Nigeria at 50: what is there to celebrate?

Nigeria IndependeceNigeria is 50 years old on 1 October 2010. This time in our history does not call for any celebrations. Nigeria used to be the giant and pride of Africa, but that was back in the day. Today, Nigeria’s economy and politics portray sad pictures. The educational system is so bad that Nigerian students are now trooping to Ghana for tutorship. Those who have looted, stole and destroyed the country have sent their children and family members abroad for education and comfort. Nigerians who have genuinely attained economic self-sufficiency also tend to prefer to obtain an education abroad.

It is not only the educational system in Nigeria that has suffered. Almost every aspect of our lives in Nigeria has suffered tremendous setback in such a way that the overall quality of life for the ordinary Nigerian is below an acceptable level for a human. In the Niger Delta, where most of Nigeria’s revenues are generated, life is far from being a beauty to behold. National and international conspiracies have transformed the rich oil fields into killing fields and a valley of death and despair.

Nigeria’s electricity generation is near nil. Millions of Nigerians and thousands of businesses depend on generators that generate toxic fumes and devastating noise. Nigerian businesses are growing and developing faster in Ghana than in Nigeria, while the Nigerian environment is now widely used in documentaries to demonstrate the impact of environmental disasters.

Health care has been so neglected that almost every Nigerian politician travels abroad to seek medical help. Where should ordinary people go? They have no money and still depend on the dilapidated health facilities scattered around the country.

There is a general breakdown in the provision and availability of other basic infrastructure. Water is scarce and Nigeria made the global news in August as a result of deaths related to cholera. Toilets are primitive in many localities and the level of sanitation is extremely low.

Malaria also remains a threat, especially for children under four and pregnant women. Nigeria is one of the last countries in the world with records of polio incidence. While the politicians and corrupt individuals continue to amass wealth, the majority of the masses – more than 70% – continue to live in poverty.

Mediocrity over merit

The politics of Nigeria is the source of our greatest national shame. Somewhere along the line we threw away merit and replaced it with mediocrity. Tribal politics rose to unassuming heights and corruption ate deep into the fabric of society. The concept of ‘politics of the belly’ and the complete absence of morality in public office ensured that Nigeria fell from grace to grass with lightening speed.

While the other nations of the world, including neighbouring countries like Ghana and Benin, made progress, Nigeria headed in the opposite direction. Development stagnated as some individuals made away with the country’s wealth. The military men and the politicians alike stole with impunity and to a degree never seen before. The most disheartening aspect of the looting of Nigeria is that almost everyone who stole has gotten away.

In 2011, Nigerians are faced with a presidential election that could be a catastrophe. Nigeria does not need elections in 2011, Nigeria needs the structures and institutions to deliver free and fair elections in accordance with international standards. The starting point is a valid forensics-based identity registration for every Nigerian.

Celebration of failures

Fifty years after independence Nigeria’s democracy remains in shambles. While the government of President Goodluck Jonathan will be wasting N17bn ($110m) on the independence party, millions of Nigerians will continue to live from hand to mouth, unsure of the next meal. The amount of funds planned for this ‘celebration of failures’ is unwarranted. It should have been low-key, a time for sober reflection. We should have used this golden moment to evaluate where things went wrong and write genuine blueprints of how to emerge from our present predicament. Moreover, this anniversary should have been dedicated to arresting and prosecuting all those living large as emperors with the nation’s stolen wealth.

It is wrong for Nigeria to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence in an ostentatious manner because of the resounding failure of governments since 1960. Arguments against such a shameful charade fall on deaf ears. When President Jonathan planned independence celebrations with a budget of N10bn, people complained. They suggested that the money should be used to procure machines for Nigeria’s dilapidated hospitals. Former President Umaru Yar’Adua, who won the fraudulent 2007 elections, died of kidney and heart problems earlier this year. The government of Nigeria should consider the millions of Nigeria suffering and dying daily due to similar causes.

The men and women in the Nigerian House of Assembly confirmed the lack of probity in the Nigerian political space by calling for more money for the independence party. We forget so easily that we live in a country where scavengers make less than N200 a day and have families to feed. The party money is not a big deal to those who approved it.

These people who think and act foolishly owe us no apology and no accountability because we did not vote for them. Our politics is jungle politics, where the fittest survive and win everything. The weak and the losers lick their wound and beg for favours. Has anyone even thought of how much a N17bn education fund could avail if it is not looted?

Suffering will persist on the African continent and even elsewhere in the world until more people fight for social justice and true freedom. They say the best things in life are free. Social justice and freedom have not yet made the list. They are definitely not free. The oppressed must rise, fight and take what is theirs. For Nigerians, the days of true independence and liberation are still ahead.

Nigerian blogger Adeola Aderounmu says the country’s democracy is in a shambles and the N17bn for the independence celebrations is money ill-spent.

Adeola Omotayo Aderounmu is a Nigerian blogger, writer and teacher based in Stockholm, Sweden. Follow his blog here:

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