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Nigeria: 54 years on, but is the future assured?

I woke up this morning to the hum of the generators emanating from the abode of those who could afford to fuel their petrol burners all night. A brief glance at the social media informed me it was Independence Day.

Yes, those we call our founding fathers had set aside a date for us to celebrate our freedom from the rule of a British Monarch. Yes, we once were one of the jewels in the crown of an English ruler, our actual founding fathers, abi mothers.

Outside, I heard neighbours wishing each other ‘Happy Independence’ and began to wonder what we are celebrating and if it is really worth it.

My first daughter is two and a half years old, her younger sister is two months shy of her first earthly year, and they both scream ‘Up NEPA’ with delight each time Nigeria’s National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) restores power.

Three decades plus before, my siblings and I also reacted same way to NEPA (As it was known then—it later became PHCN, but I think it is something else now, several things to be sure) bringing back electricity. Back then, we didn’t have a generator at home and thought of it as something we only need when we take what used to be an annual Christmas trip to our ancestral home in south-eastern Nigeria. The state of the power utility, though not perfect, had not degenerated to the state where people would need to have generators in their house in other to have something akin to modern living.

My daughter knows what the generator is and seeks me out once a power outage throws the house into darkness or interrupts her Barney sing-along. ‘Daddy, up nepa has taken their light. Put on the gen’ is something I have come to anticipate.

One of Nigeria's many household generators emits smoke. Photo: BellaNaija
One of Nigeria’s many household generators emits smoke. Photo: BellaNaija

I live in Lagos state, a state that has had a fairer type of governance than any other part of Nigeria, especially in the last 13 years. Some say the internally generated revenue of Lagos (N219.202 billion in 2012), which makes it one of the few Nigerian states that can survive without subventions from the federal government, is the reason amenities are better in the state.

While it is true that the state government, headed by astute governor Tunde Fashola, is doing better than most others in terms of infrastructure provision and general upliftment of the populace, the sheer size of the population the government oversees (estimated in some quarters to reach 21 million in 2014) and the years of degeneration under the military means it would take decades to get the state to anywhere near world best practice standard.

Expectedly, the better governance and uniqueness of being a one-time federal capital means economic migrants from other parts of the country inundate Lagos. Though the state government is fighting to cope, managing the surging population is super hard work.

I am an economic migrant, having headed to Lagos in 2007 from the South East after the cities of Abuja, Kaduna, Enugu and Port Harcourt failed to provide the job I had expected my 2004 degree from Nnamdi Azikiwe University would ease me into. Decades before, my dad had immigrated to the northern city of Kaduna from the southeast in search of better opportunities, but that’s another story, the story of how the Igbo of south eastern Nigeria are a nation of emigrants.

Most of my schoolmates are in Lagos, most of the people I know in the set before and behind us are in Lagos, and that appears to be the pattern: head to Lagos when and if all else fails.

Oshodi Bus Terminus. The influx of people from Nigeria's poorly developed regions is putting serious pressure on Lagos's infrastructure. Photo: NewTelegraph
Oshodi Bus Terminus. The influx of people from Nigeria’s poorly developed regions is putting serious pressure on Lagos’s infrastructure. Photo: NewTelegraph

The two stories above may appear to be disparate, but that is far from the truth: they both are, in a strange, even uncanny, way the sum of the Nigerian experience.

The surging population of Lagos and the increasingly worsening power situation exemplifies the inability of Nigeria to harness its stupendous potential and begin, after 54 years of so-called self-governance, to show signs of positive progress. People come to Lagos because it still holds some promise. The possibility that the hope they bear can take root and grow into something tangible in the streets of this once capital. Yeah, people know gold does not line its streets, but Lagos offers something, and that is worth the trip. So people keep coming and the population continues to grow, with the added pressure of the existing amenities. Yes, it would be better if other cities could grow fast enough to ease the pressure of Lagos, but the federal government doesn’t seem to understand this need, or lacks the means to act fast enough.

2015 is an election year. For probably the first time in our history, most Nigerians are unaware of who the contenders are, and this is 6 months before vote. Of those who have declared interest, none really inspires the type of confidence that Nigeria’s disadvantaged youths need to better face what appears to be a gloomy future. So come 2015, we will vote, or as usual, sit back at home and surf TV channels as others do, into office men and women who will work as hard as they can to ensure the status quo perpetuates indefinitely.

Nevertheless, Nigeria is not just a land of horror stories, told to warn nations who newly discover fossil fuel reserves in commercial quantity about the dangers of the oil curse. We somehow manage to keep falling into the chaos that exists at the brink – even though we get there time and time again.

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Some say it is because we learnt hard lessons from the civil war, lessons that serve to keep us together. As such, through ethnic conflicts, Boko Haram blood baths, political uncertainties, a terrible power situation, horrible roads, and a general lack of positive opportunities for teeming youths, Nigeria holds on and Nigerians continue to love their nation. I know what they say, but despite everything, I can’t bring myself to hate my country or stop hoping that we would one day reach that promise. I can’t explain it, maybe it comes from being Nigerian, but I know my country is unique in all its complexities. Maybe it comes from knowing the possibilities and thus knowing we have much to hope for, and that keeps us going long enough to say ‘Happy Independence’ and mean it.

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