Twenty-two years ago, on May 29, 1999, Nigeria returned to civil rule. The military which had held power for many years decided to relinquish the power. But the country has yet to wean itself off the problems left behind by the “khaki boys”.
In fact, things have grown worse. There can be no better way to put it!
Many Nigerians are today lamenting: if this is living, dying is better! That it is suffocating here is to put it mildly.
In 22 years, the quality of life of Nigerians has not improved. Nigerians have grown farther apart. The economy has grown from bad to worse, to the point that all the tiers of government are contemplating reducing the minimum wage, which was nothing to write home about in the first place.
The powers that be have become very nepotistic in all their doings to the point that the country has been further balkanized.
At the return to civil rule 22 years ago, hope was high that life was going to be grand as the military handed over power to a democratically elected President Olusegun Obasanjo in a colourful ceremony in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
The mood was upbeat and the new president had promised prosperity to the millions of his countrymen who had massed out at the Eagle Square venue of the inauguration.
Those who had no opportunity to be physically present at the venue glued to their television screen and radio speakers to listen to the speech of the new leader.
Today, such speeches no longer move a needle. Many Nigerians have grown weary of what appear to be empty claims of sterling performance that does not positively change their lives.
The economy has receded, worsened by the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. In a space of five years in the life of the current administration, the country suffered two recessions.
The country has an unenviable record of being the poverty headquarters of the world. A country naturally endowed with natural resources has not been able to leverage the blessing to the good of the citizenry.
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Although the world is shifting attention to crude oil, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is still heavily reliant on oil. Petroleum represents more than 80 percent of total export revenue here, according to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
No lesson was learnt in 2016 when the global oil price crashed, terribly affecting Nigeria’s economy. That was when the country went into a recession, its first in 25 years.
The Covid-19-induced recession of last year could have been avoided if there had been a conscious effort at diversifying beyond the lip service paid to it.
The advice by experts to government to walk the talk on the diversification of the nation’s economy has not been heeded.
The experts believe that Nigeria needs to tap into the agricultural sector where the country can put millions of the unemployed to work.
It is their view that investment in infrastructure will also put many young people to work and reduce inflation.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) figures, unemployment rate in the country increased to 33.30 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020 from 27.10 percent in the second quarter of 2020.
The country’s headline inflation rate for March 2021 rose to 18.17 percent from 17.33 percent recorded in February.
Major reason for this is that Nigeria’s environment has become so tough for businesses that many companies have either closed shop or executed major salary cuts and layoffs of their employees.
The situation got worse since the worldwide outbreak of Covid-19.
Despite the booms Nigeria had enjoyed, it did not save for the rainy day, hence widespread extreme poverty among the populace.
The latest report by World Poverty Clock has shown that more Nigerians have been plunged into extreme poverty since 2019. The latest figure shows that 105 million Nigerians now live in extreme poverty.
Among other vices that have retarded the economic growth of Nigeria are corruption and nepotism.
The country still remains one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. Transparency International still ranked Nigeria topmost in its latest corruption perceptions index.
In one of its reports, some years back, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a global auditing firm, said if corruption was not dealt with immediately, it could cost Nigeria up to 37 percent of its GDP by 2030.
Although all the administrations that had presided over power since 1999 claimed one of their priorities was to rid the country off corruption, they have encouraged corruption in various ways. The current government appears to have taken corruption to a higher level by announcing that whoever that joins their party would not be prosecuted. Hence, the mass defection to the party by politicians that have corruption allegations hanging on their neck.
Nigeria has also been overrun by bandits, insurgents and kidnappers, making life so difficult for innocent citizens.
The Federal Government seems to have been overwhelmed as those expected to lead from the front are now pronouncing openly that the country is at a crossroads.
Since 2009, the North Eastern Nigeria has been hit by security challenges. The Islamist sect, Boko Haram, a group that wants to establish an Islamic state following a strict interpretation of Islamic law, has waged a deadly insurgency.
The low-grade war has claimed the lives of thousands of people and forced millions of others to flee their homes.
The activities of bandits and Fulani herdsmen across the country have driven farmers away from their farms. The rampaging of herdsmen has become so rampant that geopolitical zones in the country have resorted to self help as it appears the Federal Government is not sincerely addressing the issue.
At no other time since the civil war have Nigerians lived in such a fear that people no longer sleep with their two eyes closed than now.
From the kidnap of over 270 school girls in Chibok in 2014, kidnapping of school children in various parts of the North has become an everyday affair under the nose of government.
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Kidnapping for ransom has become the in-thing in Nigeria despite the castrated warning by government against payment of ransom.
Twenty-two years after return to civil rule, Nigerians have grown farther apart, with many more people and ethnic nationalities clamouring for restructuring or outright secession.
The ongoing constitutional amendment being embarked upon by the National Assembly is a pointer that the country is sick.
Even at that, many people believe that there is no amount of tinkering of the 1999 Constitution that could heal Nigeria’s putrefying sore; they are rather demanding a brand-new document.
At a public forum recently, Nnia Nwodo, immediate past president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said the 1999 Constitution was not a document to be relied upon in the governance of a nation.
“Forty-nine people were selected to write a constitution. Forty people in the Supreme Military Council promulgated a constitution under General (Abdulsami) Abubakar, a government in which I served. I was in the Executive Council, I never saw that constitution, but I was the minister of information. It was my responsibility to publicise it to the country,” Nwodo said.
“On the day of swearing-in of (Olusegun) Obasanjo, we didn’t have a copy of the constitution. I didn’t know who was printing it and my ministry was supposed to pay for the printing. And Obasanjo was sworn in on a constitution that had not been read by anybody, and the National Assembly could not be constituted until four days after his swearing in, because there was no clean copy of the constitution. We cannot build on quicksand. A country can’t live on falsehood,” he said.
Twenty-two years after return to civil rule, there is actually no freedom of speech or association, as government harasses citizens and intimidates those who hold different opinions from them. Many people strongly believe that Nigeria is still under the jackboot.
Nigerians are, indeed, yearning for a breath of fresh air.