest or forthcoming about the true nature of the national crisis. But as our people know too well, the honey bee and the wasp may deny culpability as much as they like, there is visible evidence of the farmer’s swollen eyes. As wearers of the shoe, the people can unmistakably point to where it pinches. The rain that started beating us since at least 1999 is still heavy and hard. We are a nation in crisis.
Most fundamentally, we have a crisis of national self-doubt because we have not come to terms with our existence as one united nation and this is more than half of what ails us and limits our growth. Consider an analogy. An individual entertains serious doubts about his or her existence. Does anyone expect him or her to make any progress in life? What impact can a self-doubting person make? Does he or she even have the presence of mind to set goals and plan toward their achievement?
A nation in doubt of itself is like an individual in self-doubt. It cannot fulfil its destiny because of its internal tumult. At 58, Nigeria is still at the point it was in 1953 when the late Chief Anthony Enahoro moved the motion for independence and hell broke loose. Thirteen years later, and six short years after independence, we fought a bloody war of unity. We might argue that those episodes were understandable. Nations put together by external masters go through such initial toothache. But fifty-eight years after? And we are still arguing about our common existence?
Consider our sister nation to the south. Rwandans went through hell. Who would think that Rwanda can ever be one nation again considering how genocide tore into the heart of the country in 1994? Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, reflecting on the Rwandan experience in 2014, 20 years after genocide, observed that in 1994, Rwanda was “a shell of a nation.” But with strong leadership, not just of one person, but the united leadership of the political elite, Rwanda has turned the tide and has recorded amazing progress.
In the words of Mr. Blair: “Over the last decade economic growth has exceeded 8% per annum. Investment is flowing into Rwanda and investors are made welcome. Even without natural resources, the country is economically vibrant.” Most importantly, “Rwandans are increasingly united. There is a strong patriotism and belief in government—–a majority of the population, born post-genocide, has inherited the possibility of a different future.”
Even with comparable experiences of internal conflict, however, there is a stark difference between Nigeria and Rwanda in terms of a determination to move on. Children born after the civil war are the most virulent objectors to the idea of one nation. They may have their reason.
Tony Blair again gives us a clue: “In little over five years more than a million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty. The proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday has more than halved, and when they reach seven years old, they can nearly all go to school. Most of the population is covered by health insurance, and malaria deaths have fallen more than 85% since 2005. Crime is very low. Women can walk the street at night safe.”
Compare the Rwanda statistics with Nigeria’s and you will understand the difference between Rwandan sense of patriotism and Nigerian apathy.
There is a crisis of national self-regeneration. A nation with a neglected youth population cannot expect to have a future. But look around your neighborhood and you will not miss the sea of heads that roam about aimlessly and hopelessly. Unlike Rwanda, we have many more children out of school than are in school. Those in school hardly have good education and therefore are hardly expected to contribute to the development of the country. Why are we surprised that they resort to hard crime? This accounts for our national crisis of value degeneration, the subject of this column some weeks ago.
Rwanda has no natural resources. Yet, it is able to achieve 8% growth, give good education to its youth, and offer health insurance to its citizens, cutting malaria deaths by 85%. Nigeria has natural resources but is unable to give good education to its youth and its citizens die prematurely of malaria and other preventable infectious diseases. What makes the difference in these outcomes despite the advantage Nigeria has resource-wise?
It is corruption and a diseased and greedy leadership that is enmeshed in it. With a security vote that is bigger than the allocation to local governments available to governors, with a sense of impunity that enables cabinet members and heads of parastatals to dig their hands into the purse of government with no accountability, with a National Assembly that allocates funds to itself without a sense of responsibility to the people, the resources that should go into education and health end up in the pockets of tin-gods. With these, they call the shots and recycle themselves for political offices. We have a national crisis of con-artists.
But it is not all a tale of woe. There is a silver lining with people taking the driver’s seat on voting. Ultimately, there is a prospect of change if genuine democracy is enthroned. Whoever comes on top in the rerun of the governorship election in Osun State, one huge takeaway from the exercise should delight all Nigerians: democracy is winning the race against its enemies, known and unknown.
It is hard to believe that a state ruled by a party that also controls the center finds itself as the underdog in an electoral battle. But this is no longer news. It has happened before, indeed twice recently, in nearby Oyo State. This is evidence that we have moved past the do-or-die electoral politics of the early days of this republic especially between 2003 to 2011 when federal might was used with impunity to crush political opponents and INEC was anything but independent as it shamelessly served as a branch of the federal government.
It is easy to forget the moral atrocity committed by morally bankrupt national leaders who now sanctimoniously assume the role of critics-at-large and present themselves as crusaders for good governance. But we have a duty to remind them of the havoc they did to the stunted growth of democracy in the land.
If we discountenance the 1999 elections because the military was the umpire, we were witnesses to the 2003 coup against the will of the people. It got so worse in 2007 that even the most important beneficiary of the electoral heist, late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua was so embarrassed by the depth of the depravity that he was forced to set up an Electoral Reform Committee.
Since 2015, INEC has commendably proved itself as our fortress against dictatorship parading as democracy. If the people are free to choose their representatives at the polls, they know what their interests are and will vote accordingly, even when leaders try to impose their wills on them. Of course, if they allow themselves to be bought by funds siphoned from the national coffers, they will have burnt their behinds by negating their interests.