Nigeria is just two years away from becoming a 100years post amalgamation.Yet, when the United States of America, USA, celebrated her second centenary in 1976, the escapist wisdom dominant in Nigeria at that time was simply that Nigeria was merely 37years as an independent nation.
Today, that excuse no longer suffices because by the time America was two years from its first centenary, it had wrought many wonders. What wisdom has Nigeria wrought?
The new wisdom is about Nigeria becoming one of the greatest 20 economies of the world by 2020. A tall dream! In this interview with Chief Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide, CON, SAN, FCI Arb. FCE, reflects on Nigeria, two years from its centenary post amalgamation. Excerpts:
The things he sees of Nigeria two years before its centenary as an amalgamated body?
Some times success, some times disappointment.
I do not want to make a judgment of which one is bigger than the other. But something over which I have no doubt is that Nigeria should have been a bigger and better country than what we are today.
At independence Nigeria was far better than Singapore and Malaysia and a number of other countries of the world; but today, Nigeria is not what it should be and I think the problem is human; it's a human problem.
It is not a question of resources because we've got enormous resources - is it cocoa, groundnut, oil and gas, rubber? We've got everything.
The critical factor is what do you make of what you produce and what do you make of the proceeds of what you produce?
Look at Sierra Leone, it was founded before Australia and Switzerland but look at these two Western countries and look at where Sierra Leone is - our African neighbour is one of the worst in the world.
If you look at geo-politics globally the most advanced countries are America, Europe, China, Russia, Japan and those next to them are India, middle East and the Latin American countries and the most backward is the African continent.
Is it a black thing? Is it because we are blacks?
It has nothing to do with race because if you look at the United States you would discover that some of those who are also making advancement in science and technology and other spheres, you have blacks among them.
Why has Singapore which was backward at our own time of independence become very developed and we have not? You know the answer: humans.
When the problem started
At the time of independence, Nigeria was very advanced. I entered politics when I became a lawyer at the age of 24 and at 26 I had entered parliament. Then we had the quality of leadership that we have failed to put up again and when the military intervened, things changed.
If you look at natural resources, the continent of Africa has the most but at the same time the most backward is the continent of Africa.
The most critical factor is the human being.
On the system of government and whether we have played by the rules?
No! We've not been playing by the rules. But don't forget that the people playing the game and the rules with which they play the game are critical. When America became independent after a war with Britain, America emerged as the greatest country in the world.
Why has Nigeria not emerged after independence with all our resources? It is the human element.
Look at India! After the end of the Second World War, about two years after, India became independent. Today, India is one of the very advanced countries in the world making ships, computers, space gadgets and the likes.
But for Nigeria, what have we made since then, little or nothing. The problem is human and there can be no excuse because of the huge resources at our disposal.
Saying our problem is human appears escapist. There is a disconnect between those human beings of yester-decades who helped develop Nigeria in the first few years after independence and those of today.
The leadership at that time was of the highest standard and nobody will tell me that the quality of leadership that we have today is comparable. Why? Look at Singapore and Malaysia.
These are two of the most advanced countries in the world today and if you look at their leadership, they are first class.
Look at what we have in Africa with all the resources - and not just Nigeria but the whole of the continent.
There is no way you can divorce the human element from our problem. It is very critical.
On why we have faulty federalism
The reason is because most Nigerians don't put Nigeria, our country, first.
What has consistently happened is that people see themselves as coming from State 'A' or State 'B', or from Tribe 'A; or from Tribe 'B' rather than see themselves as Nigerians. That is part of our problem.
In fact, that is our major problem as a people and as a nation because the average American would not think of himself as any other thing first other than the fact that he is an American.
But in Nigeria, woe betide the average Igbo or Yoruba or Hausa or Ijaw who does not see himself first as a tribal jingoist before thinking of Nigeria.
Nature of our humans
That is the nature of our humans, though some people say you do not have to blame them. We seem to dwell too much on the tribe and where people come from rather than on the nation Nigeria.
Why shouldn't we blame them?
It is because the way the British came in and amalgamated Nigeria was not for the interest of Nigerians but for British economic interests.
Between Lord Lugard and Lord Harcourt, Nigeria was caused to happen as a country but not as a nation.
Nigeria is yet to be a true nation but just a country. That is the reality.
There are records now to show that the civil servants did not like the approach of Lugard in building Nigeria but Lugard never wanted their suggestions to hold sway because of the lessons learnt from India where Nehru and Gandhi took charge.
The British did not want Nigerians to take charge fully and, therefore, at independence, we were left with three nations in one - Northern, Eastern and Western regions. These were nations on their own and after the amalgamation, rather than fuse them into one, the British kept them apart.
But we seem to be making progress what with all the data about GDP and growth in some sectors of the economy...
Twenty years ago, Nigeria was still thinking seriously about producing her own cars and had put in place, the seed of the infrastructure required to do so. Today we are not even capable of properly repairing the cars we import.
We may find solace manipulating global economic data to paint beautiful economic tomorrows.
We may console ourselves telling the world how great we shall be in 2020 in the hope that this will make us forget how tiny our achievements so far have been. We are only deceiving ourselves.
The real measure of social and economic progress goes much deeper than growth rate, international ranking, oil production level or volume of foreign reserves.
What matters is not that Nigeria becomes the 20th largest world economy in some years in the future; what matters is that poverty recedes, that roads are properly maintained and that clean water, electricity, health care and education are as widespread as possible. Let us stop misleading ourselves with global data which do not measure authentic development.
Let us stop looking at our economic activity like a traveler observes a city from high up on a mountain, forgetting all the details and only considering the global machinery which produces income, revenue and expenses without any attempt to identify the source of this wealth. Such prosperous countries as Japan or Israel, which are totally deprived of natural resources, are living examples of the fact that there is only one source of wealth - that of their men and women.
A few years ago, an illuminating World Bank report titled 'Where is the wealth of nations? Measuring capital for the 21st century' undertook to measure the wealth of 120 world nations in the year 2000.
Individual balance sheet
To do so, the report sought to determine the relative importance in each country's individual balance sheet of the three categories of capital a country might own: natural assets, produced and intangible assets.
Added together, these three categories make a country's national wealth. Natural assets are the natural resources, produced assets are the accumulated productive capital and intangible assets are a country's human and institutional strength.
The conclusion of the report is that it is NOT a country's tangible assets whether natural or produced; it is NOT a country's mineral resources, agricultural land, forests, industrial equipment and infrastructure which make the country rich and prosperous. It is rather the country's intangible assets, that is:
One, the skills and know-how embodied in the labor force; two, the ability of a nation to efficiently invest the rent extracted from the exploitation of exhaustible resources; three, the mutual trust which exists among members of a society; four, their ability to work together for a common goal to which they strongly adhere and in which they firmly believe; five, the quality of formal and informal institutions; six, the saving and maintenance culture; seven, the extent to which citizens have confidence in the laws of the land and abide by them; and, eight, patriotism, that is, both the extent to which citizens trust and support their government and the extent to which government trusts and supports citizens.
Attainment of prosperity
Therefore, intangible assets are the policies, actions, values and attitudes which cement a society, make it efficient and allow the attainment of prosperity.
To quote the World Bank: "Rich countries are largely rich because of the skills of their population and the quality of the institutions supporting economic activity".
In the Nigerian situation, the conservatives have always had their way and the so called progressives have always lost out I don't accept the idea of conservative and progressive. It is the language of the Nigerian media. Nigeria is a liberal society.
There is no radical socialist in this country. When you talk about conservatives, you must put the nature of our society into consideration. You know we have a chieftaincy society.
We have this system in the North and South. In the East where this system is absent, the British created the warrant chefs. So, you can not call some progressives or conservatives.
Some people have said Nigeria would implode; is that possible?
About a decade ago, a celebrated CIA study made the headlines prophesying the end of Nigeria by political explosion. Nigeria, the study speculated, will not be able to hold together for very long. She will burst open in several pieces which will then acquire independent lives of their own.
The cut-off date which the CIA study put forward for the Nigerian explosion still belongs to the future.
So one is not yet in a position to confirm its predictive accuracy or otherwise. But a careful observation of our society suggests that the risk of political explosion might have now lost some of its earlier momentum.
While no one should regard the CIA's story as a zero-probability scenario, Nigeria's political explosion might no longer constitute the most probable adversity awaiting us.
Rather, one can find compelling reasons to argue that a social implosion, that is, a shrinking collapse as opposed to a burst open split, has now become a graver menace to the revival and prosperity of our society.
To make sure that I am well understood in my use of the word "implosion", I have borrowed from an excellent title on astronomy (The Expanding Universe by Mark A. Garlick, Dorling Kindersley, London, 2002) this short quote:
(He quotes this passage)
"All stars burn in the same way throughout their lives. But when stars get older, they undergo some astonishing changes. For example, the Sun will eventually begin to die by first swelling up to become a stellar monster known as a red giant, which is many hundreds of times larger than a conventional star although much lighter. This stage is followed by collapse and death, leaving behind a tiny corpse known as a white dwarf, which is a hundred times smaller than a normal star".
By analogy, an imploded society would be one which has socially and economically shrunk to a point of recurrent and generalized malfunction because a great deal of its vitality has evaporated as a result of an extensive degradation of its social values and economic capabilities.
One only needs to keep both eyes open to observe in one's daily surrounding the multiplication of supporting evidences as well as the depth to which the disease has penetrated our society.
You seem sober; you do not appear to be your boisterous self. Is it because of the nature of the questions or something is wrong?
You say I'm sober? Do you think I am? Or do you think it is the reflection on Nigeria and the backwardness that has eclipsed the nation? You be the judge.
Will Nigeria make it as a nation?
Nigeria has all the ingredients of greatness. No cross, no crown. Geography, good luck, history and enormous human and natural resources are all on our side. After the false start, Nigeria will emerge as one of the global stars with badges of honour. Nigeria will make it. We will not fail.