General Muhammadu Buhari in his first coming as a military head of state after the coup d’état that swept off the corrupt and rudderless Shehu Shagari regime in 1983 said something like Nigeria is the only country we have and “ …we must all stay here and salvage it together”. This was in reaction to the trend in those days of young people leaving in droves to escape bad governance, unemployment and insecurity that became a plague on Nigeria. There was then a television mini film in which a young Nigerian called “Andrew “with acquired American accent told his Nigerian audience that he was fed up and could no more bear the pangs of the pain of underdevelopment and that he was “checking out”. Andrew then became a coded word for emigrating and leaving the country for those who had cornered it and were holding it down like a sheep good for slaughter. Sadly nothing has changed since 1983 in fact the situation is now worse!
When the military government headed by Buhari and seconded by Tunde Idiagbon rolled in their tanks, so to say, many people received them with excitement and enthusiasm characteristic of Nigerians who, once fed up with whatever prevailing government they had, wanted some force to get rid of the blighters troubling them. The various draconian measures and the forced discipline imposed on them were gladly welcomed and tolerated by the people who felt the country could do for its own benefit with a dose of discipline forced down their throats if this would guarantee development. Whatever the excesses of the regime were tolerated until it was removed by the ever smiling Babangida who understood the psychology of Nigerians as a people who wanted the softer way of life. That regime ran down the economy and the national currency which by the time the structural adjustment program finished with the country, the national currency was reduced to mere coloured paper which was almost worthless. That government in one form or the other stayed on for too long until it ended in the tragedy that was Abacha’s government when the government was itself engaged in systematic official looting of its own treasury and carrying the national wealth away and stuffing it in several banks in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Jersey Islands, Britain and the United States in an operation never seen anywhere else before.
Since 1999, Nigeria has been busy pleading with those holding its money to kindly release it to the government of the country. Many sane people would argue that the receiver of stolen goods were as guilty as the thief. This did not occur to our friends in the West. In reaction to the pleas of the various Nigerian governments since that of Olusegun Obasanjo have been given all kinds of conditionalities before its national patrimony illegally spirited away into foreign banks would be released to it. Sometimes it was required to bring a court judgement stating that the money belonged to it. At another time, it was required to detail what the recovered loot would be used for. Sometimes it was required to give a pledge that the money given back to it would not be stolen again. Some people privy to the stealing of the national treasure have even filed court actions abroad claiming some of the money belonged to them.
No matter what conditions Nigeria gave those in possession of stolen Nigeria’s money found a loophole to continue to keep stolen money. The bits and pieces that were returned did not come with interests on the principal sums lodged in the accounts for almost two decades. In normal banking practice these monies totalling about $6 billion should have doubled by the time the various governments demanded its repatriation. One time British Prime Minister David Cameron was alleged to have introduced our President Buhari to the Queen of England as president of the most corrupt country in the world. The Archbishop of Canterbury allegedly told the Queen that Buhari was not part of the corrupt regime. Thank God for that! Our president later said he didn’t mind the insult of David Cameron and all that he wanted was Nigeria’s money in England returned to his government. Up till now the British banks are still keeping Nigeria’s money. Recently a British Court put a lien on Nigeria’s assets globally because of a fraudulent case by a dead Irish man whose son claimed his father invested in a deal in which he would have been making millions yearly if Nigeria’s gas had been delivered to its castle in the air of a gas plant which he claimed he had plans to build somewhere in the southeast of our country!
When I heard about this case I was so angry and I prayed the Nigerian government would call off the British Court‘s bluff and the shadowy people behind it. Not much has been heard from that quarter in recent times.
Now here we are almost prostrate on our belly as a country. Our problems are legion. But we have nowhere to go than this country which God in its infinite mercy and wisdom gave to our fore fathers who passed it on to us. We all have to, in the words of the young Major General Buhari, “salvage it together”. It is usually said that when a mad man realizes that he is mad, then begins his healing. There is no doubt in my mind that even the most vociferous supporter of this government knows that our situation is dire. In the best of times, Nigeria is a very difficult country to rule. Our problems now have imposed on them the coronavirus pandemic. The country is large but it is not the biggest country in Africa. It however has the largest population with multitudinous languages but it is not more complex than India with which it shares the Victor Ludorum if poverty were a competition.
Our country is blessed with good land for agriculture, educated people with vast technical, financial and administrative knowledge and capacity for innovation. Our country has tremendous amount of natural resources that can be harnessed for development. If we are stuck at this level of underdevelopment, then we should be asking ourselves what others in complex society like ours have done to extricate them and to come out of the arrested state of underdevelopment in which we find ourselves. We should stop blaming either the past or present administrations. We should come out with a new paradigm that will see us quickly reach our goal of development and contentment. This is important because we are currently not where we should be and many Nigerians are angrily asking questions as to why things are just not working. It is not necessary to give a litany of what is not working. We all know them and they can be put under the following broad categories, insecurity, infrastructural decay, lack of power to fire rapid development, educational backwardness, too much time spent on politics and political bickering to the detriment of the national economy and above all too much corruption.
When writing on Nigeria I try very much not to dwell on negativity but it is difficult to be positive when nothing is working; yet Nigerians abroad are making waves running power systems, administering universities and hospitals and financial institutions. So what is our problem? I believe the structure of the country is against development. Let us move political activities to the periphery of the states while the centre merely coordinates policies while taking care of defence, immigration, currency, customs and foreign affairs while all other state responsibility are shifted to the states which will develop at their own pace as it is in all federal and in competition with one another without any imposed uniformity and homogenized parity in economic development. I find it absurd that agriculture is on concurrent list. The federal government ordinarily has no land outside the federal territory. Many of these puny unviable states will have to merge with contiguous states with which they share cultural affinity. Until we restructure nothing will work and we will remain in a state of arrested political animation and economic underdevelopment. The Buhari government must take the lead in calling for a national convention on the way forward. A group of right thinking young people who can chart a way forward and draw up an appropriate grundnorm, some kind of basic law that would have to be approved by a referendum and I believe once we have a restructured country of about six or eight states, the rest will be a matter of detail or else the powerful countries in the world would continue to treat us and the blacks diaspora as freaks of nature and objects of derision, humiliation and crude racial jokes.