Fifty-six years ago when Nigeria became an independent nation after a century of British colonialism, the euphoria of that era symbolically suggested the birth of a new nation on the verge of greatness. The indices had pointed to a country with huge potential waiting to be harnessed. Indeed, there was every reason to hope in a nation blessed with abundant human and material resources. The intellectual power houses of that epoch of Nigeria’s political development consist of its first generation leaders, strong educational institutions and an effective civil service that had executed some of the best regional policies and programmes ever witnessed till date.
In the south west with Ibadan as its capital, Chief Obafemi Awolowo provided the leadership and vision that made the region a talking-point of development years after independence. The late politician did not have the benefit of oil which though discovered in Oloibiri in 1953 did not have commercial value. All major infrastructures were built with the agricultural resources of cocoa and other products. In the South east, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Michael Okpara, Akanu Ibiam, visionary leadership developed the eastern part of Nigeria with the resources accrued from the vast coal mines of Enugu and the oil palms in what is now Imo state which was complemented with drive of the Igbos for business and industry.
In the northern part of Nigeria the legendary tales of the now extinct groundnut pyramids in Kano and the irrigated agricultural lands that made the region the food basket of the nation evokes the nostalgia of a paradise lost. Now we can only imagine the lost opportunities in a country where the promise of greatness disappeared even before it could materialize. The brief period of Eldorado after independence had since disappeared like a candle in the wind.
The exit of the British soon exposed the fault lines that held a disparate union together. The farce of the union and the leadership crisis that pitched the first generation leaders against themselves unraveled when the military struck on January 1 1966. At the time, the young military officers who took power had lamented the corruption of the First Republic. The leader of the coup, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu had said in his speech, “Our enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers, the men in high and low places that seek bribes and demand 10 percent; those that seek to keep the country divided permanently so that they can remain in office as ministers or VIPs at least, the tribalists, the nepotists, those that make the country look big for nothing before international circles, those that have corrupted our society and put the Nigerian political calendar back by their words and deeds”.
That speech, which was made fifty years ago, is still reflective of all the ills that are the root of Nigeria’s leadership challenges today. The collapse of the First Republic was the purveyor of leadership misadventures that peaked with the corrupt Second Republic. The inept leadership of the brief former President Shehu Shagari years and the brigandage of military regimes have been well-documented. Nonetheless, it was in those years that billions in oil revenue was stolen. Needless to say that our country lost several years to visionless leadership; but it was also in those years that leaders in the countries now categorized as Asian Tigers kept their nose to the grindstone to pull their people out of poverty. The story of Singapore and its leader Lew Kwan Yew show how visionary and honest leadership is critical to a nation’s development. It is indeed a paradox that a country with abundant resources cannot deploy such endowments to the benefit of its people.
Professor Chinua Achebe, in his often quoted seminal work on The Problem with Nigeria had opined that Nigeria’s problems lie with the failure of our leaders to rise to the responsibilities of leadership. In essence Achebe had argued that the principal reason why Nigeria has continued to underperform is simply because she has been unfortunate to be cursed by a recurrent blizzard of mediocre and corrupt leadership.
Achebe was right when one considers how the leadership has wasted the opportunities. Today, because of mediocrity and lack of vision, our country still struggles to provide the basic things that are taken for granted in other climes. All the indices of development are looking grim. Nigeria’s leadership dilemma was again brought into focus with the release of the 2016 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance recently. The 2016 index ranked our country 36th out of 54 countries.
While the foundation’s report on the state of governance on the continent is disturbing, the ranking of Nigeria was not surprising. The foundation noted that after 56 years of independence and 17 years of uninterrupted democratic rule, Nigeria is yet to register impressive growth in many critical sectors. In general almost two-thirds of African peoples live in countries in which safety and rule of law have deteriorated in the past ten years, while bad governance is stalling the continent’s progress. The Ibrahim Index assesses African countries based on the quality of their governance. Countries are graded on factors, which fall into democratically elected former African heads of state who have delivered; Security, health, education, rights, rule of law and economic; who have democratically transferred power to their successors in the last three years; good governance is crucial, Participation and human Rights and sustainable Economic opportunity and human development.
While Nigeria had favorable ranking with the peaceful transfer of power in 2015, it ranked poorly in other indices such as human rights and good governance. The Ibrahim index is not so shocking. Despite the denials of our leaders, Nigeria has constituently occupied the bottom in all local and international development indices. For example, the 2013/14 Human Development report ranked Nigeria in the 152 position within the category of low human development countries. This means Nigeria was declining on the scale. Kenya, Swaziland, Angola, Rwanda and Cameroon ranked 147-152 positions respectively ahead of Nigeria. The 2004 Human Development Report had ranked Nigeria 151st out of 177 countries in the world. Ten years later Nigeria could only manage to move three notches downward instead of upward. It indicated a deteriorating socio-economic policies and failing political leadership.
In the same vein, the International Monetary Fund in its 2010 listing of countries according to Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) placed Nigeria in the 140th position out of 182 nations, with an average per capita income of USD 2,398. This means that the value of its output of goods and services is too small for its human and natural resources endowment. Instructively, the countries at the top of the IMF’s list have no natural resources compare to Nigeria.
The Mo Ibrahim African Governance Rating Report ranked Nigeria 41st out of 53 countries excluding the Republic of South Sudan in 2010 out of 48 countries ranked, Nigeria was 40th and 35th in 2009 and 39th in 2008. In West African sub-region, Ghana was rated first and 7th in Africa, while Nigeria maintained the 13th position in West Africa, the same rank it got in 2010. Comparatively; UNICEF had ranked Nigeria as being the 14th highest under-five mortality rate in the world. Ghana, Benin Republic and Togo were ahead of Nigeria on this ranking. All the grim statistics above point to one thing: failure of leadership. Our country needs more than ever before, visionary leaders who will work for the common good.