Nigeria’s tentative progress

Written by: Ian Lucas on 12 December, 2012
Filed under Economy, Foreign Affairs

As one of the top ten oil producing nations on the planet, Nigeria has a massive advantage over most of the developing countries in Africa. Coupled with the domestic demand which a population of around 160 million people gives, there is a fundamental strength within the Nigerian economy which offers real potential.

One of the abiding pictures of Abuja, Nigeria’s purpose built capital, in my mind, however, is of never-ending queues of cars waiting to buy petrol. This is an image of demand, potential and disappointment.

When I asked a representative of the People’s Democratic Party why, with such natural resources, Nigeria had queues at the petrol stations, he had an explanation: “Oh, Abuja grows too fast.. We are a victim of our own success.”

My taxi-driver laughed when he heard this answer: “You can see why we have problems when we have such politicians!”

Nigeria has four oil refineries, none of which are operating to full capacity. It has a shortage of oil because it imports its petrol. It imports because it does not refine its own oil. It does not refine its oil because it cannot, at present, sustain the investment and production needed in a rapidly developing economy.

Nigeria does, however, have a recognised Government. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan was confirmed in office as head of the People’s Democratic Party, following elections generally regarded as free and fair. In Nigeria, this is no mean achievement. Since independence on 1960, long periods of military rule have been punctuated by incidents of domestic strife, including a civil war.

Since 1999, democracy has progressed tentatively through a political model of 36 states. Some of those states are doing well. Repeatedly, i heard unprompted praise for the Governor of Lagos who has facilitated local economic development and addressed Nigeria’s perennial curse of corruption that, regrettably, is its by-word the world over. However, progress is uneven across the country.

In Abuja, there are many, many uniforms. They belong, not to the army or the police, but to a myriad of different security firms. Every shop, cafe and petrol station needs to organise its own protection. This is a symbol of failure of confidence in Nigeria’s own security services, perceived as bedevilled by corruption. Against this backcloth, the actions of Boko Haram, a terrorist group with its roots in Northern Nigeria, is causing increasing concern.

Like in many parts of the Sahel in north Africa, economic weakness is coupled with religious fervour to offer a way forward to people who, otherwise, see no hope. This appealing prospect has masked appalling acts of carnage against opposing religious groups. Misjudged approaches by Nigeria’s security forces, including the death in custody of Boko Haram’s founder, have dissipated confidence in the country’s ability to cope with a serious insurgency.

There is, however, a striking pride in the idea of Nigeria across the political spectrum of parties that I met. Though there may be disappointment with the progress being made by Goodluck Jonathan but the response is to seek to replace him by democratic means. Other political parties in Nigeria know that the People’s Democratic Party is the only truly national political party in Nigeria and that, to beat it, they must form an alternative. The result is that discussions are taking place between political parties in different parts of Nigeria to come together to mount a sustained and organised opposition to challenge for power in 2015.

This is real progress. I heard no talk of splitting Nigeria. On the contrary, there is a real pride in the potential that the country offers. Parts of the country are showing real progress. Terrorism does pose a threat to the tolerant image that mosques and churches next to other in Abuja paints Security and corruption are central issues. But there are the stirrings of political compromise which is the way ahead for this disparate, chaotic and exciting country.