Nigeria’s 48th birthday : Shall we blow the candles or leave them to burn ?

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Nigeria is 48 years old now. We have indeed come a long way, 48 years of holding unto the mantle since the British passed it on. Our fate has been ours to design, our destiny ours to influence, the ship ours to captain through the winds, storms and turbulence of our seas. How well has our rig coped with the challenges of our voyage as a nation. How well have we done?

Do we have a good social and welfare system, like it is in France, do we have the sort of education standards as it is in the UK? Do we have the employment opportunities as they abound in Andorra? Do we have accountability from public officers as it is in Finland? Do we have infrastructure and social amenities like it is in the USA? Do we have policies and projects that are aimed at improving the living conditions of the masses? Do we have a legislative and legal system that the poor can rely on? Do we? Well, the questions are endless. And the answers are … the same.

Despite our slow pace in this race of independent governance, it must be said that there have been some improvements here and there, but given the capacity and potentials of the country, a lot should or could have been achieved in 48 years, as many would agree, but has not.

To whom much is given, much is expected, they say and mother nature has blessed us with resources, natural and human, more than Finland, Ireland, Denmark, Britain, Norway France and many other countries. Resources that could easily better our living standards by far, but why is it that we cannot be compared to the afore-mentioned countries ?

We should be happily blowing the candle lights on our birthday cake, but how could we when our democratic system, the universal hope for good governance, has become a nightmare to the nation. Energy and power supply, which is the wheel upon which development runs, is at an all-time low. The country’s security system is a wreck. The borders are permeable and have become free bays for the illegal importation of arms and ammunition. The health sector is sick as hospitals, including the teaching hospitals, are mere consulting centres. Education, which is the backbone of development, is in a muddle: A report submitted to the UN says primary school enrolment between 2004 and 2006 among female children slipped from 80 per cent to 60.4 per cent; secondary school enrolment slid from 83.4 per cent to 46 per cent, while enrolment for boys at the primary level dropped from 80 per cent to 64 per cent. The nation’s tertiary institutions are also grossly under-funded while the graduates are said to be unemployable. At 48, Nigeria is listed as the 18th most unstable country in the world, a position it shares with war-ravaged Lebanon. How then can we excitedly blow our cakes at the count of 48?

There is however something to even bake a cake about and that is the 2008 Transparency ratings. As a country, we have moved from third most corrupt nation in the world, to 59th most corrupt country. This considerable leap, evidently, is a product of the President’s brave declaration of his assets; the prosecution of allegedly corrupt former governors; the unparalleled firmness on the return of unspent allocations; and the arrest and arraignment of some erring public office holders. With this we can hope for better birthdays.

The incumbent leader, president Yar’Adua has promised to make Nigeria one of the world most economically stable countries by 2020. We will be 60 years old by then and deservedly need to be amongst the world’s best countries, economically and socially. However, if we must blow our candle lights on our 60th birthday cake with heart and joy, we must have our leaders concentrate on significant areas of the country’s life, such as: fixing the energy and power sector, investing in education, resolving the Niger Delta crisis, tackle accountability and ensure transparency by introducing and implementing critical social contracts for public officers, proposing projects and policies that will better our social and welfare system amongst other necessary initiatives that could give us birthday to look forward to. Nigeria needs able, educated and conscientious citizens to move the country forward. So on this birthday of ours, I think we can just turn off the music, send back the drinks to the brewery, the cakes to the confectionery, turn down the music and take off those party clothes.

Yes we are 48, but unless we work towards a more deserving birthday celebration, our candles won’t be worth blowing.

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