Like most parts of Africa, Nigeria was colonized by an imperial foreign power. The present day Nigeria (plus or minus some territories) came into existence with formal amalgamation of conquered territories of the North and South by the British Colonial Governor – Lord Lugard in 1914.
By this historic action the numerous diverse peoples who constitute the new country willy-nilly began the difficult and arduous journey towards building a modern nation. The justifiable suspicions and mistrust between the diverse ethnic groups were indeed real and palpable.
However, over the years, after the amalgamation, through the spirit of give and take by the pioneer leaders and people at large, a national spirit began to manifest to the point when the leaders agreed to work together, if only to kick out the British in 1960.
In the 46 years of direct colonial rule (1914 to 1960), as would be expected, the British designed and organized how the huge economic resources of the colony should be harnessed and exploited. It is fair to assert that the economy of Colonial Nigeria was organized primarily to serve the interest of the imperial power.
The incidental benefits to the natives came in the form of residuals of some out-moded infrastructures like the present narrow gauge railway, port facilities and some road transport mainly used for easy exploitation and export of agricultural and mining products as well as imports and marketing of manufactured British goods.
As soon as the British realized that at some point, they would have to relinquish direct political control to the natives, it became imperative for them to plan a long term strategy to ensure continued control and exploitation of their former colony long after attainment of political independence. The British succeeded in achieving its neo-colonial hold on Nigeria mainly through the following instruments:
•Education System: Through their education legacies they succeeded in entrenching a mental condition which to-date continuesto deprive Nigerians of their self esteem, self confidence and self-reliance.
•Political Legacy: They also left behind a political system which to-date perpetuates national instability and the resultant poor governance by few selfish elite.
•Economy: Through the failure of our education and political systems, the British and, now its numerous Capitalist countries allies in the West, have been able to remain in control of the commanding heights of Nigerian economy.
Nigeria – 1960 to-date
As already alluded to in the above paragraphs, it was anticipated that political freedom at independence would ushers in new thinking and new policies which together would bring rapid transformation of Nigeria from exploitation and under-development as a former colony. Nigerians were so optimistic about the bright prospects of Nigeria becoming a country where its citizenry will live in justice peace and prosperity as could be found anywhere else in the world. Now that these aspirations have been dashed 50 years after independence the present generation of Nigerians must be confused as they should be justified in asking the older generations for explanation.
The rest of this paper will attempt to offer some explanations even if many of them are mere reputations and have been subject of endless arguments over the years. I believe Nigeria’s poor development performance could be explained from a number of perspectives including:
•Political instability: From 1960 to date Nigeria had not experienced the kind of stable political atmosphere necessary for orderly continuity of good governance for development and growth expected in truly democratic societies. Within a relatively short period of 52 years, Nigeria has had 14 heads of state (an average of three years each), and of this number nine were not elected, and of the remaining five only on two occasions were their election deemed free and fair. The political instability which retarded Nigeria’s rapid development since independence in 1960 is rooted in the following main factors:
•Tribalism/ethnicity/sectionalism: It is my contention that tribalism, ethnicity and sectionalism played the most part of Nigeria’s political instability. Most of the military interventions experienced in Nigeria were inspired by tribal and ethnic tendencies inherent in the country’s social diversity.
The civil war, the creation of states and local governments over the years have simply been a response to continuing pressures arising from tribal and ethic loyalties. The constitution of the country was changed or amended several times since independence, and this was largely to address political instability arising from tribalism, ethnicity and sectional sentiments.
Neo-colonialism after 1960
Nigeria’s colonial history and heritage unfortunately provide the conducive atmosphere for neo-colonial interests to manifest and thrive. These interest have been deeply entrenched and have so far continued to undermine Nigeria’s self esteem and self reliance. They have aggravated the country’s over-dependence on foreign ideas and foreign technology. The overall consequence of this is that the country has virtually lost control of the commanding heights of its economy. That is why the country is paradoxically both rich and poor at the same time!!
Bad governance/corruption et al: Instability in the Nigerian polity could be both the cause and the effect of bad governance with all the other attendant ills such as corruption, inept leadership, poverty and general insecurity. The demise of the first republic marks the beginning of political instability in Nigeria and the inevitable consequences which arose from un-elected leaders-both military and civilians.
The only two occasions when Nigeria was about to have good leaders with potential capacity to provide good governance, which might have led the country to regional and global greatness were quickly subverted by foreign neo-colonial vested interests using their local agents. Good governance should have meant that Nigeria and Nigerians would take their destiny in their own hands, while the consequences of bad governance as we have seen since 1960 mean the surrender of Nigeria’s resources to foreign control leaving, as it were, the Nigerian citizenry to wallow in abject poverty.
Good governance in Nigeria should have been freedom from control and manipulation of neo-imperial agencies like the World Bank, IMF etc.
Prognosis about the future: While it is easy to look back into the history of Nigeria and its development, it is far more difficult to look into its future in the face of all the odds that have so far continued to challenge it during the last 98 years. Let us start from the optimistic view point that nations are not necessarily built overnight. Nations usually evolve from the hard work, sacrifices and resilience of their own peoples.