How much longer can we survive as a nation?
By Uche Igwe

It is yet another October 1st for my country men and women to roll out drums to
celebrate fifty one years of the birth of the nation called Nigeria. If we can
approach this ritual with any sincerity of purpose, we must collectively admit that
only the days of the civil war in the late sixties can rival the mood of Nigeria and
Nigerians. Our country has been severely fractured by preponderant conflict, our
democracy has cost us so much but is yet to deliver anything close to good
governance, our roads are death traps, our hospitals are expressways to
mortuaries, our infrastructure have decayed progressively  and our institutions
are failing. Our population has become almost completely polarized by ethnicity
and religion, our political elite revel in unbridled corruption, our national direction
is in a continuous flux and our citizens are desperate and desolate.

Someone once described Nigeria as “an amorphous amalgam of individuals busy
pretending to be a people”. I agree. Others criticize the amalgamation action-
that hasty decision that brought together all the tribes that make up Nigeria for
colonial convenience. That experiment did not work as it is so clear that even
after fifty one years of independence, it has only managed to produce
nationalities but not yet a nation. The fastest route to increased insight into the
complex contentions of Nigerianess is in a deeper understanding of her
ambiguous social constructions and nebulous ethnic atomization.   Wherever
you see a Nigerian, he prefers to see himself as Ibo, Edo, Yourba, Hausa, Ijaw etc
before ever being anything Nigerian.  It is an identity of convenience - a garment
that we wear for reasons that are mundane and never inspired anything patriotic.
Our inter-tribal linkages are mere artificial alliances, short-lived and often coitus

Our so called democratic resilience is sustained by our addiction to primitive
distributional politics.  It is my contention that the life span of the Nigerian nation
is intricately intertwined to the flow of oil revenue. I strongly doubt if our
pretentious claim to any form of national cohesion will last us ten years after the
oil wells in the Niger Delta dry up. Those tiny and loose threads that hold us
together will soon give way as soon as the reasons that inspire the
congregational plundering by our vampire elite disappear.  At that point, history
will expose those who have been drumming the violent dances in the dark for our
unemployed, disgruntled and ever ready young dancers during the day. They are
beneficiaries of the conflict economy. In exchange for the bombs and the
grenades they procure with stolen public funds, they are rewarded with juicy
committee positions and they gather around the table for regular pontifications.
They cannot tell the truth because it will keep them out of relevance.

Impunity and lack of political accountability has led to reckless (mis)
appropriation of public resources meant for the delivery of public good. Public
office holders convert public funds given to them on trust into private dynasties to
service their greed and profligacy.  This has led to the complete collapse of the
trust that a responsible citizenry will bestow on a responsive government. Every
Nigerian leader since independence has sermonized about development while in
their hearts they conspire and conjure remote justifications for taking the country
to the path of national shame and deceit.  Successive regimes, whether they be
democrats or despots, have repeatedly betrayed the hopes of the citizens. 
Cutting corners to fill protruding pockets have been elevated to a state policy as
both Directors General and even office messengers met each other in the
business of betrayal of any form of public trust at their disposal. The civil service
has become parasitic to the state and every bureaucrat is patiently waiting for
his or her turn to loot. Our private sector remains a mere conduit for furthering
public sector decadence.  And the vicious circle continues.

It is a language that everyone understands as even those whose duty it is to
preserve and protect the state have lost the inspiration to do so; because they
know the Nigerian state is non-existent. The little national ray of hope we had,
came from our vibrant media and energetic civil society.  As a collective, they
were steadfast in confronting military dictatorships until democracy came to
pass. Sadly, many of them have swallowed several forms of democratic
sedatives and have turned 360 degrees to divert their enormous energies and
talents to become supportive liars and propagandists for the same political
hyenas they once criticized. Nigerian best brains are excelling in other countries
where there is stability and rule of law. Our education sector is lying prostrate.
Our parents now dream of how to pay expensive school fees in countries like
United Kingdom, Malaysia, South Africa and even Ghana.  These are good
reasons for the same bureaucrats to justify more looting and capital flight. Our
green passports have become invitations for high level alertness at every
international airport we visit. We are now classified alongside failing states like
Afghanistan, Somalia etc. At 51 I see the shell of a cursed giant with oil flowing
from her veins. I see political viruses and hypocritical partners; all positioning to
insert a piercing and sucking device to take a share. I see a growing vampire
elite and an irresponsive citizenry who are aloof and ever willing to turn to another
direction or even take other citizenships as soon as the blood meal is over.
Whatever will make us great whenever must purge us of these backward and
primordial tendencies. We must tell the truth about our mistakes and genuinely
take collective remedial steps. We must eschew divisive tendencies and see our
ethnicity only as an accident of fate and not a call to build walls of political
antagonism and oppressive fiefdoms. We must recalibrate the institutions in our
public service and courageously eliminate all the reasons that have made them
ineffective so far. We must not wait to be told that oil is a non-renewable
resource that will soon dry up and so we must diversify our economy. We must
redefine our value for the sanctity of life and rethink whatever reasons we have
used to hitherto justify taking the lives of fellow citizens in the crude pursuit of
ambition. This is a time to allow for our maturation to nationhood and deliberately
permit this manifest in our daily conduct of national affairs. At 51, we need to
urgently adopt both a proactive and preventive attitude to avoid that frightening
possibility starring us in the face. A national epitaph boldly written in bloody ink: 
Here lies the remains of a nation that never was!

Uche Igwe wrote from Africa Studies Program Johns Hopkins University (SAIS)
Washington DC. He can be reached on

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