Nigeria: Thoughts on yesterday’s men

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*Gowon, Awolowo

Dan Agbese

These days when I feel overwhelmed by the mediocrity of the present-day Nigeria; I mentally trudge down the path of the profundity of the forgotten past. I do so to make some sense of the present and convince myself that there is a universal agreement that progress for nations and individuals means moving forward. It is a healthy exercise, I assure you.

Each time I do so, I find something both interesting and disappointing about our country and its citizens. Here is my latest find from the past.

Sometime in 1970, not long after the end of the 30-month civil war; General Yakubu Gowon launched the Second National Development Plan, 1970 -74. It was the first national development conceived and written entirely by Nigerian technocrats and development experts; who, were guided by the general’s conviction that it was time for Nigerians to look beyond their noses; to begin the challenging processes of making their country rise like the African giant it is touted to be; from the ashes of its grievous political, economic and social errors of the head and the heart that landed us in the bloody civil war.

I think the plan was in the larger context of the General’s unique policy of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation; the famous 3Rs.

Indeed, the plan was modest in its monetary commitments but profound as a guiding principle of national development. It envisaged a capital expenditure of N3.192 billion in the four years that the plan would last. Of this, the public sector would cough out N2.100 billion, with the private sector supporting it with N1.632 billion.

For that level of investment, the plan expected our gross national product to rise from N3.028bn in the 1969-70 fiscal year; growing to N3.987bn within the first three years, 1970-73, of the plan coming into effect.  The plan came into effect at a particularly challenging period in our national history. The civil war had caused untold damages to physical struggles in the main theatres of the war; caused enormous human losses and suffering and left a sense of trauma and alienation in the land. The 3Rs were meant to address these in a positive way in a manner that the wounds of war would begin to heal quickly.

The primary purpose of the plan was far and above monetary gains. It was to raise our human capital; engender national pride and patriotism in our capacity to build a Nigeria of our dreams; rather than a nation that would perpetuate the nightmare of the immediate past in our national history. The five principal objectives of the plan were eloquent in their articulation of that sense of Nigerianness; especially of Nigerians becoming the architects of their new nation.

The Third National Development Plan, 1975-80 that succeeded the second plan echoed those same sentiments. In scale, it was bigger and even more ambitious than the Second National Development Plan. It envisaged a capital expenditure of some N30 billion.

I believe something must have gone so badly wrong and turned our collective hopes into hollow hopelessness. Something definitely turned our fervent dreams of a great nation into a nightmare and arrested our national development. Fifty years after the launch of the Second National Development with its lofty and patriotic sentiments; Nigeria remains effectively hobbled by insane competitions for political and public offices along ethnic and religious advantages.

Many years ago, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo borrowed from Metternich his description for Italy. He had declared that Nigeria was a mere geographic expression. We are still a nation of ethnic groups in which the tribes with greater advantages at the feeding trough fence off other tribes. We are still a nation of religious bigots where faith rather than qualifications and competence determines who gets what/where.

And everything keeps going wrong. But of course, we no get shame. The smaller and less endowed African nations now thumb their noses at the lumbering giant of Africa. The late Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya once told the late President Shehu Shagari that some African countries were big for nothing. He was too polite to call our country by name, most probably because he was in Nigeria.

I know that you would be disappointed too in our missed and wasted opportunities; as well as the cynical squandering of our national wealth. And of course, our descent from the Olympian height of profound and broad-minded thinking and patriotism into low-minded mediocrity.

It is not funny that the giant is catching at a straw in the name of making progress while its feet are tied to the millstone. Think of yesterday’s men.

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