Prior to the advent of the white colonialists, the geopolitical entity that is now Nigeria was a macrocosm of various ethnic nationalities in cooperation or conflict with one another. Culturally distinct and politically varied nation states flourished between the plains of Sokoto to the creeks of Delta, the shores of Badagry to the basin of lake Chad, and across the length and breadth of rivers Niger and Benue.
About 400-500 hundred languages were spoken by different ethnicities characterized in to small nation states alongside powerful empires and kingdoms – all in an alliance of friendship or conquest. The coming of the white man changed all these as hostile tribes were scrambled into new alliances of friendship and friendly ones partitioned into new divisions of hostilities. The amalgamation in 1914 of the northern and southern protectorates sealed the fate of the new Nigerian colony. And what followed that fateful beginning were processes and events culminating in the independence of October 1st 1960 that transferred the affairs of Nigeria to the hands of Nigerians; ready to share the praise of their own greatness or pay the price of their collective neglect.
Sixty years now into this post-colonial expedition, the Nigerian socio-political scene has changed beyond recognition in a severely tested journey that was shaped by events committed rather than ignored, decided rather than imposed, events which on one hand present a mystery about our shared fate, and on the other hand; a cause for disillusionment concerning our collective future.
Those socio-cultural differences that shaped the politics of colonial Nigeria are to persist even after independence. The history of Nigeria’s first republic was marred by crises and controversies fuelled by ethnic and regional distrust. Newly independent Nigeria was to endure those crises before the bloody coup of 1966 opened a dark chapter in its history. The events preceding the 1966 tragedy like the controversial census and the bitterly contested elections that led to the declaration of martial law in the defunct western region and the infamous trial for treason of Awolowo and co. would have served as a litmus test to our emerging federalism had they been allowed to reach democratic conclusion.
This would have succeeded in establishing a true democratic precedent without depriving us of those visionaries whose leadership prowess Nigeria terribly missed. The orgy of bloodshed which repeated itself the following year threw the nation into an atrocious civil war that further widened the chasm of distrust beyond which our collective compromise could heal.
By the end of the civil war in 1970, Nigeria was gathering the pieces of its own self destruction in truancy to its predestined global role as an African leader. The rehabilitation and reconstruction process were accelerated by the oil boom of the 1970s and we managed to re-evolve with tenacity far stronger than what the world expected of us. During that period, billions of dollars flowed in to the coffers of the Nigerian nation-state that helped financed most of its infrastructure with the regrettable consequences of agricultural and non-oil sector neglect.
By the mid 70s, it was obvious that the Gowon’s regime had overstayed its welcome and was stalling on the idea of democratic transition. Murtala Mohammed stepped in at a time Africa and indeed the oppressed world needed Nigeria’s leadership role the most, and he wasted no time in hastening Nigeria to its long-awaited role at the global stage – as a promoter of peace and defender of African liberation. His most bequeathed legacy was the provision of a popular constitution and a free democratic transition, but not before he was so brutally murdered by some military dissidents.
The regime continued by Obasanjo didn’t falter in their patriotic doggedness and handed over power to civilian rule in 1979. To the chagrin of most Nigerians, those same socio-political differences that endangered the First Republic reared their ugly heads during the Second Republic under Shagari, casting doubts on the civilians’ regime ability to conduct national census and elections that are free and fair. Those allegations are often justified, for what Nigeria needed was not just a mere democratic regime but the necessary institutions with which democracy can confidently thrive: an independent judiciary, transparent cum meritorious public service and a responsible press. With these, the political antics of those in power will be tolerably checked and controlled.
The intervening Buhari’s regime was described with all the definitions of being rigid, ruthless and uncompromising, but its untimely demise after fourteen months denied us the luxury of any fair assessment. Nonetheless, it offered us the premise that we cannot be esteemed as a nation until we nurture the culture of discipline, rule of law and zero tolerance for corruption and favoritism.
Babangida’s long rule of eight years was only rivaled by Gowon’s, and there were series of alleged mismanagement and misgivings that made it a topic of passionate debate. Apart from allegations of corruption and opposition manipulation, the regime was the first to witness religious and ethnic crises on a colossal scale, and many believed that had the administration took some far-reaching measures, such a menace would have been laid to rest via a deterrent precedent. The Babangida regime was famous for its annulment of June 12 elections after a military censored two-party poll was won by Abiola. The consequential chaos was quite unbearable for both Babangida and Nigeria, while the former abdicated in favor of an unconstitutional interim government, the latter saw itself changing hands from one dictator to another. With the result of continued alienation from the international scene, damaging human rights record and escalating political tensions as Abacha tightened his grip on power. Abacha’s self-sponsored self-succession plan was only subverted by his untimely death, and Nigeria was rushed back to civil democratic rule by the Abdussalami’s regime, amid high hopes and abundant relief.
The oil boom and economic bubble witnessed during the Obasanjo administration has earned Nigeria unprecedented amount of revenue, but the government, just like many previous ones, gladly watched the opportunity to turn Nigeria around for the better slipped away. Obasanjo’s banking capitalization reform has no doubt strengthened the economy, and other macroeconomic reforms were instrumental to the rewriting of Nigeria’s foreign debt by the Paris Club, but instead of this to serve as a deterrent against reckless borrowing, subsequent return to the debt trap has betrayed our collective hope. The Obasanjo administration will mostly be remembered for its widely politicized anticorruption campaign, the infamous attempt at tenure elongation, resurgence of ethno-religious crises, escalating tension in the Niger Delta, the Sharia controversy, civil aviation disaster, university lecturers’ and labor unions’ strike, executive impunity, massively flawed polls, and infrastructural neglect.
Umaru Yar’adua – Obasanjo’s handpicked successor, was ushered into power in the first civilian to civilian transition. The controversy generated by his prolonged stay in a hospital abroad, his purported return to Nigeria and Jonathan’s rising to the presidency were events that tested our democratic resolve beyond measure. Despite struggling with failing health and electoral litigations, Yaradua’s administration succeeded in repositioning the banking sector, entrenching respect for the rule of law and restoring relative calm in the oil rich Niger Delta. The Jonathan’s administration addresses itself as a continuation of Yaradua’s regime amid heated discussion on the zoning arrangement within the ruling PDP. The evolution of Boko Haram introduced a threat of existential proportion. For the first time since the Civil War, an adversary was controlling a large swathe of Nigerian territory. The activities of Boko Haram strained Nigeria’s ethnoreligious relations, exacerbate fear and further deepened the nation’s sectarian polarization.
The year 2015 was significant in both political and historic sense. Nigeria witnessed the first transfer of power from one civilian regime to the next. The historic election of Buhari ushered a new hope for a country that was struggling with terrorism, corruption and poor economy. It is regrettable that the election of Buhari did not translate into any significant improvement in the above three major challenges. Insecurity remains a serious challenge and Boko Haram and rural bandits run amok. The economy is still yet to recover from the recession of 2016/2017 before it’s being dragged back to another recession by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the government’s anticorruption campaign still remains unconvincing to any independent observer. While the country has seen large investment on road, rail and power infrastructure over the past 5 years, these come at the expense of rising debt and a deteriorating foreign exchange situation. 60 years after independence, Nigerians are still dissatisfied about the social, economic and political outlooks around them: rising poverty, insecurity, corruption among the ruling class, and general lack of direction that has left the masses hopeless and without a voice. This great country and its equally great people deserve much better.