Thoughts On Nigeria’s Development Journey And The Fallacy Of Hopelessness BY VENA IKEM

In Breaking News, Columnists, Opinion

Being a paper presented at the second distinguished public lecture of the Department of Educational Administration and Planning, University of Calabar by Venatius Ikem Esq. on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.


Everywhere you turn one of the most popular topics of discussion is a lamentation on our situation. The difficulty to survive, how tough it has become to “manage” to live and to carry on. Often times the blame is heaped on the “politician”. Some shout it from the pulpits. Some in the classrooms, in drinking pubs and in private homes and sit outs. Newspapers columns and sometimes even editorials. The politicians themselves echo all these negative feelings especially when a particular system does not favour them or us.

Only few weeks ago the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, observed in a widely publicized Easter message that Nigeria is “sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of disrepair”. These I call lamentations of Hopelessness.

We are always craving change, complaining about the lack of development, but of course change is a social dynamic. There can never be a constancy to life that will suggest that a state of being is perfect. There is again no objective agreement on a state of development that is considered perfect. From developed to under developed countries the quest for development remains therefore aspirational.


Nevertheless, let us stop to take a look at what “development” means as a key concept in our discuss;

1. The Cambridge dictionary defines “development” as “The process in which someone or something grows or changes and becomes more advanced: healthy growth and development”.

2. “The process of developing something new…” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language in its 5th Edition similarly defines “development” as:
1. The act or process of growing, progressing, or developing.
2. The product or result of developing
3. A fact, event or happening especially that changes a situation.” e.g a developing story.

Indeed there are a myriad of definitions of the word development too numerous to capture here. Suffice is to say that few concepts are easily discernible from all of them viz. Growth, advancement, progress, newness, change, building, enlargement, refining, evolution, deepening and unfolding etc.

Relating these various definitions to “Nigeria” therefore will necessarily position our argument properly.

But first, what is ‘Nigeria’?

Nigeria is one of the 193 sovereign states as recognized by the United Nations, an amalgam of all Independent countries of the world. Nigeria is located on the West Coast of the African Continent. Nigeria is an amalgam of the words “Niger” and “Area” to describe the area around the Niger river. The name was coined by Flora Lugard, wife of then Nigeria’s Colonial British Governor-General, of both the Northern and Southern Protectorates. He amalgamated both in 1914 to form “Nigeria” for administrative convenience, but it later became a modern nation-state.

However, the area had long been inhabited by indigenous tribes traceable over several millennia. Nigeria is the most densely populated country on the African continent and the 8th in the world with an estimated population of over 200 million people, depending on who is doing the estimation and the purpose; She occupies an area of 920,000 km Sq… Wikipedia, The online encyclopedia.

So the question to ask is; “Has Nigeria experienced some “growth, ”advancement; progress, newness change, newness building, enlargement, refining or evolution etc” since formation?

For purposes of this write up, I would like to pick on some aspects of Nigeria’s Nationhood from independence in 1960/64 to date. Even more so I will narrow some of the experiences to my personal experience as the lens through which I have been able to form a narrow picture of what “development” means to me and how I can relate to it; I believe we all have our experiences too. Doing otherwise will entail such a wide research that is outside the scope of a mere gadfly, which to all intents and purposes my thoughts on this rather large subject matter entails, and hopes to provoke.

I will be focusing some attention on developments in:
1. Education
2. Infrastructure
3. Communication
4. Health care
5. Politics
6. Economy

1. Education

Formal western education started in Nigeria in 1842, by the Christian Missionaries who introduced same and managed it in accordance with their respective religious philosophies. The Nursery of Infant Church, was established by the Methodist Mission in 1843 as the first elementary school in Nigeria, later known as ST. Thomas Anglican Nursery and Primary School. Secondary school education was later introduced in 1859, with CMS Grammar school, Lagos as the First Secondary School in Nigeria and the West coast of Africa. Government’s involvement in the management of schools started in 1872, with some donations to the missionary societies to support education.

It was until 1882 that the Colonial Government enacted the First Education Ordinance, aimed at total control of the sector.

The first higher Education Institution in Nigeria was the Hope Waddell Training Institute Calabar later established in 1895.

Tertiary Education later commenced with the establishment of Yaba Higher College, later, YabaTech which started studies in 1932.

In 1948, the University College Ibadan was established and was to blaze the trail in University Education in Nigeria. Its initial intake was 104 students! Universities grew quickly hereafter from 1 in 1948 to 5 by 1962.

By 1980, the number of students who gained admission into primary school was 12m while secondary schools was 1.2 million and 240,000 at the university level, nationwide. By 2016, according to a paper published in Nigeria’s FACTSHEET on Education, titled: Grading Nigeria’s Progress in Education, a research paper by David Ajikobi, 25.6 million pupils were enrolled in both public and private primary schools across the country in 2016, while junior secondary schools recorded 6.2 million. Similarly, according to the NBS, 4,319 students enrolled in Senior Secondary Schools across the country in 2017.

Exponential developments in education in Nigeria must rank amongst the highest of any sector in our lives. The cry today is sometimes about quality. This is not the scope I want to cover here because, quality in this sector as in most, is largely subjective. While old ‘schoolers’ like me may be fixated on the idea of how much English a student speaks and writes, but measured against other indicators, the result may be debatable. I will therefore limit my argument to access to education and literacy as a veritable social lever for self-development, believing that anybody with some literacy is guaranteed better performance at any task than his/her counterpart without the same opportunity.From farming to commercial motorcycling to taxi drivers there is no argument.

Between 1960/64 the only available universities in Nigeria were the University of Ibadan, (1948) The University of Nigeria (1960) Obafemi Awolowo University (1961), Ahmadu Bello University (1962), University of Lagos (1962). University Education in Nigeria History, success, failures and the way forward. A research paper by Jake Otonko published in International Journal of Technology and inclusive education 1(2) 44-48 2012.

By 1970-75 the Government of General Gowon had established seven (7) Additional universities and opened up a whole New vista in tertiary education. A whole new generation of educated elites was growing such that the fear of “intellectuals” began to influence substantially, political decision making in the run off to the 1979 General elections, with the return to democracy.

Available data at the National Universities Commission indicate that today, Nigeria boasts a whopping 153 universities, 82 colleges of education and 115 polytechnics and colleges of Agriculture and other equivalent institutions.

This figure is expected to grow by over 300 universities in the nearest future, If the NUC were to approve all or half of even outstanding applications for the establishment of universities! The number of applications pending approval for private universities stands at 303 according to Prof. Abubakar Rasheed in a recent paper delivered at a two day National Summit on Private Universities held at Abuja titled: Regulating Private Universities Education Delivery in Nigeria: The Role of the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC).

Clearly this means that in the foreseeable future universities and other tertiary institutions are heading for further exponential growth, likely to double what is currently on ground.

On a personal note, growing up in the 70’s at my hometown village at Obudu, we were the pioneer pupils into primary 3,4,5 and finally 6 of my village primary school, by 1976. Several communities still did not have full-fledged primary schools. Obudu could boast of only Government Secondary School, Obudu and later Girls’ Secondary School Obudu prior to 1974! Today my council ward of Begiading, boasts of 6 Secondary Schools and at least 2 private Secondary Schools. Some villages have more than one, Government Primary School and a handful of privately owned Nursery/Primary Schools. The implication for literacy are better imagined.

When we were in secondary school few teachers were graduate teachers, the majority of teaching staff were High school (HSC) Certificate holders, without the rudiments of teaching methodology. Today, many primary school teachers hold the NCE and a few are graduate teachers! Consequently, Obudu has more secondary schools today than the entire Cross River State had in the 70’s. We not only have a college of education, it is already a degree awarding Institution; and one privately owned polytechnic.

Within the environment Ogoja Local Government also boasts of two campuses of the Cross River State University.

Can we say there has been “no development” in education? The answer is a resounding No! because there is manifest evidence of growth etc.

Jake Otonko posits that, the benefits of (a university) education to the development of society cannot be exhaustively captured.

“It not only builds a knowledgeable workforce, it helps to instill good attitudes and engenders attitudinal changes, necessary for the socialization of the individuals, thereby leading to the overall transformation of the society”. J.Otonko, opcit. I dare say that what he says of University education here is true of education at whatever level.

Education to my own consideration involves the collective whole of an individual, in the deposit of knowledge for the advancement of the individual and the society within the positive output of his/her character, depth of reasoning and delivery.

2. Infrastructure

According to AFDB, Infrastructure development is a key driver for progress across the African continent and a critical enabler for productivity and sustainable economic growth.

The first basic infrastructure that readily comes to mind is of course roads. Motorable roads. But roads are not the only infrastructure. Indeed roads are not the only transport infrastructure. Railways, Airports, seaports are also parts of transport infrastructure. School buildings and other software would also constitute educational infrastructure. Hospitals, clinics and other supporting equipment are health infrastructure. I will limit myself to roads infrastructure.

According to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN statistics), with a land mass of 920,000km2, Nigeria currently has a road network of about 195,000km. 32,000km of these are designated as “federal roads” while 31,000km are designated state roads. Out of this about 60,000km are said to be paved, or to use our lingo, “tarred”. The rest are rural feeder roads.

The pre-independence road networks were developed primarily as feeders to the railways, primarily for the movement of cash crops to feed the colonial economy, but after independence, roads were deliberately built to link towns and regions across the country.

Road transportation eventually took over from railways as the main means of transportation, with improvement in the road networks, as roads captured more traffic from the railways. Substantial improvements to road infrastructure began in 1980 when the federal government expanded Trunk A (federal roads). The current popular state of roads development is the expansion to the 4 lane expressways linking major cities across the country like Lagos-Ibadan, Benin-Ore,-Onitsha; Enugu-Portharcourt, Kano –Zaria, Abuja–Lokoja etc. Prof. Patience Chinyelu Onokalu in a paper titled Transportation Development in Nigeria: “The journey so far and the way forward”, at the 97th Inaugural Lecture of the UNN.

Futuristic ambitions like the Cross River State Super Highway of 6 lanes are still being viewed with skepticism, but constitute the next imperative given our population projection.

On my childhood experience and related second hand experience, I have been informed by my father that as late as the early 70’s a journey from Obudu or other Northern parts of Cross River State to Calabar took between 3 days to one week! If you were lucky to travel within one day as far as Ikom you needed a one day rest before crossing the river. You rested not because you wanted to but necessarily because you will join a queue of travelers waiting to be crossed by canoe. Some continued the journey through the River up to Calabar by canoe. The 2 lane highway, including the bridge at Ikom that substantially reduced travel time was completed sometime in 1974.

In my native village as late as the 80’s to early 90’s we were privileged to have a lorry every 5 days, on Obudu market days to take villagers to the market, on a lucky day twice, others once, for those who were lucky to get space and who could afford it. I recall that market eve was a near all-night vigil, because you had to prepare, prepare and re-prepare to be sure you were on time to catch the lorry for the 8km journey to Obudu town! During the raining season, we mostly trekked almost 1/3 of the way to where the road was more passable for access by the Lorries.

Today, we boast of a paved road to the community and you can commute as many times as you may wish to, to and fro. Today you mostly make the about 350km journey from Obudu and other northern parts of the state to Calabar and return same day if you desire it!

Can we say there has been positive development in roads and transport infrastructure or not? Even the worst skeptic would admit that there has been appreciable progress, growth and development.

3. Health Care Development

One of the major indicators of overall development is the state of healthcare available to citizens. As the saying goes, ‘health is wealth’. It is sometimes measured in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality. Life expectancy, is the measure of how long people live on the average while infant mortality is the measure of how many infants die at birth or shortly afterwards. Infant mortality rate in Nigeria fell gradually from 163.38 deaths per 1000 births in 1966 to 69.49 deaths per 1000 in 2015 (Unicef Statistics).

Average life expectancy in Nigeria currently stands at 55.2 years according to WHO Statistics published in its “Health Profile Nigeria”. This might look like abject statistics, especially compared with other countries, but the point is made better when we realize that there has been a steady improvement over the years, mostly on a consistent incremental basis. That positive change represents “development” in this context.

1960 – 38.7
1970 – 42.1
1980 – 45.3
1990 – 47.2
2000 – 47.1
2018 – 55.2

The 2019 Report of the UNEFP is being challenged because it indicates a significant drop in the statistics for life expectancy from 55.2 to 53 years! Despite this, it still represents a significant improvement from the ‘60s, 70s, 80s and 90s’ statistics. On the whole, the gradual shift is more private sector driven than public health sector driven. It is possible that as a consequence, some statistics may be missing. Bourgeoning advances in healthcare are reported regularly these days, especially in fertility treatments and organ transfer.

The only reason a couple may remain childless today is poverty and/or ignorance. And I do not include here the vast market for babies on sale. I prefer to restrict my discuss to the many successful in vitro fertilization treatments, currently available to a substantial middle class population. This is also the sector with the most measurable indicators of growth, development and improvement. Only recently, the spat between the minister for labour and productivity laid bare another unfortunate dimension to the sector’s manpower need.

With 40,000 medical doctors serving a population of over 200 million people certainly leaves a lot to be desired. That is not to say there are no challenges here. Indeed I think this is the most challenged sector in our quest for development. But has there been “development “or not”?

4. Communication

Communication is simply defined as:
1. “The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium”
2. Means of sending or receiving information such as telephone lines or computers.” Wikipedia
Nigeria’s development in terms of ‘sending, receiving, exchanging information” in the last 50 years or so has been phenomenal. Developments in the means of mass communication like radio, television and recently computers and cell phones have been out-rightly revolutionary.

Until General Babangida’s liberalization of the radio/TV broadcast ownership in Nigeria, radio and TV communication was the exclusive preserve of the federal and state governments. Ray power FM and AIT blazed the trail in private radio operations in 1994 and with it followed the introduction of satellite/cable television. From the 8pm -10pm bands, TV soon became a 24 hours business. Today in Calabar alone there are about 9 privately owned radio stations either already broadcasting or about to commence, while Nigeria has 265 radio stations, 103 TV stations. The implications for exchange of information and all that comes with it can better be imagined. Satellite TV. Broadcast is all too pervasive.

When I recall that my first contact with TV was in 1977 when my alma mater decided to purchase a black and white TV so that students could watch Festac ’77, this is even more amazing. The entire student population in boarding school, including staff used to gather at our open air assembly ground to watch this wonder! Indeed a prominent politician and former commissioner in the state used to take the front seat with his family to watch too!
Today the average commercial motorcycle operator in Obudu owns his satellite TV. Improvements in transmission, content and viewership mean improvement in impact, revenues and influence.

The cell phone technology has in recent years revolutionized everything we previously knew about exchange of information. As an invention the cell phone is 46 years old this year. The first cell phone known as Danatac, was invented by Motorola and was first used on the 6th of April, 1973. Since then, the cellphone has undergone massive transformation, becoming a top priority of a significant proportion of the world’s population. It is estimated that about 6 billion people today use the cell phone.

By Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) Nigeria’s Regulatory Authority for Telecoms statistics, 160,520,993 active cell phones currently operate in Nigeria, achieving a teledensity of 114.92%. Teledensity is defined by NCC as the number of active telephone connections per 100 inhabitants, living within an area. This figure is reported to be the highest by any African country including those who adopted the GSM telephone earlier.

The impact of the cell phone/GSM technology is so pervasive in our lives we cannot imagine how life possibly was without it. It has unleashed lucrative ventures and enhanced existing potentials especially in the entertainment industry. The Nigeria movie industry has blossomed exceptionally with data enhanced transmission including what is known as “streaming”. Indeed the advances in cell phone technology have moved it completely from a means of exchange of information to high revenue instrument, a security gadget and indeed a full computer.

Our new and contemporary artists enjoy an industry market without borders. With internet assets like YouTube, a producer/entertainer does not need much promotion beyond the quality of his/her work. Billions of dollars have been made in global cultural exchanges. Performers are becoming billionaires from their creative talents and adding value to the economy with livelihoods enhanced, via internet access/assets. E.g Genevieve Nnnaji, Linda Ikeji etc.

As at 1998 in the runoff to the general elections, I recall that we used to travel to Ogoja to make a call to Calabar or to call Donald Duke, then governor aspirant, in Lagos to pass necessary information and catch up on developments generally. Sometimes, you were unlucky that NITEL services would be experiencing one problem or the other. If the need was urgent enough, we immediately proceed to Kastina-Ala in Benue state, whose NITEL was more reliable to make that one call! Usually, planning to make a call was something you set aside a whole day or a substantial part of the day to achieve!

This is gradually sounding like a tale from other climes especially to children born anytime from 1995. In other words nearly a generation of our population, from 25-29 years, many of them graduates and undergraduates grew up in an era when telephony is taken for granted!

Can anyone doubt that there has been “development” in terms of communication? In the means by which we exchange information?

5. Economic Development

Economic development is a term economist and politicians have used frequently since the 20th century to refer to economic growth accompanied by changes in output distribution and economic structure… Michael Kelikume, Economic Development and growth in Nigeria Daily Trust Newspaper of 12th December, 2015.

Economic Development typically involves improvement in a variety of indicators such as literacy rates life expectancy and poverty rates. A country’s economic development is related to its human development, which encompasses, among other things, health, education and general well-being.

Successive Governments in Nigeria have since independence in 1960, pursued the goal of structural changes without much success. The growth dynamics have been propelled by the existence and exploitation of natural resources and primary products. Initially the agric sector, driven by the demand for food and cash crops production for export, was at the center of the growth process, contributing 54.7% of GDP in the 1960s’.

The second decade of Independence saw the emergence of the oil industry as the main driver of economic growth, with abysmal results due largely to the fact that economic growth has become tied to the fluctuating fortunes of the oil market.

Since 1999, economic growth has, however, risen substantially and averaged around 7.4%, with a recession in 2016. The growth has, unfortunately not been broad-based, inclusive and transformational. Consequently the desired structural changes have still not been achieved. Rising unemployment, high population growth and inflation have erased the modest economic growth gains.

The Agricultural sector has led the stats in structural improvement with substantial savings in rice imports and an astronomical growth in local production and processing; various improvement in processing of other food staples like tomatoes have also brought needed boost to the sector while the schools feeding program is generating appreciable interest in poultry production, while aquaculture is being rejuvenated.

Nevertheless our growth in output terms though slow, remains reasonably consistent, except for the recession in 2016. Nigeria survived a most debilitating global recession between 2006 and 2008 that looked like we had an economic magic wand.

The bank restructuring that preceded the global economic recession was just the masterstroke and other countries used Nigeria as an example for fiscal economic management.

Economic management post-recession have largely focused on diversification (structural adjustment) and taming of corruption, with mixed results. Growth has been modest, if not tentative to put it mildly

6. Political Development

How well has Nigeria fared in terms of ‘political development?

Discussing political development necessarily entails a look at how we have transformed, progressed or evolved in terms of the very structure of the entity called Nigeria, our management of power variables within the entity and her competing ethnic and regional levers; the institutions we have established to manage the choice of leaders and our overall ability to live together in peace and harmony, as proclaimed in our coat of arms in the mantra “Unity and faith, Peace & progress”.

At independence, Nigeria comprised 3 regions; Northern Region, Western Region and Eastern Regions. To these was later added the Mid-West Region. Following a most challenging election in 1964, civil unrest followed with the consequences of a military purge of 1966 and an eventual civil war. In attempting to manage the crises, a 12 state structure was established, in a bid to diffuse the power of the respective regions. This started what has become a recurring scramble for the creation of states and even local governments leading to today’s 36 states structure.

The Nigerian state has evolved through 4 republics in the past 58 years in a bid to grapple with her political management structure. One thing remains constant and consistent: change and evolution. From an initial Westminster style parliamentary system experiment, about 13 years of military adventurism, Nigeria seems settled on a presidential system, since this has endured longer than any other and the citizens seem relatively comfortable with or at least more familiar with this form of government system.

The` presidential system has survived through 2 republics, (maybe and a half,) the 2nd, 3rd and the 4th, the last of which is witnessing the longest sustained democratically elected system.

Nigeria is currently on her 6th consecutive election circle, including witnessing the defeat of an incumbent president, a feat hitherto considered impossible given the amount of power a president wields in the country, both under the federal constitution and some assumed by the sheer exercise of executive power. See S. 130 (1) 1999 (Constitution of The federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which clearly makes the president the “CEO” of the country! For all intents and purposes, this bird’s eye view of political evolution of Nigeria is to highlight the simple theory that there have been no dull moments at all. Certainly not a stagnant one either.

Certainly there has been ‘development’ and I dare to conclude that such development has been largely positive. The outstanding agitations for a more equitable distribution of political and economic power, otherwise called “restructuring” are a natural future phase of this development. It is my opinion that whether we like it or not once this genie has been let out of the bottle, it is only a matter of time before it shall be dealt with. It can never be successfully put back in that bottle again. The direction of the restructuring may not now be predictable, neither will the consequences be measurable, but it will surely happen.

Whether it is what will eventually unleash the Nigerian energy into more serious and all-encompassing development achievements will depend on the nature, structure, sincerity of those that will have the responsibility of embarking on the restructuring exercise.

For now, my answer remains consistently in the affirmative that despite our rather chequered political history, poor political and civic education, a dubious and self-serving political class, our politics like other sectors already examined, Nigeria’s politics is evolving gradually, surely; and positively.


Having said all these, running through few sectors and even deliberately avoiding some like agriculture and security the point must be made that I am by no means saying that we should rise up and celebrate! Far from it. Our development in all sectors lags far behind expectations given our endowment in terms of manpower, grit and determination, natural resources, including a very clement weather devoid of major natural disasters and other challenges that should hamper development. I have as the cliché goes rather preferred to paint a picture of a half full cup than visualize a half empty one.

I hope to encourage us to take a more positive picture of our nation than look at the dismal one. To be inspired by how far we have come than despair in how much farther we need to go. It remains true that the true African renaissance that was expected to come with Independence from Colonial rule has been a story of dashed dreams and failed expectations. Nigeria remains a poster boy of this failure. A peer review of countries with a similar history, even lower endowments and a tougher natural environment to play, have emerged more focused and sure-footed in their trajectory of development while we have continued to play by our own rules.

In a globalized world, we cannot play by our own rules and hope to look like others. There are simply global rules, global standards of development and global best practices as the path towards achieving them. There are no short cuts! We cannot elect thieves to run our public treasury and shout corruption afterwards. Nor appoint questionable characters into offices and raise alarm over violence, criminality and gangstarism in our lives. We cannot short circuit academics and expect excellent research outputs that can jump start development. We simply must go back to the basics and follow the rules. Global rules and global best practices that guarantee measurable achievements, predictable growth and development.

Venatius A. Ikem Esq. a former Presidential adviser on the Bureau of Public Enterprise, Guber aspirant, National Publicity Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party, Commissioner for Works, Special Adviser, Public, Social and Political Affairs Analyst writes from Calabar.

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