As Nigeria marks another milestone in her checkered history, the primal challenges she grappled with over six decades ago continue to frustrate one generation after another.
Days of celebratory events, cultural dance and fireworks followed the announcement of Nigeria’s independence from British colonial rule on Saturday, October 1, 1960. At home and abroad, the spirit was the same.
Regardless of tribe, religion and political leaning, citizens of the most promising black race trooped out en masse to celebrate the opportunity to witness the historic event or be part of its making.
But Nigeria was not alone. It was around the middle of the 20th century, amidst the great wave of independence sweeping across Africa. For activists at the time, the continent could now breathe in peace as the cloak of colonialism was gradually rolled away.
For Nigerians, independence brought hope in the possibility of a future where the country could do better across all development indices; hope that its challenges would gradually give way to massive development. Many hoped the infrastructure deficit and other challenges that pervaded the previous years would finally be addressed.
However, not many people foresaw the negative possibilities on the other side of self-governance.
Only six years later, the euphoria soon gave way to bloodshed that plunged not just Nigeria but the continent into the dark age of forceful takeover of power. The relics of those dark years still linger in the form of misgovernance, bad leadership, unemployment, infrastructural decay, insecurity and a poor perception in Africa and beyond.
Although successive leadership promised to roll the dark realities away, or at least reduce them, some of the problems have not gone away, decades after. Worse, they now form the collective identity of Nigeria—stunting her growth and the quality of life for many of her citizens.
As the green and white flags flap on October 1 every year in celebration of freedom and sovereignty, they also flap in the face of unresolved challenges. Though not new, the challenges have evolved with the times and many young Nigerians today find themselves caught in a mess they did not start.
According to many Nigerians, the problems facing the country, rather than dissipate, have continued to mutate at an alarming rate, from the time of Tafawa Balewa, who was the first Prime Minister between 1960 and 1966, to incumbent President Bola Tinubu.
Despite the number of persons that have led the country, however, many Nigerians say the same old problems persist, and now in newer forms.
For example, the stable electric power supply that eluded Nigeria decades ago has continued to hurt young and old Nigerians. The noise of generators may have staved off total darkness, but the unstable power supply has worsened over the years.
Also, the youth, full of energy and potential, battle unemployment or under-employment. Security challenges remain real and deadly while disunity festers even as calls for good governance grow louder day by day.
POOR POWER SUPPLY
Nigeria’s power problem is old and deep. With a gnawing infrastructure deficit, power shortage, prolonged blackouts and heavy debts, the power sector has defeated every administration since 1999 and is dealing its perennial blows to the Tinubu administration through periodic grid collapse. After collapsing 98 times under his predecessor, the new President had his first taste on September 14.
Since 1960, Nigeria has not generated up to 6000MW of electricity, the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors confirmed. The Executive Director of Research and Advocacy of ANED, an umbrella body of power distribution companies, Mr Sunday Oduntan, decried the unstable power supply nationwide, saying Nigeria requires 200,000MW of power to meet the electricity needs of its 200+ million citizens since the international standards is 1,000MW to one million people.
Although the total installed generating capacity through the regular plants and the National Integrated Power Project plants was about 11,165.4MW in 2015, the transmission grid, though boasting an installed capacity of 7,000MW and Network Operational Capacity of 5,500MW, could barely evacuate and send 4,000MW to the DisCos.
The consequence is depicted by the World Bank, which revealed that the average Nigerian experienced approximately 4,600 hours of power outage annually – that is, darkness for over half a year. The generators that fill this power gap often unleash a cascade of challenges: noise pollution, which contributes significantly to climate change through the release of CO2, health hazards, and increased business cost.
In the industrial sector, the narrative is even grimmer. According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, about 40 per cent of operational costs are attributed to alternative power generation.
This economic haemorrhage transcends fiscal boundaries, eroding competitiveness for businesses and stifling innovation. Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, the backbone of the Nigerian economy, are not spared either. In a survey, over 60 per cent cited poor power supply as a significant obstacle to economic productivity.
Meanwhile, successive administrations have embarked on ambitious journeys, but they have failed to address the problem.
Billions of dollars have been sunk into power sector reforms, in addition to the 2013 privatisation, but the narrative remains unchanged, while the agitation for a permanent solution to the problem persists.
Obsolete infrastructure, vandalism and a convoluted mix of administrative and regulatory bottlenecks accentuate the crisis. Despite the country’s abundant natural gas reserves, power plants grapple with gas shortages due to infrastructural deficits and security challenges. Also, in spite of the dams across the country, hydropower has yet to be fully maximised, with some dams and the equipment purchased abandoned since the 1980s.
While many people in Lagos and some other major cities could boast of hours of electricity daily, many people in rural communities say the situation has only become worse. In fact, bothered by how the power problem has persistently defied solutions, a former Minister of Power once said witches and wizards were behind the power problem. While the outage is worrisome, tens of millions of Nigerians do not even have access to electricity.
The immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, said in 2022 that 62 per cent of Nigerians lacked access to electricity.
While successive governments promised a total transformation of the sector, Nigerians still groan in darkness. Many electricity users say that it was shameful that 63 years after, the power problem remains bad, even as they call for concerted efforts to address the problem.
In recent years, many Nigerians and economic experts have expressed concerns over the state of the economy; from the huge debts to rising inflation rate, low revenue, unemployment and high exchange rate, all of which have compounded Nigerians’ woes.
For example, the naira has maintained its free fall, with the parallel market hitting N1000/$ recently while the Investors & Exporters’ window also remains unstable.
According to experts, the exchange rate depicts an embattled currency, slipping from N450/$ in January to N1000/$ in the parallel market, which has resulted in increased cost of goods, escalating living costs and a populace grappling with the icy grip of inflation.
In August 2023, the National Bureau of Statistics reported an inflation rate hovering around 24.08 per cent, with the common man feeling the pinch at marketplaces and stores.
The implications stretch beyond the immediacy of elevated prices to the long-term prospects of investment and economic growth.
External debt has surged by N13.38tn ($17.38bn) in the second quarter of 2023. The Debt Management Office said Nigeria’s external debt rose to N33.25tn ($43.16bn) in Q2 2023 from N19.64tn ($42.67bn) in the preceding quarter, an increase credited mainly to the weak naira rather than fresh borrowing.
Many economists have however expressed concern over the state of the economy.
In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, young graduates, teeming with skills and aspirations, encounter the harsh reality of limited job openings. In the Northeast, where insurgency has ravaged communities, students risk their lives to gain education.
NATION UNDER SIEGE
About a week ago, the President fumed over the abduction of 30 students of the Federal University, Gusau in Zamfara State by bandits in the early hours of Friday. As of Sunday, 21 students were still in captivity; seven had been rescued while two escaped.
The President, in a statement on Sunday by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, directed security agencies to rescue the abducted students. “There is no moral justification for such heinous crimes against innocent victims whose only ‘offence’ was their pursuit of quality education,” Tinubu said.
The President was right. It is his turn to bear the brunt of the terrorism ravaging the country for over a decade. The kidnap was a clear message from the bandits that variants of insecurity, which his predecessors since independence could not totally resolve, remained alive.
According to the Global Terrorism Index (2023), Nigeria ranks eighth in the top 10 countries with the highest terrorism prevalence. Boko Haram, a terrorist group, and banditry across the northern states have become frightening household names. Over a decade of insurgency has claimed over 30,000 lives and displaced about 2.5 million people, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.
Also, the farmer-herder clashes in the Middle Belt and parts of the North and indeed other parts of the country continue to widen the scale of armed conflict, threatening food security on an unprecedented scale.
Caught in the security challenges are students being kidnapped and murdered. In addition, many women, children and men have been killed, some in kidnappers’ dens and some missing.
From 2013 to 2023, no fewer than 78,148 Nigerians were killed nationwide. In its 2023 Security report, Beacon Consulting, a security risk management and intelligence consulting company, revealed that 16,644 Nigerians were killed by terrorists, 8,475 Nigerians by banditry, 1,897 by farmers-herders clashes, and 1,410 by social upheaval.
POOR GOVERNANCE, CORRUPTION
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index consistently paints a damning picture for Nigeria. With a score of 24 out of 100 in the 2022 index, the country ranks 150 out of 180 nations globally. These figures underscore a reality where corruption is not the exception but, tragically, an entrenched aspect of the administrative fabric in the country.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission estimates that approximately $20bn is lost annually due to corruption, which manifests boldly in underfunded hospitals, dilapidated schools, bad roads, decrepit infrastructure and huge debts. This has over the years worsened the trust deficit between the government and the governed.
While the country celebrates uninterrupted 24 years of democracy, the electoral process has continued to throw up issues of concern. According to the National Democratic Institute, allegations of vote-buying, electoral violence and ballot stuffing have characterised multiple election cycles.
As the country marks another independence anniversary, about seven months after the general elections, the outcome of the elections is still being contested in court. According to some observers, this does not only undermine the integrity of the electoral process, it also undermines the credibility of constituted governments.
NIGERIANS HARASSED ABROAD
Many Nigerian international travellers have lamented the incidences of heightened suspicion, discrimination and derogatory comments abroad. Not even the Vienna Conventions governing diplomatic and consular relations between states could have averted such experiences.
In May, 2016, the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, referred to Nigeria as a fantastically corrupt country during a conversation with the late Queen Elizabeth during an event at the Buckingham Palace to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. The Queen died on September 8, 2022.
Cameron had said, “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan are possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.” This arguably speaks to the way Nigerians are perceived abroad.
Meanwhile, in August 2021, for instance, a Nigerian diplomat was assaulted in Indonesia. In a viral video clip, the diplomat was seen being manhandled by immigration officers in Jakarta.
The incident illuminated a grim reality of the degradation Nigerians often face abroad.
Further amplifying this narrative was a similar incident in DR Congo where a diplomatic passport holder, protected by the Vienna Convention, was met with a torrent of physical assault.
Reports also confirmed the burgling of the Nigerian Embassy in Kinshasa by a diplomatic police officer deployed in the mission and the illegal seizure of Nigerian diplomatic property in the choice area of Gombe.
In Accra, the authorities demolished some properties belonging to the High Commission, which was a violation of Nigeria’s sovereignty.
According to some analysts, this and other disturbing incidents are not isolated but weave into a broader tapestry of humiliations that Nigerians, both citizens and officials, experience globally.
Thus, 63 years after independence, Nigeria battles for respect and dignity on the global stage.
NIGERIA MUST FIGHT CORRUPTION TO SUCCEED
The Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, says that although Nigeria had grown to earn the respect of the global community due to its contribution in arts and entertainment, it had yet to stabilise its democracy in a way that benefits its citizens.
He added, “We should see ourselves as being lucky to sustain the present democracy for the past 24 years unbroken. And despite all odds, the civil war and the rest of the insecurity, we still have Nigeria as one entity.”
“Nigerians are cherished for their music, literature, arts and science. Be that as it may, we have been unable to stabilise our democracy in such a way that will benefit everybody. We are trying to find our feet on the pedestal of democracy.”
He argued that although the country had made efforts to fight widespread corruption, it must cover more grounds if Nigerians would see meaningful progress.
Adeniran added, “If steady progress is made in controlling all the defects we have identified in our socio-political and economic areas, then it will not be too long before we get things right.”
“As long as the system begins to apply its laws, punishing those sabotaging our economy, those who make it difficult to live in Nigeria, we will reduce the penchant to cut corners by successive governments.