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At 61, greatness still within reach of Nigeria, By Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim – Premium Times

On October 1, 1960, the Union Jack flag of the British Empire was lowered and replaced by a green and white flag, designed by Taiwo Akinwunmi at Independence Square in Lagos. Princess Alexandra of Kent, the official representative of Queen Elizabeth of England, handed over Nigeria’s symbol of Independence to the nation’s first Indigenous speaker of Parliament, Jaja Nwachukwu.
Though since 1955, Indigenous leaders have governed the three regional governments of Nigeria, leading to greater economic and social transformation than almost a century of colonial rule delivered, it was on October 1st 1960 that power was transferred at the centre to a parliament comprising indigenes.
The hope and optimism of that season was captured by the first elected Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, who spoke better English than most British, “I promise you we shall not fail for want of determination and we come to this task better equipped than many” Tafawa Balewa’s velvet voice rang.
The Prime Minister’s speech was not an empty boast. Within 5 years of limited self-government, the black Indigenous rulers of Nigeria had built more educational institutions, hospitals, industries, and created jobs than the British rulers did in about 100 years of colonial rule. Production of vaccines to cope with outbreak of diseases was not a challenge for them as they continued to maintain the Yaba Vaccine Production Centre that not only served Nigeria but many African countries as well. Nigeria had a prosperous economy diversified and comparable to her peers, like Malaysia and Thailand, as well as a comparable Per Capita Income (PCI).
Those momentums of greatness were punctured by a tragic military coup in January 1966, led by Chukwuemeka Kaduna Nzeogwu. They killed Balewa and other leaders, leading to two counter coups, lacking in political management skills. The military in government plunged the country into a civil war, distorted the Country’s Federalism and mismanaged the economy in its adventure in politics, which aside the 5 years of civil rule (between 1979 and 1985), lasted till 1999.
Since the return to democracy, the nation has struggled to shake off the ruinous effects of prolonged military rule that suspended the momentum of development recorded from 1955 to 1966. While the telecommunications sector has expanded, the country has however seen the near death of industrialisation. An educated Nigerian diaspora community has emerged, contributing over $26 billion in 2019 in remittances, which is a billion US dollars more than the receipt from oil, Nigeria’s major export. While the country’s citizens abroad are becoming more educated, there is growing illiteracy at home. To an extent, the country is recording up to 10 million out-of-school children according to UNICEF figures.
At the security front, Nigeria is facing new challenges proving tough for a country that has once been a helper to nearby countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Congo in achieving stability and peace. The challenges of the country are, however, surmountable, if the nation’s polity reconnects with the ideological and moral rectitude that galvanised development between 1955-1966, and if updated on modern precepts and new realities.
Politics has to be driven by developmental issues of economics, access to health and education, plans for industrialization, security, jobs, reform of decaying ethical and social values, political accountability and inclusiveness. Greater patriotism, tolerance, maturity and political accommodation are necessary, as exhibited by political leaders of the Independence era, who despite youthful ages resolved complex divisive issues in the National interest by working out political compromises.
The promise of Nigeria’s greatness is within reach, it is still the nation with the biggest economy in Africa. A 2015 PwC forecast based on GDP projection predicts Nigeria could be the 14th largest economy in the world by 2050 ahead of Spain, Canada, Italy, Portugal and many European nations. We can surpass the projection if we overcome our internal divisions, fix electricity distribution, the weakest link in the electricity sector, focus more on industrialisation and emerging cyber market where Nigeria has the advantage of been the 6th largest user(country) of Internet users in the world and take part more as content creator.
We can make regulations of infrastructure investment more investor-friendly. We can afford a bit more decentralisation in policing, to states and local government, as well as other areas of control, over economic activities that can galvanise production, resolve divisive issues like who should collect VAT and how should it be shared. Our nation’s future is brighter than bleaker, but we need to get some things under control-and it must be now!
Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, a chieftain of the APC, was a former Presidential candidate.
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