Nigeria at 53: Discovering what a nation is not
By Nna Nta
Sometimes when a problem is complex and convoluted, resolution is achieved faster by the process of elimination. Knowing one way that something does not work is a step closer to knowing how it works. Thomas Alva Edison (1847 – 1931) is one of the most accomplished inventors of all times. Though he did not invent the light bulb, we have him to thank for the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb we all use today. Legend has it that
Edison tried and failed so many times before arriving at the point where he felt his discovery could be patented and mass-produced. And as is typical of legends, there is no agreement as to exact number of the experiment cycles Edison undertook to arrive at perfection. But I can confidently wager it was more than 53!
For every true and patriotic Nigerian, the incandescent glow of any light bulb should point to the promise and possibility of a new Nigeria. If Edison surmounted the odds and succeeded, Nigeria stands even a better chance.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. The Nigerian scenario is infinitely more complex than Edison’s famed laboratory. Worse still, the minders and managers of the lab that is Nigeria have not shown even a hundredth of the focus and commitment of an Edison. The sum total of this reality is that 53 years along, Nigeria is worse off.
In1980 when we turned 20, I remember parcelling my books from Kaduna to Umuahia via the railway. The parcel arrived intact and on schedule. 33 years down the line, there is scarcely a railway. This sorry state of affairs is replicated in almost every other critical sector so I won’t bore you with the disconcerting details. Suffice it to say that the prospects don’t look uplifting. If Nigeria were a patient, an honest doctor will put the prognosis of her disease as grim.
This will seem to align with the views of the many who say Nigeria is a failed state. But there is a militant group vehemently opposed to this portrayal. While they acknowledge the daunting challenges, they insist the promise of Nigeria’s greatness is intact and wholly realizable.
Recently, the voluble former Chairman of EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu weighed in on the latter side of the raging debate. The very fact that this argument is going on is clear indication that all is not well. Whether we settle for a failed or failing state is wholly a matter of semantics.
Nigeria’s Centenary juggernaut is presently gathering momentum. Politicians and public servants are already falling over each other manufacturing and reeling out justification for a no-expense-sparred romp. From one nation of three regions, we became 12 states, then 19. Later, 21 swelled to 30 and we are presently at 36 with a world-class Federal Capital City. Among other indicators, they claim this endless multiplication of political units represents progress, and worthy of rolling out the drums.
I beg to differ. Multiplication is not necessarily synonymous with progress and distinction. If that were so, then the more children a woman has, the more successful she is. Most of us can identify successful motherhood, and if our estimation is sincere and honest, Nigeria is not one by any stretch.
I do not equally subscribe to celebrating merely because we have barely managed not to disintegrate despite a plethora of self-inflicted crises because doing this will be the perfect fillip for permanently inaugurating mediocrity as the directive principle of public policy.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I am neither an ascetic nor a kill-joy. I love to celebrate and I love it even better seeing others do it. You don’t set foot on a place like Ife and end up differently. But I won’t party for nothing nor will I be part of a gig whose purpose is nebulous.
Every month, the Federation Account Allocation Committee meets in Abuja to haggle over how much money each tier of government gets. Among other debilitating symptoms, the existence of a body like FAAC is veritable proof that Nigeria, in practical, progressive terms, is not yet a nation. A nation worthy of the appellation cannot be founded on allocation.
A nation is, first and foremost, an idea: a grand concept around which peoples freely subscribe by subsuming their idiosyncrasies. It is a union (marriage, if you may) of peoples based on clearly articulated and perfectly understood terms. Only after signing on the dotted lines can geography, demography and economics take their proper places.
Based on the foregoing, Nigeria is definitely not a nation – yet. But we can yet celebrate. We can celebrate the fact that we know, without a shadow of doubt, what a nation is not. And more than any other geo-political entity on earth, we can exult in the settled fact that we know how not to run a nation.
OLUGU OLUGU ORJI mnia