Writing a regular newspaper column is a lot like dancing; it takes two to tango.
The year 2021 was an extraordinarily challenging one. Suffice it to say, while I’ve kept the flame alive these past enervating months via ceaseless articles detailing the bottomless gloom of 2021, I’m hopeful that 2022 may generally bring more positive things for us to (at the very least) begin to talk about. Some up-tempo music is in sight at last.
The last 12 months were undeniably very tough. While most citizens struggled to survive the harsh socioeconomic realities of the previous 12 months, their government(s) struggled to balance competing interests among various groups (political, economic, socio-cultural, and so on) in order to meet citizens’ expectations.
Unquestionably, the country has made some gains but could have done better if not for the sub-optimal, unprepared, incompetent, and corrupt leaders it parades. leaders whose performances in the office are not only questionable but also regrettable. They didn’t just fail in economic management, but also failed to manage the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious diversity or build inclusive political and economic institutions that are necessary for stability and prosperity.
Leaders who succeeded in widening the country’s existing fault lines, resulting in an unprecedented rise in insurgency, kidnapping, and banditry across the country. Similarly, leaders who presided over increases in absolute inflation, poverty, unemployment, and economic and social inequality
It is therefore not surprising, although sad, that the 2021 report on the Fragile States Index (FSI) ranked Nigeria as the 12th most fragile state in the world. Last year, the country was ranked the 14th most fragile state, which implied that the country had declined by two further steps. This gloomy result cannot be divorced from the country’s inability to address problems such as its factionalized elite, group grievance, economic decline, uneven economic development, human flight, and brain drain, state legitimacy, public services, human rights, and the rule of law, demographic pressures, and internal security problems, among several others.
To compound the problem, the prevailing economic downturn, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, constrained the capacity of both the state and individuals, so much so that the necessities of life went far beyond the reach of most Nigerians. As conflict zones expanded, so did agitations. Sadly, the federal government almost lost its capacity to rein in sundry cartels of gunmen who went about terrorizing innocent citizens across the country, particularly in most parts of the North.
There is a common saying that “the seeds of the future lie in the present.” As we bid 2021 farewell, we must all remember that Nigeria’s future can never be given; we must consciously create it. Hence, this is a period for deep reflection, a period we should all set aside to imagine the unimaginable and think the unthinkable. Hence, I’ve decided to take time out to imagine the possibilities or scenarios for our dear country in 2022. The three scenarios are as follows: 1. Each to his or her own2. The Rise of the State. 3. Together we can.
Scenario 1: To each his or her own
In this scenario, Nigeria will continue on the same path as in 2021. Our pressing problems—unemployment, poverty, safety and insecurity, and poor public health and education delivery—will worsen. Our social fabric will further unravel as civil society organizations disengage and public trust in public institutions diminishes.
It is a scenario of “musical chairs” or “reshuffled elites”. It is triggered by the failure of our leaders across all sectors to deal with our critical challenges. This failure is the result of pervasive identity politics, weak and unaccountable leadership, weak capacity in government departments, and tightening economic constraints that are not dealt with realistically or inclusively. Hence, an increasingly disengaged civil society as public trust in public institutions diminishes. The state is increasingly bypassed by citizens, resulting in unaccountable groupings assuming power over parts of society. The gap between the leaders and the led grows. Citizens eventually lose patience and erupt in protest and unrest. The government, driven by its inability to meet citizens’ demands and expectations, responds brutally, and a spiral of resistance and repression is unleashed.
Scenario 2: The Rise of the State
In the second scenario, the Nigerian state leads and manages the process of addressing our challenges. Citizens either support strong state intervention or are submissive in the face of a more powerful state.
This is a scenario where the state assumes the role of leader and manager. State planning and coordination are seen as central mechanisms for accelerating the development and delivery of services to citizens, especially the poor, unemployed, and vulnerable. The ruling party argues that strong state intervention in the economy is in accordance with global trends, and the electorate, concerned about the impacts of the global economic crisis, gives the ruling party a powerful mandate. Strong state intervention crowds out private initiatives by business and civil society. The risks of this scenario are twofold: one is that the country accumulates unsustainable debt; the other is that the state becomes increasingly authoritarian.
Scenario 3: We Can Do It Together
In this third scenario, our challenges are addressed through active citizen engagement, a catalytic state, and strong leadership across all sectors.
This is a scenario of active citizen engagement with a government that is effective and that listens. It requires the engagement of citizens who demand better service delivery and government accountability. It is dependent on the will and ability of citizens to organize themselves and to engage the authorities, and on the quality of political leadership and its willingness to engage citizens. It entails a common national vision that cuts across economic self-interest in the short term. This is not an easy scenario. Its path is uneven – there is robust contestation over many issues, and it requires strong leadership from all sectors, especially from citizens.
Our today (2021) already contains the seeds of all three scenarios, and 2022 will not look like purely one or the other, but I have drawn the three apart to see the opportunities and risks that each path poses for our country’s future. A healthy democracy and strong socio-economic development require a healthy interface between an effective state and an alert and active citizenry. It is my belief that the nature of this interface will determine the future of our country. Nigerians are standing at a crossroads. Each one of us, citizens and leaders, must choose the kind of 2022 we desire. Through the steps we take, we will create our 2022.
I wish you all a prosperous 2022.