Nigeria at 58: The ship that has refused to sail

Fifty eight years after gaining independence, how has Nigeria fared so far? Despite the tag Giant of Africa, Nigeria has not risen to its full potential.

Studying the trajectory of Nigeria’s history since independence is like reading the account of someone who’s tortured himself all his life. Nigeria has experienced coups, a civil war, over three decades of military rule, and has been led by two former military leaders in a democratic dispensation. The country has gone from the frying pan to fire, from a big dark hole, to a crater. The situation in Nigeria can be summarised as a sad story.

1st October, 1960 is when the country gained independence. Every independence celebration has been met with the question: where is Nigeria going as a nation? At a time when Boko Haram has ravaged the Northern part of the country, herdsmen have been on the rampage with recent killings in Plateau State, floods have overtaken various communities, corruption and impunity still rife, and the possibility of a violent presidential election in 2019; all looks bleak. The attitude of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has been one of neglect and distance to the problems plaguing the country.

Nigerian poet Tosin Gbogi said, “Dear nation, thank you for teaching me the most important lessons in life: the absolute worthlessness of life; the helplessness of (wo)man in the hands of “fate” which without their permission gifted them Nigeria as their country of birth; and the hopelessness of hope, which naturalizes depression as the first law of existence.”

In his book The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe aptly summarised the problem of the country: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply a failure of leadership. . . The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”

While the country celebrates 58 years of independence, many still think the country has a long way to go. Abiola Ireti, a young Nigerian lady said to us: “Like many Nigerians, I do want to be proud of this country, but we’re not there yet. Right now it’s a sorry flailing disgrace that is structured to frustrate your destiny. This unmerited surge of pride and fondness that appears out of nowhere on October 1st is the same reason we’re still here; suffering and smiling when we should be fighting.”

While some have posited that Nigeria’s progress is crucial to Africa’s progress, others have cited countries like Botswana, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana that are pushing ahead technologically and democratically. While other countries on the continent are setting sail, the Nigerian ship is still hooked to the shore with lack of electricity, water, and basic social amenities.

  • Socrates Mbamalu was born in Nigeria and grew up in Kenya. He is a 2016 Saraba Nonfiction Manuscript prize awardee. He can be found on Twitter at: @linsoc