Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Essays on Nigeria at 60, By Chido Onumah
On October 1, Nigeria will celebrate her 60th year of political independence. Our diamond jubilee is a remarkable milestone worthy of significant documentation even as the country is deeply immersed in the crisis of nationhood. In furtherance of this objective, the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) and partners are launching the Sixty Years, Sixty Voices initiative which seeks to produce a book of 60 essays by young Nigerians to address our problems as a nation.
Many Nigerians argue that the major problem facing the country is leadership, and that if nothing is done to ensure purposeful leadership, the country will disintegrate. This fear is not misplaced. Our political leaders have failed to serve as the rallying point for national unity, nation-building and cohesion. The PUNCH in an editorial (January 24) titled “50 years after the Civil War” quotes Banji Akintoye, a retired professor of history: “We have good reasons to fear today that the character of the affairs of our country and the prevailing mood among us Nigerians are chillingly similar to the character of the affairs of our country in the months leading to our Civil War. The government of our country is being managed in ways that make it look like the exclusive preserve of a particular minority.”
Insecurity has steadily worsened. Terrorists, bandits, gun and machete-wielding herdsmen and kidnappers have become unstoppable, turning the country into a massive graveyard. According to the Nigerian Security Tracker, 25,794 people were killed between 2015 and 2019. More than 100,000 persons have been killed by Boko Haram while 1.9m people have been displaced since its murderous campaign began in 2009.
Kashim Shettima, former governor of Borno State, says Nigeria’s northern land borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon are major suspected routes of the inflow of illicit arms and ammunition into the country, which fuels the orgy of bloodbath (PUNCH, February 4). Nigeria’s abysmal failure in security has forced some states and regions to consider self-help, as well as moved the two houses of the National Assembly to pass a resolution calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the security chiefs.
Other indices of growth and development are also progressively on the decline. Population is growing at three per cent while economic growth is just about two per cent. Life expectancy rate is 55 years, the third lowest in the world. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the life expectancy of an average Nigerian is only better than those of the people of Sierra-Leone, Chad and the Central African Republic. Even war-torn Afghanistan and Somalia have a higher life expectancy, at 65 and 58 respectively. Electricity consumption is at a meagre 3,500 to 4,000MW. Unemployment is rising, reaching an all-time high of 23.10% in the third quarter of 2018.
There are 13.5m out-of-school children and the number is growing. Politically, the electoral process is still largely being manipulated and there seems to be no solution to the endemic corruption in the country. And most embarrassing of all, in June 2018 the World Poverty Clock indicated Nigeria had overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world. The country now has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty with an estimated 87 million Nigerians, or around half of the country’s population, said to be living on less than $2.00 or N700.00 per day.
Most Nigerians hold the view that six decades after independence, the country has failed to work for them in a way that is satisfactory. Based on current reality, there are citizens who think a bloody revolution, as it happened in Ghana under Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, is the only solution to the country’s problem. There are also those who argue that the fundamentals of nationhood are flawed, that Nigeria as presently constituted is not a workable union and, therefore, cannot deliver national security, peace, justice and development. These issues and more are what will be addressed in the proposed book.
The new decade will be a defining moment for Nigeria. Sixty years after independence, fifty years after a civil war, and at the beginning of a new decade, it is important that a new generation of citizens is challenged to reposition the country. The future of Nigeria is in the hands of the youth. The youth are the social forces that would bring change to the country. How they handle it will determine where the country goes. This project challenges them to chart a roadmap that outlines a future that works for the good of the greatest number of compatriots; one that will put the country on the path of growth and development.
The historian, Professor Yakubu Ochefu, has described Nigeria as a country on its “third missionary” journey to a truly democratic nation. Ochefu notes that, “The corporate existence of the country has been tested twice. It was formally broken once (1967-70) and pronounced broken once (April 1990). It took a horrible civil war to restore the entity when it was broken and an equally brutal attempted coup when it was pronounced.” The current attack on our polity that is being driven ferociously in a religious and ethnic vehicle has produced outcomes that many Nigerians have long envisaged. But we can’t allow these issues to consume the country. Unfortunately, the problems confronting Nigeria are not problems to be resolved by wishful thinking. What do Nigerians want? How did we get here? Where do Nigerians envisage the country will go after 60 years of independence? These are issues that require urgent and practical national attention.
The aim of this project, therefore, is to produce a book of 60 essays on Nigeria — 60 Years, 60 Voices – Essays on Nigeria at Sixty — by young Nigerians, the critical change agents, to help the country understand and sharpen its focus on those issues that hold the key to our collective survival as a people. These essays will examine Nigeria’s social, economic, and political situation and explore the options open to us, suggest solutions and how to actualise them. The essays will take a critical look at the country’s democratic experiment since independence in 1960, where the country is today and some of the major issues that have dogged the country’s march to genuine democracy and nationhood.
This collection of essays will be used not just to commemorate Nigeria’s diamond jubilee, but as a social mobilisation tool to address critical issues surrounding our nation’s socio-cultural, political and economic evolution from independence to the present day. The idea is to generate enough public conversation that can push for and bring about the desired change in the country. The essays will focus on different aspects of our national life, including whether “the fundamental question of nation building that began six decades ago has been fully and or properly answered” and what lessons we have learned or need to learn as a nation 60 years after independence. Through these essays, the book hopes to document our failures, successes; but more important, the way out of the cul-de-sac Nigeria has found itself.
Nigeria has been described as a nation of great potentials; but it has remained essentially that in the last sixty years. After a civil war, several successful and unsuccessful coups and thirty-one years of civilian rule, clearly the leadership challenge can partly be blamed for our inability to actualise the hope citizens felt at independence sixty years ago.
While the Nigerian situation can depress any true patriot, there is no reason for Nigerians to be pessimistic about the country’s future. The reality is that the social forces that will bring change — the country’s young, progressive and active citizens—are not in short supply. Part of the idea behind this book, therefore, is to get these young Nigerians, many of whom ventilate their frustration and solutions daily on social media to articulate their ideas and solutions in a compendium that can be used for social and political mobilisation.
Contributors will be young Nigerians spread across the 36 states and the FCT; post-Civil War Nigerians — that is, not more than 50 years old — with progressive ideas about building a united and egalitarian society. These active citizens are the ones who will inspire and rekindle hope and bring the country out of its current depressing situation.
It is our expectation that the essays in the book will analyse the realities in the socio-economic, political and cultural life of the country since independence and answer questions on why Nigeria remains a giant with clay feet despite the availability of abundant human and mineral resources envied by other nations.
Chido Onumah is coordinator, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL).
This address was read on behalf of PT Books, YIAGA Africa, Sahara Reporters, TechHer, and OAK TV, partners of the Sixty Years, Sixty Voices initiative at the formal launch of the initiative in Abuja on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.