Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nigeria's future

It seems that the editor(s) at The Economist have had the same alternations of optimism and pessimism about Nigeria that I have had. What does the future appear to be now?

Nigeria’s moment: How Africa’s most important failure can at last come right
FIVE-and-a-half decades ago, when Nigeria elected its first government at the end of colonial rule, many expected the country to rise quickly to become Africa’s leading power. It had people in abundance, the region’s best universities and vast natural resources. It exported great pyramids of peanuts, was one of the world’s leading sources of cotton and was soon to become Africa’s biggest producer of oil.

Yet within a few years its hopes were dashed… Many expected that the elections which took place at the end of March would be so rigged as to give another term to Goodluck Jonathan, a singularly ineffectual president…

Instead Nigeria confounded not just its critics but itself. The elections were peaceful and, despite some ballot-box stuffing, roughly reflected the will of the majority. The election of the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, marks the first democratic defeat of a Nigerian president running for re-election as well as the best opportunity to tackle the country’s many problems…

Sceptics will scoff that every new dawn in Nigeria for the past half-century has proved false. Yet there are three reasons for optimism. The first, believe it or not, is Mr Buhari himself…

The election itself gives another reason for hope. Having experienced their first cleanish vote, Nigerians may prove less tolerant of rigging in the future…

Last, Nigeria’s middle class is growing rapidly… Growth has averaged more than 7% a year for the past decade, creating opportunities for bright young Nigerians to make a good living honestly. Instead of jostling to join the government in order to extract rents from their fellow citizens, many are flocking to start businesses. Smartphones and social media have helped fuel this growth, and are also making Nigeria more transparent…

Mr Buhari’s greatest tasks will be to fight corruption and improve security… Mr Buhari needs to clean up and discipline the army. Ordering the generals who are supposed to fight the jihadists out of their air-conditioned offices in the capital and into headquarters closer to the action was a good start…

To clamp down on corruption more broadly, Mr Buhari must both reduce the opportunities for it and also catch and punish the perpetrators…

Another way to reduce the scope for graft would be to reduce the role of the state in the economy…

Nigeria matters because it is the biggest country in the continent that has huge potential for catch-up growth. If it fails, it could bring down half a dozen neighbouring states with it…

Kevin James, who teaches at Albany High School, has links to the articles in The Economist special report on Nigeria in his blog post. I don't know how much access you'll have to the articles if you don't have a subscription.

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