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Nigeria, a toddler at 50

by Bankole Olubamise

Karl Maier’s seminal book on Nigeria –This House Has Fallen (Public Affairs 2000), Robert Kaplan’s “The Coming Anarchy” – The Atlantic Monthly – Feb 1994 and the recent presentation by Ambassador Princeton Lyman at the Brown University Colloquia on Chinua Achebe (2009), especially the statement that – “Nigeria is fast becoming irrelevant to the world”- which more or less sums up the entire presentation, are three external commentaries on Nigeria that we must all take to mind when considering the current state of the Nigerian nation.

We have been praying for many things! However, we have to face reality and do the RIGHT things for our prayers to be meaningful.

Since the dawn of democracy in 1999, the system has become progressively confusing with no clear VISION for the Nation. The ‘largest Political party’ in Africa’ (sic) – am wondering where they kept the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa- has failed terribly both to institute internal democracy within its own  ranks nor encourage the practice of true  democracy at different levels of governance in Nigeria under its control. It has been 10 years of pain, tears and sorrow!

Its against this background that late November the country was thrown into another constitutional crisis by the PDP led federal government and in particular the party leader and President of the Country, Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua. The President who is known to have health challenges was evacuated to a Saudi Arabian hospital with inflammation of the heart and has since not been heard from, especially by the public.

We have only learnt from people who are neither his Press Secretary nor Confidential Secretary- two people who should be by his side wherever he is. Note, wherever the US President is, whether on holiday or not, there is always a team of his assistants and approved journalists just next door, so that they can brief the American nation where and what  their first citizen is up to!

The main constitutional issue are whether the President wrote the National Assembly notifying them of his absence from the country and thereby nominating his Vice President as expected by good practice and constitutionally as Acting President. Unfortunately, he did not do either of the above and so the nation has been on autopilot since his medical evacuation.  The focus of this discourse is how this will impact on global perception of Nigeria’s relevance, national development with trust in leadership and constitutional rule of law.

International Relevance:

Nigeria has done a lot in West Africa and even in sub-Saharan Africa to rightfully claim a central seat when global issues are being discussed. A study of the first 40 years of our development will confirm this.

However, we have not and continue to fail to develop a coherent Global Policy Strategy (GPS), which should entrench Nigeria’s place in the global space. With the internal collapse of democratic values and the perception that there is actually NO ONE IN CHARGE in Nigeria, it has become easy for Nigeria’s place in the global community of nations to be overtaken politically by South Africa, Egypt and Ghana, economically (oil as index) by Angola, strategically by Libya, Rwanda, Senegal and even in sports by Cote D’Ivoire among others.

Therefore internationally, Nigeria is fast become one of the 2nd eleven of African powers, and we would be deluding ourselves if we think this is not the case as at today. Can ANYONE in government please tell me which Nigerian position paper was adopted as the African Position (even West African Position!) in all the global Summits of the last decade- WCAR-2001, WSSD -2003, WSIS-2005, WTO- 2007, and recently the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit-2009?

The ANSWER IS NONE! Participation and contributions to these global meetings are measures of global/regional relevance. We therefore totally agree with Ambassador Lyman, that Nigeria is fast loosing her relevance! Even with our immediate neighbours, we have lost out severally! Most Nigerians drive  second hand imported cars which largely come through the ports of Benin Republic; Bakassi was lost to Cameroun ; Momoudou Tanja of Niger Republic has turned his country into a football field with Nigeria clapping for him; Libya deports our citizens at the slightest provocation.

This is not even considering the fact that we hardly attend UN periodical meetings with a strategic impact. Something is truly wrong somewhere.  Nigeria must WAKE UP, if she still wants to be relevant in the next 10 years in Global and African Affairs. If you have been to many West African countries in the last few years as I have done in my line of work, you will realize Nigeria is fast become a ‘once upon a time story’. Our situation is not helped by the collective failures of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and National Assembly Committees on Foreign Affairs to articulate a clear Foreign Policy and engagement Strategy for the 21st Century.

I am amazed that after the Ghanaian Presidential elections, the newly elected President did not visit the Nigerian President, but a Nigeria marabou, not to mention the monumental insult of US President Barack Obama visiting emergent Ghana rather than crippled Nigeria!  That’s how low we have come and even after all these; there has BEEN NO STRATEGIC RESPONSE! Its still business as usual, with that worn-out refrain we are ‘Giant of Africa’ crap! There is no Giant that achieved anything worthwhile in the Bible, in fact all giants were brutally destroyed! Can we please STOP calling ourselves that meaningless title?

Economic Development: The Second strategic measure of relevance is the level of economic development and impact in a globalized world. A few years ago, our organization held a series of nationwide workshops on globalization to warn Nigeria about the emergent realignment of forces economically and by implication politically, unfortunately we were hit our heads against the wall, the government system were totally flat in understanding the issues and developing appropriate response. Angola is stealing away Nigeria’s oil customers, even Ghana which recently discovered oil amongst many other countries are rendering Nigeria ace card (oil) increasingly irrelevant to the global economic system.

Especially because after over 400Billion US Dollars from oil export, Nigeria has NOTHING to show in way of efficient infrastructure, continuous energy and quality of human life. We not only export crude and import petroleum, our five refineries hardly ever work. Dubai was a mere desert few years ago, but with vision, and effective management of oil resources, its now a global player and economic nerve centre for the Middle-East. If Dubai sneezes, as she did recently, major financial centres worldwide will be in trouble!

Yet comparatively, Kano for example, has been a major trade route/centre for over 100 years. I am amazed that Dubai rulers speak Arabic, practice Islam, worship five times a day, yet they are eons away from Kano in such a short time! Let me illustrate: Intel the global chip maker now has a plant in Dubai employing thousands, with the main raw material for chips being SAND which Kano has in abundance, but because there is no vision and due to the failure of the social and economic system, Kano cannot compete with baby Dubai! What is happening to Nigeria in God’s name! This is replicated across the country. The worst being the failure of the banking sector!

National Development and Lack of Public Trust in Leadership. Nigerians simply don’t trust their leaders, which is not controvertible. Over the past ten years, we have consistently seen leadership failures at the highest levels of the society. I was going to give the President a conditional support wondering if he means well, until his recent evacuation and failure to pass on the baton of leadership on his Vice.  What would have happened if a foreign country attacked Nigeria during this past month, Nigeria would have been crippled because only the President can declare war! The level of corruption in the system has become so commonplace, I have stopped being amazed.

The failure of leadership has eroded trust in leadership, therefore even when leaders claim ignorance of criticism from the public, we all still do not trust them and this is dangerous for leadership.

It also signals to the outside world that since leaders are not trusted, how can they be counted upon to pursue a people’s or national agenda in the best interest of the people. This perception  makes it easy for others to call Nigeria’s bluff. A good example is the ECOWAS region where even though there is a battle against the Economic Partnership Agreement, Nigeria’s failure has made it possible for Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and others to unilaterally sign an agreement that is supposed to be collective, yet Nigeria stand to loose the most from the implementation of the agreement.

Nigeria is drifting too fast towards a precipice and that is the truth. Many do not believe the American prediction that Nigeria will break up will come to pass. I don’t have such confidence if we continue like this. The question is can we continue to ‘siddon look’ as the situation gets out of hand? My first inclination is to give the Elders in the land another opportunity to redeem lost opportunities, as they are the ones who ruined this nation.

We therefore call upon all former Presidents (Civilians and Military), retired and serving Generals, retired and serving Senators, former and sitting Governors and leading political figure to urgently convene a Strategic National Conference where the issue of Nigeria’s drift towards anarchy will be discussed and a clear plan of action developed, which must not be self-serving.

Secondly, a National Strategic Youth Summit must be convened to assess the survival imperatives of Nigeria in the next 20 years. This will be preceded by a Civil Society Leaders Summit to clearly articulate the potential pitfalls for the future of Nigeria.

The problem is beyond Constitutional reform, I am convinced if the 1999 Constitution was faithfully implemented, we would have lesser Constitutional challenges, even as faulty as it is. Am also convinced that this current National Assembly have not shown any seriousness towards Constitutional reforms thus far, so how they would give Nigeria a new constitution in 2010 without a mandate from a National Conference is simply not in view. However, we can borrow from the American Constitution drafting process which took only six weeks after George Washington intervened by calling upon God to help the nation. We are praying to God to help Nigeria, but where are the couriers of His grace. Its time to step up.

PS: Abdul Mutalab: This is the lowest period of Nigeria’s history. We can simply not go lower than this. Its an indictment of the family values of the nation’s elites. There are too many questions, for example why did Mr Mutalab not ask his son to come to Nigeria for the mandatory national youth service programme for every degree holder in Nigeria?  Now I hope all concerned will see this as a call to action to re-brand Nigeria. Minister of Information, your work is cut out for you!

Bankole Olubamise is the Executive Director,

Development Information Network, 386, Murtala Muhammed Way, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria.

He can be reached at