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Author Topic: The Uncomfortable Truth Of Elusive Economic Development  (Read 478 times)

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This is lengthy but try to read it all...

The Uncomfortable Truth Of Elusive Economic Development- Nigeria’s Century Old Failures And Prospects For A New Nigeria By Oby Ezekwesili

caption: Oby Ezekwesili

Protocols : Good afternoon, chieftains and members of the All Progressives Congress.

 Thanks for inviting me as your Keynote Speaker at your Unveiling of Road Map Summit. I do not know how you decided to take this high risk of inviting me to your gathering, knowing full well that my zeal for candor can be generally unsettling for some people of your class and occupation.  Since you took the risk, I have assumed the liberty to speak boldly even to your discomfort especially considering that we live in a season of grim when our country is greatly troubled. In perilous times like this, Truth is the absolute freedom. I shall be spurred on by the counsel of George Orwell who in honor of truth stated that “in a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. I further assume that if you wanted someone with the skills of deceit, it would not be me that you would have invited to your gathering. I therefore speak to you today not as a politician but as a daughter of this land.

Context and Fact are very important for me as both a scholar and practitioner of public policy. Context is the missing link that helps us to connect the dots between the visible and the hidden, and between the general and the specific. Fact or Truth is the evidence that never takes flight nor ceases to exist even where ignored for hundred years. So my speech in content and delivery will be hinged on context and facts.For context, nothing serves a better guide than History. The philosopher and novelist George Santayana famously said that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Winston Churchill reinforced Santayana by counselling, “Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” I am compelled even further to tread the path of history by our Centenary celebration and shall therefore use - Nigeria’s political history as the context for this speech.

The Political trajectory of Nigeria much like her entire history is checkered. In the book, This House has Fallen, “Nigeria was the focus of great optimism as a powerful emerging nation that would be a showcase for democratic government”. Sadly the optimism was frittered over the years. I shall take the excerpts from my University of Nigeria lecture in January in this regard. “If you traced the political history of our country since independence in 1960 and you will better understand the horror of our faulty political foundation.  The first democratic government ushered in an independent Nigeria but was cut short  by a coup in 1966, a counter coup in 1966, civil war from 1967 to 1970, military rule from 1970 at the end of the war until another coup in 1975, another unsuccessful coup in 1976 the then Head of State was murdered, continued rule of the military until 1979 when a successful political transition ushered in the second republic but it became a democratic process that did not leave a good mark on governance until it was cut short in 1983 by yet another military coup but the discipline instilling but draconian regime was itself sent packing in 1985 through yet another coup.

The succeeding regime ruled from 1985 until 1993. The hallmark of that regime was procrastinated conduct of a transition to democracy. When it finally, reluctantly started the transition process, it regrettably went ahead to thwart the political rights of citizens who had elected a democratic president by annulling the elections. The regime then responded to the public disturbance and agitation that followed by installing an interim national government that lasted only six months following yet another military intervention. The regime that followed was more heinous than ever imagined possible by Nigerians until 1998 when by divine providence, it was cut short. Never again!  A new season came but it was yet one with the military still in the saddle. That regime however surprised skeptics when it successfully conducted a transition that ushered in democratic governance in 1999 ending the long sixteen years of militarization of governance that materially defines the psyche of government in Nigeria. Cumulatively, from the time of our independence in 1960 to 1999- the military governed for about twenty nine years while two flashes of pseudo democracy had a little more than ten years in all. The common theme in our extremely unstable and volatile political history was that each regime truncation mirrored a Russian roulette with justification for regime change being the “necessity to rescue the country from bad governance and corruption”.

Compared to the mere six years of 1960-1966 and the even shorter four and a half years of 1979-1983, the period of 1999 to date under democratic rule has been the longest ever season of such political system in Nigeria. An objective assessment of our democratic journey since the last fifteen years by May of this year, will return the verdict that we are still very much in the nascent zone of democracy as a political system which despite all its short comings trumps all other alternatives. Fifteen years has merely given us more of civilian rule than democracy. The quality of the military/political elite and the depth of undemocratic culture, practices and nuances have worked to produce very disappointing results of governance to citizens. Yet, we must temper our disappointment with the cautious sense of accomplishment - that the subordination of the military to the constitutional will of the people of Nigeria in the 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 elections, is perhaps the very tiny ray of light, in what had for more than five decades been a canvass of political tragedies.

“Today is Independence Day. The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years, Nigeria has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent Sovereign nation.  Words cannot adequately express my joy and pride at being the Nigerian citizen privileged to accept from Her Royal Highness these Constitutional Instruments which are the symbols of Nigeria’s Independence. It is a unique privilege which I shall remember forever, and it gives me strength and courage as I dedicate my life to the service of our country. This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now, we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations.”

These were the very gushing and giddy words of the first Prime Minister of Nigeria Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on October 1, 1960.

According to history books, prehistoric settlers lived in the territories that make up the area today known as Nigeria as far back as 9000 BC. According to Wikipedia, the period of the 15th century saw the emergence of several “early independent kingdoms and states” that made up the British colonialized Nigeria – Benin kingdom, Borgu kingdom, Fulani empire, Hausa kingdoms, Kanem Bornu empire, Kwararafa kingdom, Ibibio Kingdom, Nri kingdom, Nupe kingdom, Oyo Kingdom, Songhai empire and Warri Kingdom. Each Kingdom was composed of dominant ethnic nationalities with unique language, custom, culture, tradition and religion. "

These kingdoms independently traded among themselves and with the rest of the world especially Great Britain. It was however by 1886 through expanded trade with the territories under the charter of the Royal Niger Company that the mercantilist root of that influence became established. The handover of the company’s territories to the British Government followed in 1900 leading to the areas becoming organized as protectorates that helped extend the great British Empire of that era. In 1914, Nigeria was formed by combining the Northern and Southern Protectorates and the Colony of Lagos. For administrative purposes, it was divided into four units:  the colony of Lagos, the Northern Provinces, the Eastern Provinces and the Western Provinces."

One could say that considering the way Nigeria emerged it was no more than an artificial creation purely intended to serve the administrative convenience of the reigning colonial power. In fact, no one better conveyed this perception of Nigeria as artificiality than Chief Obafemi Awolowo who once described Nigeria as a “mere geographical expression”. It is common for Nigerians across the territory in moments of deep despair at the failings of this union of multiple diversities to loudly rue the fact that a certain Lord Lugard and his fiancée – Ms. Shaw -were the “creators” of Nigeria.

The forty six years that followed the creation of Nigeria until her independence in 1960, saw varying degrees of mutation in the relationship between Britain and the people of the territory.  The journey of governance commenced among the three dominant regions that made up the Nigerian territory- namely the North, the West and the East. There were understandably, deep mistrusts and suspicions among the ethnic groups with each one seeking to advance their own cause and interest but their leaders managed to forge a united front in the struggle to attain self-government. Their successive negotiations and constitution building processes among them and acting jointly, with colonial Britain- helped to achieve one of the most anticipated political independence of a country in Africa. It culminated in the successful agitation for self-government on a representative and ultimately federal basis.  The great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who was first the Governor General at independence in 1960 and later ceremonial President when in 1963 we became a Republic, succinctly captured that feat of the Nationalists in gaining independence.

He wrote in 1966 that, “We talked the Colonial Office into accepting our challenges for the demerits and merits of our case for self-government. After six constitutional conferences in 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960, Great Britain conceded to us the right to assert our political independence as from October 1, 1960.  None of the Nigerian political parties ever adopted violent means to gain our political freedom and we are happy to claim that not a drop of British or Nigerian blood was shed in the course of our national struggle for our place in the sun. This historical fact enabled me to state publicly in Nigeria that Her Majesty’s Government has presented self-government to us on a platter of gold.”

Ladies and gentlemen, in a recent speech celebrating the late Ben Nwazojie, I had posited that "the Great Zik of Africa had great hopes that the successful struggle for independence would bequeath to us as a people; “our place in the sun”.  And yet, even though that entity created in 1914 will become one Century years old in the next three months and had only a few days ago became a relatively old country of fifty three years, its present state is anything but "sunny" for majority of her citizens. For the fact is that whether of the North, South, East or West of the present day Nigerian territory, we know that most Nigerians feel but a deep sense of disappointment at what has become of the dream that our founding fathers dared to imagine was possible. That deep internal threats to Nigeria’s territorial integrity remain part of core issues of our polity in 2013 menacingly brings into sharp focus the wide gulf between what it means to be a country as different from the higher order state of being a nation".

Thus, the phrase, “an independent Sovereign nation” that Sir Tafawa Balewa used to describe Nigeria in his sweet poetry of a speech at independence remains under doubtful scrutiny and is constantly under threat through various cycles of our political history. For if there is one construct that remains the sticky point in our COUNTRY today, it is whether indeed there is yet a NATION called Nigeria? Or put differently, what happened to the COUNTRY that held so much promise on that morning of October 1, 1960? After all, nothing makes the point of the failure to successfully transition from country to nation than the fact that a only week ago, the current government as a response to heightened socio-political tensions in the land announced yet another National Dialogue that is “aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, longstanding impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united Nation”.

What happened? How come a country which at independence was enthusiastically described by our first leader as an independent sovereign nation is at fifty three years hosting yet another “national conversation” to determine whether it is a worthy union for everyone? Was it also not only a few years ago in 2006 that the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo had hosted as similar gathering? Who were the people that discussed at that time and what did they resolve? What seems to be the intractable issue that almost every administration –military and civilian alike- have not managed to settle on whether we do indeed have a common destiny or not? How come that despite the oft expressed “sincere intent” of each cycle of ruling class (mark my choice of word as distinct from leadership); that each hosted some sort of national dialogue, conference, conversation, forum etc. (choose your pick), we are nowhere closer today to our destination of nationhood. To imagine that our founding fathers mistakenly assumed that we became a nation because the various nationalities worked collaboratively to secure independence from a common external “foe” in 1960? How could it be that this journey has thus far turned out agonizing for almost every one of us?

.... (to be continued)

Knowledge Is Power – Seek For It


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