As Africa’s most populous country is gripped by youthful protests against its leadership, we asked six influential figures, some outside Nigeria, to assess the past 60 years — and share their dreams for what comes next.


Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala — economist and former finance minister

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala © Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

What is Nigeria’s greatest achievement?
Nigeria is the most interesting country in the world — this great country that is full of surprises. I admire the young people. They are doing so many things. We have arts and culture that have blossomed in incredible ways.

Its biggest disappointment?
I wish we could have diversified our revenues, to have done more structural reforms to create more modern jobs with more value added. We could have managed our finances more prudently and invested more in infrastructure. We would be in a better place now.

What is your dream?
For our young people to be allowed the space for the blossoming of their creativity, so that Nigeria can be seen as one of the great countries of the world.


Amina Mohammed — deputy secretary-general of the United Nations

Amina Mohammed — deputy secretary-general of the United Nations
Amina Mohammed © Luis Tato/Bloomberg

What is Nigeria’s greatest achievement?
The biggest achievement is Nigeria’s independence and its successful transition to a democracy in 1999. That democracy, as imperfect as it may be, still stands.

Democracy brought voice to Nigeria that can be heard every day. Democracy also brought hope, and with hope came a clear view of the possibilities.

Its biggest disappointment?
With so much promise and opportunity, leadership at state and local government levels has not delivered on its constitutional responsibilities. Basic service delivery on education, health, water and sanitation have not reached millions of Nigerians, especially women and girls. This has made the foundation of our home weak.

Covid-19 and the shutdowns have brought citizens dramatically closer to government — with higher expectations. And this obligation of the local/state government to respond has taken root.

What is your dream?

For Nigeria to nurture the privilege of its diversity. We need to see the strength in our unity, and work towards an inclusive economy where all Nigerians can shape its future. For my two grandchildren, Maya and Nabil, my hope is they will know a Nigeria built on our values, faith, respect and integrity. That Nigeria would be their oyster.


Michael Eboda — CEO, Powerful Media

Michael Eboda, chief executive, Powerful Media
Michael Eboda

What is Nigeria’s greatest achievement?
The fact it has survived as a union intact is a miracle. Ever since Africa was carved up and the British claimed the Niger Area (Nigeria), the country has never been homogeneous. It is made up of myriad people who have a huge variety of cultures and languages. There is no such thing as Nigerian culture. Instead the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Itsekiri, Efik, Fulani etc all have their traditional ways of doing things.

Its biggest disappointment?
The waste and theft of the enormous oil revenues over the past 50 years. Nigeria has been one of the biggest producers of the planet’s most valuable natural resource, yet 100m Nigerians live in abject poverty, while a handful of very wealthy people — many of whom are essentially thieves — ride around in private jets. The country’s basic infrastructure is under-developed, its education system is substandard and its economy is a mess. Disappointing is an understatement. 

What is your dream?
I hate to sound pessimistic but I fear for the future. Oil is now trading at a price where it is increasingly uneconomical to take it out of the ground. There are alternatives being developed all the time. Nigeria has no other comparable foreign exchange earner. Those two facts, coupled with a rapidly growing population, are not a recipe for a bright future. The only light on the horizon is that perhaps the lack of reliance on oil can spur growth of other areas of the economy. But that will take political foresight and Nigeria lacks good leaders.


Tony Elumelu — economist, entrepreneur and chair of the United Bank of Africa

Tony Elumelu, economist, entrepreneur and chair of the United Bank of Africa
Tony Elumelu © Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

What is Nigeria’s greatest achievement?
Our people make me proud: the resilience, creativity, hard work and spirit of enterprise demonstrating time and time again that they can excel in spite of our difficult operational environment. The Nigerian spirit is like no other. 

Its biggest disappointment?
The lack of access to electricity despite decades of oil income, a general sense of ineptitude that appears to be pervasive, and the feeling that Nigerian lives no longer matter. The lethal combination of extremism, police brutality and heightened insecurity cannot be ignored. These issues cause the greatest concern. 

What is your dream?
I want to see a country that works in my lifetime; one that makes all black people everywhere in the world proud. I want a country where the tenets of Africapitalism — economic prosperity and social inclusion — are embraced and embedded in our social fabric, one that empowers our youth.


Lola Shoneyin — poet and founder of Aké Arts and Book Festival

Lola Shoneyin — poet and founder of Ake Arts and Book Festival
Lola Shoneyin

What is Nigeria’s greatest achievement?

My mind immediately goes to the individual. In the area I operate in, our greatest achievements are mainly down to the talent and ambition of individuals within the creative sector. Our writers have outdone themselves.

Nigerian musicians have also set the bar really high. Our young people, mostly self-taught, are making waves in the tech sector. Despite limited support from the state, creative Nigerians continue to excel. 

Its biggest disappointment?
The high rate of youth unemployment is a frightening problem for everyone. Religious extremists groups continue to exploit the disillusionment with the country’s leadership. 

What is your dream?
That Nigerians rediscover belief systems that instil the desired sense of ethical clarity. The self-appointed leaders of the religious groups exploit the fears and anxieties of ordinary Nigerians. If Covid-19 has done one thing for us, it has demystified them. The entire country would do better if people didn’t have the devil to blame for their lapses in judgment.


Fakhirriyyah Hashim — feminist and activist

Fakhirriyyah Hashim — feminist and activist
Fakhirriyyah Hashim

What is Nigeria’s greatest achievement?

In all of our turbulent history of military coups, we have been able to maintain a 21-year streak without that nature of threat to our democracy. That it has become so unlikely that we will ever sustain that level of threat to our leadership structure, as we have seen happen recently in Mali. No one party, no one godfather, no one family, has a monopoly on Nigeria's political fabric.

Its biggest disappointment?
Disappointments are infinite but the most pressing issue is that the standard of living has decreased significantly. Nigeria was in a better position in the 1970s than it is today, in terms of security, quality of education and healthcare and poverty levels, particularly the north, which is a true horror story. The core fabric of our segment of the society is rotten, riddled by insecurity, a significant portion of out-of-school and unemployed youth. The future is truly bleak and it wanes all optimism.

What is your dream?
A country that only works for the political elite is a dysfunctional one.
My dream is one of a realisation, especially by those in government, that this dysfunction does not excuse anyone within the borders of Nigeria, just like insecurity, a global pandemic, does not stop at the footsteps of the poor but it recoils and affects everyone. Of the realisation that the state and everyone in it becomes wealthier and safer when we learn to invest in our people.

This article is part of Nigeria at 60, an FT special report published in the Financial Times on Thursday 29 October and online at ft.com/nigeria-60.



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