President Goodluck Jonathan last Thursday announced to the world that Nigeria will not break up in 2015. He promised that we would remain one indivisible entity, which is very reassuring to all of us who love Nigeria. The President added that: “For those who are predicting that this country will separate in 2015 based on the fault lines as of the time of amalgamation, they will know that this prediction will not be of any consequence. Nigeria will continue to remain one indivisible entity.” It is important that we reflect on the meaning of this type of reassurance.
The President was of course referring to the 2005 war games of the United States armed forces in which one of the scenarios developed was the break-up of Nigeria by 2015. The Americans reenacted a similar game in 2008 and their key concern was their oil supply chain. The President and Nigerians in general are wrong to take these sorts of analysis as a PREDICTION of what will happen. It is a very serious exercise of futures analysis which countries that prepare for their future do regularly for themselves and their partners so that they can plan better to confront and triumph over future challenges. We need to be less visceral and more rational in considering our future. The point is not to predict break-up but to review developments and carry out trend analysis so that we understand the forces that are driving us towards various possible outcomes and adopt alternative policy measures that would lead us into a productive, happy, democratic and united future.
We know the following about unfolding trends in Nigeria. We are a country that is endowed with rich natural resources backed with an abundant supply of human capital. We however have one of the largest populations of poor people in the world, over 100 million or 70% of the population. Poor governance, mega corruption and rising insecurity as well as a widening insurgency characterize our daily lives today. Our economy is crippled by poor infrastructure and a rapid process of de-industrialisation. In spite of these challenges, Nigeria is witnessing positive change. The forces of globalization have impacted positively on our people citizens and the effects of mobile telephony and ICT have been creating a new dynamism in society and economy. Politically, Nigerian citizens have remained jealous of their political rights and have sustained formal democracy for fourteen years, over double the record of previous Republics. Nigerians have been demanding more accountable and transparent governance.
At the social and economic level, the failure of governments to adequately cater for citizens through the provision of basic infrastructure and amenities has triggered acts of resilience by citizens seeking to improve their lives and livelihoods across the country through ingenious innovations and initiatives. Nigeria also has a significant population growth rate, which could be transformed into demographic dividends if well harnessed and trained. Nigeria is also witnessing a massive process of urbanisation, which can create vast creative energy that can be captured for rapid transformation. We have one of the highest levels of religiosity in the world, which has been channelled to create social welfare systems that attenuate growing poverty and urban penury. The other side of growing religiosity is of course the rise of fundamentalism, religious intolerance and insurgency.
A sociological review of the key drivers and actors of our society provides the following trends analysis. We have had over one decade of continuous economic growth of more than 6%, which unfortunately has not produced more jobs especially for the youth. At the same time, inequality has been rising and the gap between the poor and the wealthy is widening. Our economic growth has been used to promote massive importation and the source countries for the imports have shifted from Europe, Japan and the United States to Asia in general and China in particular.
We have a rapid process of rural-urbanization migration that has created a situation in which the majority of the population have left their rural places of origin and now live in towns and cities, which have growing shantytowns and rising poverty. In thirty years, we have been transformed from a country with a majority of indigenes to one with a majority of settlers. These towns and cities are developing a new “cosmopolitanism” among various categories of settlers in which identities of ethnicity, religion and regionalism have sharpened and there is a growing rise of religious fundamentalism, both Muslim and Christian and the spread of radical Islam linked to terrorism in the Sahel.
At the same time, climate changes is leading to the rapid southward advance of the Sahara Desert and repeat crop failures and food shortage have only been prevented by regular rain over the past decade. Rapid environmental degradation and poor adaptation strategies to natural emergencies therefore remain a problem. Persistent high population growth rate has led to the emergence of a “youth bulge” in the context of economic crisis, growing unemployment and underemployment which have heightened the scarcity of resources and intensified competition. There are strong regional variations in population growth rate with a woman in Lagos having only three children in her life while the woman in Borno has seven on the average.
In general, there has been a rapid growth of the percentage of the population with access to basic education within a context of a decline in the quality of educational services, a significant lag of girl child access to education and virtual collapse of research capacity in tertiary institutions. There are however strong regional variations with Lagos for example having 95% enrollment in primary school while Borno has only about 20%. Nigeria also has a major crisis in her health system linked to the collapse of public health institutions, high cost of drugs, spread of fake drugs and the rise of quack and charlatan traditional medicine and “religious” healing. This is compounded by the problem of ‘brain drain’ especially in the Health Sector.
Our politics remains divisive and while the people have been sustaining a struggle for the deepening of democracy, the political class in general has little commitment to the core principles of democracy. At the same time, regional political tensions are growing and national unity is becoming increasingly fragile. We therefore continue to face the challenge of stabilizing and deepening pluralist democracy in our country.
As these trends continue to unfold, we need to develop the capacity to analyse where they are taking us to, not to predict the future but to address the challenges that they pose to our progress. The trend analysis or futures studies as they are usually called simply provide the raw materials for horizon scanning and scenario building for the purpose of anticipating problems and adapting measures that would promote the best possible outcome in the future. It is important for all societies to regularly review where they are based of retrospective analysis of their history and a trend analysis of where they might be in the future. In so doing, the main objectives are to understand the drivers of change and key actors in precipitating change. The analysis of drivers and actors provide the material for scenario building, which are projections of possible futures. These possible futures are not predictions but analytical and heuristic tools to enable society to go in the direction of the best possible future. It is about foresight and planning and allows societies to anticipate and be proactive so that they can avoid pitfalls and seize the best possible opportunities that exist.
Rather than complain that others are studying our possible futures, we should be doing it ourselves. 2015 is not the future, its already here and we must manage that transition carefully by ensuring that we respect core democratic principles. What is really important is however studying unfolding trends and doing the right things for the coming decades.