Reflections On Nigeria At 50

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A lot has happened since the last Independence Day celebrations. The whole brouhaha over the  Christmas day would-be-bomber which led to Nigeria becoming a pariah of sorts has partially  faded from memory, as more recent news have taken its place. Nigeria has lost a sitting  president to natural causes and uncertainty hung in the air for a while, as people pondered  what the next move would be in such an unprecedented situation. The constitution is very  clear on the steps to follow should such a case arise; however, the fear at the time was if  the law would be peacefully obeyed. Some people tried their very best to find means of  circumventing the law, but in the end, they had to let the constitution reign supreme. The  whole speculation over whether the current president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan would run for  office come the next election has abated as all signs point to him running for the office of  the president in 2011. The focus right now is on the elections as the hopefuls are preparing  themselves and the Nigerian masses are wondering if there will be any difference this time  around, or if it will be business as usual.

Nigeria has come a long way since its independence from Britain in 1960. So much water has  gone under the bridge and now, at 50, it is only right to ask ourselves how we have fared as  a nation.

Infrastructure
When infrastructure is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is roads. This is  because Nigerian roads are overburdened. About 95 per cent of goods and passengers in the  country are ferried from one point to the other via the roads. It is the only mode of  transport for many people. Air fares are beyond what the average Nigerian can afford. There  is no subway system, neither are the waterways an alternative. Many households in Nigeria  have at least one car, which means that there are millions of cars on the roads on any given  day. These roads take a lot of pounding and the result is obvious for all to see. The  airports have none of the sophistication which other countries have become used to. The  railroads have lain dormant for so long that market women have turned rail tracks into  places to sell all kinds of products, notwithstanding the risk to their lives from the  occasional trains that utilise the tracks. Power supply is exceedingly erratic and all the  billions of Naira allegedly poured into reviving this sector have yet to produce any  tangible results. I would like to say that the one area in which giant strides have been  made is communications. The growth of telecommunications in Nigeria has been really  explosive in a few short years. This is a very lucrative market and the investors have taken  matters into their own hands by providing their own power and other kinds of infrastructure  that are taken for granted by investors in other countries.

Security
The simple truth is that security in Nigeria is very poor. It is no longer news that the  police are under-equipped, under-funded and under-trained to carry out their job in any  meaningful way. There is a dearth of forensic science as a method of apprehending culprits.  There are no security cameras placed at strategic hot spots of crime to help deter or  apprehend criminals. This is why most crimes are committed with impunity. Kidnapping has  become one of those things to live with instead of being fought. People have the burden of  providing their own security, even if it means barricading themselves inside their own  homes.

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Religion
This is still a volatile issue in a country where there are different types of religion, but  mostly Christianity and Islam. Adherents of both faiths have not learnt to coexist in  harmony but rather, view each other with suspicion and barely disguised contempt. This is  why there have been numerous religious conflicts in the past 50 years which have tragically  ended the lives of too many souls needlessly. If after 50 years Nigeria has not worked out a  formula for the two faiths to live together peacefully, then I wonder when this miracle will  happen.

Education

The 1979 Constitution makes it the responsibility of the state and local government to  provide education at the primary level. The federal government has concurrent powers with  the state government over post-primary education. There is free primary education in  Nigeria; however, it has not stopped a lot of people from denying their wards this basic  foundation. Househelps are in most cases made to stay at home more days than they go to  school; if they go to school at all. It is not uncommon to see very young children in the  market hawking different wares when they should be in school. The universities, polytechnics  and colleges of education are overcrowded while the private universities charge prohibitive  fees. The youngsters who make it through the educational system often find it hard to fit  into the job market due to a rather high rate of unemployment. The sad reality is that  Nigeria is blessed with truly gifted individuals who will excel if given half the chance.

Healthcare
At the risk of sounding overly negative, it must be said that the healthcare system in  Nigeria is a massive failure. You cannot call an ambulance to come to the aid of someone who  needs help. Even if there are ambulances just waiting for such a call, how on earth will  they get to the person in time through the eternal traffic jams and network of deplorable  roads? If the healthcare system is so fantastic, why is it that highly placed government  officials or their relatives are airlifted to foreign countries when they have the slightest  ailment? The paradox is that Nigerian healthcare professionals are doing exceedingly well in  different parts of the world.

Corruption

How can one evaluate Nigeria without mentioning the ever present corruption? Corruption is  the major reason why Nigeria has so many problems which have not been solved such as the  lack of power, refineries and good roads. Successive administrations talk about the huge  sums of money that have been spent on these sectors, but nothing exists to validate such  claims. On a brighter note, Nigerians are doing the country proud in different fields.  Sports, writing, music, inventions and so on.  I suppose if you can make it in Nigeria, with  all the difficulties, then you can make it anywhere in the world.

Telecommunications is a very lucrative market and the investors have taken matters into  their own hands by providing their own power and other kinds of infrastructure that are  taken for granted by investors in other countries.

•Akunna Ejim can be reached on [email protected]