By October this year, it would be fifty five years since we became ‘independent’, yet we have very little to show off as a nation, we are still part of the larger African
story, a continent plagued by poverty and meaningless conflicts with a few strong men and weak institutions. Generally, African nations have not made the best out of the ‘wind of change’ which blew across the continent in the 50s and 60s. To justify our miserable existence, some arm chair intellectuals have strongly criticized the West for Africa’s squalor. This blame game has continued to date, and when anything goes wrong in Africa, be it an epidemic, a conflict, inflation, or famine, Africans blame everybody but themselves.
Make no mistakes, the pillage, plunder, enslavement and colonization of Africa by the Europeans seriously affected the development of the continent, and books like Rodney’s ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, though extremely socialist in its recommendations, provides a good historical template for understanding the inhumanity orchestrated in those times by the Europeans. However, times have changed and dwelling on the rhetoric of colonization, neocolonialism and imperialism no longer holds water. Africans must understand that nobody owes them anything and that they are fully responsible for whatever happens to them – good or bad. On this basis, it can be said that, compared to other countries (like those in Asia), African countries have fared badly since independence. Ours is a continent of one billion consumers who, in the words of Chika Onyeani ‘are a vast array of zombies incapable of understanding or dissecting basic fundamental knowledge of life’.
As a Nigerian, what would I celebrate on the First day of October? A mere change of flags? How independent are we if despite having billions of litres of the liquid black gold deposited beneath us, we still rely on our ‘colonial masters’ to explore, extract, refine and sell oil back to us at a price they choose? What is independence if Julius Berger builds our roads and we ride on them in Mercedes Benzes, Toyotas, and Cadillacs? How can we represent our identity with pride among other nations if we daily throng to Chinese Restaurants while no Chinese visits our local restaurants to have banga soup?
Are we truly independent if after the United States embargoed arms sales to Nigeria, the military campaign against Boko Haram insurgents almost ground to a halt? As an independent nation, what defense mechanisms are in place to protect Nigeria from external attack? You see, after an objective analysis of things as they now stand you will realize that calling Nigeria a truly independent nation is fallacious. I understand that with the turn of the 21st Century, the whole world continues to web into a global enclave and that different countries rely on one another to support what has now become a ‘Global Economy’.
But, what is Nigeria’s comparative advantage? Indeed, what has the Giant of Africa contributed to the global economy apart from providing a dumping ground for goods from all over the world? How has the ‘wealthiest black nation on earth’ asserted herself globally? Is it through the weekly churn out of substandard media materials from an institution (Nollywood) that is all quantity and no quality? Is it through the availability of a myriad of 419ners who defraud unsuspecting foreigners of their money, hence, making Nigeria a despicable cliché in global conversations? By and large, the Giant of Africa is a giant with a Plaster of Paris, a toothless bulldog.
Countrymen, our independence is an illusion. We have wallowed in an orgy of self-delusion for decades now and we refuse to awake from our national stupor. In so doing, we have equally misled and failed our African siblings in our ‘Big Brother’ capacity. We have misused the repository of abundant human and natural resources left within our shores by the Almighty, mediocrity has characterized almost all sectors of our national life as we concern ourselves with primitive accumulation. While ‘oil money’ is being used to transform Arab countries and in carrying out audacious projects world over, we have contracted the ‘Resource Curse’ and left ourselves in a ‘Paradox of Plenty’ – our people poorer, our air fouled, our environment polluted, and our lands untenable (all this in an environment witnessing more conflict).
It was Ray Ekpu who described the Niger Delta people as ‘a region whose squalor is a fallout from its splendor and whose poverty is a product of its wealth’, so much for the arrival of petrodollars. Our academic institutions (with decrepit facilities) annually churn out graduates who swell the mediocre workforce where unemployment rates remain very high, over a third of Nigerians live below the poverty line. And who do we blame for all these? For the mosquito bites at night, for infrastructural deficiency, for institutional failures, for epileptic power supply, who do we blame? America? Europe? China?
Give me a break! The culprit stares us in the mirror but we are too weak to admit it. Why are we not so great? Why are we poor amidst plenty? It is like Cassius told Brutus in Shakespeare’s Caesar, ‘the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’.
Realizing the above, where do we go from here? Business as usual? Absolutely not. There is need for a radical shake up. I was impressed when I read from the papers that our refineries have been re-steamed (by local engineers) and are contributing to meeting the daily demand. Despite this, a lot still remains to be done, we must ask some questions. How comes that after the Ajaokuta Steel Plant was built to 98% completion by the Russians during the Shagari Administration for about $4 billion, we are yet to have one ton of steel from that very gigantic factory?
It is when we begin to answer questions like this one that we will really begin moving towards true independence. The Ajaokuta Steel is a case in point because it can create millions of both direct and indirect jobs; it can also meet the steel demand of the whole continent. Steel is all that is needed for industrialization as almost everything is made out of steel (including military hardware), the Eiffel Tower is a steel structure that attracts revenue to the French treasury, but we are letting this opportunity rot under our very noses. Examples like this one abound all over the country as we lack the will to solve our problems.
Nigeria can rid Africa of her dependence on European, Asian, and American products. Only then would we be the Giant of Africa and only then would we have adhered to the principles of Ubuntu. We have Zenox Computers; we have Innoson Motors, Manufacturing Companies in Kaduna and elsewhere, and the boys in Aba and Nnewi who can reproduce almost anything. Why then do we quiver at the slightest withdrawal of support from external sources?
These opportunities can be exploited to achieve maximum results. We must learn to invest locally and use our own products as this will generate more value for our people, this concept was fully explained by Chika Onyeani in his book ‘Capitalist Nigger’ where he coined the phrase ‘Spider Web Doctrine’, an economic concept where every dollar that arrives a community is not allowed to leave but is reinvested locally.
For this to be possible, our institutions must be strong and greater meaning must be attached to the Nigerian life by the powers that be. While this is a duty of the political class, we must all not relent in providing the oversight functions needed to keep the government up and doing.
Innocent Tochukwu Okoro, Student, Department of Electronic Engineering, University of Nigeria; firstname.lastname@example.org, +2348163600660