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Existential Questions: The Uncomfortable Facts Confronting Nigeria after a 60-year Journey

Can a nation grow beyond the quality of its leadership in public service? Politics is integral to
how societies function and the choice of the political elite defines the pathway of nations. Not
only does Nigeria’s brand of politics fail the basic tests of decency so that it can only produce
sub-optimal leadership, but it has also undermined the country’s economic growth over the
years. We cannot ignore this relationship between politics and economic performance—a matter
of grave concern to me—which the last section of the book tackles. Onigbinde draws attention to
the importance of rejigging governance as we know it in Nigeria. It is not sustainable for
governance to remain built on “stomach infrastructure” or an electoral system that serves only a

He shows how and why Nigeria has remained stuck because the current political system is such
that our best is not given a chance to participate in partisan politics. My understanding of
Oluseun Onigbinde’s existential mission is to ensure citizens’ right to information especially with
regards to public finance is rightly protected. Through his work in BudgIT with the apt phrase
#AskQuestions, he has brought data to the doorsteps of Nigerians, encouraging them to take up
their responsibility of questioning those in authority. The art of questioning expands our
understanding of the nature of our society and invites a reflection on our past and the things to
come. This book is not just for public officials, most of whom are allergic to intense scholarship
but would rather obfuscate Nigeria’s existential issues or wallow in incrementalism that delivers
little in the context of the urgency required; it is also a manual for citizens who are interested in
scoring Nigeria’s progress and the performance of its political leadership. Everything happening
in Nigeria today, from increased insecurity to unemployment, food shortages, economic
instability, and more, is a product of slow or no response to issues.

Yet, as a nation, we do not have the luxury of time. Whatever we need to do, we need to start
doing quickly. Onigbinde highlights this urgency for radical change by presenting alternatives
even as he questions our existing faulty structure. Across the world, examples abound of
countries that have successfully broken the chains of national failure. There are time-tested
models we can copy. From the export miracles of Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia or the
drastic reduction in poverty in China, a quality that resonates through the different success
stories is the act of “deliberate leadership” that is honest enough to face its challenges and leave
no room for sectionalism, religious extremism, cultural nuances and the selfish interests of a few,
in changing the direction of Existential Questions: The uncomfortable facts confronting Nigeria
after a 60-year journey Foreword xvi the country. Nigeria cannot be different. Our challenges are
not unique in the course of the life of a nation.

We are only facing the consequences of our choices. Onigbinde illustrates that these countries
do not have “two heads” as we say colloquially in Nigeria, and their progress did not happen in
the distant past but required at least two decades of consistent leadership to set a solid
foundation. If you are looking for a book solely about Nigeria’s problems, then this is not the book
for you. Rather this book looks at Nigeria as she is today and drops puzzles that may guide the
nation to a better future. Existential Questions reminds me of an Igbo proverb, “A man who does
not know where the rain began to beat him, cannot know where he dried his body” because it
shows whereas a nation the rain started to beat us, even as it points us to a shaded place to dry
ourselves. The answers to Onigbinde’s questions are obvious but do we have the political will as
a nation to ask and answer tough questions? Are we ready to forgo our addiction to oil, treat our
investment in Nigerians as a seed, strengthen public institutions to withstand fleeting partisan
traps and also open up the economy in a competitive manner to development? Only time will tell
because only then, will the rain stop beating us. Only then, will we begin to dry ourselves and
take our rightful place in the polity of nations. This all starts with a society that values
introspection and is ready to leave no stones unturned as it seeks answers to its existential

– Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, Senior Economic Advisor, Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative



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