It is a pleasure to have been invited to participate in the Dean’s Forum, University of Lagos. By starting his Deanship term with the Dialogue Series initiative, Professor Adelaja Odukoya has signalled that his good office will bring fame to the University and usable knowledge to our country and continent. It was a bonus to have been on the same platform with Professors Babafemi Badejo and Tunde Babawale, two eminent political scientists and professors with considerable practical experience and intellectual muscle.
A saying has fast become a cliché in Nigeria and other parts of the world. When one hears that the darkest hour is just before dawn, there is always a quickening of the spirit that the nation is following a storyline or script, whereby its utopia would come in the end. One could not have faced so many turbulences or other words of the same class in the country and would not want to hold that better days would not come someday. Notwithstanding, can one be sure there is still hope for development in our country? Is there still that literary light at the end of the tunnel? If so, how long would the dark tunnel be, and how many would it consume before the promised days of the lord come by?
I do not intend to be the prophet of doom that casts shadows of fear and destitute on the nation’s shared future. I would also not unnecessarily be the devil’s advocate because the little dim of hope that calls to all of us cannot be disregarded based on the nation’s current and overbearing challenges. However, one must be critical of the situation and be as objective as possible. Although within the sphere of that objectivity, there should be a realization that there were nations across the world that had been doomed from the mere look at their situations at a particular stage but became phoenixes that rose from their ashes.
The question should not be whether the nation will have the capacity and hope to develop; it is how long it would take for such development to come and whether or not the overbearing circumstances would allow the hope to be in sight. Many of you would agree that when they say the prayer, our yesterday will not be better than our today, Nigeria seems to have taken the literal direct opposite of the prayer. We had enjoyed what seemed to be better days, although not even better, and what we have now, deplorable systems, poverty, and extreme, unqualifiable situations, have seemed to dash the hope of a better Nigeria. So, I fear not whether there is hope for change in the country because there is. My biggest fear is whether such hope or a sign of it would come in many of our lifetimes.
When you consider that Nigeria has one of the highest populations living in extreme poverty in the world, one could hastily conclude that hope is probably gone, even if anyone tries to renew it. In 2019, the World Bank posited that half of people with low incomes live in just five countries, Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia, with 368 million of the 736 million from the 2015 database. Four out of ten Nigerians are considered to live in extreme poverty, despite maintaining the position of the largest economy in Africa. Despite the wide population difference between Nigeria and India, Nigeria has been switching places to the country with many poor people worldwide. Nigeria overtook India in 2018, and India also did the same thing in 2022. There is no iota of hope here, considering that India’s population is about 4 to 5 times the total population of Nigeria.
Looking at the antics, one could establish that there might not be hope for the nation. However, the story of some countries in the world would still retrace hope in the nation. As of 1981, China had one of the worst per capita GDPs, about less than Chad’s. With high population and other factors militating against the growth of the nation. However, 40 years through, the economy of China has been remarkable, and about 500 million have been able to leave the zones of extreme poverty. Despite the challenges of war and its aftermath, Luxemburg has managed to have the highest GDP per capita in the world, and its citizens have the highest standard of living. There is a similar story for Singapore and the level of enjoyment of the country’s citizens. As stated, countries have risen above their challenges, and Nigeria will not be an exception if the right acts and attitudes are channeled towards the nation’s growth.
It is possible that many of my readers would have experienced the lined-up trouble in the nation as it seems that no one, even the rich, can escape the nation’s shortcomings presently. The level of insecurity in Nigeria has been crippling every activity and style of living of several Nigerians. Countries have now to provide warnings to their cities which intend to travel to the nation of the potentiality of terrorist attacks or other attacks in several parts of the country. It is not my place to say that they are stating it out of proportion, as one can never be over-prepared regarding security.
Boko Haram has killed thousands since 2003, and they have carried out other open attacks that have consistently undermined the potency of the government’s resolutions to combat terrorism. The IPOB of the South East, or better still, unknown gunmen, seem to be some untouchable individuals that have chosen to compel hardship, death, and attacks on their oppressed in the name of fighting against the oppressors (Nigerian Government). The Nigerian Highways are unsafe, and the probability of being kidnapped is higher than many years ago. This apprehension of fear that some unfortunate individuals may angrily enter the street or anyone’s abode on a shooting spree in the nation has put a question mark on the nation’s prosperity. It has ruined many economic chances of the nation and further crippled the potentiality of the people.
However, the nation, despite the incapability of the government to put an end to the issues, has been able to show consistent and considerable resistance from the people. This might not show the hope of an instant solution but of considerable will to not succumb to the challenges. Besides, on some fronts, the government has been making considerable efforts that, if not compromised, would move the nation slightly above the situation.
The above could be fought, but what should even be of greater worry is the dynamics of systemic failures from corruption, favouritism, embezzlement, and high cost of living, which has taken a large percentage of the nation’s prospect. Nigeria ranks 150 least corrupt countries in the world out of 180. Unfortunately, the issue of corruption has been a long-lasting situation in the country and has gradually positioned itself as a part of the Nigerian social system. It is more worrisome because the problem is not just at the helm of affairs of the nation but has largely consumed the grassroots and each system of every Nigerian sector. It has made itself an endemic pandemic that has been growing instead of reducing.
When people embezzle money, they steal them in their billions, and many have been able to pull the magic of a trillion in what could be seen as cartel embezzlement. The $2 billion arms deal corruption allegations against Dasuki in the popular DasukiGate brouhaha is one of the greatest embezzlement schemes in the nation’s history, if not making the tops globally. Many of these cases come in and almost get forgotten in the nation every year. Leaders could be changed, and good leadership, at least in a democracy, could be elected. However, the real fear is if the citizens themselves are part of the corrupt culture in the nation. It has become the ethos in the nation called “the Nigerian Factor.”
When David Cameron, the former Prime Minister of Britain, insensitively said, “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain. Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world,” to the Queen, the reactions of the country and the world had nailed. While his disposition as a world leader could be seen as wrong, it does not take away the fact that corruption in Nigeria is systematic and looks impossible to overcome.
All these may discourage every member of Nigerian society from believing in the transformation of Nigeria, despite the failures of several governments that have promised the same in their ways to seats of power. However, after being considered, some factors and characteristics of the country will make one understand that the nation is an unharnessed opportunity. As far as those features remain, one day, there will be the right leaders and right-minded people to use them appropriately.
Despite the country’s systemic corruption culture, the Nigerian people are one of the most industrious and resourceful in the world and have shown specific talents, innovations and developmental mindsets. These attributes have been noticed by many countries and institutions worldwide and, as such, explain the continuous departure of the labour force elsewhere. Although the government needs to do something to encourage people to stay back in the country, this provides some level of assurance of the developmental tendency of the nation.
When I go to the northern part of Nigeria, the agricultural culture of the people has always been something we talk less about. An average household in northern Nigeria has a farm or agricultural practice they tend to—the sights of seemingly endless large farms, those around houses and compounds. If the level of literacy is managed in northern Nigeria, and considering the agricultural practices in southern Nigeria and the potency thereof, one will realize the fortune the nation sits on.
There are other different angles to the developmental potency of the nation and the resources in various ways and types that could help in the developmental strategy of the nation. Considering this, yes, there is still hope for Nigeria. However, the question remains: How soon will these anticipations come within our lifetime? How long is the darkness in the tunnel for the anticipated light at its end? That is what we should worry about.
There is hope for Nigeria, and the hope is based on our potency, resources, and capability as a nation. However, steps need to be taken before getting to achieve these aspirations. Attention should be on why Nigeria remains where it is despite all these resources and national treasures. If that question is not answered, clouds will still darken our minds and make us doubt whether Nigeria can attain its potential.