Contradictory Nigeria

Published: 02-JUL-04

Apart from being Africa's most densely populated country, Nigeria is also home to some courageous and admirable events in human history. She is home to Africa's very first Nobel Prizewinner in 1986, and producer of some of the world's finest intellectuals and progressive thinkers. Her cultures, art and mythologies are beyond the confines of scholarship.

The picture is not without blemish, however. The military dictator regimes, such as that of Sani Abacha, have recorded some of the most atrocious human rights abuses, and though not properly acknowledged left deep psychological scars in the Nigerian national consciousness.

Who best to share perspectives than Wole Soyinka? Our cover story, though acknowledging the merits of Obasanjo's attempts to rebuild Nigeria, sounds a stern warning against all forms of fundamentalism - be they religious, political, or personal. Like many African and global terror-driven governments, Nigeria is but a microcosm of what may befall civilisation when the basic principle of democracy - free and fair elections - is conveniently suppressed.

The suppression of democracy by "illegitimate" governments results from vote rigging. Put into operation, the struggle for political legitimacy evokes unilateral and dictatorial articulation of economic and social development initiatives, which are in turn marred by the rift between absolute rule and lack of political experience and proper economic management.

Although Obasanjo's Economic Reform Programme is aimed at market diversification, reducing the over-reliance of the economy on oil and gas revenues, tackling blatant graft and improving investments in infrastructure, Nigeria is still to recover and transcend the exploits of military dictatorships, poor fiscal planning and political apathy.

A glaring example of this mismanagement is how, despite being blessed with an abundance of crude oil reserves, Nigeria still has no competent refining sector or corporate guidelines to ensure maximum benefits of this scarce and profitable resource.

A ravaged economy, questionable educational output, as well as dysfunctional health and related social institutions, are but only a few manifestations of a society grappling with the demands of good corporate and social governance in an increasingly globalised world.

These lethargic political deficiencies can partially be attributed to extreme political centralism, where the leadership does not promote diversity of opinion. This is particularly a breeding ground for power-sharing tensions, given "few" natural resources in a society of ethnic pluralism. Central to the many plagues that haunt this great nation, is the need for national co-existence and a pluralist political system.

Like any other sound and responsible view, an analysis of Nigerian's socio-economics cannot be reduced to a single editorial. There is, amid these contradictory scenarios, an overwhelming sense of a nation on the brink of successfully reprogramming its social institutions. The recent shift by Obasanjo's administration to encourage the integration of private sector competencies and investment in previously state-run businesses will go a long way to ensure market diversification and the engineering of entrepreneurial activity.

Investors and infrastructural development financiers are, as we write this editorial, probably gathered around board room tables or plush golf courses planning how best to capture Nigeria's abundant but elusive market. The onus is on the Nigerian government to balance the fine line between market protectionism and free trade. There is apart from oil and gas competitive advantages, a host of other equally powerful economic sectors that could see Nigeria commanding a large share of Africa's GDP. These include multi-billion dollar deals in telecommunications.

Liberalisation and booming of the Nigerian telecoms market is just but one example on how multi donor operator environment can facilitate improved quality of services, increased sector investment, competition and job creation.

There are indeed almost limitless investor opportunities in road and rail infrastructure development, banking and insurance, as well as the medical and educational fraternities. On a scale of one to ten, it is only fair to say we have not yet begun unpacking the prospects of the looming Nigerian renaissance.

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