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Nigeria: Great Decisions 2003
Africa Policy E-Journal
February 3, 2003 (030203)
Nigeria: Great Decisions 2003
(Africa Action document)
This posting contains several sections from the article on Nigeria
in Great Decisions 2003, the annual briefing book and study series
organized by the Foreign Policy Association (
http://www.fpa.org). It was written in November 2002 and published by the Foreign Policy
Association in January 2003. The full article is available on the
Africa Action website at the addresses indicated below.
Last year's Africa article in Great Decisions 2002 was on AIDS in
Africa, and was also written by Salih Booker and William Minter.
The 2002 article is available on the Africa Action web site in pdf
http://www.africaaction.org/action/aids2002.pdf and in
Another posting today contains excerpts from a report just released
by Human Rights Watch on political violence and the coming
elections in Nigeria.
The U.S. and Nigeria: thinking beyond oil
by Salih Booker and William Minter
Great Decisions 2003 (http://www.greatdecisions.org)
This article was published as one chapter in Great Decisions 2003,
a briefing book published by the Foreign Policy Association to be
used by hundreds of study groups around the U.S. during the year
2003. A TV program on the topic is also airing on PBS as part of
the Great Decisions TV series. A pdf version of the article,
including color photographs and other illustrations (3.8 M in size)
is available at
The full text of the article, with no graphics, is also available
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, is also the most important
state in U.S.-Africa relations today. Nigeria is America's major
trading partner in Africa. It plays the largest role of any country
in peacekeeping efforts on the continent. Nigeria's attempt to
build democracy from the ashes of authoritarian rule will arguably
have even more consequential effects for the continent than South
Africa's victory over apartheid in 1994. Although it is oil that
attracts Washington's attention the most, the ramifications of
Nigeria's success or failure will extend far beyond the energy
In past centuries, Nigeria's territory was home to a series of
powerful and technically advanced societies, renowned for their
artistic, commercial and political achievements. It was also a
pioneer in the movement for African independence. But since
independence its growth has been stunted by internal conflict and
Yet today, Nigeria is again one of Africa's most influential
countries. Its unique human resources and vast oil reserves create
the capacity for enormous prosperity and regional leadership. In
2002, Nigeria was the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the U.S.,
ranking behind only Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela.
Along with Royal Dutch Shell, a British-Dutch firm, U.S. oil
supermajors ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil Corp. dominate oil
production in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Since emerging from
military dictatorship in 1999, its nascent democratic institutions
have survived huge challenges but have performed disappointingly in
the eyes of tens of millions of Nigerians. Their capacity to
deliver the peace and prosperity Nigerians want is still unproved.
The fate of Nigeria has profound implications for the entire
continent: both the potential and the obstacles are on the giant
scale of the country itself.
Presently, the Bush Administration is inclined to give even greater
attention to the strategic significance of West African oil than
did previous Administrations. Yet a long-term view of U.S.-Nigerian
relations must confront fundamental issues of democracy, conflict
resolution, resource use, the environment and poverty. Nigeria's
interests are in harnessing the country's wealth to achieve
development while building a stable democratic political system.
U.S. long-term interests are the same. Competing U.S. domestic
constituencies with interests in Nigeria include the big oil
companies, banks and investment houses, and the multiple
Africa-interest groupings among African-Americans, religious
groups, organized labor, environmentalists, global justice
advocates and human-rights organizations. In addition, the rapidly
growing Nigerian-American community is a well-educated and wellpositioned
segment of the American immigrant community. Meanwhile,
the accelerating process of globalization is driving ever-closer
and more-intricate interaction between the two countries on matters
of trade, immigration, and shared regional and global concerns.
Realizing the positive potential of those ties requires going
beyond "business-as-usual" thinking.
Nigeria, whose almost 130 million people make up nearly one sixth
of Africa's population, reflects virtually all the major problems
confronting the continent. Its success or failure will resonate far
beyond its immediate neighbors in West Africa. The HIV/AIDS
pandemic, the crippling debt burden, protection of the environment
against corporate greed, the need to break out of dependence on
raw-material exports, the establishment of peaceful MuslimChristian
and ethnoregional relations and balancing national and
local government accountability are all cases in point.
In Nigeria, as around the world, oil has been a source of great
wealth. But dependence on oil has also fostered conflict,
environmental damage, gross economic injustice, corruption and
shortsighted economic policies.
The key test for U.S. policy toward Nigeria is whether public
pressure can force policymakers to think beyond a narrow focus on
oil. If so, then there is great potential for sustainable benefits
for both countries. If not, then narrow elites may gain short-term
profit, but the long-term prospects for most Nigerians will be
bleak, and enduring U.S. interests will suffer as well.
One fundamental prerequisite for dealing with particular issues is
that Americans become more aware of the richness and complexity of
Nigeria's history, Nigeria's people, and the current initiatives
Nigerians are taking to solve their own problems. Outside formulas
for solving these problems will inevitably fail. But U.S. actions
can do much to hinder or help.
Oil, environment, and resource use
[not in this posting: see full text at
Debt and loot vs. public investment
With the economy so heavily dependent on oil, the income Nigeria
receives fluctuates wildly, depending on international oil prices.
Prices soared in the 1970s and dropped in the 1980s. Despite
somewhat greater stability in the 1990s, the price in recent years
has ranged between slightly more than $10 a barrel (in Jan. 1999)
and almost $29 a barrel (in Sept. 2002).
Poverty, however, has shown a consistent rising trend. The
proportion of Nigerians living in poverty increased from 28% in
1980 to 66% in 1996 to about 70% in 2000. As much as 90% of
national wealth is estimated to be in the hands of only 10% of the
population, and an average of 3 million people a year enter the
saturated job market without skills.
Much of the wealth that has flowed in has also flowed out, to pay
interest on foreign loans or to swell foreign bank accounts held by
corrupt officials. A sustainable future for Nigeria's economy
requires not only that current oil income be spent productively,
but also that steps be taken to halt the drain of over $3 billion
a year in debt service and to recover billions more in overseas
assets stolen by former military rulers.
The return to elected government in 1999, and the approach of new
elections in 2003, has created incentives for politicians at
national, state and local levels to seek to deliver new benefits to
voters. Both civil society and the press have added their voices to
calls to deliver the democracy dividend. But there are serious
questions about how that can be done.
International financial institutions focus their advice on
maintaining macroeconomic stability, with the usual prescriptions
for budget cutting, privatization and reducing regulation. They
also now recognize the need to combat corruption, on which Nigerian
civil society, the UN and international development groups all
agree. But the latter stress that balanced budgets and conventional
economic management will be ineffective or counterproductive unless
there is a quantum leap in long-term investment in health,
education and infrastructure.
As of the year 2000, Nigeria was spending less then 1% of national
income (gross domestic product, or GDP) on health and less than 1%
on education, with more than 2. 5% going to pay off foreign debts.
Spending has increased somewhat since then, but does not begin to
approach the 15% on health targeted by African leaders at their
summit on AIDS in the Nigerian capital in April 2001. Yet the HIVinfection
rate in Nigeria is now estimated to have passed 5% for
adults, the point at which experts say the pandemic threatens its
most explosive growth. With Nigerian journalists and civic groups
increasingly vocal, public awareness is growing that failure to
confront this threat will undermine any prospect of economic growth
under any model. But the scale of the response does not match the
magnitude of the threat.
Both international and national studies show that investment in
health, education and information infrastructure is essential for
countries like Nigeria to make a new economic start. Yet finding
the resources requires the political will to act by Nigeria's
creditors as well as Nigerians themselves, on two fronts: debt
cancellation and corruption.
Nigeria owes approximately $29 billion to foreign creditors, much
of it the result of loans they knowingly provided to corrupt and
repressive governments. In 2001 Nigeria paid $2.1 billion on its
debts, 10 times its spending on health that year. Yet Nigeria is
not even included in the World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor
Countries (HIPC) initiative because it doesn't meet the bank's
GDP-based criteria for what constitutes a "poor" country. In
September 2002, the government said it would only be able to pay
$1.5 billion of the $3.2 billion due for the year. International
economist Jeffrey Sachs and others proposed that Nigeria and other
African countries simply stop paying debt and invest the resources
in health. But Nigerian officials engaged in negotiations with
creditors felt unable to take such decisive action. While President
Obasanjo continued to call for full cancellation, the debts stayed
on the books.
Culture of corruption
Similar obstacles faced efforts to recover stolen wealth and combat
corruption. Internally, the government faced a pervasive culture of
corruption. While President Obasanjo himself has a reputation for
personal honesty and his administration has launched significant
anticorruption measures, last year Nigeria still ranked as the
second-most-corrupt country in the world according to polls by
Transparency International (an organization of which Obasanjo was
a founding member).
Both Nigerian and international observers, however, have often
noted that this level of corruption would be impossible without
external partners. Former military ruler Sani Abacha, for example,
is estimated to have siphoned off $4 billion to foreign bank
accounts. The Obasanjo administration has been engaged in efforts
to recuperate some of these resources, through negotiations with
the Abacha family and pressure on banks in Europe and North
America. These efforts have not yet succeeded, however, and civil
society groups were scathingly critical of a proposed settlement
that would allow the Abacha family to retain $100 million if they
returned $1 billion.
In Nigeria, as in the case of other oil-producing countries,
tracking and controlling the huge sums of money paid by oil
companies requires not only vigilant national governments and
press. It also requires transparency by oil companies and banks and
proactive regulation and investigation by the governments of the
countries where those giant enterprises are based.
In sum, whether it is combating AIDS, removing the debt overhang,
or fighting corruption in public spending, redirecting Nigeria's
economy will require action not only by Nigerians but by those
outsiders who now profit from Nigeria's wealth.
Nigeria's human security imperatives
Most Nigerian and outside analysts agree that Nigeria neither faces
nor poses a significant external security threat. Discontent over
the 2002 International Court of Justice ruling for Cameroon on the
disputed potentially oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula in the east might
lead to incidents. But the real security threats to Nigerians are
internal, and directly related to the economic and social issues.
As poverty, AIDS, and inequality increase, can the country avoid a
return to military rule? Can politicians and the military dampen
and manage conflicts among Nigeria's diverse peoples, or will they
exploit and exacerbate the divisions? Can the police and justice
system improve their capacity to provide protection against both
violent crime and its white-collar counterpart? In the long term,
Nigeria's role as a force for regional stability will depend on
answers to these questions.
In one area, President Obasanjo has won credit for lessening the
chances of backsliding into military rule. He quickly retired the
so-called "political soldiers" who had held political office while
on active duty and reinforced those officers committed to military
professionalism. Despite popular disappointment with the dividends
of democracy, polls show that more than 70% of Nigerians strongly
oppose a return to military rule.
Yet the overall record is much more mixed. Since the return to
civilian rule in 1999, communal violence and, in some cases, harsh
military action to repress violence, has cost some 10,000 lives.
The roots of violence are neither ethnic nor religious, commented
The Economist (London), September 15-21, 2001, echoing the
consensus among analysts. But when conflict explodes in Nigeria's
crowded cities or in rural areas beset by competition for land,
communal dividing lines may quickly become battle lines. Violence
broke out between Muslims and Christians on several occasions in
2001 and 2002, in Kano and Kaduna in the North, Jos in central
Nigeria, and southern cities as well. In most of these incidents,
with the noticeable exception of Jos in September 2001, the
military responded quickly and professionally to limit the
violence. At Odi in the Niger Delta in 1999, and in Benue state in
2001, however, the military itself killed hundreds of civilians in
retaliation against communities. The military and President
Obasanjo have resisted open inquiries into responsibilities for
The essential prerequisite for the needed changes, says leading
Nigerian security studies scholar Dr. Said Adejumobi of Lagos State
University, is building in new structures for broader
accountability. Greater discipline and professionalism in the
military is to be applauded, but it is not enough. The 1999
constitution, for example, gives wide powers to the National
Assembly for oversight of the military. With the principle of
civilian control well established, the Ministry of Defense and
Ministry of Finance could also take more decisive action. But both
expertise and political will are lacking.
Ultimately, whether the Nigerian military is held accountable
depends on whether the politicians themselves are held accountable
by voters, the press and public opinion. Elections in 2003 will
provide a key test of whether democratic institutions can not only
survive but become more effective.
A giant that has not yet found its feet;
The U.S., democracy, and human rights
[these two sections not in this posting: see full text at
The Role of the Nigerian Diaspora
No one knows the exact numbers, but it is estimated that as many as
15 million Nigerians live outside the country, in neighboring
countries and across the African continent, in Britain and
throughout the Commonwealth, in other European countries, and in
many Asian countries as well. The latest U.S. census data counts
87,000 U.S. residents born in Nigeria. If children born in the U.S.
are included, these numbers would expand to between 200,000 and
300,000 in the Nigerian-American community. Few Nigerian immigrants
or other observers doubt that even this estimate is much too low.
Nigerians abroad excel in many areas and are found among top
professionals in academic, medical and other sectors. A
Nigerian-American heads Credit Suisse First Boston, one of the
leading American investment banks. The Association of Nigerian
Physicians in the Americas numbers more than 2,500 doctors in the
U.S. and Canada, and in most countries of the Western Hemisphere it
would be hard to find a university without a Nigerian on the
There is also a minority of Nigerians who have turned their talents
to crime, leading to widespread stereotypes justifiably resented by
the vast majority of immigrants. The "419" scam, for example, named
after the clause in the Nigerian criminal code for fraud, now finds
gullible victims worldwide through Internet email. No one knows
whether the majority of con artists using it are Nigerians at home
or abroad, or copycats who have followed their example.
Less publicized are the contributions of Nigerian immigrants in the
U.S., many of them naturalized U.S. citizens, to their professions
and communities. With African immigrants at the highest educational
level of immigrants from any continent, and Nigerians among the
best-educated of national groups, the returns from the investments
their families and communities made in their education are in large
part being reaped here in the U.S.
Even less noticed are the quiet contributions Nigerian families are
making by sending remittances to relatives at home for school fees,
medical care and simple survival. Or the volunteer efforts of
computer professionals on visits home, bringing equipment and
expertise. Or the nonprofit organizations as well as business
ventures that support schools, clinics, small businesses, or local
governments back home in Nigeria. A study published by the Federal
Reserve Bank of Chicago, for example, estimated that family
remittances to Nigeria were equivalent to more than $1. 3 billion,
more than six times the annual flow of foreign aid to Nigeria.
Based on research among Nigerian immigrants in Chicago, the study
also estimated that they sent home an average of $6, 000 a year, or
12% of household income.
The Nigerian-American community is growing and becoming more active
in American political life. There are local elected officials who
are Nigerian born, and the Nigerian-American vote is significant in
key cities such as Chicago where it helped to unseat Sen. Carol
Mosley-Braun (D-Ill.) because of her dalliances with the Abacha
regime. The increase in this community's participation in U.S.
policy debates on Nigeria will become a major influence in years
U.S. policy options; Questions; Readings and Resources
[these three sections not in this posting: see full text at
Date distributed (ymd): 030203
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+
+security/peace+ +US policy focus+
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