Sixty-one years of independence is no easy mistress, and balancing out competing interests, and meeting expectations has been extraordinarily challenging for the Nigerian state.
There is no doubt that the country has made some gains, yet she keeps throwing around sub-optimal, unprepared, or corrupt leaders whose performances in the office are not only questionable but also regrettable. Nigeria has had a crop of leaders who 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.
In the last 61 years, Nigeria has had more unpatriotic leaders who succeeded in widening the existing contentious fault lines that gave birth to insurgency, kidnapping, banditry, economic and social inequality as well as the decline in citizen’s trust for the state that we are presently dealing with.
It is therefore not surprising that our ranking on the 2020 fragile/failed state index by the U.S Fund for Peace deteriorated from 54 in 2005 to an average of15 over the last three years; and largely in the Red Alert category with countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Guinea, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, etc. This gloomy result cannot be divorced from our leaders’ inability to address problems such as factionalized elite, group grievance, economic decline, uneven economic development, human flight and brain drain, state legitimacy, public services, human rights and rule of law, demographic pressures, IDPs, and internal security problems among several others.
There is a common saying that “the seeds of the future lies in the present”. Nigeria’s future can never be given, we must consciously create it. Hence, Independence Day shouldn’t be a day of fanciful speeches, rather a day for reflection, a day that the country’s leaders should set aside to imagine the unimaginable and think the unthinkable. It is time for them (and us all) to do away with the dominant logic of thinking that our dear country is still young compared to the likes of the USA. Most of those born in 1960 already have grandchildren and some great-grandchildren.
So, as we once again mark the country’s independence day, I’ve decided to take time out to reflect over the last 61 years of Nigeria as an independent country, and 59 years as a republic, while also imagining the future of possibilities or scenarios for our dear country. The three scenarios are as follows; 1. To each his own 2. The rise of the State 3. Together we can.
Scenario 1: To each his own
In this scenario, Nigeria will continue on the same path that we are on today. 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 and weak, 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 widens. Citizens eventually lose patience and erupt into 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 development and delivery to citizens, especially the poor, unemployed, and vulnerable people. 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: Together We Can
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.
Today already contains the seeds of all three scenarios and our possible future(s) 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 future we desire. Through the steps we take, we will create our future.
Happy Independence Day
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria