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Periscoping The Roots Of Nigeria’s Economic Woes

By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu

Solutions to problems, whatever the ramification, are never far to fetch. In so far as those labouring to solve them are as well minded as to get to the root of the matter first.

Ditto the numerous problems confronting our nation from Adam. Since a dwindling economy joined the elongating queue, the nation has nary afforded a second’s nap. Yet a definite solution has proven harder to get than an American visa.

Perhaps, like some gurus have opined, it’s because all of the medicines on offer have mostly proven superficial by half. Rather than the root, they have often been targeted at the shoot. Ending up proffering temporary palliatives that often see the recidivist problem suffering a quick relapse – before one can shout Jagaban!

But to face the fact, our fiduciary status has not always been like it has currently become. In fact, without mincing words, there was a time we could hold our own – economy wise – in the comity of world nations.

Let alone in the continent of Africa where we have always come out tops in all peer reviews. Any wonder we turned their Big Brother now and again. Like single handedly supporting all kinds of causes on behalf of the whole.

Easy recall can be made of the second edition of the World and Black African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in Lagos in 1977. Not many can remember that our imposing National Theatre and Festac Town, now a federal housing estate, were solely constructed to host the event.

Or, for that matter, that during the struggle to end the apartheid regimes in southern Africa, Nigeria willingly enlisted into the frontline states. Looking back, we can beat our chests as the sole power responsible for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. As well as the subsequent independence of South Africa in 1994.

Also, we have excelled in the subregion. None can even deign to deny that the peace thriving in Liberia and Sierra Leone could have been achieved without our bold interventions.

Sadly, it’s presently becoming plain that that once touted African giant has downsized to an ant – for the want of a smaller creature. So much that the mere donation of a few vehicles to nextdoor neighbours Niger Republic is ruffling feathers here. Never mind that we had earlier offered them the unique complement of a railway line.

Consequently, there is no gainsaying that it’ll take some vavavoom to unravel this descent from hero to zero outside the stages of Nollywood.

Like has come to pass, as many as have tried to unravel the imbroglio would attest that there is no ‘direct line-of-sight’ to it. So, more than a telescope, the apt instrument for use in the vicarious pursuit should be a periscope. For while the former serves to make directly distant objects appear nearer, the latter lets us observe ‘otherwise obstructed fields of view’.

Like it goes, there are so many obstacles lining the way that almost as many as have dared end up with heads covered with spittle. You know, like the proverbial ‘he’ that once opted to fight for a never-do-well in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Surveyed properly, though, the fundamental problem appears to lie with how far back the probe should track. No doubt, we  could claim inclusion in the drove that Europe put back for centuries on end. Like the Guyanese historian Walter Rodney pointed it out in his seminal book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

However, our country had not been ‘founded’ then. So we are left with our ‘discovery’, subsequent amalgamation in 1914 and independence in 1960. And even at the latter, as the Union Jack was lowered for the ascent of the Green-White-Green, the sky appeared only a close starting point.

As recorded in The Reader’s Digest Vol 91 of July 1967, preparation for our independence parade was awarded to one Col Hefford, a retired British trooper. When he met up with PM Balewa to finalise the deal, the following conversation ensued:

Balewa: How much?

Hefford: Ghana spent over a million      

              pounds…

Balewa: Fine, we want ours to be twice          

              as good.

Hefford: That will cost two million.

Balewa: Go ahead.

Hefford: I’ll need a million to get             

              started.

Balewa: You can pick it up on the way 

               out.

Therefore, it can be argued that the waters only came flooding in following the first election after independence. As it turned out, trouble in the West first snowballed into the declaration of a state of emergency there. Then a permutation of events saw the nation enveloped in a full-blown-out civil war in 1967.

The casus belli of that war remains a debate topic evermore as reasons have tended to vary from pundit to pundit. These range from the banal to the beastly.

Like the then federal government reneging on the Aburi Accord. And the ‘rebels’, of course, paying back after the document was amended.

Yet some others point to the outright decapitation of the earlier abrogated independence constitution with the creation of twelve states by the Gowon government. According to this group, its successful emasculation of the rebel government saw them left with no option than a fight to the finish.

The foregone notwithstanding, some others have argued that that masterstroke by Lagos effectively unleashed the unitary arrangement earlier announced by General Ironsi. And this was buoyed somewhat as oil from the rebel enclave assumed a new dimension in the state of our affairs. They reckon that but for this, push would never have come to shove.

And so it goes.

Concerning the dramatic end of the inferno at the turn of the decade, one analysis holds supreme. According to John de St. Jorre, who covered the war for The Observer of London, hostilities effectively ended immediately the war-weary Biafran public realised that, true to the ‘no-victor, no-vanquished’ proclamation, the federal troops were not out to exterminate them.

But all said and done, the end of the war saw the running of the nation trusted unto the hands of war generals. With our coffers awash with oil boom wealth, the mostly trained-to-kill warlords could not achieve any more than hold us to damnation at gunpoint.

So much so that when their military careers ended and they turned civilians, they still hung on to power. In fact, they have ruled us ever since to a devastating effect. Arguably, the only breaths of fresh air only happened in the brief interegnia of the two pure civilians that interspersed their stranglehold.

Fortunately, as the next presidential election dawns, for the first time we now boast a lot of ‘idle civilians’ on the ballot. It’s therefore hoped that this will, in the very least, afford us another opportunity to elect a proper civilian president untainted by military regimentation. Then – and only then – can we claim to have gotten to the root of our economic malaise. So help us God.

*Uzoatu is the author of the novel  Vision Impossible (Lagos; New Gong Publishers, 2006).

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