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Who will make Nigeria great again?

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Beneath the lies and half-truths in Donald Trump’s promise to ‘make America great again’ is the superior appeal of his message which cannot be denied with the wave of the hand.  Maybe he truly means well for the generality of Americans from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. It could also be that the campaign slogan had a bipartisan appeal, like the outcome of the presidential elections partially suggested.

Even so, there is one thing about Trump’s message which we can hardly ignore. Whether we agreed or disagreed with his motives, it abundantly clear that we don’t appeal to greatness in a vacuum or from a void. We do so on the presumption of a distinct nostalgia of a better past. It is a positive aspiration. It invokes our cognitive senses to appreciate a vision of a bigger and higher pedestal which is often invariably the target we aspire to reach each time we contemplate the word

Even on its face-value, and assuming we summon the courage to ignore the messenger; Trump’s message, on its face value, typifies an aspiration to reject mediocrity, incompetence, and corruption in the context in which the affairs of government is conducted. Few other citizens of any nation, on the surface of our much troubled world, are in a position to appreciate the naked realities and negative impact of corruption and under-achievement better than Nigerians in their current situation.

Lest we forgot, Nigeria was indeed a great nation by Third World standards up to four decades ago. It was a model to all black people on the home continent and the diaspora. I can recall that as a secondary school student, I was entitled to set of uniforms and sports gear at the expense of the state. We were paid stipends to transport ourselves to and from our various towns and hamlets. We enjoyed free meals and provisions.

Our seniors in the various tertiary institutions of learning faired even better. They not only enjoyed three-course meals, their dormitories functioned like the best three-star hotels available today and all at the expense of the state. They also benefitted from vacation jobs which were theirs to refuse after each term. Of course, upon their graduation, jobs, which came with immediate car loans awaited them.

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While I have often had to pinch myself to believe that Nigeria offered all that to its youth less than four decades ago, it is always an impossible task getting our children to believe such fantastic ‘tales’ these days. I would not hasten to blame them because even the study of our history was removed from the curriculum of our schools until recently.

Back then, not only was tuition free to a large extent, even the quality of the education was top notch. The finest of Nigerian teachers who were train by the British, were yet to retire and their impact was resounding. My English teacher in secondary school not only thought me how to read and write in the language, but also its proper diction, very unlike the situation even in our finest private universities today. I can recall that back then, the authorities brought in teachers from Asia and Egypt to complement our local teachers in arears that they were considered deficient particularly in the sciences.

And the collective health of the economy reflected on the quality of our roads and the vehicles that used them. Until the middle of the 1980s, Nigerians knew nothing like second-hand ‘tokunbo’ vehicles. We had no rickety taxies and motor-cycles in our inner-cities. The four vehicle assembly plants – conceived as the launch-pad for the much needed transfer of technology to Nigeria – were still operational. They employed labour, along with the textile mills and cotton ginnery at Kontagora.  We also experienced virtually no power outages even in school. The finest brains from around the world, scrambled to teach in our centers of learning. This was the Nigeria some of us old enough to know can now recall with extreme nostalgia.

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Nigeria was not referred to in various cycle as the giant of Africa for nothing. It was because its potentials suggested that it was only a heartbeat away from greatness with efficient management of its God-given resources. The fact that it quickly recovered from its bloody Civil War to launch a-its ambitious development plan of the early 1970s did nothing to discourage the thoughts that alluded to its potential greatness.

In the years to come, various historians will struggle to explain exactly how the nation allowed the dream of greatness rapidly degenerate into the nightmare it has become today. I do not envy them, much as I do not also envy President Muhammadu Buhari, on whose broad but aging shoulders, the daunting task of rescuing Nigeria from the brink undoubtedly rests.

Unlike Donald Trump, who wants to stop the export of American jobs to Mexico and China among his earliest tasks, Buhari’s mission is a lot more complicated. If he has any jobs to export in any instance, it is only that of prostitutes from Nigeria to Italy and the European mainland. Nigerians did not elect him for that.

Before the last general elections, which he decisively won, the question as to whether he possessed the requisite competence and tenacity to make Nigeria great again would have been met with a flurry of scorn and derision. That is no longer the case for a variety of factors.

If he were to be honest with Nigerians, Buhari would be among the first to admit his surprise at the tenacity of the opposition from even his own party over his attempt to comprehensively cleanse the Augean stable he met when he was sworn into office. Worst still, he would have been appalled at the depth of the resistance from even the members of his own party in the National Assembly who had grown accustomed to doing things their own way for the three successive terms that it took for them to waste the collective dreams and aspirations of an entire generation of Nigerians.

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Let us pause and contemplate one important fact for a minute. In 2007 the National Assembly investigated the alleged mismanagement of over 16 billion dollars by the executive arm. Nothing positive has come out of that investigation till today. The power generation and transmission situation in the country has also shown very little improvement up till today despite the vast sums expended on the sector and its privatization.

While the existence of a legislature remains the defining line between a virile democracy and an outright autocracy or dictatorship, the point must be made that not only has Buhari been denied to full support he desires by the NASS, he must have been shocked to his bone marrows by the extent of the rot and decay in the Judiciary which has apparently not been spared from the malaise that has afflicted Nigeria since the 1970s.

Although there are credible arguments that Buhari could be faster in the conduct of matters of state, it is also obvious that if he fails to institutionalize most of the reforms that have been contemplated to reposition the nation on the path of greatness, they will be swiftly reversed as soon as he leaves office. Buhari’s current travails have proved one thing.

For Nigeria to be great again, it will take more than the efforts of one individual riding on the crest of integrity. We all have collective roles to play. We all must realize must appreciate our individual stakes in the Nigeria project by making the critical adjustments that are necessary to make it great again.

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