Nigeria at 60: ‘Prosperous’ poverty

President Buhari declared Nigeria “the most prosperous black nation.” How true is it? Britain created Nigeria on January 1, 1914 as a colonial facility. Prior to that momentous event, the over 300 ethnic nationalities forcibly lumped together under the banner of modern statehood were each existing in their individual capacities as Nation States, even if as ‘primitive’ states. But European capitalist economic imperatives dictated that these contiguous nationalities be amalgamated for maximization of economic factors and easy administration.

Lagos had been taken in 1861/62 into British custody as a colony. Much of the Niger Delta, lower and upper Niger upward to the recesses of Sahara desert had through fraudulent treaties been adjudged as being under the influence of British chartered corporation, the Royal Nigeria Company which George Goldie like Cecil Rhodes and his contemporaries in Northern and Southern Africa, had obtained the areas through treaties for his company.

On January 1, 1900 the Royal Nigeria Company’s charter was revoked, compensated handsomely by Britain that took direct control of the area and according to the dictates of the 1885 Berlin Conference Resolutions and Protocols, the areas together with Lagos Colony and adjoining Yoruba areas were united in 1914 as one country in the name and style of Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria with Sir Fredrick Lugard as the Governor-General.

From 1914 to 1960, Nigeria was administered basically as a colonial economic facility and structured in such a way that even after its independence it would remain a neo-colonial facility. And on October 1, 1960, it became independent but for its leadership, Britain carefully nurtured a caste of rulers beholden to, and amenable to it and its allied powers especially, the United States of America.

Nigeria, in terms of economic and social factors, is greatly endowed and ought to be prosperous. Its 923,768.64 square kilometres land space are apart from the far reaches of the Sahel very arable soil for diverse crops such as cocoa, palm produce, groundnuts, timber, rubber and several others. Mineral resources of exportable quantities even before the commercial exploitation of petroleum resources were coal, tin, and bauxite mined in Enugu, Jos and environs.

Then between 1956 and 1970 petroleum assumed very significant economic position in Nigeria’s political economy and its presence among other factors was the major reason for imperial forces’ concern about keeping Nigeria within its imperial orbit and control. Imperialism does not concern itself with its target-country’s wellbeing and security, but it is concerned about the stability of the country.

So, a country subjected to imperialist control may be ruled by worst of dictators and the rulers’ atrocities may not bother imperialist forces but it is only when the country’s stability is threatened that it bestirs itself to step in by either subtle intervention through regimechange while the status quo remains.

The above scenario has been with Nigeria since 1960 to date. Between 1960 and 1966, Nigeria as an independent country had been buffeted by series of political and constitutional crises from 1962 to 1965 when it suffered political unrest due to the quest of Northern People’s Congress to destroy the opposition put forward by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the pacification of the Tiv’s ethnic challenge Hausa/Fulani domination.

The crises induced into the polity by these political actions resulted in military’s coup d’états and resulting pogroms against the Igbo which culminated in the Biafra War. These crises affected the well-being of Nigerians even as the country gained enormous wealth from petroleum resources. After the Biafra War, a new leadership paradigm has occasioned as new autocratic system of government led by soldiers has taken control of the country.

The enormous wealth flowing from the rents received from foreign exploitation of petroleum resources assured the country of steady income flow and a ceaseless spending on luxury goods and on grandiose projects such as airports, stadia, etc. Meanwhile, the income distribution scheme was skewed in favour of the ruling class against the working class and the peasant farmers and artisans.

The unequal income distribution resulted in the multiplication of crimes such as armed robbery and frauds such as money-doubling, obtaining by false pretences. The different military regimes from 1966 to 1999 having destroyed rule of law introduced rule by personal might so that nobody trusts the law to protect him but rather the might of the big man to bulldoze his way in any dispute as the soldier, policeman, and other uniformed personnel of the state were readily deployed to settle scores with disputants. Between 1970 and 1999, life in Nigeria was hellish, brutish and short as economic crises set in thereby unleashing armed robbery and fraudulent living in the society.

Between 1999 and 2020, Nigeria has unravelled as the coherence of the state was breached when several groups such as the Nigeria Delta people rebelled against the state citing socio-economic and political strangulation. Alienated and disaffected Igbo represented by MASSOB and IPOB agitate for secession in the name and style of Republic of Biafra. Now, apart from the common place religious violent attacks in the streets of Northern cities such as regular sectarian riots, the Boko Haram since 2009 has berthed in the North struggling to carve out the North, or if possible turn Nigeria into an Islamic Caliphate.

Within all these troubles, Nigeria due to the petrol dollars remains a rich country awash with petrol-dollars rents which are largely expended on recurrent expenditure of the ruling class as salaries and allowances.

But the social infrastructure system is in shambles as the health, education, transport and communication systems are run-down and remain comatose. Examination frauds, financial crimes, corruption from the top to the bottom and violent crimes such as kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery and trafficking in persons have submerged Nigerian value system rendering the country a failed state. In the light of the foregoing, it would be difficult to agree with President Buhari’s declaration while launching the 60th Nigeria Independence Logo that Nigeria is the most prosperous black nation. What do we mean by prosperity? Common dictionary meaning of the word, ‘prosperous’ is “wealthy and successful.”

As noted earlier, Nigeria might on bare statistics be considered a wealthy country as the government loves to flaunt the so-called gross domestic product which it holds to be the biggest in Africa but if such wealth is squandered on frivolities or if the wealth is lost through organized political banditry legalized as the political system, can the commonwealth resources so frittered away still be said to support or sustain the claim of prosperity? By every standard, Nigeria is the poorest black nation on earth not due to dearth of resources but largely due to squandering of riches by its rulers.

Nigeria can only be described as prosperous if it is founded on the ideals of freedom, egalitarian and libertarian values. Living on these principles makes the country a happy, contented and progressive people who will hold their heads high anywhere in the world.

But if Nigeria continues on its present trajectory of false living where a few of its nationals are reckoned as some of the most richest crooks in the world exhibiting their ill-gotten money by the acquisition of toys such as private jets, purchase of private mansions all over the world and painting world cities with parties and outrageous shopping sprees then its poverty will remain where it has been ignominiously etched on world canvas as the poverty capital of the world. Being ‘Prosperous’ means wealthy and successful and Nigeria is neither of these terms.




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