This is the time of year when we moan about everything wrong with Nigeria.
Quite often, we do so not necessarily from a place of spite but out of frustration and hopelessness.
It’s true that the life of a nation is not necessarily measured in biological age.
But most might agree that if potential, that hackneyed word so often ascribed to Nigeria, was a child, it should have come of age at 61.
Yet, even by the most gracious of accounts, this Nigerian child is stunted, a problem offspring not only to its parents, but also an enigma, if not a source of perplexity, to its friends and neighbours.
I’ve been reading two books in the last few weeks set on the eve of the celebration of Nigeria’s milestone independence anniversaries.
Both are anguished collections lamenting the country’s unfinished greatness and highlighting a dream deferred.
“Nigeria at fifty,” edited by Attahiru Jega and Jacqueline W. Farris, and “Remaking Nigeria: Sixty years sixty voices”, edited by Chido Onumah, are wide-ranging and extraordinary reflections on the country’s odyssey.
They were published 10 years apart, but you’ll hardly notice the difference in tone or resonance.
If you changed a few names, places and dates, the essays would still read like the story of the hopes, frustrations and missed opportunities told a million times on the eve of every independence anniversary in at least the last 50 years or more.
Even the October 1 speeches once so full of promise and highfalutin phrases have lost every pretence to substance and quality.
They have become a yearly rehearsal of empty boasts and microphone chewing – a hollow ritual.
Once, Independence Day speeches inspired hope. ln 1960, for example, Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa said at the dawn of independence that after the long, harrowing wait, with nation after nation overtaking Nigeria, he was sure that “Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations.”
The speeches also made you laugh; like when President Shehu Shagari spent the bulk of his first October 1 speech reminding us that colonialists’ oppression was still prevalent, when his political rivals at home were still seething that his own electoral victory that year was stolen!
The speeches sometimes depressed you, too.
Like President Goodluck Jonathan trying in his speech to excuse MEND from the horrific October 1 bombing at Eagle Square. But now, even depression is a golden era.
The speeches mean nothing, stirring only the worst of emotions – indifference.
This year, I thought there was no use treading the beaten path.
Perhaps we could use fresh voices from folks who might still be here in another 50 or 60 years, just to get a sense of the future they see, the future they hope for, and what they’re doing to bring it about.
Instead of waiting to hear what President Muhammadu Buhari would say on October 1 when I know it would be the same tepid stuff from the last six years, I invited a number of Nigerians between 25 and 35, to share their visions of the shape of things to come and what consequential role they think they may play in bringing about that future.
Keep in mind also, that in about three weeks, it would be exactly one year since the #ENDSARS protests.
That event signalled the anguished cry by young people against police brutality, poor governance and lack of accountability.
I thought this might be a good time to set aside the old, broken record, and to hear the voices of another generation, before they spill onto the streets in violent rage.
I asked them four questions: 1) Where do you think Nigeria would be 50-60 years from now? 2) Do you think you have a consequential role to play in it? 3). How? 4). What is the single biggest threat facing Nigeria today and how can we deal with it?
The answers are a breath of fresh air, a far more uplifting – and certainly thought-provoking – collection than anything you can find in the yearly potpourri of warmed-over October 1 speeches.
Elizabeth, a 33-year-old development professional and social justice enthusiast, said:
“I think Nigeria will experience a lot advancement and automation in the next 50-60 years. However, a lot of people will be left behind and there’ll be a huge gap between the haves and the have nots.
“The informal sector and communities at the last mile will have a huge influence on how we do business. For example, I feel they will affect language and the mode of doing business. The formal language may switch from English to Pidgin English, and the concept of suit-and-tie may be history.
“Talking about history, there’ll be a lot of distorted facts and people may hardly use the past to determine the future and just go with the flow.
“As for how, that’s a broad question. But I’m confident I have a consequential role to play. The place to start is not to be part of the problem I see but the solution. Whatever I do no matter how insignificant it looks (positive or negative) has a larger role to play in the scheme of things).
“What’s the single biggest threat facing Nigeria and how can we deal with it? The system is broken to the core. People have mounted several levels of corrupt values in the bid to survive. I would propose focusing on the family as the smallest unit of socialisation, as if the country was made up of only people from my family. I’m just here hoping that one day, evil will destroy itself.”
Nengi, a 25-year-old interested in Human Resources, social issues and psychology, said:
“The challenges we face as a nation are not bound by time. Nigeria has a vast number of ethnic groups sharing various boundaries. This creates a challenge in uniting these ethnic groups and developing a sense of belief in national unity.
“The current government structure does not allow for equal participation and allocation of resources. In essence, power is highly centralised and it creates a general sense of disbelief and disenfranchisement. The challenges that Nigeria would face in the next 50 years are highly dependent on how we handle these foundational issues.
“Without proper dialogue, restructuring, and good representation, Nigeria will face the same issues of insecurity, poverty, and a declining economy. Historically, the Nigerian government does not seem to learn from the past, putting us in a very difficult position of recurring issues. On this note, there will be some progress, but still very similar problems.
“Do I think I have a consequential role to play in solving the problems? Yes, I do. I believe in ripple effects and that collective efforts begin with individual actions in various fields, irrespective of background (ethnic, religious etc.).
“We all have a social responsibility in standing up against bad governance and having the right discussions with people, educating those less exposed and enlightening them on social issues.
“The single biggest threat facing Nigeria is corruption and this is because the system gives room for gross mismanagement. A lot of state-owned resources are not being controlled and managed by the right stakeholders.
“Corruption is not peculiar to Nigeria as popularly believed. The system gives room for financial crimes because of lack of proper checks and balances. The greatest weapon against corruption is proper restructuring of the governmental system, decentralising power and giving more room for inclusion.”
Aisha Ibrahim Ata, 29:
“It’s very hard for me to predict the next 50-60 years. Technology might drive growth in certain aspects of the nation. However, this growth may not be significant if the very fundamental challenges of the country remain unsolved.
“But I believe I have a role to play. By carrying out my responsibilities honestly and to the best of my capacity. I believe in the power of the individual. If every Nigerian is able to carry out their duties (be it carpentry, banking, teaching, governance etc.) in the best way possible, it will collectively result in significant changes in the country.
“Insecurity is the biggest problem. The most effective solution to this challenge will be strong government intervention. But on the individual level, the best we can do is be watchful in our neighbourhood and communities.”
Adekunle Adewumi, 30, Lawyer and Bridge Policy fellow:
“Where Nigeria would be 50-60 years from now? Our current reality indicates that there are several projected pathways, some of which spell doom. However, as the eternal optimist I am, I believe that changes to our governance structure will ensure that Nigeria remains a unified entity. I project that within 50 years, Nigeria will regain its status as Africa’s powerhouse.
“I’m hopeful I will have a role to play in shaping how Nigeria develops. The inability to address injustice done both in the past and present, in my opinion, is the greatest threat to Nigeria’s continued existence.
“Nigeria will benefit from some truth and reconciliation process.”
My guess is that in 50-60 years, if Nigeria is saved, it would not be difficult to see from these reflections, who was the true salvation army.