Looking Beyond Political Independence

By Victor E. Dike

Since October 1, 1960 Nigerians have been rolling out drums every October 1, to celebrate the nation's political independence from Britain. And during such periods patriotic Nigerians are prone to take stock of what they have accomplished individually, and as a nation. Ideally, there is cause to rejoice about Nigeria's political independence; there is also cause to worry about her destiny since the society has not made any significant progress after forty nine years as a sovereign nation. On October 1 2009 Nigerians will again assemble in Abuja and the state capitals for another celebration and the political opportunists will seize the opportunity to deliver their usual long and convoluted speeches loaded with promises that will not be honored. This article provides a lucid exposition of Nigeria's inadequacies and argues that the leaders should think beyond annual celebration of flag independence and strengthen the institutions and infrastructure to grow the economy and improve the people's living conditions.

The political history of Nigeria is strewn with wreckage of human suffering because of the inability of the leaders' (military and civilians) to fulfill their basic obligations to the society. The people endured untold hardship and misery during the eight years of Obasanjo's misrule and Yar'Ardua who took over from him on May 29 2007 has completely abandoned governance. Social institutions are left to rot away; in fact, the government is moving in the wrong direction (or backward?) in all fronts. He does not participate in international meetings and many the politicians working for him are busy looting whatever they could lay their hands on. Democracy has been turned on its head as the people's votes do not determine the outcome of elections. Nigeria talks about joining the club of the first twenty industrialized nations in the year 2020, but the schools cannot educate the youths because of lack of instructional materials and motivation for the teachers and support staff. Higher education has been grounded because university professors have been on strike since July to press for proper funding for education and better conditions of service. Public pressures have not persuaded the political leaders to resolve the crisis and rehabilitate the educational institutions.

Forty nine years after independence Nigeria still lacks basic institutional structures that would enable the people to earn the minimum required to sustain the most basic existence. The police cannot properly police the society because of lack of modern tools and corruption; the roads are death traps, the economy is in shambles, many factories have folded, resulting in rising youth unemployment, crime, poverty and hunger. The financial sector is in disarray because of lack of proper supervision, and the hospitals are no longer a place where the people go to get their ailments treated, but a place where they go and die. The society is groping in the dark after trillions of naira has been spent on power projects. The ubiquitous bribery and corruption leads to policy ineffectiveness, has stunted productivity, and undermined the nation's prospect for economic development.

What is the essence of independence if a nation can not provide enough food, potable water, shelter, energy, security and other basic necessities of life for its population? Workers are still being denied their salaries after toiling under dehumanized working conditions; and there are virtually no policies in place to ensure that an employer who violates the people's civil and human rights are given appropriate consequences. Public concerns over the state of the environment have not forced the leaders to change their disgusting manner of governance. It is criminal, wicked and inhuman to deny workers the means to provide food and other basic necessities to their families. The National Assembly and the horde of Ministers cannot solve their basic problems. About 70 percent of the population is reportedly poor. The ordinary folks, who have lost hope on the leaders, are only praying and hoping for divine intervention. When will the leaders make the basic changes needed in the nation's economic agenda and institutions of governance to ensure a secure and decent future for Nigerians?

Threats to the peace and security of the nation from environmental degradation and economic problems are increasing at an alarming speed. The Niger Delta predicament, kidnapping for ransom and the existing political system pose great threat Nigeria's security. In serious societies, the environment is integrated into the economy; but this is not the case with Nigeria. For economic activities in the nation to result in sustainable sociopolitical development, the political leaders cannot separate environmental issues from those of economic, trade, and security policies.

For Nigeria to move forward the political leaders must change their mentality, think beyond celebrating political independence, and strengthen the institutions and infrastructure for sustainable economic growth and development. Overcoming the obstacles to Nigeria's progress will require leadership with vision and courage to undertake policy and institutional changes for positive results. The nation should, therefore, invest copiously in the major determinants of economic growth and development such as human capital, technological capability, institutions and infrastructure, adopt innovative monetary and fiscal policies, and create stable political environment.

And for the changes to be sustained the political system must be restructured to ensure effective citizen participation in the political process, and the economic system must produces enough goods and services to meet the needs of the citizens with surplus for export, and the administrative system must be flexible, with an in-built capacity for self-adjustment. This will resolve the disruptive and unending industrial actions, tame human suffering, premature death, and reduce economic problems in the society. It will also resolve the problems associated with policy formulation, implementation, and control.

The leaders should transform their political rhetoric into real policies and demonstrate progressive leadership. The scale of growth needed to meet the future needs and aspirations of the people may not be achieved by current generation of greedy and corrupt leaders. Their present institutional and policy framework is incapable of tackling the nation's social, political, and economic challenges. Social and economic injustice and Nigeria's skewed political power structure are the causes of the upheavals in the society. For that, there should be drastic changes in domestic policies to ensure an authentic local control of natural resources for community development programs. Towards this, the nation's politics should be restructured into an issues-based so that the people could hold the politicians responsible for their actions.

To live a life consistent with democratic culture, and for the nation to make any meaningful progress, Nigeria should be governed by leadership with a moral purpose, a true patriotic and democratic leader who can inculcate into the fabric of the society the moral virtues necessary for its well-being. Nigeria can do better with all the resources at its disposal; it is insanity to do the same thing and expect a different result.

The people need a social environment that will favor positive changes and improve their living conditions. Thus, the political leaders should begin to think beyond annual celebration of political independence by strengthening institutional capacity for economic growth and development and make a difference in the lives of the citizens. Without the necessary changes, it will be impossible for the economy to grow and the nation to become full partner in the global economic and political policymaking process. The failure of the government to create effective structures to address the critical issues could result in more poverty, hunger, and social crisis.

Victor E. Dike is the author of Leadership without a Moral Purpose: A Critical Analysis of Nigerian Politics and Administration (with emphasis on the Obasanjo Administration, 2003-2007); BookSurge Publishing 2009.

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