Ray Ekpu, renowned journalist, says after years of military and democratic rule, Nigeria is still at ground zero.
He said this at a colloquium in Lagos to commemorate his 70th birthday and 45 years in journalism.
Ekpu, a co-founder of Newswatch who was, at different times, imprisoned for his anti-government writings, said Nigeria leaders had missed some opportunities to take the country into a higher development realm.
“We are still at ground zero, the semi permanent place of the world,” he said.
“We are still called underdeveloped country although we try to give ourselves some cold comfort by calling ourselves ‘developing’ country’.”
Hinging on the theme of the colloquium ‘Nigeria: The Leadership Question’, Ekpu said leadership is central to our underdevelopment and would have been central to our entry into the land of fulfillment if we got it right.
“Is Nigeria’s low development situation a function of colonialism, military rule or poor constitution? The colonialists left 57 years ago. I remember that Governor Sam Mbakwe of Imo state had suggested, not entirely jokingly, that we should recall the colonialists and hand back the country for them to run. But you will agree that it would be futile or even foolish to continue to blame the colonialists who left our shores 57 years ago for our stunted growth.
“Or do we finger military rule for our backwardness? But the South East Asian Tigers who are now called Asian Dragons also had military rule. The difference is that they used the discipline, their command structure and the no-nonsense approach to problem solving to good effect. But our military were basically a renegade elite interested largely in a chop-and-quench approach to governance.”
Ekpu added that till now, Nigeria is yet to recover funds squirreled out of the country and lodged in “coded accounts” in various countries.
“Out of 12 military governors of Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state, Ekpu said only 10 were indicted while the other two were declared not corrupt, and no other military government has been investigated since then to have the idea of the size of the worms that would have crawled out of the can, and whether or not the discovery would be of stratospheric proportion.”
He said some have blamed the country’s woes on the constitution instead of the operators of the constitution.
“We ran the parliamentary system from 1960 to January 15, 1966 and the presidential system from October 1, 1979 to December 31, 1983. We have also run it from 1999 till date,” he said.
“Both the parliamentary and presidential systems have worked well in Britain and United States from where we imported them. So why has none of them worked smoothly like a well-oiled Swiss watch in Nigeria? My considered view is that the operators of the constitution must be held responsible.”