In 2010, former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, said Nigeria is “critical to the rest of the continent and if Nigeria doesn’t do well, Africa really won’t make any more progress.” This speaks of the world’s expectations for Nigeria. Around the world, Nigeria is regarded as the natural leader of Africa. The world has pinned its hopes for Africa’s liberation from stagnation, underdevelopment, illiteracy, hunger and unemployment on Nigeria. The common belief is that if Nigeria freed itself from these ills, it would free other African countries from the shackles.
The hope is not misplaced given the country’s natural resources. Nigeria is the most populous country on the continent; it is also one of the most gifted in the world. Nigeria is rich in crude oil, natural gas, gold, bitumen, tin, coal, iron ore, limestone, niobium, lead and zinc. The country is blessed with arable land that facilitates the cultivation of both cash and food crops. Nigeria also has some great people who stand out in various aspects of human endeavor. This is a rare combination that should have made Nigeria a superpower. But despite all these endowments and the resulting benefits, misery has become the regular companion of the average citizen.
Nigeria is a paradox; so rich, yet so poor; so endowed, but so bereft. Nigeria earns more than many countries of the world but unfortunately ranks among the poorest as many Nigerians live below the poverty line as they earn less than two dollars a day. According to the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria is home to the second highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world, after India.
Similarly, a United Nations report on Nigeria’s Common Country Analysis says youth unemployment is 42 percent, while the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates the number of out-of-school children at more than 10.5 million. . The infant mortality rate is 85.8 out of 1,000 live births, while the country has the highest under-five mortality rate in the world. The prevalence of malnutrition ranges from about 46.9 percent in the Southwest to 74.3 percent in the Northwest and Northeast, according to the UN.
But this was not so in the beginning. Nigeria was not the laughing stock in the beginning; nor was she the billboard for failure and misery. Nigeria defeated France in the race to establish a television station in 1959. According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, the poverty level in 1960 was very low. The unemployment rate in 1960 was quite negligible. At independence, the education system was excellent, as was the health care system. The safety of life and property was assured. In the 1960s, when Nigerians had to leave the country for something, they quickly returned home. But not anymore, life in Nigeria has lost its luster. Living in Nigeria is hell. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace in its 2019 Global Peace Index report, Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. That’s how bad the health sector is now that Nigerians have turned to health tourists as they seek healing in various hospitals from Ghana to Togo, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Israel, India, the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America.
How did we get here? With all the treasures locked in its belly, why has Nigeria not been able to shake off the label ‘underdeveloped country’?
The difference between the First Republic of Nigeria and today’s Nigeria is the schedule. Nigeria’s slide from the sublime to the ridiculous began with the country’s failure to plan its development. This is the main reason for the bad economy, the deplorable lack of infrastructure, the high level of poverty and unemployment, as well as the emerging schoolchildren syndrome.
But this doesn’t have to be the story. We can change our story. We can change our experience. We could have a reenactment of the First Republic of Nigeria or even something better. To change the current trend, we need to retrace our steps and do the right things. Great countries don’t just arise, they are born. The process of the birth of a great country begins with planning and taking concrete steps to realize the plans. When countries plan and execute their plans, they become great. On the contrary, when a country fails to plan, the only way is to bring it down.
As disappointed as I am with the current state of the country, I am convinced that a better Nigeria is possible. If our leaders cease to be politicians and transform into statesmen, they will be more focused on the good of the nation than on their personal comfort.
Leaders make things happen. When Nigerian leaders shun cognitive dissonance, when they act according to their stated vision, take charge of the country and run it profitably; if they work with great plans and execute the plans, if they provide the necessary infrastructure and create a healthy environment, then the story of the country will change, productivity will escalate, poverty will decrease, life of the average Nigerian will be better the slumbering giant will be resurrected and Africa will experience liberation.
If we start doing the right things now, even though our country is on the ground today, it will soon hold up and stand out if we persevere. Yes, a great and prosperous Nigeria is possible. The time to begin is now so that our future can be a departure from the excruciating experience of the moment.
It is possible. It’s feasible. The time to get started is now!
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