October 1, 2020

At 60, we will take the opportunity to redefine our future

October 1, 2020

At 60, we will take the opportunity to redefine our future

During my childhood in the 1960’s, I remember singing our Independence Anthem confidently in the affirmation that though our tribes and tongues may differ, we stand in brotherhood, proud to serve our sovereign motherland. Our flag is a symbol that truth and justice should reign, and our collective dream of being able to hand on to our children, a banner without stain, as we prayed to the Lord of all creation to grant our request to help us build a nation where no man would be oppressed, and so with peace and unity, Nigeria would be blessed. 

Nigeria is 60 today, and we have much to celebrate: our indomitable spirit, our endurance, fortitude and resilience – and our hard earned unity. We have an unquenching optimism for progress, and I know that my motherland has come a long way from Independence Day on 1st October 1960 and the vision of our founding fathers till today.

Reflecting on our nascent years I can declare that Nigeria was indeed blessed, albeit simply, with abundant natural resources to grow a healthy population and prosperous future for all. At the same time, agitation for equitable management of our abundant natural resources, and the resulting humanitarian crisis directed our first experiences of multilateralism. International donor agencies arrived to assist the suffering and displaced victims of our civil war, as the nation strove to heal its wounds. The multilateral agencies remain with us today, implementing key services towards the sustainable development goals, working alongside national and frontline organisations. 

In those early formative years, lacking encounters with the basic day-to-day development challenges that shape creative public policy, our youthful nation paid little intentional and deliberate attention to the status of women and girls. We were so busy building our national unity, which at times was imperiled, that it didn’t occur to us to be intentional in our support for young women and girls to rise, even though culturally we have always revered and respected matriarchs and motherhood. This dichotomy has contributed to shaping some of the most dire realities of not meeting the needs of our women and girls that we as a nation face and experience today, where despite 50% of the electorate being women, the male gender occupies a disproportionate amount of cross-sectoral leadership positions.

This was why, as the First Lady of Kwara State in 2003 to 2011, I had deliberately and intentionally made it a point of principle to lend my voice and effort in mobilising women’s groups and cooperatives to advocate strongly for the retention of the girl child in education and the domestication of Child Rights legislation through the Kwara State Child Rights Law of 2007, the Kwara State Safe Maternity Services Law of 2010, and the establishment of a framework to deliver universal health coverage through the Kwara State Community Health Insurance Scheme. The results went deeper than benefits to education, health and societal wellbeing that earned Kwara State the UNICEF accolade of being “fit for a child” in 2010, the first of Nigeria’s 19 northern states to reach this ambitious standard – as by 2011, Kwara State had recorded over 35% of women in elective and appointive positions at federal and state levels, including several Senior Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, namely Amina Ndalolo, Halima Tayo Alao, Olufunke Adedoyin, and an ambassador, Nimota Akanbi.

Our present national reality is that Nigeria is the world capital for under-5 mortality and is among the top five countries with the highest maternal mortality rate. Though saving the lives of women and new babies will always evoke heartstring-pulling imagery, this is not merely a matter of compassion: this is a daily imperative and basic need for any country interested in sustainably developing. The safe transfer of life: from mother to child, and ensuring the health and wellbeing of both are preserved, is as key to socioeconomic development and economic growth as ensuring that families can access their rights and choice of reproductive intervals and size. A high level of maternal death means we have a lost population of women in the reproductive age: a youth and gender demographic that has been proven to be constructive for sustainable development. It also means we have a higher number of orphaned children and children without the benefit of the full family structure, a setup we know to be conducive to healthy lives. A high maternal death rate impacts women’s ability to participate in the labour force, which in turn decreases their ability to contribute to the economy. And, it consumes and hamstrings our budgets, and disables our ability to diversify our resources to other sectors for developmental purposes. 

The problems we face as a nation are a manifestation of the way in which we built our country, but today, at 60, and surely matured, we have an opportunity to catalyse an inclusive and cohesive course correction. We are centred on reiterating the national call to arise and serve our fatherland with love, strength and faith. We must reiterate that the labour of our heroes’ past shall never be in vain, and to serve our peoples with heart and might: one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity – to reach every last mile.

Right now, Nigeria’s Covid-19 deaths are comparatively low, and our nation’s endurance is high and strong; to me, possibly the product of a fortuitous resilience shaped by our long epidemiological history. However it is clear that the race to combat, contain and control Covid-19 is a marathon and not a sprint. According to The Economist’s Covid Collective Report, states like Nigeria are at risk of being “disproportionately affected because they have the least resources and infrastructure to grapple with the pandemic’s dire health and economic repercussions.” While richer countries are able to do more testing and prepare economic safeguards and recovery, Nigeria has recorded fewer tests per thousand people and has fewer resources to plan recovery. 

Examples of collaboration among scientists, however, show that models for better cooperation are possible, and indeed a timely focus on home-grown research and development from Nigeria may yet have much to teach the world. Stronger frameworks and mechanisms for international cooperation are required to mitigate the adverse effects on lives and livelihoods globally, and in fragile settings in particular. The fact that 172 countries globally are engaged in discussions to participate in COVAX – a Covid-19 vaccine global access facility – demonstrates just how powerful global cooperation can be in finding collective solutions to collective problems.

On our 60th celebration of independence, we reaffirm our patriotic call to direct our noble cause: that our leaders are guided right, our youth are helped to know the truth, grow in love and honesty, living just and true, attain great and lofty heights, to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign, a pledge to the progress of our nation. But we cannot deny that Covid-19 has laid bare fissures in the multilateral system with far-reaching implications. From climate change to economic recessions, geopolitical tensions to AI disruption, truly global challenges are only going to become more frequent in our increasingly-interdependent world. Every country is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain thus we know that the gaps in domestic and international safety nets are not just a threat to the world’s vulnerable populations but also to the functioning of the global economy and society as a whole. 

As we celebrate the transformative power of patriotism, we must remember that no nation thrives entirely alone, and should work towards reviving multilateralism’s promise to ‘leave no one behind’ with particular focus on the effect of the pandemic on our most vulnerable women and girls. With the pandemic upending the world’s structural norms, Nigeria has an opportunity to come out of this dark time with a new energy based on the evidence of what works—and what does not work— to achieve our goals sustainably and for all.

To meet the challenges of the 21st century, each and every one of us as individuals, along with our national governments, multilateral actors and humanitarian leaders must heed Covid-19’s wake-up call and unite to give multilateralism the “teeth” it needs to reform, replenish and strengthen national and global resilience both now and when the next crisis emerges, to ensure that our beloved nation Nigeria, and our people will survive, transform and thrive.

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