Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Sunday stated the obvious about the threats to Nigeria’s unity.
“Fortunately for us, our walls are not yet broken,” Mr Osinbajo stated in a church service in Abuja to commemorate Nigeria’s 60th anniversary. “But there are obvious cracks that could lead to a break if not properly addressed.”
Mr Osinbajo, a pastor in one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Nigeria, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, was represented at the church service by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
The Vice President’s assertion somehow vindicates former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was attacked recently by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for making a similar remark.
“Nigeria is fast drifting to a failed and badly divided state; economically our country is becoming a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and socially, we are firming up as an unwholesome and insecure country,” Mr Obasanjo said.
The former president said the country has failed to manage its diversity.
Mr Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, in his response, called the former president the “divider-in-chief”.
Mr Shehu said, “Nigeria, which other nations had mocked and ridiculed for so many things that were wrong, is today progressing at a pace reflecting its size and potential.”
Nigeria’s chequered history since its independence from British rule in 1960 includes two and a half years of civil war, tumultuous eras of military rule featuring a shameful annulment of a presidential election, in 1993, adjudged to be the freest ever conducted in the country.
The winner of that election, Moshood Abiola, died mysteriously in detention on July 8, 1998, and his wife, Kudirat, was assassinated in the course of the struggle for the actualisation of the electoral mandate.
Nigeria has won many laurels in sports, arts, entertainment, and in other spheres since independence.
It has produced Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate; Chinua Achebe, one of the greatest writers in the world; Jay-Jay Okocha, a magical footballer; Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a music icon; Anthony Joshua, boxing champion; Aliko Dangote, an industrialist and the richest black man in the world; and several other global figures.
But it has also produced the likes of James Ibori, the disgraced former governor of Delta State, South-South Nigeria, who stole billions of naira from the state treasury and was jailed for fraud and money-laundering in the United Kingdom, and the late Sani Abacha, a military dictator who personified the brutality and the corruption associated with the dark years of military rule.
Nigeria, and the world indeed, may never know how much the late Abacha, his family and cronies stole from Nigeria, as hundreds of millions of dollars are being repatriated to the country in batches.
There are some crazy jokes about the late general being ‘the only Nigerian ancestor that keeps sending money to its people.’
The truth is, the plundering of its resources by its leaders, whether military or civilian, is one of the biggest challenges which have continued to plague Nigeria since independence.
Oby Ezekwesili, a former vice president of the World Bank, was quoted in 2012 by Vanguard newspaper as saying that over $400 billion oil revenue in Nigeria have been stolen or mismanaged since independence.
Mrs Ezekwesili, a former minister of education in Nigeria, also said “20 per cent of the entire budget for capital expenditure in Nigeria ended in private pockets annually”.
The poverty rate in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world, despite the billions of dollars the country has earned from the sales of crude oil.
It is difficult to say whether corruption thrives more during the military or civilian rule in Nigeria.
It is debatable whether the myriad of problems facing Nigeria is from its constitution which many are calling for a review to make Nigeria function as a true federation or with Nigerians who refuse to adhere to the rules.
Among Nigerians, there is a lot of debate about where to place the current Buhari administration in terms of performance with critics saying the administration is the biggest flop in the history of modern Nigeria. Meanwhile, Mr Buhari, a former military dictator, is the first opposition leader to have won a presidential election in the country.
Nigeria remains a killing field because of the activities of Boko Haram terrorists, herders, bandits, and even security agencies, under Mr Buhari’s watch.
Over 100 schoolgirls, who were among the 276 kidnapped in April 2014 in Chibok, Borno State, by Boko Haram terrorists, are yet to be rescued from captivity, more than five years after Mr Buhari was elected president.
Ethnic and religious tension is high. Nigerians are getting poorer by the day. Democracy is becoming meaningless to citizens. And yet the administration, including the National Assembly, appears unperturbed.
Corruption is still rampant. So also is the government’s disobedience to court orders, a sad reminder of the military era which Mr Buhari was a part.
Many Nigerians understandably feel Mr Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress, sold a lie to them, disguised as ‘change’, during the 2015 campaign.
But Nigerians themselves seem to have acquiesced to ballot-stealing which has continually shut out the kind of political leadership that could probably transform Nigeria and bring about the much needed prosperity.
Many voters would rather cast their vote for a crooked and non-performing politician who gives them a few naira notes or even some grain of rice.
“At 60, Nigeria’s nationhood, not just its democracy is dubious,” Aloy Ejimakor, a lawyer for the pro-Biafra group, IPOB, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“A nation enjoys healthy and unifying democracy only if its leaders are willing to go beyond the narrow interests of their ethnic stock and direct their vision to the common good.
“But that’s not the case with a Nigeria whose President infamously divided the nation into 97 versus 5 per cent, a treasonous declaration that quickly gained traction and merciless implementation to this day,” Mr Ejimakor said.
Mr Ejimakor said Nigerian democracy is endangered more by institutional dysfunction than failure of the electoral institutions.
“Nigeria got broken when it was unilaterally structured to the overwhelming advantage of one part of the three parts that founded Nigeria. If you are from the part that got deliberately disadvantaged, it will be foolish to be celebrating Nigeria’s Independence,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES asked him whether the South-east producing the next president of Nigeria in 2023 could slow down the agitation for the independent State of Biafra.
Mr Ejimakor said, “My prediction is that if Nigeria survives the bloodletting ongoing in the North and coming soon to the South, some things will happen in rapid succession; they are: Southeast and even Southwest won’t get the presidency; the core North will retain it and Nigeria will finally scatter on that account plus more; and Biafra and perhaps one more new nation will become an instant reality.
“So, in the end, Nigeria would have been completely destroyed by those that feel that they conquered the federation and its opportunities,” he added.
At the Abuja church service to commemorate the independence anniversary, Vice President Osinbajo said the challenges facing Nigeria need “consistent prayers.”
But many Nigerians would not accept such suggestions, anymore.
“We don’t need more prayers,” said Ikanke Ibia, an entrepreneur, in Akwa Ibom State.
“We have been praying fervently since 1st October 1960 and nothing great has come out of it. Besides, I know no nation on earth that prays more than Nigeria.”
John Ntekim, a youth leader in the troubled Niger Delta region, said, “It is unfortunate that even our national leaders now surrender hopelessly to faith and resort to religion as a source of solving administrative and managerial problems.
“A government with the will power to face squarely the challenges threatening our statehood will not contemplate such thoughts as remarked by the Vice President.”
Mr Ntekim added, “Prof. Osinbajo should be reminded that the obvious cracks he talks about are man-made and can only be resolved by man. As much as our problems are as a country, I don’t agree that they include spirituality.”
As Nigeria celebrates its 60th independence anniversary, the big question here is: what can Nigerians do to make Nigeria a better place for every Nigerian?
David Augustine, an Uyo-based lawyer, said Nigeria’s problem is a complex one.
“I recently saw a cartoon where a prisoner had the choice of collecting the key to the prison gate or a loaf of bread. He was seen struggling to pick up the bread instead of the key, which would have given him the capacity to be free and also get hold of the bread,” Mr Augustine said.
“That is the lot of Nigerians now. Our leaders have weaponised poverty.
“Nigerians are more concerned with existential issues than the ability to free them from the shackles of bad leadership. The poor judicial system, poor economy, poor political system are all bad leadership outcomes.
“Can Nigerians reject this system on their own? Can they wrest powers from these oppressors? Time will tell, but for now, poverty is making us hate each other so much; makes us accept anybody foisted on us as leader,” he said.
Kingsley Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the Central of Bank Nigeria, said, “Nigeria has some of the world’s best brains, but we remain poor because there is a disconnect between our brains and their knowledge, and our politics, government and governance. Linking the two, so our brains can work for our progress, is our biggest challenge.”
At 60, the future looks uncertain for Nigeria – a country which held so many promises of greatness at independence.