At a time like this, Nigerians should spend more time reflecting on the kind of future they want for their country rather mourning the past, writes Vincent Obia
Thursday was another Democracy Day in Nigeria, an important event to mark the country’s return to civil rule after several years of wandering in the wilderness of military dictatorship. Anniversaries like this are a time for stocktaking and sombre reflection on where the country is, where it is coming from, where it ought to be, and where it is headed.
This year’s Democracy Day, the 15th since the return to democracy in 1999, was naturally low-key. It was held under the shadow of a national apprehension about the conditions and safety of some innocent schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamic insurgents, Boko Haram, on April 14. The girls had been abducted from their hostel at Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State, as they prepared to write their School Certificate examinations.
The abduction of the schoolgirls occurred amid sloppy security arrangements in an area many said bore all the hallmarks and warnings of a terrorist target. And when the attack happened, an unsavoury rescue effort by the authorities allowed the terrorists to consolidate their hold on the girls whose only offence was their eagerness to learn to better the future of a country that Boko Haram hates so much.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria failed the Chibok girls. It was only after the world had risen up and reacted angrily that some form of seriousness was forced on the authorities.
But President Goodluck Jonathan remains optimistic that the over 200 kidnapped schoolgirls would be released hale and hearty. He reiterated this in his Democracy Day speech on Thursday. The whole country and the world are waiting and praying to see the girls free and unhurt.
Looking back, Nigeria has, no doubt, made some progress. On the political front, the country has broken the jinx of civilian to-civilian transition. Today, the issue of handover from one civilian government to another is settling into a way of life and everyone now knows when to expect it.
However, political debates are still heavily tied around individuals rather than issues; and devotion to dangerous primordial sentiments remain high. Politics in the country remains largely unprincipled, with filthy lucre as the core objective for most politicians.
On the economic front, a milestone was attained in April when Nigeria rebased its economy after nearly a decade and a half. Nigeria moved to the position of Africa’s largest economy following a recalculation of its Gross Domestic Product by the National Bureau of Statistics. The exercise nearly doubled the country’s economy to an estimated N80 trillion ($488 billion) for 2013, pushing GDP up to $510 billion from $270 billion.
There is a general belief that the rebasing and the noted economic expansions are merely theoretical, as they do not affect the quality of the lives of most average Nigerians. There are also insinuations in some quarters that the timing of the launch of the size of the Nigerian economy on paper was for political expediency in view of next year’s crucial general elections.
Be that as it may, there are some indicators of positive change in the economy highlighted by the rebasing, which cannot be ignored. Before the rebase, oil and gas accounted for 32 per cent of the economy, but under the new calculations, oil and gas contributed 14 per cent. Much of the balance came from previously unreported, consumer-driven sectors, such as the Nigerian firm industry (Nollywood), music, and mobile phones.
Analysts say the rebasing would increase the competitiveness of the country’s economic landscape, as investors begin to appreciate the size of the economy, the market, and areas of potential investment.
Certainly, the story of Nigeria on its 15th Democracy Day is not all gloom and doom. There are things to cheer. But there is enormous room for improvement.