By Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu
The year 2014 has been remarkable for Nigeria, one filled with great triumph and, no doubt, greater tragedy.
In early April, we witnessed our nation’s GDP soar to unprecedented heights—an 89 percent increase following its national rebasing—elevating our already lofty ambitions for further global integration as we claimed the mantle of the economic steward of Africa.
This development, which makes Nigeria one of the top 25 in the world (ahead of Belgium and Taiwan, for example), makes Nigeria the cornerstone of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and can only be a positive sign of things to come. Life for typical Nigerians, however, has not changed an iota. The majority of our population continues to live on less than $1.50 a day, media freedoms are routinely impeded upon, arable lands lay fallow, and billions of dollars are lost to oil theft; all of these factors continue to hinder our forward trajectory.
This dilemma is underscored by the persistent violence in the country, caused by the radicalized, ever-expanding terrorist faction known as Boko Haram. Particularly, Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, once proclaimed as Nigeria’s "Home of Peace," now serves as the stomping ground for this misguided extremist cabal. For these many reasons, the quality of life for Nigerians could arguably be perceived as worse than ever before. Yet these perceptions seem to have no impact on either the priorities or actions of Nigeria’s political leaders.
As nearly 300 young pupils from Chibok remain hostages to the will of Boko Haram, a bomb tore through a packed sporting arena in Mubi, and, most recently, terrorists killed over 200 villagers in targeted assaults, with militants dressing in preachers’ garb, rallying citizens to a central area, and firing indiscriminately in to the crowd. It seems that the continued cataclysmic failure to secure Nigerians from internal strife is still being startlingly downplayed, often by those entrusted to govern.
Worse yet, in the immediate aftermath of any given massacre, the attacks are politicized in the name of petty mudslinging and self-serving campaigning. For instance, debatably in an act of politicking, it was suggested at a major party assembly that the terrorist attacks rarely occur in People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled States and that security was “not really an issue.”
Rising above the level of petty politics, this is ethically and tactically incorrect. Further, the cleavages witnessed in the splintering between parties and bureaucracies due to ethnic, religious, and regional fragmentation throughout Nigeria, hinders the capability of the military to respond to and check the slaughtering executed nearly daily by the Boko Haram.
The international community has taken notice of this crisis. And while the public has commended Nigeria for its positive economic trajectory, policymakers, economists, and reporters alike share our skepticism in our country‘s ability to cohesively and accountably lead and govern.
For how can they trust us? On arrival to Abuja or Lagos, one cannot help but notice that there are only a few thousand megawatts available to our over 170 million-strong citizenry, leading to frequent power outages (where there is even supply at all) throughout the nation. This indicates a longstanding and pertinent need for liberalization through domestic and international corporate integration, but remains an opportunity routinely stifled by a determined political leadership that seeks to maintain control and pocket wealth from it.
We claim to deeply desire to slow the clear and present "brain drain," which causes our best and brightest to leave Nigeria en masse for their studies. Because of unchecked terrorist violence and a lack of fundamental investment in our education sector, however, many of our schools lay empty, abandoned much like the hope for the "Nigeria of the Future."
If we are to be trusted as a barometer of a rising Africa on the world stage and an effective economic and ethical leader for the continent, rehabilitation through reconciliation of our political differences is our only option. We must put our selfish pursuits for grandeur and affluence aside for the sake of national prosperity, from North to South.
We must understand that the time is ripe for this dynamic national revitalization and change in reputation abroad, lest we are too late to seize the opportunity for Nigeria. Indeed, as noted author and laureate Chinua Achebe once stated, “if you find water rising up to your ankle, that's the time to do something about it; not when it's around your neck.”
Editor's Note: Orji Uzor Kalu is a former governor of Nigeria’s Abia State and 2007 Presidential candidate. The views expressed are his own.