By Toyin Falola
When I speak to young people, it is always a delight because it is an avenue to cultivate their minds and leave a lasting impact on them. Thus, I was overjoyed at the recent opportunity to speak to students at Fountain University, Osogbo. These students have burnt the proverbial midnight candle in the past few years to get the best of education and real-life training. I believe this education is potent enough to change their lives positively and give them an edge in life as they begin to live up to their potentials. However, they are currently confronted with the same problems as the average Nigerian, and they are likely to be filled with doubts about what the future holds for them, about whether they can truly make a difference and succeed in the face of the country’s existential challenges. In light of this, I spoke to them passionately and honestly about how having faith and hope can illuminate their paths and help them succeed in their different fields of endeavour.
Faith and hope are not terminologies of the religious world alone. They are two concepts crucial to any nation’s development, especially in Nigeria, where traumatic levels of crises and underdevelopment have been endemic. Conversely, despair, gloom, and hopelessness are euphemistic terms to squelch and denigrate the state of mind of the average Nigerian towards the country’s state of affairs. Nigerians from all corners of the country feel a great sense of hopelessness about the utterly miserable life that most citizens live. This dejection causes many to take on life-threatening journeys to migrate to other regions, searching for greener pastures and relief. While many may condemn this egregious display of desperation and recklessness, we can reasonably say that the present situation is dire enough that many undertake even the most outrageous of measures to escape their circumstances.
Truly, Nigeria’s problems are so gigantic that providing a microcosmic overview of the various problems and crises the country is battling would be difficult. This is due to the precariousness of the issues and how interwoven, interconnected, and closely knit the problems are. However, we must talk about these problems if we are ever going to proffer solutions. So, what are the problems being faced by the Nigerian state? Throughout the chequered history of Nigeria, there is not a single period when the country has been completely peaceful. Even the early sixties were relatively calm, with the country fresh out of colonialist occupation for close to a century. Many placed hope in the future greatness of the newly independent country, and its citizens waited eagerly for its potential to be unveiled. Unfortunately, the independence reverie did not last long, as a myriad of political discontents and disagreements germinated into violent conflict, causing chaos and shaking the foundations of the nascent nation. These struggles and instability culminated in the advent of military governance, which no one can say were beneficial to the country.
Ethnic rivalry and injustice arising from the military’s incursion into power ushered in one of the most important intra-national conflicts in twentieth-century Africa. The eviscerating civil war resulted in the loss of millions of lives, wanton destruction of properties beyond reasonable conception, and the sowing of seeds of discord that germinated and have refused to die to date. During the war, desperate tactics were adopted by the warring parties, with formal military rules being largely abandoned. After the war, many civilians-turned-combatants were not properly demilitarised, and their weapons were confiscated from the public. This brought about an unprecedented proliferation of lethal weapons, with many falling into evil hands.
Violent intentions and capabilities, as well as rising social and economic inequality, political problems, and a decaying society, brought about an increase in stolen arms and weapons. These conditions set the stage for a new kind of insecurity in the country, which surfaced just as the nation was healing and recuperating from the bloody rivalry that lasted almost three years. Between 1970 and 1976, there was a staggering 900% increase in armed robbery, with well over 100,000 cases reported in 1976 alone. It should be noted that this sobering situation led to robberies and killings that have continued to this day in different parts of the country.
Another of Nigeria’s mainstay issues is ethnoreligious based disputes. Nigeria is a country where people of sometimes completely different ways of life are coerced to live together under a single federation, leading to clashes with ethnic and religious colourations. Although Nigeria is no stranger to religious and ethnic violence, incidents have increased in ferocity, intensity, and frequency in the past few years. One of the most common dimensions of this issue is the herder-farmer crisis, which has reached genocidal proportions. At another end is the malignant Boko Haram insurgency. This insurgency has been a bone hanging in the throat of the Nigerian state for as long as anyone can remember. On the wings of the promise of absolving this organisation of insurgents, among other things, Muhammadu Buhari rode to win the Aso Rock seat in 2015. However, we have seen a consolidation of the Boko Haram menace by kidnapping bandits, secessionist threats crises, and other issues. Kidnapping has become a common denominator in the Nigerian scene, to the point that even protected government officials are kidnapped or killed.
Now more than ever, sections of the Nigerian state feel the need to disintegrate themselves from the whole to protect themselves and pursue the interests of their people. There have been reinforcements in the agitations of the Indigenous People of Biafra and protests and moves for the Yoruba nation by Chief Sunday Igboho and his fellow activists. One thing to note is that many of the crimes perpetrated against citizens do not have ethnic or religious backgrounds though they have grown in recurrence, persistence, severity, and cruelty in recent years. As many of these crimes involve the lives of youth in society and result in some economic gain, it is not difficult to understand the circumstances surrounding their occurrence. Unstable economic conditions, mainly caused by the apparent lack of industrial productivity, have ravaged the nation for many years and trickled down to current generations facing unemployment and underemployment in a rapidly progressing world.
Furthermore, the lack of economic productivity contributes to Nigeria’s foreign exchange woes. Underproductivity caused damage to the country’s foreign exchange viability by leaving the country’s foreign exchange earnings to be derived from a particular extractive commodity that is subject to eternal fluctuations in price. Forex instability also details export earnings, and the industrial downturn in Nigeria and its forex challenges have made it non-attractive to the international investing community as foreign direct investments (FDI) have fallen off a cliff, with no promises of recovery soon.
Another set of mountainous problems bedevilling the republic is the government’s failure or outright lack of access to basic infrastructural services for the people. Almost all Nigerians consider the gross absence of the necessities of life as normal. The country lacks basic amenities that its citizens should be enjoying, such as an excellent and smooth road network, stable electricity, water supply, a strong healthcare system, among other things. The availability of these amenities in good working order will not only benefit citizens but will also contribute to the increase in the country’s average standard of living by facilitating trade and other beneficial economic contributions.
All the problems and crises expounded above, from religious and ethnic-induced insecurity to alarming unemployment rates, are traceable to several existential developmental challenges that the country is battling without any sign of a slowdown. It is a given that these challenges must be resolved for Nigeria to experience real, effective progress. A former British Prime Minister once described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt,” a moniker that notarises a plight known all too well in Nigeria, in both the public service and the private sector. Corruption is endemic to Nigeria, and one of the things that have helped this epidemic fester and spread malignantly is that Nigerians are more interested in talking about it than actively seeking ways to mitigate it. We have been talking about corruption in Nigeria and the need to eradicate it since yesterday, and we may as well continue to talk about it till tomorrow without being able to solve the problem. If everyone is talking about corruption and asking the government to solve the problem without truly admitting their role in the corrupt system and committing to taking a path towards change, we may never see that change. If everyone acts sanctimoniously, who then is corrupt? The truth is that corruption does not live amidst the politicians alone. It is everywhere, and the earlier we realise it, admit our individual complicity, and decide to turn a new leaf, the better.
Aside from the developmental issues of corruption, Nigeria faces the absence of the rule of law, justice, and equality. The government and private citizens involved in law-making and its enforcement are known for their egregious abuse of the rights and privileges of others, almost always with lewd immunity and abandonment. It is not uncommon to find powerful people employing the state’s security apparatus to punish the less fortunate. Public servants and those with a higher socioeconomic status can disobey and ignore court rulings, especially regarding human rights issues. There is already a gaping divide between the everyday realities of the so-called average person and the people at the upper echelon of politics, society, business, and the economy. As a result, they can afford the basic amenities that the government seems incapable of providing for the wider populace, and access to compulsory governmental services is often enjoyed by the “highest bidder.” The amalgamation of these conditions fosters a society where discontent festers, engendering violence and mutiny against the state.
If one factor could encapsulate all these issues, it is the fact that institutions in the country are weak and excessively incapable of carrying out their responsibilities. The laws themselves grant enough power to the institutions and the officers designated to oversee them. However, in practice, these officers cannot perform the functions they are assigned by the law due to a plethora of superseding interests in which the welfare of the general society, which they are expected to serve, is relegated to the background and parochial goals gain precedence. This creates a state where the average Nigerian does not have a genuine emotional connection to the country, or in cases where such a connection exists, it is only perfunctory.
To face the fact, the current state of Nigeria is traumatic. For the average Nigerian, it is always a struggle for daily survival. The environment that Nigeria’s insecurity and crises have created is facilitating discouragement in people’s minds, influencing the behaviour of the sparingly motivated, and leading the ambitious to find escape routes – legal or illegal – from the country. For the rest of the people still in the country and those planning to emigrate, we must find solace in faith and hope while we wait to fulfil the promise of development. In situations like this, when things become turbulent for the commoner, we must not throw in the towel or resign to fate. Instead, we must learn from the strength and patience we gain from believing in the Almighty, which has taught everyone to hold on even to the last breath of life. If we all decide to do this, there is a certainty that the fulfilment of promises is lurking around the corner and is just about to manifest. Besides, as patriotic citizens, if we remain in this country, we can find assurance in the hope of a better future and exercise faith in the belief that all that has to be done to achieve development in the country will be done.
We cannot find love and mutuality among the people close to us anywhere else. Therefore, while we expect that things get better, the least we can do is maintain a positive outlook. We must cultivate a mindset that reflects the possibility of a better nation, sees the current crises and underdevelopment as a surmountable mountain, and expects the people to blossom in the euphoria of a better Nigeria. We cannot abandon what belongs to us and build another man’s land. For the Nigerian society to experience lasting and far-reaching transformation, a change in its members’ cognition (thinking) and values is required, which may be regarded as the crux of quality social engineering. We should note that social engineering, in this instance, should not be erroneously conceived as an attempt at indoctrination or propagandism. Regardless of our political, religious, and ethnic affiliations and philosophies, certain tenets of human living appeal to almost anyone and can be adjudged as desirable to everyone.
Even in the face of the current challenges, we must live in the optimism that Nigeria will one day get to the state we have always hoped for and morph into Africa’s true giant. Only by doing this, fueled by faith and hope, can we bring Nigeria to a new level of attainment commensurate to what the nation needs.
*Part of the speech delivered as part of the 10th/11th Convocation Ceremony, Fountain University, Osogbo, January 13, 2022.