On the 1 October, Nigeria celebrated it’s 57th, Independence Day. For those who don’t know it, Nigeria is a West African country, and it is the independence from the colonial rule of the British that the nation celebrates.

Symbolically, Nigeria got its independence in 1960, but officially we were not completely independent until 1963. Regardless, Nigerians celebrate the date that the British signed off on the return of complete sovereignty to the country and despite the official delay, it is still a special day for the country’s citizens.

Nigeria, West Africa.

Unfortunately, once the country gained freedom from colonial rule, it had to deal with the fact that the nation it had been made into was and still is one that never properly engaged in discussions or found solutions to the ethnic divide in the country.

From a very simple perspective, Nigeria is a country made up of several, very diverse nations which have to share land, national anthem and passport. There are 520 languages in the country and 250 ethnic groups, and basically, a map was drawn around this diverse populace, and its members were made to call themselves, one.

Moreover, looking back, it is no surprise that six years into independence, there was a devastating three-year Civil War that more or less stemmed from ethnic tensions and until today, there are still sparks of ethnic-based conflict that occur within the country.

For some, this is one of the biggest reasons why we find it difficult to grow and develop as a nation. We are suspicious of our cultural neighbours especially when they seem to be getting access to political and economic power that we don’t have.

Personally, while I acknowledge the role cultural divide has played in stunting political and economic growth and development in the nation’s past, I do completely disagree that it has been responsible for the lack of political or economic improvement.

I say this because of the existence of people like Diezani Alison-Madueke, who anyone could discover through a quick Google search to be a woman of firsts in a male-dominated world.

She was the first woman to be appointed to the board of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, then the first woman to hold the position of Minister of Petroleum Resources in Nigeria, as well as the first female Minister of Transportation.

Despite all these achievements, her story doesn’t end well as she has been alleged to have stolen up to $20 billion of petroleum-related revenue from the country over time, while in positions of power.

Whether or not I believe that she did embezzle such an amount from a nation is irrelevant. Instead, my concern is with the handling of such a high profile case.

First of all, the Nigerian government was not responsible for the initial arrest of this woman but rather it was Britain’s National Crime Agency that served the warrants and froze assets. Additionally, any piece of information worth considering seems to be coming from Britain’s investigative teams as opposed to the law enforcement agencies of the country from which this incredible sum of money may have been stolen from.

Obviously, to fall under the radar of Britain’s National Crime Agency a crime must have been committed, so it would be naive to assume that all the allegations thrown her way have been false. Moreover, if one is to believe that she did indeed rob the country of even half as much as what she has been accused of, one would automatically be inclined to wonder why no one in the Nigerian government seemed to have noticed the billions in loses or missing profits of oil-based revenue occurring.

And if they did notice it, how come no one in any position of power managed to report this not only to their superiors but to the citizens of this democratic country.

I am not looking for answers to these questions, but instead, I am using them to highlight the problem. The people in power are selfish, and they have been for a while. Nigeria has been a victim of both external and internal exploitation, and many of us just want to turn our eyes away from the internal because it is easier to blame the external.

Yes, the country was colonised, and yes we have many ethnic differences. However, the idea that our ethnic diversity is the reason why our country is tortured with poverty and reverse development is not a very realistic position to have.

Mrs Alison-Madueke is one of many self-serving politicians who, for whatever reason, chose herself over her nation. Money that could be used to accelerate education, urbanisation and probably even allow the Naira to have some value in foreign stock markets is now tied up in the bureaucracies that follow from fraud and corruption charges.

A fact that many need to understand is that Nigeria does not suffer because it is a poor nation because, as a matter of fact, it is not. The country has land, natural resources and a huge population which can easily translate to an incredible workforce if the leaders decide to give productivity a go.

Right now, Nigeria struggles with South Africa to be the largest African economy with what is less than half of what the productivity of the nation could be. There are currently about 150 million Nigerians in the country, yet somehow we have a gross domestic product of about $500 billion a year. Meanwhile, there are more or less 22 million Texan and the state, which geographically is just a little bigger than Nigeria is has a GDP of about $1.3 trillion.

A street in Lagos, Nigeria. (Flickr / Zouzou Wizman)

That right here is a problem that needs to be addressed. Why is it that a state with a significantly lower population than our country has a much greater GDP than Nigeria does in a year?

Well, it’s no surprise really when American Universities allegedly generate double the amount of electricity than the country does in a year. Even more, how can we improve productivity when about 95million Nigerians live without electricity.

The governor of Lagos State, arguably the most productive state in the country argues that Nigeria has the capacity to generate 12,000w of energy. So why has it not happened yet? Why is the development of this country being tied up in the homes of the heads of state?

The point I hope I am making is that we, as a nation, need to abandon ideas that we are held back because of our history with the British. Colonisation did play a part, and ethnic tensions do exist, but the fact is these two concepts are like a common cold to Nigeria where poor leadership is a cancer.

Nevertheless, I must highlight that the fault does not just rest on poor leadership, but also on the complacent educated half of the country. You often find this group passive in their involvement with Nigerian politics unless politics gets in the way of their ability to spend freely.

This group is also responsible for fuelling unnecessary ethnic divide from the safety of their relatively nicer homes often outside of the country. This group calls on religious and cultural leadership to protect their comfortable bubbles but not to assist the less fortunate other half. This group either cares so much about the injustice going on in other countries but would not dare speak out against the leadership in their own or they’d wonder why you even bother to speak out against any kind of injustice when your own comfort may be at risk.

This group protects the negligent leaders both consciously and unconsciously, and they are a reason why development is difficult because as long as they are comfortable, they don’t complain.

If the educated half of Nigeria got involved in leadership and decided to deviate from the easy, corrupt traditions that go on behind the scenes in the political landscape, we will see a significant difference in five years or less.

If they decided to go to the masses and gain their support not by buying bags of rice or promising an influx of unaccounted money into their local governments, but by actually getting them to understand that we are in desperate need of stability, we will see a difference.

The importance of communication (Flickr / Synergos Institute)

I am happy Nigeria is independent but I am unsatisfied with the state of affairs in the country. We have so much potential with more and more people getting properly educated every day. We need to stop resisting change and start contributing to it by creating and for those who can afford to, by creating actual change.🔷

(Cover: Flickr / Nano Anderson)