Nigeria Crawling and Wobbling At 52
By Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Daily Trust
“Do not swim in shallow waters if you do not want your back to show.” Malawian Proverb.
The meticulously-planned 50th Independence Anniversary of our nation was blasted into infamy two years by criminal elements who wanted to make a statement to the effect that they have a large chunk of our political space. Since then, our independence anniversaries, events which had been marked by two generations of Nigerians with deserved pomp and pride, have been hushed affairs. Leaders who used to inspect school children parades with military fanfare now release statements and retreat further behind barricaded official residences. Now the loudest sounds we hear are those of citizens who choose to blast their grievances, or criminals after millions in banks, or of security agents who run after them. A nation which started its journey on a confident trot is now crawling and wobbling. It is uncertain how long it can stay on all fours; and it is even more doubtful if our leadership has the capacity to prevent it from collapsing on its belly.
A few years ago, comments which suggest a perilous future for Nigeria would have been roundly condemned as doomsday prophesy. Even when the foundations of our nation began to be exposed to massive assault by corruption and impunity, Nigerians thought we could still turn our nation around. When our political system began to resemble everything else but a democratic system, with massively-rigged elections, non-accountable leadership and power produced by a combination of cynical manipulation of our structural weaknesses, violence and corruption, those who thought they could tell when a nation was sick enough to set alarm bells going began to warn of dangerous slides.
A few years on, we have a nation floundering under an ineffective and isolated leadership. Elder statesmen who mouth tired clichés such as the certainty of the survival of our nation; the indivisibility of our union; the irreversible unity of our people and iron-clad confidence that our security forces will defeat a determined insurgency and endemic crimes spreading themselves around our daily lives in every part of the country, now look pitiable in the eyes of most Nigerians.
During this independence anniversary, the President and other leaders will reaffirm their faith in the indivisibility, survival and greatness of our nation. They will assure citizens that all our problems will soon be things of the past. They will ask all citizens to remain steadfast in their support for them, to raise their levels of patriotism and commitment to the nation, and to re-dedicate themselves to rediscovering the ideals of our founding fathers who fought so hard to wrest our freedom from imperialism.
This year too, Nigerians are likely to ignore these empty and meaningless messages, because they will not assure or inspire anyone to do what they have not done. They will not give citizens confidence that our lives will be safer or more secure in the next few months, or this time next year. They will not console citizens who worry that politics is pushing the nation very close to the abyss. They will not assure our young people that they can live in a united, prosperous and secure nation. They will not assuage the worry that large-scale corruption has eaten too deeply into our politics and the management of our economy; and therefore the entire edifice of the Nigerian state is precariously balanced. It will take only a push which will certainly come from the massive resources that will be mobilized and deployed towards the dangerous jockeying for the life and soul of the nation in the 2015 election to tip our nation into an irretrievable slide. The same leaders who say we are safe, are fighting over resource mobilization and distribution; over which region, not voters or parties, will produce the next President; and over the nature of our federal system. All these quarrels are putting our fragile unity at great risk. Some Nigerian women may celebrate the independence anniversary of their country caged like animals or criminals in Saudi Arabia because they are citizens of a nation which is weak or indifferent to the welfare of its citizens. Many citizens are taking up arms against their nation. Others see little difference between its survival and collapse. Poverty and helplessness are redefining the Nigerian political map.
If a look back at the record of the Jonathan administration since the last independence is a depressing exercise, a look towards the next independence will alarm even the most level-headed. The maneouvers towards the 2015 elections are well and truly visible. It will require the most monumental sacrifice for President Jonathan (and the people who benefit most from his presidency) not to run for the office again in 2015. Events unfolding will not wait for him to make up his mind beyond 2013.
If he could renounce personal ambition and the pressures of those who milk his government, he could concentrate on damage limitation around key issues such as insecurity and corruption. He could run his term until 2015 and attempt a relatively free and fair election, and then allow history to judge him for doing what his predecessors failed to do. But this is highly unlikely. His people will tell him that the second term is the only guarantee that he can complete all he has started; correct mistakes made, and then acquire enough influence and resources to live in relative peace in Nigeria. They will say he represents a people and a region which must have two terms, and only their enemies wish they will not. They will tell him to ignore criticisms of weakness and incompetence because it comes from people who are used to ruling, and who cannot wait to reclaim power.
So he is likely to throw his hat more openly into the ring. It will join those being thrown in by General Muhammadu Buhari, Atiku Abubakar and about five or six Governors. There are yet others who are keeping low, but all of them are likely to reinforce the existing liabilities of the nation; rather than give it a new lease of life.
President Jonathan laments that he is unfairly criticized by the Nigerian media. He could try to improve the performance of his administration, and attempt to break new grounds to reduce the hostility of the media. He could also lower the fences around him
self, and let in some of that fresh air he promised Nigerians in 2011. He is not in touch with the feelings and pains of most Nigerians because apparently those around him tell him he is doing very well, and all critics are his enemies. If President Jonathan does not get a firm grip on the Boko Haram insurgency, and if he does not address very low levels of competence and capacity in his administration, and if he does not facilitate a reduction of the dangerous gaps which are evident in political groups and regions, and if he does not deal with corruption more decisively, our nation will be a lot worse than it is by this time next year. Since no patriotic or sensible Nigerian would wish this, here is to wishing President Jonathan a stronger will to do those things he swore to do as President.
Dr. Baba-Ahmed, a retired federal permanent secretary contributed this piece from Abuja.