How Soon Will Nigeria Be Great?

  • By Oluseun Onigbinde

Recently, I went to Chicago and I was amazed by the skyline. “ I am familiar with New York and the beauty of its skyline, but how come Chicago is built up like this?” I asked myself. “How long did it take to do this and how many years does it take to build a nation?” I find myself so awful that whenever I am out of Nigeria either in a squeaky clean airport, well-arranged classroom or sophisticated hospital, I am always reflecting about Nigeria, connecting the functionality to malfunctioning and the question of how long will it take us?

How long has it taken the US to build up to this current point? History will tell us that the Second Industrial Revolution which the US paid a large role in was from 1870 to 1914, the dawn of the First World War. To truly estimate the period, because the US was at war until 1865 and went through Reconstruction till 1877, we can look at when the most formidable US companies were founded. Ford Motors was in 1903, IBM (1911), Exxon Mobil (1911) and so on. At the end of 1945, it was indisputable that the US was the world’s superpower.

If one followed the US history, it was clear the pace of growth was found in the turn of the century, after a devastating civil war. The US came into being with an aggregation of Irish Catholic, Quakers, British dissidents, Indians, slaves as well as purchases of territories from Britain, Spain and France, to give the daring an opportunity. It had every fracture that we can think of in present Nigeria.

It follows my pattern of nations. A country is best is an artificial creation of entities, merged together by human design or let’s say — destiny. In its evolution, it will face contradictions of identity. Think about the US Civil War, the Anglo-Scottish Wars, Chinese Civil War, Rwanda Genocide etc. A country on the path to being a nation is forged in conflict after exhausting questions on its heterogeneous dimensions. Nigeria was not immune from that crisis. This is why we went into civil war in 1967, to re-assert that ethnic identity in the face of the insensitivity of the political class.

However, nations after resolving their conflict, usually rely on prolonged leadership to forge a national appeal. There’s always a factor of strong nationalist pride when you see USA, Singapore, British, Germans etc. This is because, sometimes, it takes post-conflict scenarios to create a national identity. Singapore had Chinese, Malays and other Asians as ethnic groups but the prolonged leadership allowed it to forge an identity for a great nation before it heralded an economic philosophy. Just imagine that this is what Kagame is also doing under an iron-fist, an erasure of memory that divides the country, to build a nation that believes in Rwanda. One can see how Singapore has built a great nation and Rwanda is also finding its path.

If we roll back to Nigeria’s past, after independence, we crawled back in regional strengths, a scenario that we still venerate till today. But, if we revise history, would it not have been better than we started with a unitary state, forge a sense of common identity before we rolled over to regional economic zones, not ethnic enclaves?

After the civil war, we had a chance to build this scenario but we did not as every conversation was to rail us back in a democracy, that makes the identity fractures more glaring. It comes back to why Nigeria cannot scale not because of incompetent leaders or just corruption but we lack leaders with nationalist mindset. You can think through it that our longest period of economic growth in recent times was when we had a leader with a nationalist view. With Kagame, Lee Yuan Kew, FDR, Konrad Adenauer (14 years), Helmut Kohl (16 years) and the Chinese example, the prolonged leadership of firm focus and great nations are interlinked.

I have discounted the role of cheap slave labour and the feats of political suppression to make this assumption but I do not believe that such systems were unaccountable. The inverse is that what have we done with power since independence, even in our era of democratic dispensations? Germany was a wreck in 1945 with almost all its cities destroyed to rubble, just 15 years before Nigeria’s independence. Today, there is no comparison between Nigeria and Germany.

Fractured societies don’t scale, no matter how hard the apartheid regime tried, it was going bankrupt with the hotbed of violence and division. The wisdom in the life of Nelson Mandela was to heal the nation, creating a rainbow nation that all can believe in. Economic philosophy after the selfless work of uniting a nation. Nationalism can also be abused as we saw in Nazi Germany when the intent of the leader isn’t honest. This means being lucky with such leaders as well as institutions to sustain it, is crucial.

This is that while arguments for restructuring is great, we are still papering over a country in pieces, not a nation. We are trying to work the equation without a firm analysis of the question. Economic prosperity is the end, but what are the means? Nationhood with a common belief should be our first pursuit and with that comes a visionary and selfless leader. Can Nigeria ever get lucky with nationalist, visionary and selfless leaders whose prolonged presence and ideas, lift the nation into prosperity?

How feasible is this within a democratic system where everyone group tries to subtly affirm their ethnic association in the quest for power? We had a chance with Gowon who ruled for 9 years but in the shadows of northern hegemonists and failed to assert himself. This explains a revisionist thinking why certain persons still believed Obasanjo should have gotten a third term. However, we know how such expansionist appeal for power, commonly end in Africa? Would we have been lucky?

So why have we not made a great nation? You can count it into three things — we are continuously cycling around disastrous leadership, we are trying to make something out of pieces when we should be making a whole, we have been ruled with short-termism — a cruel scenario that incentivises corruption. None of this you would find in countries that made great progress. Nigeria will not be different.

Hassan Adebayo sums it well: “Nigeria needs a ( leader) that’s nationalistic in scope (transformative in agenda and egalitarian in orientation). There must be a good level of cohesion to have a degree of stability that (leads) to economic progress & democratic practice.”

As the question of Nigeria’s leadership looms towards 2019, who is nationalist in thinking, with transformative capacity and the character to enthrone equity in Nigeria? How will such thinking be sustained in the long run, when he/she is replaced? If you are asking how soon will we be on our path to greatness, we need to start from asking the above questions?


Inspired by listening to Professor Paul Collier at the Archbishop Tutu Fellowship programme. My thoughts are still evolving. Comments appreciated.


Oluseun Onigbinde is the Lead Partner at the BudgIT