At independence, in 1960, Nigeria was at the brink of greatness. Three strong regions: North, West and East existed. Individually, they were strong corporate entities; collectively they held the promise as a symbol of pride and greatness for the black race, for Africa. Fifty-two years after independence we are still playing catch-up. Permit me to proffer some reasons and solutions…


(first published in 2012/re-edited in 2017)

By Nnanke Harry Willie

This article was first published in the September 2012 edition of this magazine. It is hereby re-edited and republished to serve as a reminder that Nigeria can pull itself back from the brink if we only do the right things.


A lot of steam has been lost from the patriotic zeal of most Nigerians. The ruling elite right from independence with the exception of a few have conducted themselves in a manner that promoted personal and/or sectional interests above national interests. The net effect is that their immediate followers and ordinary citizens have taken a cue and followed suit.

This state of affairs has led to a civil war, inter-ethnic strife, endemic corruption and self-immolation by the generality of Nigerians. I doubt if any other group of citizens deride, condemn and abuse their nation-brand, amongst themselves and in the midst of foreigners, like Nigerians. This has led to probably the worst manifestations of selfishness, nepotism and corruption. Leaders who fail to establish relevance at the national level withdraw into ethnic cleavages and become ‘champions’ of narrow ethnic or regional interests. But the real interests they champion are very personal and they will be ready to dump the sectional agenda if they are able to negotiate their way into the national platform, again for personal gratification. In truth, the national and sectional interests remain subsumed in the personal agenda.

Wahala dey!

SOLUTION: Leaders at all levels must begin to reinvent their attitudes and lingo because other categories of Nigerians are merely followers. This means that they will follow them in whichever direction they see them go and not where they purport to be going. The days of: ‘Do as I say and not as I do” are gone for good. We cannot achieve greatness unless there is inherent patriotic zeal in the majority of Nigerians. When the leaders have reinvented their attitudes there should be a Recommitment Campaign for the ordinary Nigerians who for so many years have been regaled with scenarios and actions of leaders that literally communicates that it does not pay to be patriotic. Ask our sportsmen and scientists for details.



In the 1980s, the air was filled ‘Food for all by the year 2000’, ‘Water for all by year 2000’, ‘Health for all by the year 2000’. I was worried. I saw it as an unnecessary postponement of the good life for the average Nigerian. Nothing, however, prepared me at that time that 17 years after the magical year 2000 we would still be grappling with even more basic issues. Na wa!

Our national programmes have been obfuscated in grammar and politics. What the political leadership fails to understand is that at all times their focus should be on developing and executing policies and programmes that will catalyse a positive chain of activities that can have a trickle-down effect on the economy to the man on the street.

We have had a series of medium and long-term national development plans which have ended up gathering dust in the offices of government officials. If the plans are not truncated by the politicians, they are truncated by top civil servants who look at such plans from the narrow prism of how they and their cohort can personally benefit at the expense of the nation. Such plans are not even properly communicated or monitored down the ladder of government machinery.

SOLUTION: You cannot support what you do not understand or worse-still do not know. Strategic Development Programmes must be well communicated down the line. This will engender a buy-in by key stakeholders who should, in turn, be made to sell it to their constituencies at the political, economic or professional level. A vision well communicated and sold is half-realized.


Our current quasi-federating structure is a panacea for the eventual failure of the many federating states. Most are not viable economically. The unwieldy number of political appointees whose emoluments alongside those of career civil servants leave precious little for any meaningful infrastructural and development activity. We cannot go very far with this untenable scenario. A proper federation entails that local and state governments should enjoy basic control over assets embedded in or on their land and fully exploit their resources towards their economic viability under federal supervision.

It is perplexing that while the Land Use Act vests ownership of land in the states, the constitution appropriates minerals and key land resources into the Exclusive List. Mining and exploitation of such resources is thus left to the federal government who is too busy with so many contending issues.

SOLUTION: Even in simple traditional societies, the centre (palace) received taxes, royalties and levies from subjects but the subjects were allowed to keep the rest of their produce (wealth) thereafter. A monarch cannot begin to go to every man’s farm and try to till each one successfully. Few states like Lagos that decided to take their own destiny in their hands by leveraging their competitive advantage have since shown that a state can achieve a lot if they look inwards. For Lagos, it is the huge taxable individuals’ and corporations’ resource; for others, it could be developing proper industrial policies and programmes based on agriculture or tourism (like Cross River) and sports (Like old Bendel State).


Key federal ministers of the past and present administrations and virtually all the state governments have made a fetish of chasing after foreign investors. But similar efforts must be made to galvanise Nigerian investors. Alhaji, Aliko Dangote, himself a Forbes- rated billionaire investor said it loud that no foreign investor would like to come into an environment where there is no preponderance of local investors. He thus encouraged Nigerians to invest in the real sector in order to create jobs, reduce inflation and… yes attract foreign investments. Besides most foreign investors come with peanuts into Nigeria and quickly ferret out tons of dollars in record time, sourcing their operational funds from Nigerian banks. At the slightest hint of a problem, they dust up their briefcases and take the next flight out of the country ala Etisalat.

SOLUTION: Need I say more? The best advertisement to foreign investors is the existence of a healthy number of local investors. Nigerians must be encouraged to repatriate their funds to invest in Nigeria. The incentives usually offered to foreigners such as tax breaks; land guarantees and favorable policies should be actively sold to Nigerians who the whole world knows have billions of dollars stashed in foreign vaults. They must be made to know that they do not need proxies in their own land to benefit fully from their investments. Naturally, transparent processes and a fast and fair justice system will equally help in the drive for investments in the real sector. We must also make the stock market attractive once again, while we should revisit our FOREX repatriation policy for foreign investors.


This is the nightmare of local manufacturers. The introductions of policies meant to encourage local production are ever so often summarily reversed for fickle reasons. Clearly, for reasons of incessant changes in tariff structure in favour of importation (dumping) of tyre products, 2 major tyre companies (Michelin and Dunlop) had to hurriedly shut down their factories and wind down the production lines. Thousands of Nigerians lost their livelihood directly or indirectly as a result.

Today both companies are operating with much less than 5 percent of their previous staff strength. They are now fully into the business of importing and marketing tyre products and are naturally making much more money. Most likely, they are also exploiting and exporting our precious rubber resources for a song to keep their other factories outside Nigeria running. The Dunlop and Michelin story is replicated across many sectors, from vegetable oil to tomato paste and newsprint. Industries that thrived and employed tens of thousands in the past are now graveyards for obsolete and decayed equipment or have been converted to worship centres. One does not need to look too far the reason.

The same rent-seeking has trickled down to individuals. It makes so much more sense to convince relevant government officials to relax import duties or outrightly remove it so that a friend of the government can import excessive shiploads of the same commodity which though may serve a temporary purpose of crashing prices ultimately leads to the collapse of industries, loss of jobs, loss of taxes and an explosion of an army of unemployed youth who become easy game for criminal syndicates.

SOLUTION: Nothing good comes easy. What the Koreans and Chinese enjoy today took years of planning, toiling and self-denial to get there. The ruling class must negotiate and institute enduring policies and ward off pressures to compromise the defined common good. We should have Strategic National Plans (SNP) that will involve not only the party in power but all stakeholders. Each SNP should have a minimum of 10 years span and should be protected by all. Once an SNP is approved every succeeding government is bound to execute it. Changes should come through the same process. The drivers may change but the destination should remain the same. A democratic government brand is, after all, for the people and by the people.


In every other profession in Nigeria, a new generation of leadership evolves after a particular group has served meritoriously (or non-meritoriously). A new crop of professionals who would usually have been groomed and primed for that purpose are invited and encouraged to take on the reins of leadership. The result has been that such institutions such as First Bank, UACN, NTA, etc. have had people who joined the system at entry-level risen to the apogee of the respective institutions and lifting the institutional brands to the next level. This scenario is also what plays out in the political leadership of great nations.

The case is however different in Nigeria. Despite the swan song the youth have listened to over the decades that “the youth are the leaders of tomorrow”, generally, that tomorrow has remained elusive for almost 5 decades. Political leaders have held on with a vice-like grip to political leadership such that many names that debuted in political leadership in the 60s and 70s in the country are still in various leadership positions today!

Where they do not hold direct positions, they remain in the sidelines controlling things through their anointed ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’. Is it any wonder therefore that while the First Banks and the Nigerian Breweries of this world can compete favourably with their peers anywhere in the world, the same cannot be said about Brand Nigeria?

SOLUTION: According to John C. Maxwell “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”. Nigerian leaders have for so long been going the way, most times the wrong way at that, and they have therefore been unable and unwilling to show the way. There is a reason why athletes and all other professionals retire. The mind and body can only function optimally at a certain point in one’s lifetime. If leaders refuse to hand over the baton responsibly and peacefully they give the next generation no option than to take it forcefully. Worse still they put the country at the risk of being retarded by their generational benchmarks or, possibly, degenerate into anarchy. Society is dynamic and ever-evolving, there should be no difference with political leadership. Leadership should change hands at given periods with a clean break from the past.


A good number of values that are intrinsically Nigerian have been abused, debased or perverted. We are known worldwide for our traditional courtesies and respect for elders. This value cuts across creed, tribe and tongue. However, traditionally, elders generally respected themselves and comported themselves with dignity and integrity. They generally stood for the truth no matter whose ox was gored, promotion of excellence and stood on a moral high ground failing which they would bury their heads in shame.

If our elders represent leadership in Nigeria then they have failed woefully and this is not just at the political level. A do-or-die mind-set has made many a parent actively make his or her child cheat at examinations, swear false affidavits for age, swear false affidavits for the state of origin while wittingly and unwittingly urging the child to join the madding crowd in order to succeed by hook or crook.

Oftentimes these parents bribe teachers and lecturers to give their wards good grades, lecturers on their part actively sell grades for payment in kind or cash, coaches expect bribes from players before they are fielded, clergymen sleep with daughters and wives of the congregation and so on and so forth. How can a child who has experienced and witnessed all these truly respect his parents and elders?

SOLUTION: Respect is earned. Even when it is compelled, its display will only be farcical and short-lived. All elders and leaders should know that the Nigerian youth deserve to be imbued with true Nigerian values of hard work, respect, patience and fear of God. These values are better taught through true-life actions rather than dry sermons. We should remember that ‘he who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind’. We must as a matter of priority launch and execute a strategic Family and National Value Reclamation campaign.


Closely tied to the above is the unbelievable display of impunity by elements within the Nigerian leadership. Our collective sense of shock and outrage has been numbed by repeated incidences of impunity by political and economic leaders. Bank MDs rob their banks blind and claim it is their enemies who are trying to disparage them, state governors and other levels of political leadership milk the states and national resources dry and receive a slap on the wrist for their heinous crimes or worse-still receive a perpetual court injunction against being investigated, invited and prosecuted by lawfully constituted government agencies. If this is not the panacea to impunity I do not know what else is.

A society that allows a section of its citizenry to escape justice for crimes of whatever hue while the culprit displays loudly the proceeds of his crime is firstly dampening the morale of those whose duty it is to curb and punish crimes and secondly encouraging other citizens to commit similar crimes since it is clear that he or she can escape justice and live larger-than-life thereafter.

SOLUTION: We need to as a matter of emergency clear the Augean stable in the various law enforcement agencies and judiciary. The Nigerian Brand fabric is stymied with systemic corruption. The best point to therefore starting a proper cleansing process is in the police, EFCC, ICPC and other investigative and prosecutorial agencies of government. I believe some of the laws establishing them should equally be revised in order to make them nimble enough to respond to the avalanche of cases. For starters, the special anti-corruption agencies should be freed from the clutches of the office of the attorney-general and minister of justice. Furthermore, we must take up the review of our laws and even constitution most of which were inherited from our colonial leaders and narrow-minded military authorities.


From local governments to states and the federal government, there is lack of welfare programmes for the poor, indigent students, small-scale entrepreneurs and so on. On the social pyramid, this is where the bulk of 80% of Nigeria’s 180 million citizens belong. Some governments and institutions sometimes offer palliatives to a tiny group in the event of crisis but these are usually short-term and mostly tokenistic. That is why a program such as NAPEP remained mainly in cities and was turned into a commercial venture by its managers. We pray N-POWER does not go the same route. A hungry man is an angry man. Criminal and terrorist organizations have a multitude of highly qualified candidates in this socio-economic group. As long as there is no well-articulated program by government to provide requisite empathy and support they will remain cannon fodder for destabilization and endangerment of the polity.

SOLUTION: Citizens must be made to have a sense of belonging. Let us adapt the British model by providing affordable/free housing for our stranded youth, counselling and training for skills development & acquisition and job placement opportunities for our teeming youth and a Support Framework for small scale entrepreneurs. Nigerian youth among other Africans grew the plantations of America and built the infrastructure for industrialization in the Western world. We must deploy our resources strategically and wisely to develop our land by engaging our youth in productive activities otherwise they will put their energies to destructive use like Boko Haram, kidnapping and 419.


There is a disconnect between the Nigerian Brand and the large majority of its citizenry. What is the Nigerian ideology? What is our war-cry? What does Nigeria represent to you? If the questions are posed to one million citizens, we may get one million different answers. I have noticed a tendency for government officers and their agencies to be didactic when they exhort the public to be good citizens. Good citizenship cannot be preached or taught. People should be made to experience and feel good governance before a strategic campaign is launched to get a buy-in from the stakeholders.

SOLUTION: The best way to mobilise people and connect them to a vision is to give a live sample of what you want to achieve for them. We do not have to look far for a solution. Nigeria can adapt the Lagos state model. Under successive governments since 1999, Lagos state has been undergoing transformation in the physical environment, infrastructure and social services. Citizens who are presently enjoying these far-reaching life-changing projects are only too happy to support Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s exhortation ‘Itesiwaju ipinle Eko loje wa logun’ (meaning: Moving Lagos forward is our priority) by voluntarily paying their taxes since they can see their taxes working for them. We cannot solve Brand Nigeria’s challenges through quick fixes but we can at least start doing the right things now to make Nigeria great. Now that we know the sins, may we ‘GO …and SIN NO MORE!

God bless Nigeria!